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Rwanda has a very rich culture, one she has stayed true to amidst modernity and the ever changing world. However, some aspects of our culture seem to be endangered. 76-year-old historian Jean-Damascène Rwasamirera, who taught history for 28 years, and Pastor Ezra Mpyisi, 94, talk about some of the beliefs in our culture that are slowly but surely going extinct.

By Frederic Byumvuhore  Published : February 12, 2017

REFERENCES :NEWS The NewTimes : Rwanda’s leading Daily

Traditional cows (Inyambo). Traditionally, dowry was paid in cows, but most people today give money as dowry. T. Kisambira

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1-Child naming ceremony

In earlier days when a baby was born, he/she was kept indoors for at least eight days, and that also applied to the mother. Rwasamirera explains that after eight days, friends and relatives would visit the household and bring gifts. During this time, the baby would be introduced in public for the first time and given a name. Child naming in Rwanda is still a tradition that is performed today although the routine has changed.  “These days, it’s the father of the child who chooses a name. He selects one from the different names brought forward by family and friends during the ceremony which is traditionally called Kwita Izina, or Ubunnyano,” Rwasamirera says. Back then, during the ceremony, children would eat bananas, sorghum, milk and beans while winnowing grain and after, name the child. Today, couples think of names before the baby is even born and sometimes there is no ceremony to give a baby a name. He notes that culture evolves and that some countries even imitate a neighbour’s culture, adding that norms change according to time.

2-Cow as the only item for dowry

Dowry is seen as an indication of a woman’s value and many women have no interest in changing this element of culture. Traditionally, dowry was paid in cows, though nowadays, most people have replaced cows with money. Back then, when a cow was given to the parents of the girl, the first calf born was given back to the young couple. But today, due to westernisation, cows are no longer brought to the functions and a woman’s value is determined in cash terms. According to Rwasamirera, it wasn’t just cows given as dowry but goats, sheep and hoes too, depending on the economic status of the family receiving the dowry. He adds that today, giving money instead of cattle does not mean dowry is a price, but a gift for the parents.

3-The choice of spouse made by one’s parents

Marriage is one of the most important institutions in Rwanda, and the pressure to get married and have children is quite high. In the past, a girl or boy had no say in choosing the person they would get married to. That decision was solely made their parents. Today, however, people have a say in their relationships and often choose their own partners. The family’s consent, however, is expected. Rwasamirera says, “In the past, it was rare for a girl to meet a boy. Only parents would visit one another or meet at ceremonies. People would know the situation in another’s household and that’s why parents would send their sons to families with well-behaved daughters.” He adds that today, boys and girls meet everywhere, at school, in the market, at functions or church, and it is easy for them to fall in love.

4-Drowning a girl over premarital pregnancy

Rwasamirera explains that women or girls bearing children out of wedlock were once punished by exile or death. They would be taken to Ijwi Island in the Western Province and drowned in Lake Kivu. “Rwandans believed that bastards were a curse and that God would send drought as punishment. The punishment was meant to scare any girl from having premarital sex,” he adds. Today, this punishment cannot work because of international laws that protect human rights. However; Mpyisi observes the need to address out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

5-Drinking milk and eating meat at the same time

It was taboo in Rwandan culture to eat meat and drink milk at the same time. Unlike today, people do not hesitate to have a plate of meat with a glass of milk. Rwasamirera notes that the current world relies on scientific proof, adding that there were beliefs that when milk and meat were taken simultaneously, the cow would be affected.

6-Dress as the only attire for females

There was special attire for females and males and it was taboo for a woman to wear trousers. According to Rwasamirera, women wearing trousers nowadays does not matter as the world is modernised. He only criticises the dresses that reveal too much. “Women and girls should wear dresses and avoid the shameful ones,” he says.

7-Oral history

The Rwandan saying “Utaganiriye na se ntamenya icyo sekuru yasize avuze” which is loosely translated as “Whoever doesn’t talk to the father, will not know what the grandfather said”, highlights the importance of communication of tradition or accounts about knowledge in the past, handed down from generation to generation. Rwasamirera says that elders’ narrations were crucial as they would advise, teach and correct the young generation and show them the right direction. Pastor Mpyisi says, “Today, parents do not have any time for their children and this pushes children to be addicted to films, among other things. Children lack guidance and that’s why sometimes they grow up to be rude.”

8-Taboo for a woman to eat goat’s meat

Pastor Mpyisi says that the “rule” was invented by greedy men who wanted all the meat. It is said that in the past (and sometimes even today) women were not supposed to eat goat’s meat for two reasons; it would make them grow a beard, and, it would make them stubborn.

9-The choice of a child’s name

Names reflecting the day of birth and the environment or circumstances surrounding a child’s birth were common back in the day, but not so much today. Today, children’s names are based more on what is trending, exciting and fresh. Pastor Mpyisi criticises the names given to children today, saying that they are meaningless. “Some names can’t be explained. This sometimes makes one confused once they grow up. Culture changes but not everything should change. “Each country has its own identity. Once Rwandans discard their culture, they will be Rwandans in name only,” said Pastor Mpyisi.