KWITA IZINA: WHERE HISTORY AND TRADITION MEET TO CELEBRATE CONSERVATION

KWITA IZINA: WHERE HISTORY AND TRADITION MEET TO CELEBRATE CONSERVATION

Kwita Izina is a traditional ceremony organised by Rwandans to celebrate and welcome a newborn in a family. This ceremony offers the opportunity for family members, friends and neighbors to give a name to the new family member. They all meet in the family’s home and each give a name of his/her choice. A child can have even more than 1,000 names in a large family of 1,000 members. But, the child will be known only under the names given by the parents.

It is within this context that the Kwita Izina ceremony was introduced to welcome newborn gorillas as well. Practically, it is believed to have been initiated to gorillas early 1970’s when late American primatologist, Dr. Dian Fossey, started giving names to gorillas she was monitoring for her research (some of us can easily recall the famous DIGIT.) After the death of Dr. Dian Fossey, the management of the Volcanoes National Park kept the tradition of giving names to new born gorilla babies until the Office Rwandais du Tourism et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) adopted the ceremony and developed it into a national event to celebrate conservation in Rwanda

After the death of Dr. Dian Fossey, the management of the Volcanoes National Park kept the tradition of giving names to new born gorilla babies until the Office Rwandais du Tourism et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) adopted the ceremony and developed it into a national event to celebrate conservation in Rwanda. 

I attended the gorilla naming ceremony for the 1st time in 2002. Although naming ceremony locally means “KWITA IZINA”, it was not yet in the current format as it was a kind of a family ceremony between the park staff and partners to celebrate the park achievements. Although there were still less than “650 gorillas in the wild”, the event was always colorful with local dances, speeches and pledges.   

Ready to give the name during the 2008 Kwita Izina

When the then Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux, decided to promote the event from the park level to the national level, the goal was about raising the local and international awareness about the then “threatened to extinction species”. No one could predict that 15 years after, we would be celebrating the increase of mountain gorillas from 650 to over 1,000, most importantly despite being critically endangered, mountain gorillas are no longer threatened to extinction.

Event after event, the Kwita Izina ceremony keeps on growing! Besides raising local and international awareness, the event is boosting conservation and tourism activities both locally and internationally. You don’t need to look at tourism stats only do also refer to stats from people who attend the Kwita Izina events such as the former of Conversation on Conservation (now the Business of Conservation Conference) and other events such as Kwita Izina community week whereby community projects are inaugurated and handed on to local communities etc.   

Many think that Kwita Izina would mean a lot if baby gorillas were brought to the site for Kwita Izina event. Although that’s something hardily impossible for conservation reasons, it doesn’t however prevent the event from being attractive considering the entertainment, participation of local communities, participation of local and international guests including international media etc. I will never forget my personal experience when in 2008, I was chosen to name one baby gorilla among 20 babies to be named. I chose to name a baby from the mother called Inziza of Shinda group.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, an unforgettable experience, as it’s not just about standing, holding a microphone and give a name. It’s about understanding the event rationale, selecting a name that has a real and local meaning and to be able to share it with the Very Important People and dignitaries from across the world with people following you on local and international media. I’m sure even gorillas do follow to react if you happen to give an appropriate name!

Just imagine being selected from millions of people who want to name a baby gorilla, I’m sure, you would share the same feeling. When told that I was going to name the baby, I started questioning my heart about what could be the right name. Actually, I had the same feelings as when I was going to name my 1st daughter ten years back.  This absolutely motivated the name I finally selected, IGITANGAZA (miracle), a name that tries to describe the conditions in which this baby was born.  According to individual gorilla data, Inziza (the mother) spent a long time before giving birth to her 1st infant and rangers were becoming impatient and worried, until luckily, during the morning tracking patrols, they found both the mother and the baby safe and sound.

Photo of the baby I was ready to give a name

2019 marks 15 years of Kwita Izina with a record of 25 baby gorillas born from fourteen families between September 2018 and September 2019. They are lined up to be given names at the traditional ceremony slated for September 6th in Kinigi, Musanze district, Northern Province. https://ktpress.rw/2019/08/kwita-izina-2019-meet-baby-gorillas-to-be-named/ .

For more information about the 2019 Kwita Izina ceremony, do refer to www.kwitaizina.org or https://rdb.rw/

Emmanuel BUGINGO,

Executive Director, Partners For Conservation 

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