A few weeks ago, Rwanda held its most popular event known as Kwita Izina. The ceremony was held at foothills of Volcanoes National Park Rwanda on the 2nd September 2022. This year’s annual ceremony brought together most of the influential names in conservation, athletics, business and philanthropy who graced this old tradition.
In the Rwandan culture; similar to several other African cultures, when a child came on earth, about 8 days went by to provide them a name. It is now no more; a child is named even before it comes out of its mother’s womb.
The naming ceremony of the child was regarded as “Kwita Izina” meaning naming. It was such a significant occasion; a child was wholly introduced into Rwandan society as it has a name to be called and also introduce themselves.
Other Traditions That Followed Kwita Izina
After Kwita Izina, other traditions prevailed including “Kuva Ku Kiriri” which happened when the mother had somehow recovered and could do some housework.
Kwita Izina was normally done on the 8th day of delivery. Sometimes, it could happen on the 6th or 4th day but never on a day that was not even. The first appearance of the mother outside the home happened during the event.
Albeit the mother could not give the name to the infant, they only kept the name provided by the father. For instance, if the mother delivered a child in the father’s absence, she had to go to the man’s home for Kwita Izina as it was regarded that the child could not have teeth if the ritual was not done in its right practice. The naming of the child depended on what the parents wished for them or how they regarded them.
Although, on some occasions, the naming was factored by the situations under which the child was delivered or what the parents went through at the time, notably happiness, crisis, poverty, and death of a family member. In other instances, the name of the child depicted the relationship of the parents between spouses, beliefs, and neighbors.
In the last 25 years, the ritual has gradually evolved as stated by an archaeologist at Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy, Andre Ntagwabira. The naming of the child is still highly regarded in society but other practices were scrapped off because of various reasons such as faith, laws, and health.
Ntagwabira revealed, “So many things have alternated in Kwita Izina as of today. The child can be given a name even before they are produced and henceforth, he is recorded in the hospital and civil registry”.
He voiced out other various adjustments in the rituals, most of which were abandoned and discarded as barbaric, notably Kuva ku Kiriri. Women nowadays take months as opposed to 8 days.
According to All About Rwanda, the ritual of “Guterura Unmwana” is strongly condemned by medical personnel since it debilitates the woman’s health and leads to health illness. Now, the medical practitioners advised holding to engaging in intercourse till about a month after childbirth, as opposed to the 8 days.
The archeologist further said, “most people apparently first research names for their kids, and at times, name them after their family to keep a legacy. Different religious and Kinyarwanda names are given to children and retained them. And it is no longer a mandate of the father to be the sole name provider of the child even a mother can do so”.
The change of the culture has factored the current alternations in the child naming rituals rather than being forgotten, for instance in some parts of the country some old practices are still done”, Andre noted.
Kwita Izina Introduced In Tourism
In 2005, the Rwandan government picked up the Kwita Izina ritual and introduced it in the tourism sector as a way to promote gorilla conversation. The event has taken strides over the years and it is now global.
Conservationists and high-profile personalities in Rwanda and the world over grace the event and provide names to the baby gorillas while the locals and park staff look on.
In a few years since its inception, the Kwita Izina ceremony has been integral to gorilla conservation and health and a proverb has been born out of it “Witaweho nk’icyana cy’ingagi” (you are being cared for like the child of a gorilla). In context, meaning one is well taken care of.
The mountain gorillas in the past ages were greatly threatened by poaching, human settlement, wars, and diseases and were anticipated to completely wipe out in this generation but gorilla conservation in Rwanda has completely changed the direction of the sail.
The conservation works in Rwanda have impacted the rise of the mountain gorilla population in the world to over 1000 and no longer red-listed as critically endangered, Rwanda Development Board indicates.
What is the background of the names given to the baby gorillas?
Way back before Kwita Izina, the mantle to name the baby gorillas was given to the park rangers and conservationists as a way of watching over each gorilla in their group and locality.
The chief park warden at the Volcanoes National Park stated that a lot has changed in an interview with the media before the event.
“The gorilla patrons who are mandated to look after the gorilla families, check their health problems and register their new births, suggest the names of the gorilla babies,” Uwingeli elaborated.
“The name may be signifying the personality of the mother, or any behavior of the group that the babies are born into. At the time they may refer to natural events occurring in a troop and sometimes the period and situations of the birth,” the warden explained more.
He stated that extraordinary occasions like being delivered where there are travelers may also be considered when giving a name to the gorilla.
In some instances, the name could be acknowledging the work of a tracker, or the triumph of conservation and community engagement.
Normally, the trackers from each gorilla group suggest a few names for the baby gorillas to the park authority, which forwards them to Rwanda Development Board to be approved and formally given to the gorillas at Kwita Izina.
While the gorillas do not recognize the names given to them, they assist the park personnel in monitoring, researching, and keeping their health status.
Kwiti Izina just concluded a few weeks back on Friday, September 2, 2022. It was such a colorful and glamourous ceremony that was graced by high-profile people like Didier Drogba (one of the greatest African footballers), Gilbert Silva (former Brazil and Arsenal player) top government officials, and even the president of Rwanda, H.E Paul Kagame. It garnered a mammoth crowd because it was the first physical event of its kind after two years of covid-19.
Rwanda’s intensive conservation efforts over the last few decades have seen to it that the mountain gorillas are not only protected, but are given room to thrive in their national habitat. As at the latest count, there are approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild, with 604 in the Virunga Massif.
The Rwanda Press Centre reported that over the last fifteen years, more than 350 mountain gorillas have been named. Today, Kwita Izina is part of Rwanda’s strategy to preserve her natural heritage and further expand the role of tourism in the country’s economic transformation.
The ceremony has also proven to be the best opportunity to thank the communities that live around Volcanoes National Park, research partners, veterinarians, dedicated conservationists, rangers, and trackers who protect the gorillas.
According to African wildlife foundation, among all the great apes, it is only the mountain gorillas that are increasing in population. Other gorilla sub species such as the cross river gorillas in Nigeria, the western lowland gorillas, and the Eastern lowland gorillas are all still facing the population decline crisis.
Kwita Izina is proof that societies can be geared towards conservation as long as there is a uniting point that both celebrates as well as continually creates awareness about the success that can easily go unnoticed.