Rwanda is a landlocked East African country boasting majestic volcanoes, lush, dense greenery, imposing mountains and spectacular wildlife. Nicknamed the “Land of a Thousand Hills”, Rwanda has suffered a turbulent history in recent years, but is now entering an economic and environmental resurgence sure to elevate it as a top tourist spot. And there are a number of festivals here you won’t want to miss, celebrations of song, dance and Rwandan culture which spread joy and bring communities to life. From religious feast days to Gorilla naming ceremonies, here’s our guide to the 4 best festivals in Rwanda.
Kwita Izina: The Gorilla Naming Ceremony
The birth of a baby is considered a momentous occasion in Rwanda, with each newborn presented to the public amongst a tummult of happiness and praise. And this tradition even extends to gorillas. For an experience unlike any other, attend the Kwita Izina, the Gorilla Naming Ceremony, a country-wide event where baby gorillas are introduced to the local communities, formally named and celebrated. The event is extremely popular, with gala balls held in honor of the ceremony throughout the country, and in recent times an increasing number of conservationists and celebrities have supported the celebration, and the strong importance it places on respecting, appreciating and monitoring wild animals.www.kwitizina.org
Umuganda is a Rwandan national day of community service. Between 08:00 and 11:00 on Umuganda, Rwandan civilians take part in a country-wide ban on road traffic, whilst everyone participates in communal work for the public good. Much like a day of community service in the United States, most of the work involves cleaning, including a washing of the streets and parks. There are other ways of commemorating the holiday too, and some locals choose to plant trees and participate in environmental work. A strange and endearing spectacle to see a busy and bustling country coming together to engage in public service activities, this event is deeply respected by the Rwandan people, and is a revered communal day which aims to better the health of the country.
International Peace Marathon
Rwanda is known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” and although this may seem a daunting setting for runners, it has become the perfect place for the International Peace Marathon held annually in May. This is always a jubilant event, bursting with color and oozing with enthusiastic and energetic participants. The first marathon was held on 15 May 2005, a poignant date which marked a decade since the Rwandan Genocide. Over 2000 runners of varying abilities from over 20 countries come to participate in the International Peace Marathon, drawing athletes from all over Africa and Europe. It’s an activity-filled day which also inspires a communal interconnectedness, and it is definitely worth entering if you’re an avid long-distance runner looking to explore Rwanda’s gorgeous hills. Be careful, however; the altitude reaches 1500 meters, so it’s worth undertaking altitude training before you begin the race.www.kigalimarathon.org
Assumption Day (August 15)
About 65% of the population in Rwanda is Christian, of which the majority are Catholic, so a celebration surrounding the assent of Mary into heaven is a vibrant and lively affair. Assumption Day marks the time when Mary, the mother of Jesus, ascended into heaven after her death. Rwandan communities honor this with ginormous feasts, dancing and music. Like any other public holiday, this feast will make getting around in the morning and afternoon fairly difficult in Rwanda, so make sure to plan ahead if you are preparing to travel out of any Rwandan city that day.
By: Amanda Chain
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