Whereas humans are identified and distinguished by their names, symbols, cultural and traditions, there is a need to recognize some of our closet relatives with names. In African traditions, it is at that moment that fire-place gathering that warmth and wisdom, families and societies get together and common values are passed onto future generations. This same manner can be sighted with the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda where hundreds of Rwandans, regional and international tourists converge each year to what is described as a “united community” to demonstrate the shared values specifically on conservation of our close relatives-the critically endangered mountain gorillas. It is during this kind of special event that conservation meets sustainable tourism. This remarkable event gives some direction and guidance in Rwanda’s tourism sector and the Great Lakes Region at large.
Gorilla trekking is described as a lifetime experience and it is through this exceptional annual event that different societies from across the world meet to reflect on efforts that Rwandan government has put to save them from extinction. This event is one way to promote sustainability and also give a highlight of conservation values to the adjacent local community members. Usually, the feeling of ownership and pride in our own natural resources lies in hearts of few people and this explains why stories of wildlife tourism in Africa is the most painful flashback especially with the way poaching and habitat loss have become the order of the day in African continent. Currently, there are fewer than 900 individuals of rare mountain gorillas that are left on earth and only thrive in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Kwita Izina annual gorilla ceremony is an event that covers largely our shared humanity and not just a specific group of individuals in the society. This is the rarest events in primate life as stories and traditions are transferred from one generation to another and specifically on the ecosystems and wildlife given the fact that we have a lot in common. The Kwita Izina event attracts many people from across the world who come to witness when the newly born mountain gorillas are given names and last year alone, over 500 international visitors and 20000 local residents attended this special event of lifetime. This practice acts as one way through conservationists can spread the message that these newly born creatures are not just statistics but they are also primates with an identity, history and part of a family group.
On 1st September, 2017, Kwita Izina event was held marking its 13th edition of annual gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda. This was conducted under the theme “Conservation and sustainable tourism, a foundation for future generations” that entails Rwanda’s focus on boosting awareness on sustainably maintaining biodiversity. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) also targeted to promote domestic tourism where persons (Rwandans) who were born on 4th July and they are above 15 years were given a chance to win a $1500 gorilla trekking permit to track gorillas in Volcanoes National Park by November. This covered the dates when Rwanda was liberated as it coincided with a day when conservation struggle began. The (RDB) carried out a rottery draw to choose the lucky 100 winners.
In the past, the Kwita Izina ceremonies only involved naming a baby mountain gorilla, but for 1st September 2017, all the 4 adult female mountain gorillas and a family were named including all the 14 infants. The Kwita Izina event began around 2005 and since then more than 239 babies have been given identities. This year, the event began on 23rd June with several community activities that are estimated to cost Rwf 137 million and its climax reached with the major event in Kinigi area-Musanze district on 1st September. There was also a two day conservation and tourism exhibition between 27th and 28th August; the conversation on conservation that every year attracts the leading experts to deliberate Africa’s common conservation challenges was conducted from 28th to 29th August 2017 and then followed by a fascinating gala dinner on August 26th.
Other activities included launching the 2 primary schools of Akagera Primary School in Rwimbogo area, Gatsibo district and Rugera Primary School near Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rusizi district on 29th June. Gihorwe health centre near the Volcanoes National Park, Kabatwa cell-Nyabihu district will also be launched on 17th August.
In conclusion, the Kwita Izina gorilla ceremony is a Rwanda’s remarkable gorilla naming tradition that takes place each year. It is an important event in that it creates an understanding among various stakeholders on the role and value of conserving these critically endangered apes in the wild.