POPULATION: 9 million
LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda; French; Swahili; English
RELIGION: Catholicism (60%); Protestantism (20–30%); Islam (5%); small numbers of Baha'is
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Hutu; Tutsi
Since 1994, the country of Rwanda has become infamous for political upheaval and ethnic strife. This unfortunate image has obscured the fact that Rwanda in better times is a very pleasant country to live in or to visit, and its people are quite industrious. Rwanda is one of the few ancient African kingdoms to have survived colonialism as a viable political entity. However, it underwent profound changes during the colonial era that continue to have negative repercussions. The population is composed of three ethnic groups: the Hutu (approximately 85–90% of the total population), the Tutsi (10–15%), and the Twa (less than 1%). The two most numerous groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi, have often been pitted against one another in what appears to be an ancient tribalistic struggle, but really is a direct result of the way Rwanda was governed under colonialism (1895–1960).
When German colonialists first established contact with the Rwandan king in the 1890s and later signed a treaty with him that turned Rwanda into a colony, the Germans thought that, because the king was Tutsi, the entire Tutsi group was racially superior and more intelligent than the Hutu group. As a result, a small number of Rwandan Tutsi benefited from German colonial rule and became native chiefs. Later, when the Germans lost World War I (1914–1917), Rwanda came under Belgian colonial control. The Belgians did little to change the pattern in ethnic relations that had emerged under the Germans. A small number of Tutsi (though not the entire group) continued to benefit disproportionately from the colonial system. Naturally, this did much to foster resentment among the much more numerous Hutu. Despite these conflicts, the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa have spoken the same language, Kinyarwanda, for the past 500 or more years and have shared many cultural characteristics.
During the 1950s it began to appear that many Tutsi favored independence from Belgium (possibly inspired by anti-colonialist leaders in the neighboring Belgian Congo, such as the alleged “communist,” Patrice Lumumba). The Belgians, therefore, decided to change directions and favor the Hutu. Towards the end of the decade, Belgian colonial administrators began replacing Tutsi chiefs with Hutu ones, and encouraged the Hutu's animosity towards the Tutsi. Claiming that they were acting in the interests of Rwanda's majority and thus being “democratic,” the Belgians were actually creating a new system of ethnic favoritism. Events took a violent turn in 1959 after several Hutu political leaders were slain by Tutsi. Shortly afterward, large numbers of Hutu began to attack, kill, and/or drive Tutsi from their homes. Tens of thousands of Tutsi were slain, and many more fled to neighboring countries as refugees. In UN-monitored elections in 1962, Hutu political parties won an overwhelming majority, and the Tutsi monarchy was abolished.
For the next three decades, Rwandan Tutsi were treated as second-class citizens. In 1990, however, a rebel group—the Rwandan Patriotic Front, composed largely, though not entirely, of Tutsi refugees—invaded Rwanda from Uganda. Fighting raged on and off for the next four years. The Rwandan government resorted increasingly to racist anti-Tutsi propaganda to assure its shaky support among Hutu. Finally, after the Rwandan president was killed in a mysterious rocket attack on his plane in April 1994, a genocide against Rwandan Tutsi was launched in which up to 1 million people were killed. Victims of this carnage were mostly Tutsi, although perhaps thousands of Hutu opponents of the regime also perished. In July 1994, the rebel group (the Rwandan Patriotic Front) defeated the former government's army. Since then, Rwanda has been governed by a group dominated by Tutsi, but in which there are several Hutu who occupy important positions. Many Rwandan Hutu, however, mistrust the present Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government.
Unity and reconciliation between Rwandan citizens is a high political priority for the present government, who vows to break completely with the past 100 years of Rwandan history and to construct a society in which ethnicity no longer plays a part. The government's national reconciliation discourse is based on a view that ethnicity in Rwanda was invented and politicized by colonial occupation. Consequently, in today's public discourse, all references to Hutu, Tutsi and Twa have been banned and replaced with the all-inclusive Rwandans. The Rwandan population is urged to reconcile with each other and to live with each other peacefully.
The local juridical court (known as Gacaca, which is translated as “justice on the grass”) and the solidarity camps (known as Ingando) are some of the initiatives that the government has taken in order to reach unity and reconciliation among its citizens. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Tanzania, has concentrated on bringing the ringleaders of the genocide to account. However, tens of thousands of other genocide suspects still await trial in Rwanda's crowded prisons. Given Rwanda's shortage of judges and lawyers, the government has turned to the Gacaca, a traditional system of justice, in order to escape impunity (freedom from punishment). Over 250,000 community members have been trained to serve in Gacaca courts all over Rwanda. Gacaca hearings are held outdoors every week, and most villagers take part. The tribunals first identify victims, then suspects—and finally hold trials. Local residents give testimony on behalf of and against the suspects, who are tried in the communities where they are accused of committing crimes, and many of those who are tried become prisoners.
Ingando are civic education camps that the government runs to plant seeds of reconciliation. Rwandan citizens from diverse walk of life, including students, church leaders, ex-soldiers, ex-combatants, genocidaires (perpetrators of the genocide), and others, are encouraged or required to attend Ingando. The camps include lectures on the government program, Rwandan history, and unity and reconciliation. In spite of the governmental efforts to unite the Rwandans, many people still feel insecure and suspicion remains strong between different groups. Retribution and false accusations at the Gacaca courts constitute some of the fears. Witnesses also feel insecure, as many of them have been attacked and even killed in connection with Gacaca. Coming to terms with the ethnic divisions of the past remains a major challenge.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Rwanda is a tiny country about the size of the US state of Massachusetts. It is located in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. To Rwanda's west lies one of Africa's largest countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), while to the east is Tanzania. Uganda is the country directly to the north, while Burundi is located to the south. Despite the country's proximity to the equator (about 2°s), high altitude keeps the climate temperate. Most Rwandans live at altitudes between 1,500 m (5,000 ft) and 2,100 m (7,000 ft) above sea level. Rwanda usually receives a fair amount of rain (about 100–150 cm or 40–60 in), but there are occasional droughts. During a typical year, there is one long rainy season (March to May), one long dry season (June to September), another wet season (October to December), and a short dry season (January and February), but these seasons are seldom regular.
Rwanda is Africa's most densely populated country and the population has increased with almost 2 million people since the genocide in 1994, currently reaching a total population of approximately 9 million people. Approximately 89% of Rwanda's population lives in rural areas and gains its livelihood from agriculture, but there are several cities. Kigali, the capital, is the largest city, with a population of about 800,000 people.
In 1994 over 3 million refugees, virtually all Hutu, scattered across the region, residing in refugee camps in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi. These refugees fled Rwanda in the late spring and summer of 1994 as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gradually took control of the country. Some fled the country out of fear that the largely Tutsi RPF would take reprisals against them. Others fled simply because they were forced to do so by soldiers of the former Rwandan government's army and its allied militias. During the last months of 1996, the RPF invaded the DRC and destroyed refugee camps; thousands of Hutus were killed during those attacks while most others had to re-enter Rwanda, and began to return in large numbers. A high percentage of Tutsi, who fled to neighboring countries during the 1960s, have also returned to Rwanda since the RPF came to power. The government of Rwanda has encouraged all Rwandans who fled the country to come back. In 2007, 50,000 Rwandans still remained in exile, while all the rest had returned. Most of the returnees are re-integrated and accepted back into their communities. The majority of Rwandans who remain in exile do so due to disagreements with the present government, or out of fear of facing genocide charges upon their return.
All Rwandans speak Kinyarwanda, a Bantu language, that is rather difficult for most foreigners to master. One of its major sources of difficulty for Europeans and Americans is its vowel system. Vowels can differ in length and tone, and such changes entirely alter the meaning of a word or phrase. Another difficulty in Kinyarwanda is the fact that there are 20 different noun classes. English has only two basic noun classes: singular and plural.
Many educated Rwandans also speak French, the country's second official language and the language used by the Belgian colonialists. Rwandans may also speak Swahili, which is something of a lingua franca (common language) in East and Central Africa. Finally, English is becoming increasingly common, especially in urban areas. This is partly because the new group of leaders in Rwanda (affiliated with the Rwandan Patriotic Front) were raised in English-speaking Uganda. But it is also because many people in recent years have decided to learn English at courses taught in Kigali and other cities.
Rwandan culture is rich in oral traditions, including legends, stories, and poetry. In fact, Rwandan art is much more devoted to literature, poetry, music, and dance than it is to painting or sculpture. Much of Rwandan folklore from the 19th and early 20th centuries had to do with Rwandan sacred kingship. Until 1931, the Rwandan king was non-Christian and was believed by many of his subjects to have sacred powers. Ritual specialists associated with the king possessed special knowledge of Rwandan history and ritual. Much of this enormous body of knowledge was kept in their memories in the form of poetry. Occasionally, the specialists were called upon to recite their allotted portions of the sacred texts.
In the early 20th century, Belgian colonial authorities and Catholic missionaries succeeded in deposing the non-Christian Rwandan king and replaced him with his Christian son. By the 1940s and 1950s, it became apparent that the sacred knowledge possessed by the ritual specialists would soon die with them, as they were growing old and no new specialists were being trained. In order to prevent this, Rwandan and European scholars set about recording and transcribing the sacred and historical texts. For this reason there is a record of traditional Rwandan ritual, poetry, history, and literature that far surpasses most other sub-Saharan African societies. The rituals that were associated with Rwandan sacred kingship included rainmaking rituals, rituals to stop the rain in the event of flooding, rituals to assure that the cattle reproduced in abundance, rituals to assure that the bees produced honey in abundance, and rituals to assure victory in battle.
Where ordinary people were concerned, Rwandan culture was also quite rich in stories and legends for the moral instruction of children, or simply for entertainment and distraction. Many of these stories, or variants of them, are still recounted to this day.
Catholic and other Christian missionaries have extensively evangelized Rwanda since the colonial era. For that reason, about 60% of Rwandans today are Catholic, and another 20–30% are Protestants of various denominations. The number of Muslims has increased in recent years. Many that have converted to Islam are said to have done so because of mistrust towards the Christian church, as some Catholic and Protestant religious leaders played an active role in the genocide, while Muslims stayed neutral in the conflict. Still, the Muslims make up less than 5% of the population in Rwanda. In a few Rwandan cities such as the capital of Kigali, the Baha'i faith is gaining a foothold.
It is difficult to determine with precision how many Rwandans follow a traditional religion. Often Rwandans will follow both traditional religious practices and some form of Christianity at the same time. They see no contradiction in doing this, for they feel that Imaana (the supreme being) can only be reached through intermediaries. Whether these intermediaries are Christian or traditional in origin is of little importance. According to Rwandan conceptions, Imaana is both a benevolent, creative spirit responsible for all life, and at the same time a distant and indifferent god. The most common means of communicating with Imaana is through the spirits of deceased family members (abazimu), or through more important deities that are like “super” ancestors. Two of the most common deities of this latter sort are Ryangombe, who is quite commonly venerated in southern and central Rwanda, and Nyabingi, a goddess who is venerated in northern Rwanda. In both cases, people who venerate either Ryangombe or Nyabingi claim that these spirits are intermediaries to Imaana, not ultimate sources of power and beneficence.
With regard to ancestors, many Rwandans (Christian or not) believe that after death one's spirit joins other ancestral spirits. Usually these spirits are thought to exert a protective influence upon the living, as long as the living remember to honor the ancestors with occasional sacrifices. An ancestral spirit might afflict a living person with illness, if the living person “forgets” the ancestor, i.e., neglects to offer the occasional small sacrifice in the ancestor's honor. Ancestral spirits might also afflict one of their descendants because the latter has wronged another member of the extended family.
Rwandans today go by the Christian calendar and observe the major Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. Other Roman Catholic festivals are also observed, such as Ascension Day and All Saints' Day. National holidays also include Independence Day on the first of July, which marks independence from the Belgian colonizers, and Liberation Day the fourth of July, which marks the end of genocide. Liberation Day is celebrated throughout the country with music, dance and recitals. Moreover, the country observes a national day of mourning each year on April 7, the day on which the genocide started. Each year a new site is chosen from which bodies from the genocide are exhumed and given a formal burial. The president leads the ceremony, which is broadcast on state television and radio. The day is also commemorated all over the country at lower administrative levels. National television and radio channels devote their broadcasts to the theme of genocide. The month of April more generally is considered to be a month of mourning and parties or celebrations of any kind are discouraged.
Most of the traditional Rwandan festivals are no longer officially observed, with the exception of Umuganura, a harvest ritual that is celebrated in August.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Rwandans mark major transitions in life by performing rituals that demonstrate to the community that an individual has changed her or his social status. These include birth, marriage, the joining of the cult of Ryangombe or Nyabingi, blood-brotherhood, and death. For those Rwandans who practice the traditional religions (the cult of Ryangombe, or the cult of Nyabingi), becoming a member of the cult also requires the performance of a rite of passage. For those Rwandans who are members of Christian sects, baptism and confirmation serve as rites of passage.
Birth is the first important rite of passage. When a woman gives birth to a child, she and the child are supposed to be kept in seclusion, traditionally for eight days, though today it is usually only for four days. Care is taken during this time to properly dispose of the umbilical cord and the placenta, which are usually buried near the house. On the day that the woman and her child leave their seclusion, friends and family members visit the household and share in a celebration. Many people bring gifts to the new mother and father. The parents of the new mother bring a gift to their daughter's husband, and a quantity of sorghum porridge to their daughter. It is also on this day that the baby is presented to the public for the first time, and that the child's name is announced.
In contrast to many other sub-Saharan African peoples, Rwandans do not celebrate any type of initiation at puberty for either boys or girls. After puberty, marriage is the most important rite of passage. Females marry by about age 18 and males by age 22 or later. Marriage is extremely important for Rwandans because a person is not considered fully adult until she or he has been married and had at least one child. Marriage is actually a series of rites of passage, beginning with the betrothal and continuing with the wedding and with the birth of each child. At each of these stages, gifts are exchanged between the families of the wife and the husband. The most important of these gifts is the bride-wealth cow that the husband gives his wife's father. Later, when this cow gives birth to a female calf, the calf will be given to the husband. It is extremely important to have children in Rwandan culture because dying without leaving descendants means that no one will honor the deceased's spirit.
A funeral ceremony is the final rite of passage for a Rwandan. Although most Rwandans have a Christian funeral through their respective churches, many Rwandans also practice traditional rituals at this time. Because death is said to be “hot,” it is not rare for a traditional ritualist to come to the home of a deceased person to “cool' the house and to aid the deceased's spirit in its transition to an ancestral spirit. It is also common to sacrifice a cow or bull as part of this ritual.
Under most circumstances, Rwandans are polite, warm, and helpful. Greetings are a central part of social etiquette. In rural areas, it is important to greet everyone that one passes in the fields and on pathways. Although this etiquette is not closely observed in large cities like Kigali, where one passes many people on the street, even in an urban environment it is considered rude not to acknowledge someone with whom one has some acquaintance. For certain people, a heartier form of greeting is in order. Here, the two parties “embrace” one another. In this type of greeting, the left hand reaches out to gently clasp the other person's hip, while the right hand reaches upward to touch the other person's shoulder.
To be a socially acceptable person, one must visit one's friends and relatives, as well as accept the visits of others. Rwandans spend much of their time visiting one another. This helps to maintain good social relations with others. Someone who rarely visits others is considered antisocial and would probably arouse the suspicions of his neighbors and relatives. Although Rwandans do not always offer a guest something to eat, it would be considered a breach of etiquette if the guest were not offered something to drink. Drinking is the foremost social activity among Rwandans, and drinks range from very mildly alcoholic to moderately so. The two most common forms of alcoholic beverage are a drink made from sorghum, and one made from fermented plantains. Whenever a visitor arrives, the good Rwandan host attempts to find him or her something to drink. If a guest is present at one's home while others are drinking and is not offered something to drink, it is considered an insult.
It would be wrong to assume, however, that all people are equal when it comes to social occasions where drinking or eating is involved. It is here that we see Rwanda's ethnic differences at work. When Tutsi and Hutu eat or drink together, they will often share the same cooking and drinking vessels. They may, for example, pass a calabash (gourd container) with a wooden straw in it from one person to another. Each person drinks in turn, pressing his or her lips to the straw. When Twa are present, though, they are not allowed to drink or eat from the same vessels. They will be served something to drink or eat, but their drinking and eating utensils will be separate from those of the others present.
Living conditions vary immensely between social classes and between urban and rural Rwandans. Affluent Rwandans who live in cities enjoy the amenities of running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, and phone service. Their houses resemble those one would find in an affluent American suburb, and are usually made of brick and concrete. But the majority of urban Rwandans live more simply. Many have small mud-walled houses with corrugated iron roofs. Although some may have electricity in their dwellings, most have neither electricity, running water, nor indoor plumbing.
In rural areas, a variety of house types exist. One may occasionally find brick houses with tile roofs, but only wealthy rural notables occupy this type of house. More frequently, one finds houses of wattle-and-daub construction. The traditional shape of a house is circular, but since colonial times many Rwandans have built rectangular houses. The roofs of such houses are usually constructed from corrugated iron, but it is not uncommon to find thatched-roof houses as well. These houses almost never have indoor plumbing, electricity, or running water. To obtain water, one must usually walk some distance to a spring or stream, a difficult and time-consuming chore that men leave to women and children. A few years ago, many rural Rwandans had to travel a long way to access a phone. Today village phones, that are found in many areas where no telecommunication service previously existed, allow people to make phone calls near their homes. Thanks to an improved health care system, access to health care has also improved for the rural population. Approximately 85% of all Rwandans live within 10 km of a primary health care facility. However, medical care remains an economical barrier to many people, and geographic distance and mountain terrain still constrain access to health care for many rural Rwandans. Rwanda is characterized by what is known as a “dispersed settlement pattern.” This means that individual homesteads are spread out all over the countryside, rather than being gathered together in hamlets or villages. When Rwandans speak of their local area, they talk about which hillside they come from, rather than which village.
The term for family in Kinyarwanda, inzu, can mean either “family,” “household,” or “house.” This unit consists of a husband, a wife or wives (a small percentage—perhaps 10%—of Rwandan men have more than one wife), and their children. When a man has more than one wife, each one will have a “house” within the fenced-in enclosure that encircles the whole homestead. Sometimes other persons who are related to the man of the house by blood, adoption, or marriage will live within this unit as well, but this is not common.
People from several related inzus who trace their descendance from a common male ancestor about five or six generations back comprise another kinship unit known as an umuryango. Usually the eldest or most influential male is considered the head of this unit. As descent through males is most important where one's social identity is concerned, Rwandan society is said to be patrilineal. The umuryango often controls a portion of land that it divides and allocates to its individual adult male members. Today, however, as a result of colonialism, much of Rwanda's land is owned by individuals as private property and can be bought and sold without seeking the approval of an umuryango.
When Rwandans marry, they must marry outside of their umuryango. A young man who is interested in marrying a particular young woman makes this wish known to his father. The father will then visit the young woman's father, bringing sorghum and plantain-beer as a gift, and the two fathers will discuss the issue. Very often, several visits will be necessary, which becomes costly for the prospective bridegroom's father as he must bring beer each time. Moreover, the bridegroom and his father will have to pay at least one bride-wealth cow to the bride's father in order for the marriage to take place. It is this payment of the bride-wealth cow that legitimizes any children that result from the marriage.
In precolonial and early colonial times, Rwandans wore clothing made from animal skins and from pounded bark-cloth. Today this type of clothing is seen only in museums. Today Rwandans wear clothing that is the same as that worn by people in Western countries. The only difference is that the clothing Rwandans wear is second-hand. Only some Rwandans can afford to buy new clothing made by tailors in Rwanda. Rwandans began wearing European clothing during the colonial era. Today there is an active import trade in used clothing. In the cities men often wear shirt and pants. Rwandan women often wear dresses and scarves made from the printed cloth, but in the last ten years urban women and girls have increasingly started to use pants.
The diet of the average Rwandan is high in starches, low in protein, and quite low in fat. The two most common foodstuffs are starchy plantains and beans. Often the two are boiled together. Perhaps the next most common foodstuff is sorghum grain, which may be consumed as a cereal beverage, a porridge, or as sorghum meal. Sorghum and plantains are also used to prepare native Rwandan beers. Other commonly consumed vegetable foodstuffs include white potatoes, sweet potatoes, manioc, and maize (corn). Cabbage and carrots are also eaten occasionally. In certain areas of Rwanda, avocados are seasonally available, as are mangoes and pineapples.
Most Rwandans rarely eat meat, although the wealthy may consume it daily. The most commonly eaten meat is goat, which is usually barbecued over a charcoal burner. Beef is the most desired meat, but it is usually available only when a rural Rwandan has sacrificed a bull or cow on a ceremonial occasion. Urban Rwandans may consume beef more frequently. Cattle are valued for their prestige value and for their milk. Rwandans who can regularly drink milk count themselves as very fortunate. Mutton is also eaten, but most Tutsi, and many Hutu, spurn it because sheep are deemed to be peaceful animals whose presence is calming to cattle. In the past, only Twa ate mutton. When a sheep died, it was skinned. The skin was used to hold a baby on its mother's back, while the meat was given to Twa to eat. Today, though, many Rwandans eat mutton. Another new item in today's diet that was rarely eaten in the past is fish. Tilapia and catfish have become much more common as fish farming expands.
Only urban Rwandans eat three times a day. Rwandan farmers usually wake early, have something to drink, and work in the fields until about midday, at which time they eat something that they have brought with them. Often they cook the food right in the field. At the end of the day, after returning home, they eat again.
Rwandan children begin primary school at age six. According to Rwandan law, all children are guaranteed at least a sixth-grade education. In reality, this does not always occur because parents sometimes cannot afford the cost of school uniforms, school supplies, and other minor expenses that even a primary student needs, and some families need their children's support in the household or to generate income. After the sixth grade, attendance at a secondary school is dependent upon selection. Before 1994, admission to secondary school was supposedly based on grades and test results, but it was often a political matter. Until the change of government in 1994, Tutsi stood much less chance of being admitted to secondary school than did Hutu, and virtually no Twa attended secondary school. Today the selection is based on the national exam taken at the end of primary school. The transition to secondary school is however very low. The reason for this low transition rate include poor performance in primary examinations, high fees charged in secondary schools, and long distance to existing schools, especially in rural areas.
Kinyarwanda is taught in all schools in the lower grades, while French and English are used for instruction in secondary school. Education in Rwanda seeks to inculcate a culture of nationhood marked by tolerance, social cohesion, and conflict resolution, and to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. Challenges met are how to include orphans and children from child-headed households into education, and how to teach about the modern history of Rwanda and the genocide, a subject that still remains excluded from the curriculum.
Higher education is mainly provided by universities and specialized institutes. Beyond secondary school, it is possible to attend a university in Rwanda, to attend nursing school, or even to attend medical school. There are also many post-secondary institutions that offer a wide range of courses such as finance, management, computer studies, statistics, economics and secretarial studies. There are also a number of teacher training colleges. Rwandan students who complete secondary school are required to attend Ingando (see Introduction) before they commence their university studies.
Although the literacy rate in Rwanda is only 49%, with a high rate of illiteracy in the countryside, many other Rwandans are quite well educated. Some have also had the opportunity to study in Europe or the US. Because of the number of educated people in Rwanda, international organizations have little trouble filling positions that require a college education or better. In recent years, educated Rwandans have been experiencing difficulty in obtaining employment.
High educational attainment is respected in Rwanda, and families make sacrifices to educate their children. Although every family strives to educate all its children, this is rarely financially possible. Because of the great expense of education, some children are favored over others. For those who receive the privilege of an education, it is expected that they will financially assist their other siblings and their parents in old age.
Rwandans have a rich musical culture. Special dance groups known as intore perform dances that once had ritual significance in the context of war and sacred kingship. Dancers in the intore groups wear flowing headdresses made from dried grasses and carry small shields on their left arm. Variations of these dance styles are also perfomed by ordinary people at festive occasions such as weddings and other rites of passage. Several traditional musical instruments are played in Rwanda, and many among the Twa people are renowned as highly proficient musicians. Rwandans also possess a rich oral literature.
Rwandans are very industrious. In rural areas, men try to find paid employment wherever and whenever possible. They usually participate in some farming tasks as well. Women tend to farm the family land rather than work in wage-labor employment. In urban areas, though, many women have salaried jobs. In recent years, the number of women with salaried jobs has increased as the educational opportunities for women have improved.
The most popular sport in Rwanda is soccer. Numerous soccer clubs exist, competing in organized leagues. Rwandans attend soccer matches in droves, especially when the national team is playing. If they cannot attend an important match in person, they listen to it on the radio. The sport has become so popular that from a very tender age boys can be seen kicking and running after a “ball” that is merely a spherical bundle of rolled-up banana leaves. Often young girls join in these games as well, and there are even a few soccer clubs for adult women in cities like Kigali. Perhaps the next-most-popular sport after soccer is running, an activity that also inspires competitive interest from a very young age. Very few Rwandans swim. Those that live near lakes may swim recreationally but do not engage in the activity as a sport. Finally, there are a few urban, affluent Rwandans who have taken up tennis.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Ritual occasions such as weddings serve an important recreational function. Although a good portion of a wedding ceremony is likely to consist of speeches made by both the groom's and the bride's sides of the family, food and Rwandan beers will also be served. Later, when the speeches have ended, there will be music and dancing. Some of this will consist of traditional music and dance, but there is also likely to be modern popular music as well. Although the custom of formally inviting people to weddings and other ceremonies is becoming more common, no one who shows up is turned away from a festival. In fact, a large crowd at such an occasion reflects positively on the prestige of the host.
Rwanda has had a national radio station for almost 30 years, and a number of private radio stations have arisen in recent years. In the past 15 years, a television station has also been operative. Virtually everyone in the country owns and listens to a radio. In urban areas, TV ownership is increasing but is still mostly confined to the more affluent. Watching videos on VCRs has also become so popular that video rental stores now exist in large cities. Popular music, particularly American rock music, has had tremendous success in Rwanda. In urban discotheques, one can hear American rock, Caribbean reggae, and Zairian and Kenyan pop music. American dances and clothing fashions are quite popular, but these are always given something of a Rwandan “twist.”
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Rwandans are known for their basket- and mat-weaving. Woven into these everyday utensils are elaborate geometric designs. One can also see these same designs painted on the large cooking vessels made by Twa potters. Occasionally these same motifs can be observed on the interior walls of traditional Rwandan houses, but today this is quite rare. In former times, Rwandans did not engage in woodcarving, sculpture, or artistic painting, but in recent years, these have become important craft activities. In cities, one can find many Rwandan artists who sell paintings, woodcarvings, and ceramic sculptures.
After the genocide of the Tutsi in 1994, and the following massacres of Hutus by the RPF army, reconciliation among Rwandans is a great challenge. Many initiatives have been taken by the Rwandan government to bring Hutu and Tutsi along the road to reconciliation, but genocide still leaves its mark for the most part of society.
The genocide has left a profound sense of injustice, fear and distress among Rwandans. The survivors of the genocide have complained that they have not received appropriate compensation for their suffering. A large part of the Hutu population also consider themselves to be victims of the war, refugee camps or post-genocide revenge killings, but feel that they are being silenced and disregarded in the recovering process, rendering distrust towards the government. This situation has engendered resentment and frustration among the population, as well as suspiciousness between the groups.
Truth telling and fulfillment of justice through Gacaca (see Introduction) helps reconciliation for some Rwandans, but also means fear for a lot of people. Internal immediate conflicts are centered on Gacaca; genocide suspects, witnesses, and survivors have been assaulted, threatened and even killed in connection to the trials. In July 2006 the Gacaca commenced the trials of over 700,000 people accused of genocide, and during 2007 close to 100,000 people were held in Rwanda's overpopulated prisons, most of them accused of participation in the genocide. Groups of Hutus have left the country rather than to face the Gacaca courts, some out of fear of false accusations, which has already imprisoned several innocent Hutus and caused anger among them and their families. In spite of the government's work to obtain unity and reconciliation, and the will of many citizens to do so, mistrust prevails in many places, and fear of the other group still exists. Security is generally a pressing problem for survivors.
Rwanda is, even by African standards, a very poor country. Food security is a problem for a large part of the population, and the growing economic disparities between urban and rural population has created tension in the country. Since the era of colonialism, some Rwandans have improved their economic condition significantly. Others, particularly those involved in agriculture, have not yet seen their circumstances improved. Having a family member in prison is a heavy burden for an impoverished Rwandan household to carry, since the absence of labor is detrimental to agriculture, reducing productivity and hence food availability. Survivors left without family or relatives are also unable to cultivate land effectively. Further, AIDS is keeping many adults out of work and unable to support their already vulnerable households. AIDS has also left thousands of children orphaned, and when combined with the large number of Rwandan children who lost their parents in the genocide, this has resulted in one of the world's largest orphan populations (1.26 million). These children are extremely vulnerable to further neglect, abuse, and exploitation, and many are left to fend for themselves and their younger siblings.
Gender relations have changed in Rwanda since 1994. After the genocide, many women found themselves without a husband or male relatives to provide for them and were forced to handle tasks that they previously had not been considered suitable for. Furthermore, a strong political commitment to include women in the reconstruction of a country that was in shambles, has enabled women to enter the political arena. Rwanda's new constitution, adopted in 2003, mandates a 30% quota for women in parliament and in government. Additionally, political parties have promoted female candidates, which resulted in the world's highest ranking of women parliamentarians, 49 %, in the elections in 2003. However, the commendable achievements in parliament and other decision-making positions have not yet translated into any major differences for the vast majority of women in Rwanda. At a grassroots level, women's unpaid household work, feelings of inferiority, lack of experience in politico-administrative activities, and the high level of illiteracy, are barriers to their political participation.
Female-headed households constitute more than a third of all the households in Rwanda (which is largely a legacy of the genocide as it left many women widowed, and many men in prison). Those households are generally more affected by poverty than households led by men. Moreover, Rwanda is a patriarchal society that influences women's social position and gender relations in practice: Boys are sent to school rather than girls, and women remain in inferior positions to men and their social roles are foremost as mothers and wives.
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—revised by A. Berglund