Pan African Heritage: Rwanda

24 Sep

Knowing our broader heritage.

As we celebrate Heritage Day, in South Africa today, I want to explore and understand our Pan African heritage. With my love for the continent specifically East Africa I would like to write about the people of Rwanda. This was inspired by an Instagram post by my dear friend and colleague, Sheila Nduhukire from Uganda.


The Rwandese.

Alternative Names
Banyarwanda, Banyamulenge, Bafumbira

The Rwandan culture includes not only the population of Rwanda but people in neighbouring states, particularly Congo and Uganda, who speak the Kinyarwanda language. The important ethnic divisions within Rwandan culture between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa are based on perceptions of historical group origins rather than on cultural differences. All three groups speak the same language, practice the same religions, and live interspersed throughout the same territory; they are thus widely considered to share a common culture, despite deep political divisions. The Rwandans in Congo and Uganda include both refugees, who generally maintain a strong identification with the Rwandan national state, and Kinyarwanda speakers who have lived outside Rwanda for generations and therefore have a distinct cultural identity within the wider national culture.

The Language:

Kinyarwanda is the language most widely spoken in Rwanda.Swahili is also useful in some parts of the country especially in Kigali and other towns; it is also used for commerce. According to the 2001 census, Kinyarwanda is spoken by 99% of the population, Swahili 20%, French 8%, and English 5%. Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language spoken by approximately 20,000,000 people, with over 8,000,000 in Rwanda. Kinyarwanda is part of the Bantu sub-group of the central branch of the Niger-Congo language family. It is closely related to Kirundi, the language of Burundi. The Rwanda language is mutually intelligible with Kirundi, which is spoken in neighbouring Burundi.

Music and dance play an important role in the traditions of Rwandan people. Many songs and dances include epics that commemorate excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics, and hunting roots. They are often accompanied by the Inanga, a harp- like instrument used by Rwandan Artists.
The most famous traditional dance is Intore, a highly choreographed routine consisting of three components – the ballet, performed by women; the dance of heroes, performed by men, and the drums. Traditionally, music is transmitted orally with styles varying between the social groups. Drums are of great importance, the royal drummers having enjoyed high status within the court of the mwami. Drummers usually play together in groups of seven or nine.

Rwanda does not have a long history of written literature, but there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories. In particular the pre-colonial royal court developed traditions of ibitekerezo (epic musical poetry), ubucurabwenge (royal genealogies typically recited at coronation ceremonies), and ibisigo (royal poems). Many of the country’s moral values and details of history have been passed down through the generations. The most famous Rwandan literary figure was Alexis Kagame (1912–1981), who carried out and published research into the oral tradition as well as writing his own poetry

Traditional attire.
The mushanana (plural: mishanana) is the traditional ceremonial dress of women in Rwanda. It consists of a wrapped skirt bunched at the hips and a sash draped over one shoulder, typically worn over a tank top or bustier. The fabric used for the mushanana may be any colour and is often gauzy and lightweight to create a flowing effect. Mushananas are no longer frequently used as daily wear, but rather are worn on formal occasions such as to attend church services, weddings or funerals. They are standard costumes for female dancers in Intore dance troupes.
Mushanana is also worn by the Banyankole women in the Ankole region in western Uganda, currently almost replacing the traditional ekitambi gown.

Know our heritage.


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