Kwita Izina Ceremony – Gorilla Naming Festival in Rwanda

Discover the remarkable Kwita Izina Ceremony, a renowned gorilla naming festival held in Rwanda every September, celebrating the conservation of endangered mountain gorillas and the local communities' commitment.

Kwita Izina Festival: Honoring Rwanda’s Rich Heritage and Gorilla Conservation

In Rwanda, there is a beautiful tradition of celebrating the arrival of newborns through naming ceremonies. This tradition is honored every year at the Kwita Izina ceremony, which is a week-long celebration that takes place in September. The event is steeped in ancient customs and cultural significance. It serves as a way to raise awareness and funds for protecting the country’s mountain gorillas and expanding their natural habitats. It’s a beautiful way to honor new life and support the conservation of these magnificent animals.

Kwita Izina is a celebrated model of conservation and sustainable tourism that has gained worldwide recognition since the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) started it in 2005. The event has a menu of exciting activities, such as conferences, workshops, and the highly anticipated gorilla naming ceremony. The naming ceremony occurs on a bamboo stage that resembles a majestic silverback gorilla and is one of the most significant moments of the event. During this momentous occasion, carefully chosen names are given to the gorillas born in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park throughout the previous year. Participants meticulously select these names to reflect the unique behaviors and character traits of the baby gorillas. The people of Rwanda believe that these names hold an extraordinary power capable of bringing blessings and shaping the future destinies of these cherished infants.

Kwita Izina Cultural Festivities

Kwita Izina Cultural Festivities

Kwita Izina’s festivities are an enchanting fusion of traditional melodies, captivating dances, and vibrant performances by local artists and students. Thousands of visitors, hailing from conservation circles, ranger teams, communities, international luminaries, dignitaries, and even the nation’s President, converge near the town of Kinigi, nestled at the foothills of the Virunga Massif, to partake in this grand festival.

At its core, Kwita Izina is indispensable in promoting conservation and garnering financial support through ticket sales. It is a rallying call for Rwandans to revel in their innate connection to the natural world and safeguard their rich cultural heritage.

Significance of The Kwita Izina Ceremony

Significance of The Kwita Izina Ceremony

Over 370 baby gorillas have been named during the annual Kwita Izina festival since 2005, embodying Rwanda’s unique stories, cultural heritage and invoking blessings and protection. In Rwanda, names hold great significance, believed to shape the character and future of a newborn. Before Kwita Izina, park rangers christened the gorillas with names that wove meaning and connections to their past and places, aiding rangers and researchers in tracking individual progress within their family units and across habitats.

Kwita Izina captures Rwanda’s collective vision of the path ahead and their shared cultural aspirations for the entire country. As each baby gorilla steps into the world at Kwita Izina, statistics transform into vibrant lives, cherished gifts not only to their families but also to Rwanda and the global community.

The event fills every Rwandan heart with immense pride, shining a spotlight on the government’s and the people’s monumental efforts to protect mountain gorillas. Rwanda’s steadfast commitment and leadership in sustainable tourism are a beacon of hope in a landscape where successful conservation tales are scarce.

kwita izina festival stage - Rwanda's Exemplary Conservation Commitment

Rwanda’s Exemplary Conservation Commitment

The Virungas, home to the endangered mountain gorilla species, is one of the last two strongholds for these primates. The area is also famous for being the location of Dian Fossey’s pioneering research on gorillas, which eventually led to the establishment of the Karisoke Research Center. Today, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International collaborates with the Rwandan government to continue Fossey’s legacy through educational initiatives, support for park rangers, and community-based programs. This conservation effort has been incredibly successful, with the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif growing from 242 individuals in the 1980s to over 600 today.

Rwanda’s dedication to conservation and responsible tourism has not only helped the gorillas but also the surrounding communities with sustainable tourism practices. The trekking program, which allows visitors to observe the gorillas in their natural habitat, has been a significant source of revenue for the area. 

A “habituated” mountain gorilla can indirectly generate approximately $3 million in tourism revenue over its lifetime. These funds support conservation work in Volcanoes National Park and other protected reserves across Rwanda. Additionally, 10% of the tourism revenue goes to the neighboring communities, fostering active engagement and collaboration. 

The success of Rwanda’s conservation efforts is most evident in the Kwita Izina ceremony, a celebration of the mountain gorilla population’s upward trajectory, which IUCN recently raised from “critically endangered” to “endangered.”

Cultural dancers at the Kwita Izina Festival - Gorilla Naming Festival in Rwanda

Notable Guests and Their Contributions

The past editions of Kwita Izina have witnessed prominent figures making indelible contributions. In 2016, revered naturalist Sir David Attenborough graced the event, christening a baby gorilla Inshungu, symbolizing ‘blessing.’ 

In 2017, Dr. Stoinski chose the name Macibiri, a homage to Dian Fossey, whose Rwandan name Nyiramacibiri translates to ‘the woman who lives alone on the mountain.’ 

The year 2018 saw Laureano Bisan Etamé-Mayer, a former Arsenal footballer, naming a baby gorilla Ikipe, meaning ‘team,’ alongside other evocative names like Izahabu (‘precious’), Kunesha (‘to win’), and Uburumbuke (‘prosperity’). 

With each name announcement at the Kwita Izina festival, the atmosphere steams with enthusiasm, cheers, and a collective hope for the promising future of Africa’s mountain gorillas.

Quick Facts About The Annual Kwita Izina Ceremony in Rwanda

Quick Facts About The Annual Kwita Izina Ceremony in Rwanda

  1. In Rwanda, the Kwita Izina ceremony is based on a long-standing tradition where families and friends gather to name their newborns.
  2. Kwita Izina means “naming” in the Kinyarwanda language.
  3. Kwita Izina is celebrated annually in September at the community grounds in Kinigi, Musanze District, right outside Volcanoes National Park, northwest of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
  4. At the Kwita Izina festival, baby mountain gorillas born in Volcanoes National Park the year before receive their names.
  5. Kwita Izina started in 2005.
  6. Over 370 mountain gorillas have been named at the Kwita Izina festival since 2005.
  7. The Kwita Izina ceremony is a chance for Rwanda Development Board to express gratitude to the communities residing near Volcanoes National Park, as well as research partners, veterinarians, and the devoted conservationists, rangers, and trackers who work tirelessly to safeguard the gorillas. 
  8. There are approximately 1,063 mountain gorillas in the world. These endangered creatures are exclusively live in three East African countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), spread across four national parks.
  9. Mountain gorillas play a vital role in generating substantial tourism revenue, which directly benefits local communities and contributes to funding conservation programs.
  10. A “habituated” mountain gorilla, one that is familiar with having human visitors, can contribute about $3 million in tourism revenue throughout its lifetime.
  11. The 19th Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony will happen on Friday, 1st September 2023. As part of the celebration, 23 baby gorillas born in the past 12 months will receive their names.
baby gorilla - Gorilla Trekking Adventures Climaxing With Kwita Izina Festival

Gorilla Trekking Adventures Climaxing With Kwita Izina Festival

Attending the Kwita Izina ceremony and gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park during a visit to Rwanda in September can be an unforgettable experience. The festival beams with joy, music, dance, and celebration, showcasing the beauty of nature and the resilience of communities. 

To make the most of this unique event, you must plan your gorilla expedition itinerary carefully. Make sure to secure tickets or passes for the Kwita Izina festival and book gorilla trekking permits in advance from authorized sources. Allocate separate days for each activity, and arrange transportation between the ceremony location and Volcanoes National Park. Following guidelines provided by event organizers and park authorities is also crucial. 

By preserving and celebrating its natural and cultural heritage through the Kwita Izina festival, Rwanda not only showcases its exceptional accomplishments in gorilla conservation but also extends an open invitation to the world to unite in an ongoing endeavor to safeguard these remarkable creatures.

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