Steve travelled to Kwita Izina, the 12th annual naming ceremony for newborn gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and tells us about his visit to the beautiful country and his experience at this very special event.
Earlier this month, on 2 September, the 12th Kwita Izina naming ceremony for newborn gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park was celebrated. Occurring annually since 2005, this year 22 babies were named, bringing the total to 283 since the event started – an incredible achievement and testament to the determined efforts of the Rwandan people in protecting these magnificent animals. The Kwita Izina is inspired by the ancient tradition of naming babies soon after they are born.
Rwanda is a thriving country, with a fast growing economy and a proud population, working determinedly to move on from the horrors of the 1994 genocide. One such example is “Umuganda day”, the last Saturday of every month, when all citizens are required to take the day off and serve the community by collecting litter. The result is surely the cleanest country in Africa.
My visit to the small, landlocked country commenced in the capital of Kigali, with a tour of the Genocide Museum, described as a place of remembrance and learning and the final resting place for 250,000 genocide victims. It’s a harrowing experience, and a stark reminder of Rwanda’s recent past. In the aftermath of 1994, there has been much written about how the international community allowed events to unfold as they did, seemingly with little interest in the fate of the country and its people.
Seeing the numbers of visiting dignitaries, tourism professionals and other international guests at the naming ceremony, it’s hard to believe that now. For Rwandans, supported by the international community, have found a cause to believe in – the conservation of the remaining few hundred mountain gorillas that remain in the wild.
During his address, President Paul Kagame stressed the relationship between conservation and development, and the dependence of economic growth on the state of the country’s natural attractions. Besides being a valuable source of foreign exchange revenues, a portion of the gorilla permit income is now being shared with the local communities surrounding the park, and its clearly evident that much has changed over the preceding decade, and I suspect there will be even more so over the next.
But back to the gorillas and the newborn stars of the 2016 celebrations. The names chosen for the 22 babies were carefully considered: representing their story (born on Palm Sunday), the story of Rwanda (born on the Referendum day), or character and physical traits already evident in the young ones: Ishimwe (be happy), Umwiza (the beautiful one), Umuhate (bravery) and Mafubo (someone who has an excellent character) and more …
For the lucky chosen few, it was an honour to name these young primates; for the rest of us present, it was a collective welcoming into a fragile world, and an undertaking to do our part to help protect these endangered mammals.
Spending time with the gorilla families in the wild, is surely an hour that you will never forget, but what stood out for me and tugged at my heartstrings when celebrating these 22 youngsters were their adorable hairstyles: the crop cut, the buzz cut, the ‘kuif’, the Wolverine, the ‘I just got out of bed’ and the ‘my mom ruffled my hair’ look.
Let us know which is your favourite, mine, I think, is Umuhate the Brave (the opening picture in this post).
Note from the Editor: I was delighted to see that our friend and industry supremo, Keith Vincent, CEO of Wilderness Safaris, had the honour of naming one of the babies: Nyampinga (Beautiful girl) born on 10 April this year. And the baby that Kate and I ‘met’ last December and member of the Sabyinyo family was named Icyemezo (Decision). He looked pretty decisive when he stood his ground as his dad, the powerful silverback Guhonda and the largest measured to date at 220kg, approached. We, on the otherhand, were quaking in our hiking boots.