Kwita Izina*

Today (September 1) is Kwita Izina, which is a ceremony based on the traditional Rwandan practice of naming newborns, when all the new mountain gorillas who are new to the families living in the Virunga mountains are named by various members of the international community, including various representatives from the fields of conservation and tourism.  The namings this year are extra special because they include four adult females who traveled into Rwanda from unhabituated groups in Congo and one new group that has formed, as well as 14 infants.  All receive names in Kinyarwanda and I am actually watching the ceremony on the television in my hotel room in Huye, where I am today (see umuzungu! posting), as I write this.   Today is also Eid El Haj (aka Eid El-Adha or feast of sacrifice), which is the most important holiday of the Muslim calendar and concludes the Pilgrimage to Mecca.   All in all today is a pretty auspicious day.

President Kagame is in attendance. It is fun to see him when the camera pans away from the speakers to him.  The last name given to a gorilla was given to him in honor of President Kagame and all he has done for Rwanda —  umutwara (chief, leader).   President Kagame laughed and clapped his hands when he heard the choice and the reason for it.  Apparently, umutwara was born last August and already has a little silver on his back. I am watching him watch a performance of dancers now celebrating the gorillas and thinking how much he must love this country to have given his life to save it from self-destruction in 1994 and to guide it to become what is now not only a tribute to the power of reconciliation but also a model for economic growth that is unparalleled in the history of our lifetime.  I can never know what it must feel like for him to look at what his beloved Rwanda has achieved.

Apparently, the gorillas are very happy in Rwanda.  From 1985, when they first starting naming them, when there were only 8 groups, there are now 20!!  The increase in numbers reflects the how efforts to develop both conservation and tourism in Rwanda have served the gorilla communities.

Here is an official commentary on the event:

“Over the years, Kwita Izina has grown to become more than just giving names to infant gorillas,” says Felix Ndagijimana, the Fossey Fund’s director of programs in Rwanda and the Karisoke Research Center.           

“It is now an international event during which Rwandans and the international community come together to celebrate successes in the conservation of Rwanda’s rich biodiversity as well how our conservation efforts contribute to the development of the country and the well being of its people. It’s also a day to recognize the value of partnerships and also show appreciation to rangers, who have dedicated their lives to the cause of conservation.”

Watching the ceremony and the dancing troupe performances to honor the gorillas made me want to make sure I go to see them myself before I leave here.

*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.