Rwanda is an amazing country with stunning scenery that is painted with thousands of beautiful hills. The government of Rwanda through the Tourism Board has positioned the country into one of the leading Tourist destinations in Africa – And this is despite her small size and fewer natural resources compared to her neighbors. One of the recent notable additions to the menu for potential visitors to the country is the the Iby’iwacu cultural village located in the District of Musanze. The word “Iby’iwacu” is a Kinyarwada word that means “Treasures of our home and heritage”.
The Iby’iwacu cultural village combines all of Rwanda’s known cultural traditions, people and history into one place for display and a personal experience. International visitors get to see what life was in a typical African village setting – the lifestyle, houses, traditional dances, dressing code, food, herbs and how the ancient kingdoms were generally organized. Tourists are given an opportunity to learn ancient hunting skills, try weaving baskets/mats, carpentry. This unique experience has won the hearts of many visitors who wish to indulge in the culture of Rwanda’s native community after visiting the capital Kigali, seeing the gorillas and hiking a mountain like Karisimbi. It is also a great place for relaxation while offering opportunities to purchase local craft, gifts and souvenir to show friends back home.
Besides the considerable revenue and publicity it helps generate, the Iby’iwacu cultural center serves as a unifying factor for Rwanda’s cultural/tribal groups like the Tutsis, Hutus and the Batwa. This entertainment center helps encourage a feeling of oneness based on a common shared ideology. Many of the local entertainers like the Batwa were once poachers and the village has given them an opportunity to do something different – Something that helps them earn a living for their families while keeping them away from poaching.
What to expect at the Iby’iwacu Cultural Village
As we have already seen briefly, the Iby’iwacu cultural village is designed to offer many interesting learning activities while at the same time allowing visitors to relax and get a feel of the local culture. Visitors are usually welcomed by loud dancing and drumming at the main gate which is only an indicator of the many great activities forthcoming. Let’s look at some of the activities in detail below:
Home visits and community walks: The best way to understand the diversity within the human race is by interacting, sharing and generally getting immersed in the cultures of different communities. The home visits and community walks while visiting the Iby’iwacu cultural village gives visitors great opportunities to understand the cultural uniqueness of the Kinyarwanda culture and heritage. During a visit to the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you get the chance to sit side by side with the locals in their traditional homes and grass thatched huts. As you sit down, the elders will share with you information and stories about Rwanda and her rich history/heritage. You will be presented with an opportunity to visit the local banana and vegetable plantations. You might even learn the art of preparing one of the traditional foods or using a special grinding stone to make fine millet flour.
The community walk is a great learning experience too. A Guide will take you to see some of the local schools around and understand the education system in place as you interact with the pupils and students. One particular interesting activity during these community walks are the numerous local art shops offering local paintings, woven clothes, beautiful pots and much more.
Watching, listening and dancing to traditional music, dance and drama: Music, dance and drama defines African tradition and culture as it gives one a sense of belonging. For visitors interested in traditional music, the Iby’iwacu cultural center offers opportunities to listen to several unique local musical sounds including the Ingoma, Amakondera, Umuduri, Inanga, Iningiri, Ibyivugo and Agakenke. Each sound is unique, with special musical instruments and dancing style/steps. The Intore is one example. This popular warrior dance is performed by men with grass clothing and little bells wrapped around their legs while holding out spears in a mock battle or as a way of celebrating victory over an enemy. These youthful men and women with their smiling and happy faces will be eager to invite you to take part in the dance or at least learn how to drum.
Visiting the King’s palace: One of the interesting things to do while visiting the Iby’iwacu cultural village is to see the King’s palace – an area showcasing how the ancient Kings ruled and managed their courts. Ancient kings in Rwanda were not only feared but given total respect. The kings held the highest authority and would make decisions that had to be implemented without any further questions. All kingdom activities and ceremonies were carried out within the King’s palace under the watch of the king, queens, princesses, princes, clan leaders and high level visitors. The King’s home in Iby’iwacu gives a true picture of an ancient African kingdom setting with all symbols to represent power including information about each clan. A guide will help explain and answer all your questions as you go through each symbol.
Meeting traditional healers: In the ancient times (and in even today) traditional healers played a big role in their communities. They were consulted by people whenever they had any ailments. These traditional healers used herbs, tree branches, roots, shrubs and to help cure known illnesses. The healers know how to apply these drugs and have studied their use for many years while building on knowledge and ideas that have been taught for thousands of generations. They are proud to narrate how traditional medicine has survived through colonial times to remain influential in the modern times. While at the village, you will meet some of the traditional healers who will be eager to demonstrate how the local medicines work. Since they use natural remedies, you are free to try out some of the local herbs – You might be surprised to find a remedy for or relief from an illness you had struggled with for years.
Visiting the Batwa community: The Batwa pygmies are former forest hunters and fruit gatherers who once lived in the dense forests of Rwanda and Uganda. They were evicted from the forests decades ago by governments and resettled in new locations outside the forest. Some of them are stationed at the Iby’iwacu cultural village. The Batwa have greatly contributed to the tourism sectors in Uganda and Rwanda ever since embracing life outside the forest and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by tourism. After abandoning poaching and life in the forest as hunters and gatherers, the Batwa have learnt pottery, art and design, dance and drama. While at the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you will be amazed by their demonstration of hunting skills like setting up animal traps, using tools like spears, bows and arrows.
Taking local brew: Apart from the joy and relaxation that drinking alcohol brings, taking local beer in a group setting was a unifying activity within the African traditional social setting. This was particularly so during the numerous ceremonies like that of new harvest and welcoming newborns. For one to fit in and appear involved during these ceremonies, they had to take part in the drinking. While visiting the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you will learn how the banana brew is made and fermented. You are expected to actively participate crowning it with at least a sip of the final product.
Special guidelines to take into consideration while at the Iby’iwacu cultural village
The Iby’iwacu cultural center like any organized setting has got set rules and norms to be followed and respected while within the premises. Here are some of the things to consider while touring the cultural center:
- Visitors are prohibited from littering the village. In order to maintain neatness within the cultural center, rubbish bins have been put at specific points.
- You are required to respect nature throughout your safari and this is especially so while at the cultural village. Visitors are encouraged not to destroy the natural environment especially plants and any other green cover within the village.
- You need to be sensitive to the local norms and customs to avoid coming across as disrespectful. For example, try to use your right hand when eating or greeting locals in the center. Using both hands when exchanging gifts with a local is considered respectful.
- You should always ask for permission before using your camera.
- Feel free to ask questions from your tour guide or the elders when you need more clarification on something.
- Respect for diversity is important especially while touring such a multicultural and ethnic setting as the Iby’iwacu cultural center. Dress appropriately without revealing too much body.
- Foreign visitors are encouraged to also talk about their own cultures with the natives – There will always be differences and similarities in cultures and the way things are done from place to place.
- Engage will also endeavoring to appear friendly and humble while at the village. Be patient as the locals describe share with you information.
- Security for the locals is taken seriously. In case you have any donations or gifts, hand it over to the responsible authorities.
N.B Mission Africa Safaris includes a visit to the Iby’iwacu cultural center in most of the Rwanda tour packages because it is one of the best places to visit in Rwanda. This great cultural center is the perfect place to go for a retreat after carrying out some of Rwanda’s more famous tourism activities like Mountain Gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park, mountain hiking or biking through the Congo Nile Trail. Because of its uniqueness, we are convinced that visiting the Iby’iwacu cultural village will turn out to be one of the more memorable experiences while on your safari.