Every birth is a miracle and every child is a gift from God. When a new baby is born there is something refreshing and optimistic to look forward to. The Rwandan tradition, Kwita Izina (naming ceremony for a new born baby) was and is still considered to be sacred in the Rwanda.
During the pregnancy there is this hope, new beginnings which stir up hope and imaginative visions of the future of a new person coming into the family. This ceremony involves the immediate families and close relatives and friends.
During the Kwita Izina ceremony, children and grandchildren squirm in the laps of their elders. They parade and suggest several names to e selected for a new born in a historic event that unfolds around them. At this moment in time, food is just one part of the occasion. Families also arrange for what guests would drink during the occasion most likely beer or soft drinks (in the ancient days it was the local beer).
As guests arrive to the ceremony, they should be greeted with a drink and later children are served with Ubunnyano (a kind of local food prepared specifically for children).
According to Rwandan mythology, the naming ceremony for the newborn baby takes place on the eighth day after his/ her birth and is principally a babies’ function. On the appointed day, relatives and friends are invited to participate in this colorful ceremony.
Mary Yohanna Mukankuranga, an elder in the Rwandan Cultural Troupe, believes that a naming ceremony is a very special way of celebrating and welcoming the new arrival of a child into the family and the wider community.
“It is also an opportunity for parents to declare before family and friends, your promise to be the best parent you can and for adult friends or relatives to confirm their special relationship with your child,” she said.
Mukankuranga adds that contrary to modern days, people who lived decades ago in villages personally and intimately knew each other. Regardless of where or when a child is born, they were raised by the village.
“The beauty of our culture is that we believed that raising a child is a team effort and a collective concern. Far from the idea of perpetuating their mortal existence, the people of the village had a more unselfish end,” Mukankuranga said.
She also said that Kwita Izina is a “special occasion for everyone to feel involved as they pledge their love and support for your child’s future development.”
In modern times, there is more knowledge about the process of how a new life began, but the miracle of a birth is still a cause for celebration in the family and the community.
In part it is an introduction, but a bit of the ceremony stems from the concept that each adult present at the ceremony is in part responsible for the care of the child. Everyone present is important. They promise that they will make sure that the child is taken care of and raised in the faith if for some reason the parents are not able to do this.
After eating the Ubunnyano (food shared among the children), children are asked to participate in the Kwita Izina ceremony as an honor and commitment.
Mukankuranga also believes that in our modern times the ceremony is still preserved and it’s highly revered.
“There is hope that it will never be eroded even though it has experienced some changes or modernized. These days it requires an investment to organize the huge naming party,” she said.
Prior to the advent and spread of external forces of change such as colonialism, commerce and religion, the Kwita Izina ceremony underlined every facet of life of the Rwandan people. It was particularly significant in inculcating and promoting the sense of community-living. Such traditions suffused and gave meaning to life.
James Kayitale is a new father living in Nyagatare reveres Kwita Izina as a “ceremony that celebrates the pains and pleasures of parenthood.”
The sense of a community is highly cherished values in Rwanda where the community is basically sacred, rather than secular.
So the next time you are asked to attend a child naming ceremony, respond with the knowledge that you are following a tradition that goes back to the dawn of mankind. You are the recipient of a special honor and carry a special responsibility to share in the nurturing of a new life.