People & Culture

Dancing to the beat

As in all African countries, Rwanda has a rich tradition of celebrations involving music and dance.

Dance

MusicIn this video…children from the SOS Children's Village in Kigali perform traditional and modern dances to music. Some of songs will be familiar to older generations in the UK! The children sing as they carry woven 'peace baskets'. These are made to signify the peace existing between formerly opposed ethnic groups, after the violence of the 1994 genocide.

Celebratory dances are often backed by an ‘orchestra’ of drums, with up to nine players providing the beat.

A set of nine drums typically has a soprano (the smallest drum ), a tenor, alto, two baritones, two bass and two double bass (the largest  drums).

Though modern music and church/gospel hymns are popular in Rwanda today, some people still prefer the traditional folk songs. These are sometimes accompanied by a lone inanga, a zither instrument with a soundboard and up to eight strings.

One of the oldest Rwandan music and dance groups is the Intore Dance Troupe. The Intore – literally meaning ‘the Chosen Ones’ – were founded several centuries ago, when they performed at the court of the Rwandan mwami or king. Today, they perform across the country and also at the National Museum in Huye (Butare).

 

  • Traditional dancing in Rwanda
  • Rwandan children playing on drums

Conversing in Rwanda

Most Rwandans have Kinyarwanda as their mother-tongue. But almost everyone speaks a little of one wider language, usually French, English or Swahili.

Trading languages

English and Swahili are useful for Rwandans when dealing with their main trading partners in east Africa.

Well-educated Rwandans often speak fluent French. But after the ethnic violence in 1994, a number of migrants returned home to help rebuild their country. Coming back from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania or the USA, these returnees tend to speak English as their second language.

But like people everywhere, Rwandans really appreciate it when visitors speak a few words in their mother tongue of Kinyarwanda. Even saying ‘Muraho’ (good day) or ‘amakuru’ (how are you?) will bring a smile to their faces.

Sharing a common history and language, today people do not like to be asked any questions about their ethnicity and consider themselves only as Rwandans.

Rwandan beliefs

Over two-thirds of Rwandans are Christian, mainly Catholic, though smaller evangelical churches are becoming more popular.

However many Rwandans still hold to traditional beliefs. These centre around a supreme being called the Imana. People often hold informal ceremonies asking for the Imana’s blessing.

The Imana is believed to help in the creation of children inside the mother’s womb by shaping the clay which forms us. Women sometimes leave a few drops of water in a jar at night so that the potter has some water with which to work the clay.