“God spends the day elsewhere, but He sleeps in Rwanda,” is an old saying in Rwanda. This quote explains the beautiful land that Rwanda is. The country is so beautiful that God himself spends the night there and makes it His home. Rwanda is one of the most picturesque countries globally. And there are many interesting facts about Rwanda that are less known.
The country lies just south of the equator in central Africa and blessed with rich biodiversity and an extraordinary range of wildlife and scenic beauty. This is the place where the Great Lakes Region and East Africa converge. Rwanda is also known as the land of a thousand lakes. Picturesque and beautiful lakes, both big and small, dot this small country.
Rwanda is located on the Great Rift Valley and is a landlocked country. Its neighbors are Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The capital of the country is Kigali, one of the safest and friendliest capitals in the world. With a total area of 26,338 square kilometres, it is the fourth-smallest African country.
Most of the country is at high altitudes, and the lowest point is the Rusizi River at 950 meters above sea level. The highest point is Mount Karisimbi, at 4,507 meters above sea level. Because of the high altitude, the climate is pleasant, with the mountainous west and north cooler than the rest of the country.
Rwanda’s population is over 12.6 million people on 26,338 sq km of land, making it one of the densely populated countries. Rwandans are from one cultural and linguistic group called the Banyarwanda. Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa are the three sub-groups of Banyarwanda.
The country went through a traumatic event in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide happened. This was when Hutu extremists killed Tutsi people and many moderate Hutu people. According to estimates, over one million people died in the civil war. Following the outbreak of the civil war, Paul Kagame formed the Rwandan Patriotic to fight the rebels. Eventually, the Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the rebels and restored peace in the country. The event is the darkest period in the history of Rwanda.
The movie Hotel Rwanda depicts some of the incidents during the genocide. The incidents were from the real-life story of Paul Rusesabagina.
However, today most Rwandans prefer to forget this traumatic event and focus on building the nation. Rwanda today is a peaceful and safe place. It can as well claim as the safest country in Africa. The majority of the Hutu and Tutsi live peacefully and work towards the development of Rwanda.
In recent times, the Rwanda Government has taken several initiatives to develop the country as an economic and technology powerhouse in eastern Africa. Besides, it is an investor-friendly country and has low levels of corruption compared with neighboring countries. Rwanda is also one of the three countries where women are in the majority amongst the parliament members. This is a clear testimony of gender equality in the country.
The culture of this beautiful country is a blend of both tribes. And interspersed with the influence of many other ethnic groups who have made Rwanda their home.
Here are some fantastic facts about Rwanda.
We are familiar with the various hairstyles, crew cut, buzz cut, Afro, dreadlocks, Caesar cut, etc. Have you heard of Amasunzu?
Amasunzu is a unique Rwandan hairstyle that was once extremely popular amongst men and women. Worn in different styles, Amasunzu involves cutting the hair at the sides. It is then allowed to grow towards the middle. The hairstyle is a matter of pride for most Rwandans. Many young people are keen on reviving the tradition and keeping the Amasunzu hairstyle.
Men wore it as a symbol of bravery and as a macho emblem. Whereas unmarried women often wore to signify that they are ready for courtship. Once married, they grew the hair showing respect for her husband and his family.
In recent times, the Hollywood actress Lupita Nyong’O wore it at the 90th Academy Award, signifying her connection with eastern Africa. The Arsenal team who visited Rwanda in 2020 went over to Rwanda’s Aamsunzu Barbershop and experienced first-hand the hairstyle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lADzp3ji1ro
Intore, in the Kinyarwanda language, means ‘The Chosen Ones. There is a unique selection process in choosing the artists for this centuries-old dance style. Dancers are trained in military tactics and jumping in a unique manner. Incidentally, jumping forms a significant part of this beautiful dance.
During this dance, the artists wear grass wigs and hold weapons, generally spears in their hands. Because of its martial origins, the Intore dance is trendy and has plenty of symbolic representations of the army.
For instance, the sisal wigs worn by the dancers symbolize the mane of a lion and the infantry. A symbolic posture of an eagle represents the air force. This style is called ‘Agasiga’ or eagle. The dancer elegantly spreads the hands like an eagle and turns the head like an eagle, surveying the landscape.
Most hotels and lodges generally have a live performance of intore dances in the evenings. The Gorilla Guardians village in Musanze, one of the largest cities in Rwanda and just 74km from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, and the National Museum of Rwanda in Kigali have a regular performance of Intore dance.
The cow is an animal that has a close association with human history. People worship it, and it is highly valued in many cultures. A cow is also an important food source – both as milk and meat. Many societies use cow dung as fertilizer, fuel, to repel mosquitoes and thermal insulators.
Women in Rwanda mainly practice the Imigongo art. The themes are generally geometrical designs with dominant red, black, and white colors in this art form. The preparation of the painting is simple. The women mix cow dung with ash and pour the mixture into wooden boards. These boards are of different designs and geometric patterns.
The designs in the wooden mold dry in a few days. Immediately on drying, the women paint the designs using natural pigments. The white color comes from mixing kaolin. Whereas the iron-rich soil gives the red color. The ochre produces a yellow color. And mixing the banana peels with aloe vera sap you get the black color.
Prince Kakira created and perfect Imigongo art in the late 18th century. He was the son of King Kimenyi of Gisaka in the eastern Kibbungo region bordering Tanzania. Interestingly, he invented this art form to decorate the walls of his home. He felt the walls were bare and plain. Adding a bit of color would beautify the home.
The local women soon picked up a new fascinating way of making their huts more colorful. Very soon, this art became popular throughout Rwanda.
Revival of Imigongo Art
Though today the number of huts adorned with Imgigongo art is reducing, it is still a cultural icon of Rwanda. However, the process of making it has not changed since its invention. However, during the period following the civil war, this art declined. The scars of the civil war were still fresh in the minds of the people. Art and culture were the last things on their disturbed minds.
Luckily, some of the women’s cooperatives managed to revive this art in the early part of 2000. Following the revival, the interest in this art went up. Modern artists have reformed the art and blended the traditional methods with the contemporary to create brilliant patterns that convey the new spirit of Rwanda.
You can find these beautiful designs in shops, craft centers, and major tourist places. But the Kakira Imigongo cooperative is the popular place for imigongo art. Kakira Imigongo is in the town of Nyakarammbi, about three hours from Kigali,. A few of the widows of the civil war came together and established this center. Significantly it has produced Rwanda’s best imigongo art forms.
Umuganda The Rwandan Legacy
If you visit Rwanda, especially Kigali, you will find the city quiet on the last Saturday of the month. You will find most of the shops, hotels and other places closed. There is very little traffic on the road. You will not find any public transport. There would be virtually no commercial activity.
However, you will find the people in the entire town busy. They are busy cleaning up the neighborhood, planting trees, and contributing to the completion of various public projects.
This is Umuganda meaning “coming together to achieve a goal.” Umugunda is one of the unique and unknown facts about Rwanda. It is a national holiday on the last Saturday of every month when public service is compulsory for all the citizens from 8 am to 11 am.
People encourage the guests and visitors to Rwanda to join the fun and participate in the activity. However, it is not compulsory. The police and other security forces help in implementing umuganda. The program has had a significant impact on the cleanliness of the country.
Kigali – Cleanest City in Africa
It is no surprise that Kigali is a beautiful city and one of the cleanest cities on the African continent. In 2008, UN-Habitat declared Kigali as one of Africa’s cleanest cities. Moreover, Rwanda was one of the earliest countries to ban single-use plastic bags. The ban resulted from a study by the Ministry of Environment who found that plastic bags posed a threat to agriculture and contaminated the land and the lakes. The Rwandan population today uses several biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic bags.
The country had set itself an ambitious target of increasing forest cover to 30 percent of the total land area by 2020. As per the recent reports, they achieved their target. Today, forest cover in Rwanda is about 29.8 percent. Further, the country has also put in measures like agro-forestry and training schemes in forest management.
Kibeho Parish in Rwanda
Did you know that Rwanda has its own Lourdes? This is a less-known fact about Rwanda.
On 28 November 1981, Alphonsine, a 16-year schoolgirl studying at the Catholic school in Kibeho, heard a strange voice. When she looked up, she saw a lovely woman in a veil and spoke to her in a soft and soothing voice. “I am the Mother of the Word’, she told Alphonsine. The young girl quickly realized that it was the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Alphonsine had this vision a few more times. She reported this to the school and the community leaders. It was the time when Rwanda was facing increasing tension between the Tutsi and Hutu groups. Because of this social tension, no one was willing to believe her. Hence, most of them dismissed it as an attention-grabbing act by the young girl.
But within months, two other girls, Nathalie and Marie Claire, also had a similar vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Mother told the young girls about a time in the future when the whole of Rwanda would be in turmoil, with rivers flowing with blood and streets littered with bodies. While no one paid much attention to the prophecies, people started believing in the visions of the three young girls. The visions stopped after a few months.
Prophecy Comes True
The Rwandan genocide happened in 1994 proving the prophecy right. During the genocide, Kibeho, where the visions occurred, witnessed a colossal massacre. Tragically hundreds of people were murdered in the parish area. Unfortunately, one of the girls, Marie Claire, and her husband were also killed in the civil war.
The parish became a place of worship for thousands of devout Catholics. Very soon, it became the shrine of Our Lady of Kibeho or Our Lady of Sorrows. After a 20-year investigation into the visions of the three girls, the Vatican in 2001 certified them as authentic. Incidentally, Kibeho is the only Vatican-approved apparition in Africa.
Every year Kibeho celebrates Our Lady of Kibeho on 28 November, the anniversary date on the first vision appeared. Kibeho is easily accessible by road and is about 162 kilometers from Kigali. Visitors from all over the world visit Kibeho seeking blessings of the Lady. During the peak season, over 30,000 devotees visit the church. Kibeho Parish remains one of the most important Roman Catholic shrines in Africa.
Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe National Park is one of the few parks in the world where you can track chimpanzees. It is also one of the biggest national parks of Rwanda and extremely popular with tourists. The Park is on the southwest of Rwanda towards Burundi, south of Lake Kivu, and west of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Park stretches from Lake Albert to Lake Tanganyika on the Albertine Rift in the Great Rift Valley.
Established in 2004, the Park has about 1.068 plan species, including 248 species of Orchids. Besides this, the Nyungwe rainforests also have about 85 mammals and over 322 bird species. The bird species include Red-collared Babbler and 29 other Albertine Rift Endemic species, and over 120 species of butterflies, making it the best site for birdwatching.
The Park is famous for its chimpanzee trekking and has over 13 primate species, which is almost 25% of the total primates in Africa. There are over 500 chimpanzees, and the trekking starts mainly from three centers, Kitabi, Uwinka, and Gisakura. The trekking is highly regulated, and the tourists get only one hour with the chimpanzees.
Nyungwe National Park also offers a unique canopy walk. Here, the visitors get an opportunity to walk over the suspended bridge and enjoy the spectacular view of the rainforests below.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is in the north-western part of the country. However, it gets its name from the chain of eight dormant volcanoes in the area. The large 160 square kilometers of rainforests hold five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. It is home to the mountain gorilla and was first gazetted in 1925. Incidentally, it is the first National Park to be created in Africa.
The famous American naturalist Dian Fossey spent a long time in Volcanoes National Park studying the gorillas. She helped in saving the gorillas from extinction. Significantly her reports caught the attention of the international community. And this assisted in saving the gorillas from extinction. However, in 1985 unknown assailants, suspected to be poachers, killed her. Her life in the Volcanoes National Park was made into a movie, Gorillas in the Mist, nominated for five Academy Awards.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is today home to over 12 gorilla families which are fully habituated. Generally, a silverback male leads the family consisting of several females and babies. Because of the sensitive ecosystem, tourists can spend a maximum of one hour with these gentle giants.
Gorilla tracking permits must be obtained beforehand. However, there is a restriction on the number of tourists that can be admitted into the Park on a single day. The authorities issue just 96 permits for a day, and it is advisable to book in advance.
Visitors are allocated to different family groups of the gorillas for the trek. This is because the family groups are spread across the National Park. And it would take anything from 30 minutes to over 4 hours to site a family group. You must climb an altitude of 2,500m to 4,000 meters to see some of the family groups. Hence the Park headquarters allocate the families after assessing your physical fitness.
Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony
Every year a special event is held in the Volcano National Park to name gorillas. Rwanda officially started the program of naming gorillas in 2005. Today it is an event that is celebrated across the world.
The tradition of naming the gorillas is from the Rwandan culture of Kwita Izina, where the babies are named in the presence of family and friends. In the past 15 years, more than 300 mountain gorillas. In the 2020 ceremony held virtually, Arsenal Club players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin, and Bernand Leno joined the celebrations. You can watch the event here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WslnDQ9T20&t=4s.
Rwanda – the land of thousand lakes
This mountainous country in Central Africa is one of the most beautiful places on the earth. A thousand lakes in this tiny country, abundant natural habitat, and warm and friendly hospitality make Rwanda the ultimate tourist destination.
Apart from the list of the less known facts about Rwanda as listed above, the country has several other attractive tourist and cultural destinations. The country’s commitment to conservation and responsible tourism is yet another factor that favors tourism development in Rwanda.
The Lonely Planet magazine has listed Rwanda as one of the recommended destinations in 2021. The country also received global recognition for tourism safety. This recognition is for the implementation of the health and hygiene protocols following the COVID19 pandemic.
The country is open for tourists, and COVID protocols are in place without hurting the excitement of the visit to the land of thousand lakes.
So, when are you planning your visit to this enchanting country?
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I am a professional Risk Manager and an Insurer. I have a PhD in Psychology besides degrees and qualifications in insurance and marketing. As an executive I have been managing companies and people for over three decades in different parts of the world.