Kwita Izina, Rwanda – The Gorilla Naming Ceremony
Kwita Izina is a celebration of all that is good about the new Rwanda. A celebration of this new modern country that has come so far since 1994. It’s a celebration of the superb conservation work with the mountain gorillas and a celebration of these new babies all in front of an international audience. It’s a chance for Rwanda to put forward its good foot and showcase why people should visit this small and beautiful country. There were super dances and music by the locals who were dressed in colourful and strange outfits. All were enjoyed by dignitaries (including the prime minister), the locals and bums like me it all against the spectacular backdrop of the Virunga Mountains partially shrouded in mist (and there were gorillas somewhere in that mist).
What is Kwita Izina
Kwita Izina, pronounced Kwit Izina, is simply the naming of the newborn baby gorillas that were born within the last year. The names are these days given by some high profile figures in the primate and gorilla sphere and travel from all over the world to be there so it is a big deal. There are usually around 12-18 babies every year. There are plenty of press and photographers here as well to bring the news to the world. It started from small beginnings in 2005 by the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) to try and promote mountain gorilla conservation and raise much needed funds of which they have done a great job. Gorilla numbers are up by more than a quarter in the last 10years. Kwita Izina is now one of East Africa’s primary conservation meetings. It takes place in a field in the small village of Kinigi which is the HQ for trekking for the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains near Ruhengeri (Musanze). There are lots of local dances, great music, great paintings and all watched by hundreds of dignitaries, international press and the locals who squash up outside all this to get a view.
How did a bum like me manage to get into Kwita Izina?
I got in though a combination of ignorance, hard neck and naivety really. There wasn’t any super plan or months of research but it really brought home the sense of them and us to me. That morning we jumped on the back of a moto in Musanze and headed out clinging to the driver for dear life. Invites are needed (see below) to get inside the fence but the event is free to everybody outside. This means you can be rammed together with the locals just outside and enjoy the music and dance on the stage but cannot mix with the upper echelons of society. Not many of the locals knew much about the detail and from our emails with the RDB they were hard to get. As we were doing the gorilla trekking the previous day we said we would head out and see what it was all about.
In our naivety, or hard necks, we got off the motos and walked up the low fenced corridor passed the many eyes to the big security man at the top. As we had only arrived 15 seconds before I hadn’t really taken the whole picture in and to be honest didn’t really know what I was doing in general so in our shorts and t-shirts the security man might be able to help us as not many other officials were around the place. As we approached him with his indifferent stare he asked for our passes. We told him we didn’t have any but had been emailing the RDB (which we had) and some other excuse to make him take pity on us . He gave us a condescending look and then surprisingly waved us on. We were in. Wahoo! That wasn’t hard.
Then as we settled down on the grass as we didn’t have seats and realised that most people were dressed waaay better than we were I realised why we got in. We got in because we were white. That corridor that we walked down was down the middle of the area the thousands of locals were crammed into. People who live on less than $2 per day and here we were just breezing in because we were tourists. I was such a bum I didn’t even have a proper passport and hardly any clothes. As I looked around the ground, the perimeter was lined with security guards with huge sticks to keep any locals out. If the prime minister and some important foreign ministers are there then security needs to be tight but the contrast between some of the people on either side of the fence was stark and security should apply to everyone, not just the locals.
There were some local schools inside the fence and some local painters painting the scene live so the local area was thought of. The bands were great, the dancing was superb and the kids playing the gorillas were also great. No actual baby gorillas are at the ceremony so kids dressed up played the part. One of the Japanese guys that we went trekking with the day before with named a gorilla. He was about 70 and climbed up the mountain no problem. Apparently he is the biggest name in the world of gorillas. Almost all names given are along the lines ‘love’, ‘beauty’, ‘wonder’ in one of the local languages.
Why was in here and not them?
The dancing and ceremony lasts about 2hrs and then everybody gets free food in one of the tents. At this stage most of the locals go home but it’s also the time when the big sticks come into their own. Basically lot of the locals then try to run past the guards which are frantically trying to swat them like flies. There is very little physical contact but for an hour while people get free food and drink in a tent, hundreds of security guards are keeping the locals at bay. The food was gone very quickly but the locals just wanted some of the hats, the souvenirs, some ribbons that were left behind. And here I was sitting on the grass looking at all this as if it didn’t apply to me.
Did I deserve to be there because I was a tourist? Did I deserve to be there because I paid a ridiculous amount of money to see the gorillas the previous day? My money goes into keeping the gorillas alive by protecting them with employed guards and the gorillas bring me to this region to spend money on accommodation, transport and food. Is that a valid reason?
Or is what was wrong was the perception? The perception not just by people in developed countries but also by developing and third world countries like that security guard. The perception that foreigners have money and can bypass the rules whereas the locals are lawless and savages. I could be trusted but the locals couldn’t.
Despite my musings about the injustice of the world if you are in Rwanda during Kwita Izina then you should definitely try and go. Whether you are inside or outside the fence it is still free and you will still be able to see and hear the music, see the dance and have a great time making friends with the baby gorillas.
Practicalities – About Kwita Izina
When is Kwita Izina On: Kwita Izina is on Tues 1st July 2014. The date will be similar for 2015 but has not been set yet.
Where is Kwita Izina On: Kwita Izina is on in the village of Kinigi which is 10km north west of Musanze (also known as Ruhengeri)
How to get invited to Kwita Izina: This is the tricky part. As mentioned above the ceremony is free but you will be with the thousands of locals with a limited view (unless you get there early) unless you have a ticket. If you email firstname.lastname@example.org in the RDB he will be able to help you.
Getting to Kinigi: The Kwita Izina ceremony takes place only a few hundred meters from where you go to trek with the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. It is possible to stay in Kinigi but getting there from Musanze is easy. It take roughly 15minutes in a taxi or on the back of a moto.