Kwita Izina

Naming Rwanda's future generation of gorillas.

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Kwita Izina, or ‘to give a name’ in Kinyarwanda, is an event unlike any other on Earth, yet rich in cultural significance and ancient custom. It is inspired by the Rwandan practice of having a naming ceremony for newborns following their birth.

Rwanda conducts this annual, week-long program of events in September to raise awareness and finances for the country’s mountain gorillas’ continuous conservation and habitat extension. Kwita Izina is one of the world’s most recognized conservation and sustainable tourism conferences, including a conference, seminars, and the centerpiece – a naming ceremony for gorillas born in the country’s Volcanoes National Park in the last year or so.

Invited visitors take to the big, silverback-shaped wooden stage and name each gorilla carefully based on the baby’s conduct and distinctive character qualities, which Rwandans think would inspire good fortune and play a significant part in moulding the kids’ fates.

The festivities, which include traditional music, dancing, and performances by local students and artists, draw thousands of visitors each year, including conservationists, rangers, and communities, as well as international celebrities, dignitaries, and the country’s President, who attend the ceremony near Kinigi, at the foothills of the Virunga Massif.

Rwanda’s conservation and ethical tourism activities help both animals and humans, including a successful trekking program to observe gorillas in their natural habitat. It is predicted that a single ‘habituated’ mountain gorilla may indirectly earn about $3 million in tourism money over the course of its lifespan. Revenue from the selling of gorilla trekking permits helps to fund Volcanoes National Park and three other protected wildlife areas around the nation. Furthermore, 10% of tourist earnings is shared with surrounding communities, and locals serve as vets, researchers, trackers, porters, and guides, while others work in safari hotels and camps.

Significance of Kwita Izina

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Kwita Izina plays a significant role, not just via encouraging conservation and generating finances with ticket sales for the ceremony, but by asking the Rwandans to enjoy and preserve their natural – and cultural – heritage. The Virungas’ thickly wooded summits are where American primatologist Dian Fossey studied mountain gorillas and established the first gorilla research facility known as Karisoke, one of only two surviving strongholds for the species (the other being Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda). Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) now collaborates closely with the Rwandan government to carry on Fossey’s legacy through education, park ranger funding, and community activities.

“Kwita Izina is a source of great pride for all Rwandans,” says Tara Stoinski, President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer of DFGFI. “It pays international attention to the great efforts of the government and people in saving mountain gorillas. At a time when conservation success stories are few and far between, what has occurred here is absolutely amazing, demonstrating what can be done when long-term conservation commitment and leadership are in place.”

There’s a lot to be proud of. While all other great ape species are in decrease, mountain gorilla numbers are on the increase. In the 1980s, just 242 individuals were reported in the Virunga Massif; today, the territory is home to over 1000. With 400 more in Bwindi, the IUCN downgraded the species from “critically endangered” to “endangered” in 2018.

Over 280 young gorillas have been named since Kwita Izina began, each one carefully chosen to reflect the infant’s unique tale and history, or to invoke good luck and protection. Names have traditionally been crucial in Rwanda, where they’re considered to impact the character and future prospects of a child, helping to mold their life path. Prior to Kwita Izina, it was up to the park guards who guarded them to name the gorillas.

Just as our personal names give us significance and a link to our past, place, and relatives, the names given to gorillas allow rangers and researchers track the advancement of individuals within their family groupings and throughout their ranges.

Gorilla trekking tour Uganda- Laba Africa expedition -photo
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Naturalist Sir David Attenborough named a newborn Inshungu, which means “blessing,” in 2016. In 2017, Dr. Stoinski named Macibiri in honour to Fossey, whose Rwandan nickname was Nyiramacibiri, thought to roughly translate as ‘the woman who lives alone on the mountain’. In 2018, former Arsenal footballer Laureano Bisan Etamé-Mayer named infant Ikipe, which means ‘team,’ with Izahabu (‘precious,’ Kunesha (‘to win,’ and Uburumbuke (‘prosperity’). All were greeted with enthusiasm, shouts, and a communal sense of optimism for their future.

“A name proclaims the dreams parents have for their children, thus we define our own future by the names we give our children,” explains Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer of the Rwanda Development Board.

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