Rwanda Culture

The culture of Rwanda is a very diversified and it has a unified state since pre-colonial times unlike many countries in Africa. It not only includes the population of Rwanda but also Kinyarwanda speaking people in the neighboring states particularly Uganda and Congo. There are 3 main ethnic groups in the Rwandan culture namely Hutu, Tusi and the Twa and these are based on perceptions of historical originals and not cultural differences. All the three speak the same language, live interspersed throughout the same territory and also practice the same religions. Rwandans living in Uganda and Congo include refugees as well as Kinyarwanda speakers who lived outside Rwanda for generations and all these usually maintain a strong identification with the Rwandan national state.


The Language

Kinyarwanda is the language spoken by most Rwandans as their mother tongue but almost every Rwandan speaks a little of one wider language mainly French, English and Swahili. When dealing with their main trading partners in East Africa, Rwandans make use of English and Swahili. Well educated individuals however often speak fluent French and many migrants who returned home after the genocide from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania or the USA tend to speak English more. Rwandans are very pleased when visitors try to speak their mother tongue (Kinyarwanda). Speaking a few words like ‘amakuru’ (how are you) or ‘Muraho’ (good day) gets them excited.

The Beliefs


Christianity has become a central part of the country with over two thirds of Rwandans Christians, mainly Catholic although smaller evangelical churches are getting popular of late. However quite a large number of Rwandans still hold to traditional beliefs and these centre around a supreme being they refer to as the ‘Imana”. Informal ceremonies are still held to ask for Imana’s blessing. There is a common belief that “Imana helps in the creation of children inside the wombs of their mothers by shaping the clay which forms us; so women sometimes are known to leave a few drops of water in a jar at night which the potter will use to work the clay.”

In Rwanda marriage is considered the most basic social institution and the pressure to marry and have children is quite high. Most couples today have the leverage to select their own mates unlike in the past though family approval is still expected. Marriage across the ethnic groups is common.

Women and men share the agricultural work where men clear the land and also break the soil as the women engage in most of the daily farming activities such as planting, weeding as well as harvesting. Overseeing livestock is a primary responsibility of the men who are assisted by the youth who serve as shepherds. Men also engage in heavy jobs around the house like construction as the women prepare the food, maintain the household and raise the children.

Music and dance

This is an integral part of Rwandan ceremonies, social gatherings, festivals and storytelling. Celebratory dances are usually accompanied by an ‘orchestra’ of drums and nine energetic men who enthusiastically provide the beat. ‘Intore’ as it is famously known is the most famous traditional dance down here and it consists of 3 components that are highly choreographed namely; the dance of heroes which is done by men, ballet done by women and the drums. Drums have immense importance and drummers usually play in groups of seven or nine.

A set of drums is usually made up of the smallest drum which is a soprano, two baritones, a tenor, an alto, two bass as well as two double bass which are the largest drums. Although modern music and gospel hymns a have taken root in Rwanda and are popular, traditional folk songs are not ignored and people still love them as much. The traditional folk songs are at times accompanied by a zither instrument with a soundboard and over 8 eight strings plus a lone inanga. One of the oldest dance groups that was founded centuries ago when there performed for the king of Rwanda is called the Intore dance troupe. They have travelled the world spreading the Rwandan culture and they perform across the country as well especially at the National museum in Huye-Butare.


The Oldest known inhabitants of Rwanda were pygmoid hunter-gatherers, ancestral to the present Twa people who at the present time comprise just 0.25% of the national population. Some 2,000 years ago, agricultural as well as pastoralist migrants from the west settled in the area. Oral traditions retrieve that prior to the 15th century a ruler named Gihanga counterfeited a centralised Rwandan state with similar roots to the Buganda in addition to Bunyoro Empires in neighbouring Uganda. Comprised of a cattle-owning nobility along with agriculturist serfdom majority – the precursors respectively of the present-day Tutsi in addition to Hutu – this powerful state was able to repel entirely early attempts at European penetration.

Rwanda converted a German colony following the 1885 Berlin Conference, although it would be full decade prior a lasting German presence was constituted there. In 1918, Rwanda was mandated to Belgium, which implemented a system of indirect rule that exploited as well as intensified the existing divisions between Tutsi and Hutu.

Music as well as dance plays a significant role in the traditions of all Rwanda’s peoples .The Rwandan people have a variety of music in addition to dance which range from acts that demonstrate epics commemorating excellence as well as bravery,
humorous lyrics to hunting root. Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga, a harp-like instrument with eight strings. More
celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which commonly comprises seven to nine members, furthermore jointly produce a hypnotic as well as exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.

Fortunate visitors may perhaps come upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. The finest exponent of Rwanda’s varied as well as dynamic traditional musical in addition to dance styles, but, is the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore – literally ‘The Chosen Ones’ – when performed exclusively for the Royal Court, although today their adventurous act could be arranged at short notice through the National Museum in Butare. A more advanced form of Rwandan music is the upbeat along with harmonious devotional singing that could be heard in any church service around the country.

A wide range of traditional handicrafts is made in rural Rwanda, ranging from ceramics and basketry to traditional woodcarvings as well as contemporary paintings. A good option of crafted artifacts may possibly be viewed in the main market or street stalls in Kigali, as an excellent place to peruse along with buy modern art works is the capital’s Centre for the Formation of Arts. A distinctively Rwandan craft is the cow dung ‘paintings’ that are made by a local co-operative in the village of Nyakarimbi near the Rusumo Falls border with Tanzania. Dominated by black, brown and white whorls along with other geometric abstractions, these distinctive as well as earthy works may well be bought in Kigali, although it’s worth diverting to source to see how the paintings are reflected in local house decorations.




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    © 2020 by JUDITH SAFARIS.


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