The gorilla naming ceremony of Rwanda.
The Rwandan tradition of holding a naming ceremony for babies after their birth, which is traditionally called Kwita Izina –‘to give a name’ birthed this tradition of naming gorillas, an event like no other on Earth, yet steeped in cultural meaning and ancient custom.
It’s believed that a name professes the aspirations parents have for their children, so their destiny is determined through the names given to them. In a way, it’s believed that they are defining the common fate of these children through Kwita Izina, it is thought that they are representing where they want them to go.
This is a ceremony Rwanda hosts annually, a week-long program of activities every September to raise awareness and funds for the ongoing protection of the country’s mountain gorillas and the expansion of their habitat. It is one of the world’s most respected tourist center.
The 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, guests take to the vast, silverback-shaped bamboo stage and assign each gorilla with a carefully chosen name according to the baby’s behavior and unique character traits. Rwandans believe this will encourage good fortune and play a prominent role in shaping the infants’ futures.
One of the most exciting parts of the festivities is the part that includes traditional music, dancing, and performances from local students and artists, it attracts thousands of visitors each year, with conservationists, rangers, and communities. International celebrities, dignitaries, and the country’s president attend the ceremony that takes place near the town of Kinigi, at the foothills of the Virunga Massif.
Rwanda’s conservation and responsible tourism initiatives are excellent, including a successful trekking program to see the gorillas in their forest home, it’s entertaining and benefit animals and people.
It’s been said that an individual habituated mountain gorilla can indirectly generate around $3 million during its lifetime from tourism income, which is a huge sum of money.
The Revenue made from trekking permits to see the gorillas helps to support Volcanoes National Park, and three other protected wildlife reserves across the country. Not forgetting the communities around the park, 10% of the tourism revenue is shared with communities living around the park, and locals are employed to work at the park. In contrast, others work in safari lodges and camps.
Kwita Izina plays a vital role, not just by promoting conservation and raising funds with ticket sales for the ceremony, but by inviting the Rwandans to celebrate and preserve their natural and cultural heritage.
There is much to be proud of about Rwanda. While all other great ape populations are in massive declination, mountain gorilla numbers are on the rise. It was said that about 242 individuals were recorded in the Virunga Massif in the 1980s, but now, over 600 roam the region. With a further 400 in Bwindi, the IUCN renounced the species from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’ in 2018, and that’s a huge achievement.
Since the Kwita Izina began, over 280 baby gorillas have been given a name, each one thoughtfully selected to reflect the infant’s individual story and heritage or to harness good luck and protection just like a child’s naming ceremony.
Names have always been significant in Rwanda; names are believed to influence the character and prospects, helping to shape their life journey, so the name is not something Rwanda toils with.
Before Kwita Izina, the park rangers who protected them always protected them from naming the gorillas. Just as the Rwandan culture regards their names, which provides meaning and connection to their past, place, and relatives, those assigned to the gorillas also help rangers and researchers to monitor the progress of individuals within their family groups and across their ranges.
When introducing each baby to the world at Kwita Izina, a unique title, statistics are brought to life: the gorillas are not only recognized as new additions to their families, but also welcomed as precious gifts the people of Rwanda, and the international community.
Some gorillas can be named meaning ‘blessing.’ Some can be named Macibiri, believed to roughly translate as ‘the woman who lives alone on the mountain.’ Some baby Ikipe, meaning ‘team,’ alongside Izahabu meaning ‘precious’, Kunesha (‘to win’), and Uburumbuke (‘prosperity’). All of these names are received with excitement, cheers, and a collective sense of hope for the gorillas’ future.