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BINGO! Rwanda’s Kwita Izina, gorilla naming ceremony

Aug 16 • 8389 views • 8 Comments on BINGO! Rwanda’s Kwita Izina, gorilla naming ceremony Conservation, gorillas

It was with great excitement that I travelled to Rwanda to attend the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony. This event is strictly by invitation only so the Muzungu was honoured to be invited by the Rwanda Development Board, thanks to my friends at The Gorilla Organization (TGO), a British charity whose dedicated international team pull out all the stops to protect the Mountain Gorillas in their native forest habitats straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As we drove uphill towards the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony site, the roads were lined with children and young people all walking in the same direction, eager to see the pop stars descending on Kinigi for the ‘Festival of the Gorillas.’

Kwita Izina 2013 gorillas Rwanda gorilla naming ceremony

A magical place indeed. The volcanic peaks of the Virungas, approaching the site of Kwita Izina, Festival of the Gorillas

We sat in the ubiquitous white plastic seats and waited for the show to begin. Every few minutes there was an excited cry from the crowd as another celebrity joined the throng. All we could see was a sea of black heads, just visible above the safety barrier. The kids were gathered for the popstars of course – there was a huge cheer as popular singer Rastaman arrived – we only hoped they would leave the gorilla naming ceremony as conservationists too.

One thing is for sure, one way or another, the majority of these young people will benefit from the gorilla tourism industry, the flagship product for Rwandese tourism. Five per cent of the revenue from tourism is invested in communities living around Rwanda’s national parks. This investment is helping change behaviours, changing once-poachers into protectors of the gorillas and wildlife and habitats in general.

Kwita Izina 2013 gorillas Rwanda. A magical place indeed. The volcanic peaks of the Virungas, approaching the site of Kwita Izina, Festival of the Gorillas

Children flocked to take part in the Festival of the Gorillas

The Rwandese Prime Minister welcomed “ambassadors, friends of Rwanda and distinguished guests – and not forgetting the very important residents of Musanze” to Kwita Izina 2013.

Half of Kigali, representatives from Nairobi, Kampala and 61 journalists from across the world made their way to this small town in the Land of a Thousand Hills for the ninth annual conservation celebration. Not a bad show for a small country the size of Wales.

Kwita Izina 2013 gorillas Rwanda. A magical place indeed. The volcanic peaks of the Virungas, approaching the site of Kwita Izina, Festival of the Gorillas

A smiling Rwanda Development Board ranger welcomed us to Kwita Izina 2013

The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is a very inclusive affair. Over 30 countries were represented at Kwita Izina in 2013. As each country’s name was read out, its representatives stood up to the applause of the audience: the muzungu was delighted to stand up and represent Uganda, from whence I’d travelled on another legendary bus journey.

Kwita Izina 2013 gorillas Rwanda. A magical place indeed. The volcanic peaks of the Virungas, approaching the site of Kwita Izina, Festival of the Gorillas

Traditional dancing from Rwanda’s National Ballet was a delight. Kwita Izina 2013

Traditional dancing from Rwanda’s National Ballet was a delight. Reggae artists Dr Claude and King James went down like a house on fire! I was happy to get on my feet and dance by then. Goodness knows the foothills of the volcanoes are a lot cooler than Kampala. The Muzungu should have worn socks!

Jillian threw a frisbee into the crowd of Kwita Izina festival goers. gorilla naming ceremony

Jillian threw a Gorilla Organization frisbee into the expectant crowd of festival goers. Did she get it back…?

The lady MC reminded us that “while we are here to celebrate Rwanda’s gorillas, you can see how much more Rwanda has to offer.” Well organised, professional and a fun day out, I was very impressed by the whole setup and the global ambition of this event.

Audience participation is a key feature of Kwita Izina. Amongst the international celebrities invited to name the gorillas were the American actor Isaiah Washington; the Japanese Ambassador to Rwanda; actors from Nigeria and the Netherlands; the economist Jeffrey Sachs and Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization, Dr. Taleb Rifai. You can watch the highlights of the 2013 Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony here.

Each gorilla was named, in English and in Kinyarwanda, to claps and murmurs of approval from the audience. The first baby gorilla to be named was Icyamamare Maktub or ‘Rising Star.’ I liked the name Isimbi ‘Shining Pearl’ said to “represent the shining light of Africa: Rwanda. We look forward to shining the light on tourism in Rwanda.”

Emmanuel The Gorilla Organization Kwita Izina. gorilla naming ceremony

Emmanuel, looking very cool in his traditional costume, was honoured to name a gorilla at Kwita Izina 2009

The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is an opportunity to publicly thank the conservationists closest to protecting these great apes.

In 2009, The Gorilla Organization’s Rwanda Programme Manager Emmanuel was invited to name one of the gorillas.

Jillian The Gorilla Organization Kwita Izina. gorilla naming ceremony

The Gorilla Organization’s Jillian Miller at Kwita Izina 2009 – looking very glam in her Kwita Izina attire

In 2009, the UN Year of the Gorilla, The Gorilla Organization’s Executive Director Jillian Miller and Ian Redmond O.B.E. (Ambassador for Year of the Gorilla and now Chairman of TGO) were invited to take part in the gorilla naming ceremony. Jillian’s gorilla was named ‘Everlasting’. Ian’s gorilla was named Umuganda meaning ‘working together.’ You can watch Ian Redmond’s UN Year of the Gorilla speech at Kwita Izina here.

Putting on the traditional costume and being part of the show sounded great fun!

Ian Redmond O.B.E. Chairman of The Gorilla Organization at Kwita Izina 2013. gorilla naming ceremony

Ian Redmond O.B.E. Chairman of The Gorilla Organization at Kwita Izina 2013 with Allison Hanes of Art of Conservation

Audience participation is not just reserved for the celebrities: everyone was handed a sheet showing photos of the new baby gorillas, so we could write down the new names as they were read out.

Kwita Izina 2013 Rwanda list of baby gorillas. gorilla naming ceremony

The printed photos and list of new baby gorillas make the event fun and educational. Kwita Izina 2013 Rwanda. (Can you read the Muzungu’s handwriting?)

“It’s a bit like playing bingo!” Jillian joked.


The Kinyrwanda gorilla name ‘Ubukerarugendo’ translates as ‘the early travellers – who woke up early to take a trip.’ “You could say this is the first word for tourism and represents the importance of tourism in Rwanda” said the Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization.

What is Kwita Izina?

The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is an idea based on the Rwandese tradition of inviting the community to name a newborn child. In Rwanda, it is customary to delay naming a child until some of its characteristics are known. (If you look through some of the names of the 161 gorillas named since Kwita Izina started, many give an insight into the individual gorillas’ temperament and family history). The community join together and party to celebrate this new life.

Dian Fossey painting with gorilla Rwanda

The Gorilla Organization was previously known as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. This painting of Dian hangs in the TGO office in Musanze, Rwanda.

After the gorilla naming ceremony, at Hotel Muhabura (‘the guide’ in English) in Musanze – made famous by the late Dian Fossey – we had a chance to meet Rosette Rugamba, the creator of this must-attend conservation and tourism event.

Rosette Rugamba and Jillian Miller Kwita Izina 2013 Rwanda. gorilla naming ceremony

Rosette Rugamba, the creator of Kwita Izina, with Jillian Miller of The Gorilla Organization, Kwita Izina 2013 Rwanda

I asked Rosette her view on the international success of Kwita Izina?

“When we started this event we had a big vision: to make sure that gorillas continue to be recognised but also to help, in a big way, to change the image of Rwanda. As much as we are honoured to be the custodians of these wonderful creatures, these animals belong to the whole world. That is such a huge responsibility.

So we created a public event. The world needs to watch over us to make sure that we’re making this happen and to celebrate the birth of the gorillas. We continue to be held accountable and the international community realises they have a role in the success of gorilla conservation too.

There was always a concern that tourism might have a bad effect on conservation but it’s proven that responsible tourism can actually contribute to conservation.

Nine years after the creation of Kwita Izina, I think we have come a long way in achieving our objectives. The government is still committed, and has been right from the start.

This is the format of an event that brings in everybody. When we held the first Kwita Izina, 94 nationalities had come to trek the gorillas in Rwanda. Now, I think you could say the whole world has been: someone from every country has trekked the gorillas in Rwanda. Gorillas are symbolic creatures and Rwanda is just lucky.

“I look forward to next year” said Rosette, “10 years of Kwita Izina – a decade!”

Kwita Izina 2013 painting of gorillas Rwanda. gorilla naming ceremony

This painting of a gorilla family hangs in The Gorilla Organization office in Musanze, Rwanda. The TGO Resource Centre is open to the public

For a premium, visitors to Musanze’s Hotel Muhabura can now stay in cottage number 12, where Dian Fossey regularly stayed on her visits down from the mountains. Dian Fossey’s cottage has been maintained to ‘honour a life dedicated to gorilla conservation.’

If you’d like to support the work of The Gorilla Organization, please click here.

Would you like to attend Kwita Izina? Would you like to trek the Mountain Gorillas?

If you’re travelling to Rwanda at the time of Kwita Izina, you are invited to attend the event. Invitations need to be issued in advance and the date does change from year to year so you are advised to check the Kwita Izina website or contact me directly. This would be the perfect time for you to trek the mountain gorillas yourself! Contact the Muzungu for more information on buying gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda or trekking the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda.

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8 Responses to BINGO! Rwanda’s Kwita Izina, gorilla naming ceremony

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  4. It’s official: Kwita Izina 2016 will take place in September.
    It will be held in Musanze, as in previous years, but according to Wolfgang Thome:
    “The event has over the past years widened its scope to a full scale conservation week ahead of the naming ceremony, with workshops, conferences, launches of new tourism facilities, site visits and even sporting events like cycling races across the country.
    As accommodation will be rapidly selling out now for the day itself and the days prior to the 09th of September, it is advisable that wannabe visitors and attendees of the naming ceremony book their rooms early. A wide range of hotels, hostels and even safari lodges nearer to Kinigi is available to suit all tastes and pockets, the Red Rocks campsite included where the annual ‘Night of the Crazy Gorilla‘ party will be celebrated until dawn.”

  5. the muzungu says:

    Kwita Izina 2016 is 2nd September. It is preceded by a week-long programme of events.

    Rwanda Development Board has confirmed that Kwita Izina will take place on the first Friday in September every year from now on.
    (There has been some confusion in the past when dates have changed).
    Kwita Izina given a fixed date every year as naming ceremony shifted to 02nd September

  6. the muzungu says:

    Read an update from RDB all about this year’s week-long series of events leading up to Kwitz Izina itself:
    “Kwita Izina 2016: Here’s why you shouldn’t miss it”

  7. the muzungu says:

    Baby gorillas named yesterday at Kwita Izina 2016
    Yesterday, 22 baby gorillas were named at Kwita izina, 2016, Rwanda! The Rwandese sure know how to put on a show…
    by the way, did you know you can get an invitation to next year’s event? Contact me for more info!

  8. […] Rwanda Development Board have invited me to be part of the week-long media trip to celebrate the Kwita Izina ‘gorilla naming ceremony’. Gorilla tracking is one element of the trip! This will be first week of September, so the timing […]

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