Focus: Child naming (Kwita Izina) in Rwanda

Child naming is one of the many cultural values that characterize any society. It brings out society’s proper identity which is fundamental among all cultures.
Child being named. (Photo / F. Mutesi)
Child being named. (Photo / F. Mutesi)

Child naming is one of the many cultural values that characterize any society. It brings out society’s proper identity which is fundamental among all cultures.

Some of the other cultural values that can be preserved besides child naming include proper use of language and dressing; these carry a significant symbol that can be used to tell one’s culture.

Rwanda has not been exceptional of this given the emphasis the country places on culture from child naming until the time one decides to marry.

The naming ceremony

Child naming in Rwanda is a tradition that stems back to the ancestral period when our grand parents were building our country.

Until today, the child is named by the father, clan members, friends and other well wishers. It is traditionally called ‘Kwita Izina’ which is translated as ‘Child naming’.

The ceremony starts with prayers to put the whole function in the hands of the Almighty, and to request the Most High to bless the family in order to get as many children as possible.

The participants and guests propose names from which one to be given to the child is chosen. In reality, the idea of proposing as many names as possible is a mere formality.

The father reserves the right of naming his child, though from the many proposed names, one may be chosen. The child can be named after the grand father, great grand father, a nationalist or any hero.

However, the father can as well name the child after a great and heroic person within his lineage, such as his brother, sister or aunt.

After the child has been named, there is cheering and applause which is traditionally known as Impundu literally meaning congratulations. This is done by women present at the party.

The Kwivuga rhetoric is made in phases by men only at the ceremony. Each of the men has to participate while others continue one by one.

Kwivuga is intended to tell the economic achievements that have been registered by individuals (men), and this depicts the social status a man has; being ever held with high esteem in society.

Traditionally, men who are not well conversant with the Kwivuga are not respected in Rwandan society. Thereafter, it’s a tradition that traditional beer is served. Presents are also given to the new child comprising of cows and traditional linen among others.

The child naming ceremony is supposed to take place in the evening. Cultural teachings are carried out by the elders to teach the younger generation about the importance of such traditional values, and to remind them to maintain such cultural events like child naming.

The ceremony is one of those many functions that strengthen more the cultural values within Rwandan society; adherence to this ritual brings the clan members together. In other words, child naming, is a uniting factor among clans.

Young children are also invited during such ceremonies, in an act which is traditionally called Kurya ubunnyano - children’s special meal during the ceremony.

At the ceremony, couples are encouraged to produce as many children as possible since there is no hindrance like it is said in Kinyarwanda, “Musubireyo nta mahwa” which literally means go back there are no thorns; here thorns refer to problems that might be encountered due to many children.

The end of naming

Towards the end of the function, a local beer known as agashinguracumu is served; the type of beer which is the last to be served in honour of the child and visitors, and after the master of ceremony says that the function is over.

However, some inside family members stay to extend the celebrations till late chatting, and partying. This is followed by accompanying the visitors leaving for their homes; this is done by the father and mother of the child.

After the whole ceremony, the child can be taken out side the home; taking the baby out side before the naming ceremony is a taboo within the Rwandan culture.

Unlike Baganda ( a Bantu tribe in central Uganda who name their children according to clan names, except for children that are named after events such as earth quakes, wars, hunger festivities and others; Rwandans don’t follow such criteria.

One of the Kinyarwanda sayings prevents people from naming their children after embarrassing moments in life. The adage goes: “Ngo so ntakwanga akwita nabi.”

Such names include: Baziruwiha (hatred to someone who is well off), Mbarimombazi (am with you but I know you are against me), Nyiramiruho (someone who grew up in a tough environment), Bendantunguka (they take things but the person who gives them out doesn’t profit anything) and several other funny names which bring about disdain and repugnant approach towards people in society.

As such Rwandan law allows any body who does not feel comfortable with his or her name to change it after consultation with the Ministry of Justice.

Apparently parents are advised to name their children after moments that don’t create discomfort to them as they grow. This is another good element that has been introduced within the culture of the Banyarwanda.

It has greatly improved on the type of names that are given to Rwandan children so as to avoid the bad omens that may arise later in life.