Kwita Izina ceremony in Rwanda
Kwita Izina is a Rwandan ceremony of giving a name to a newborn baby gorilla. It is named after the ancestral baby naming ceremony that happened after the birth of a newborn. The ceremony's main goal is in helping monitor each individual gorilla and their groups in their natural habitat. It was created as a means of bringing attention both locally and internationally about the importance of protecting the mountain gorillas and their habitats in Volcanoes National Park in the Virunga Mountains in the north of the country.
Inspired by the Rwandan tradition of holding a naming ceremony for babies after their birth, Kwita Izina – or ‘to give a name’ in the national language, Kinyarwanda – is an event like no other on Earth, yet steeped in cultural meaning and ancient custom.
Rwanda hosts this annual, week-long program of activities each September to raise awareness and funds for the ongoing protection of the country’s mountain gorillas and the expansion of their habitat. One of the world’s most respected forums for conservation and sustainable tourism, Kwita Izina includes a conference, workshops and the highlight – a naming ceremony for the gorillas born in the country’s Volcanoes National Park over the past year or so. Here, invited guests take to the huge, silverback-shaped bamboo stage and assign each gorilla with a carefully chosen name according to the baby's behavior and unique character traits, and which Rwandans believe will encourage good fortune and play a prominent role in shaping the infants’ futures.
The festivities – which include traditional music, dancing and performances from local students and artists – attract thousands of visitors each year, with conservationists, rangers and communities; international celebrities, dignitaries and the country’s President attending the ceremony near the town of Kinigi, at the foothills of the Virunga Massif.
Rwanda’s conservation and responsible tourism initiatives – including a successful trekking program to see the gorillas in their forest home – benefit animals and people. It’s been estimated that an individual ‘habituated’ mountain gorilla can indirectly generate around $3 million during its lifetime from tourism income. Revenue from the sale of trekking permits to see the gorillas helps to support Volcanoes National Park, and three other protected wildlife reserves across the country. In addition, 10% of tourism revenue is shared with communities living around the park, and locals are employed as vets, researchers, trackers, porters and guides, while others work in safari lodges and camps.
Story & images by Jean Bizimana