Indigenous Cultures - Rwanda


The earliest known inhabitants of Rwanda were pygmoid hunter-gatherers, ancestral to the modern Twa rwanda cultural village tourpeople who today comprise only 0.25% of the national population. Some 2,000 years ago, agricultural and pastoralist migrants from the west settled in the area. Oral traditions recall that prior to the 15th century a ruler named Gihanga forged a centralised Rwandan state with similar roots to the Buganda and Bunyoro Empires in neighbouring Uganda. Comprised of a cattle-owning nobility and agriculturist serfdom majority - the precursors respectively of the modern-day Tutsi and Hutu - this powerful state was able to repel all early attempts at European penetration.

Rwanda became a German colony following the 1885 Berlin Conference, although it would be full decade before a permanent German presence was established there. In 1918, Rwanda was mandated to Belgium, which implemented a system of indirect rule that exploited and intensified the existing divisions between Tutsi and Hutu.

Music and dance plays an important role in the traditions of all Rwanda's peoples .The Rwandan people have a variety of music and dance which range from acts that demonstrate epics commemorating excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics to hunting root. Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga, a harp-like instrument with eight strings. More celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members, and collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.

Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. The finest exponent of Rwanda's varied and dynamic traditional musical and dance styles, however, is the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore - literally 'The Chosen Ones' - once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice through the National Museum in Butare. A more modern form of Rwandan music is the upbeat and harmonious devotional singing that can be heard in any church service around the country.

A wide range of traditional handicrafts is produced in rural Rwanda, ranging from ceramics and basketry to traditional woodcarvings and contemporary paintings. A good selection of crafted artifacts can be viewed in the main market or street stalls in Kigali, while an excellent place to peruse and purchase modern art works is the capital's Centre for the Formation of Arts.

A distinctively Rwandan craft is the cow dung 'paintings' that are produced by a local co-operative in the village of Nyakarimbi near the Rusumo Falls border with Tanzania. Dominated by black, brown and white whorls and other geometric abstractions, these unique and earthy works can be bought in Kigali, but it's worth diverting to source to see how the paintings are reflected in local house decorations.

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