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Rwanda’s baby gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina

Many travellers visit the East African country of Rwanda to participate in what is arguably one of the most incredible wildlife experiences, gorilla trekking. Time your visit right, and you can also be there to witness Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s baby gorilla naming ceremony.

Kwita Izina, or ‘to give a name’ in the national language, Kinyarwanda – is an event like no other on Earth, immersed in cultural meaning and ancient customs. The ceremony of giving a name to a newborn baby has been part of Rwandan culture for centuries and this is something that Rwanda has passed on to their famous mountain gorillas.

Organised by the Rwanda Development Board, the ceremony’s main goal is in helping monitor each individual gorilla and their groups in their natural habitat.

Rwanda recently held its 15th annual gorilla-naming ceremony, Kwita Izina, at Kinigi, Volcanoes National Park, where 25 baby gorillas were named by conservation champions from across the globe. Baby namers included English supermodel Naomi Campbell, American RnB singer Ne-Yo, soccer legend Tony Adams, and renowned choreographer Sherie Silver, just to mention but a few.

Traditional Intore dancers perform at Kwita Izina 2019. Image: Kate Webster

The ceremony attracts thousands of visitors each year, with conservationists, rangers and communities; international celebrities, dignitaries and the country’s President all gathering at the foothills of the Virunga Massif in the town of Kinigi. Festivities include traditional music, dancing and performances from local students and artists, in addition to the naming of the baby gorillas.

The baby gorillas named this year were members of the Amahoro, Umubano, Hirwa, Igisha, Isimbi, Muhoza, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Susa, Pablo, Kuryama, Mafunzo, Kureba, Musirikali, and Ntambara groups.

As a result of conservation efforts such as Kwita Izina, the population of the endangered mountain gorilla has increased to 604 in 2018 in the Virunga Massif compared to 480 in 2010. The Virunga Massif is comprised Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Mountain gorilla numbers in the entire area had fallen as low as 242 in 1981.

Thousands of local Rwandans attended Kwita Izina 2019. Image: Kate Webster

Speaking at Kwita Izina 2019, the Rwanda Development Board Chief Tourism Officer, Belise Kariza, said “as we give names to 25 baby gorillas today, we celebrate our conservation successes and thank the community, partners and friends from around the world for their invaluable support to protect these remarkable animals.”

When planning to go gorilla tracking in the Volcanoes national park Rwanda, it’s very necessary for you to first book your gorilla pass ahead of your actual tracking date as they often get finished quickly.

A gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda will cost you USD$1500 and can be booked direct with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) by emailing reservation@rwandatourism.com. Alternatively, you can book through your preferred wholesaler in conjunction with a tour. Its highly advisable to book your permit earlier than your planned gorilla trekking date as permits book up fast.

Volcanoes National Park is home to 10 mountain gorilla groups and each group can only have 1 group of 8 people visiting a day for only 1 hour. 

The 2019 Kwita Izina Gorilla Baby Namers 

The baby gorilla namers for 2019 Kwita Izina. Image: Kate Webster

Jeremy Jauncey, founder & CEO of Beautiful Destinations, an award-winning nation branding agency named a baby gorilla from the Isimbi family as well, ‘Ingando’ which represents ‘opportunity for the future and hope for a better world’.

Madeleine Nyiratuza, Programme Specialist, Sustainable Growth Unit at UNDP Rwanda, named a baby gorilla from the Amahoro family, ‘Isanzure’ noting that the name means that gorillas should be allowed to roam freely.

Amb. Ron Adam, the Ambassador of the State of Israel in Rwanda named a baby gorilla from the Sabyinyo family, ‘Igihango’ which means ‘convenant’ and said it represents the unbreakable bond between the gorillas and their guardians.

Tony Alexander Adams MBE, an English football legend at the Kwita Izina 2019. Image: Kate Webster

Tony Alexander Adams MBE, an English football legend named a baby gorilla from the Mafunzo family, ‘Sura’urwanda’ which translates to ‘Visit Rwanda’, symbolizing the partnership Rwanda has with English football club, Arsenal.

Niklas Adalberth, Swedish entrepreneur and founder of Norrsken named a baby gorilla from the Isimbi family, ‘Irembo’ which means ‘gateway’.

Ngabo Médard Jobert, better known as Meddy, a Rwandan RnB and pop artist named a baby gorilla from the Musirikare family, ‘Inkoramutima’.

Otara Gunewardene, a Sri Lankan businessperson and philanthropist, named a baby gorilla from the Pablo family, ‘Kira’ which means ‘bless you’ in Kinyarwanda and named after her two sons, Kiran and Rakhil.

Louis Van Gaal, Dutch former football manager and player named a baby gorilla from the Hirwa family, ‘Indongozi’ which means ‘leader’.

His Excellency Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe: Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia named a baby from the Pablo Family ‘Umukuru’ as a tribute to Mutware, the oldest elephant in Akagera National Park that died last year.

Ronan Donovan, National Geographic photographer and filmmaker named a baby gorilla from the Kwitonda family and the name was chosen after National Geographic opened the naming process to their social media followers. The name that was chosen was ‘Intego’ which means ‘purpose’.

HRH Princess Basma Bint Ali, an advocate of biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture in Jordan named a baby gorilla from the Mafunzo family, ‘Uhiriwe’ which means ‘lucky one’.

Emmanuel Niringiyimana, a young Rwandan who built a road on his own to facilitate the movement of people and goods in his village in Karongi District named a baby gorilla from the Igisha family, ‘Mugwire’.

Paul Milton, the founder of Milton Group who developed the Singita Kwitonda Lodge on behalf of investors Mr Paul Tudor Jones and Mr Anders Povlsen & Luke Bailes, the Founder and Executive Chairman of Singita, named a baby from the Pablo family, ‘Inararibonye’ which means ‘wise and experienced’ in Kinyarwanda.

Dame Louise Martin, DBE, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation and Patricia Scotland, named a baby gorilla from the Igisha family, ‘Uruti’ which means ‘the highest recognition of heroism’ and ‘Nazarian’ which means ‘the one who loves and initiates peace among the communities’.

Naomi Campbell, English supermodel, actress, and businesswoman at the Kwita Izina 2019. Image: Kate Webster

Naomi Campbell, English supermodel, actress, and businesswoman named a baby gorilla from the Muhoza family, ‘Intarutwa’ which translates to ‘excellent’ in Kinyarwanda.

Award-winning Rwandan Professional cyclist, Joseph Areruya named a baby gorilla from the Amahoro family, ‘Inganji’ meaning long life.

Marco Lambertini, Director General of World Wildlife Fund for Nature named a baby gorilla from the Kwitonda family, ‘Ikirenga’ which means ‘Exceptional’.

Sherrie Silver, Actress and choreographer, named a baby gorilla from the Susa family, ‘Ibirori’ which means ‘celebration’.

Anthony Nzuki: Ranger Post Leader at Akagera National Park, Rwanda named a baby gorilla from the Kureba family, ‘Karame’.

Kenyan entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr. Kiboro Wilfred, named one of the new baby gorillas from the Sabyinyo family, ‘Ituze’ which translates to stability in Kinyarwanda and ‘take care of it’ in Swahili.

Local Rwandans turn out for the 15th Kwita Izina. Image: Kate Webster

Jean Nepomuscene Musekura, one of the incredible park rangers from Volcanoes National Park chose the name ‘Bisoke’ for one of the new baby gorillas from the Ntambara family.

H.E Amb. Karén Chalyan, Ambassodor of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Rwanda named a baby gorilla from the Ntambara family, ‘Umwihariko’ which means ‘exception’.

Robert Twibaze, one of the senior tour guides with over 12 years of experience chose the name ‘Inzobere’ for a baby gorilla from the Agashya family.

Amina Mohammed: Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. She was formerly the Federal Minister of the Environment of Nigeria. She named a baby from the Umubano family, ‘Ingoga’ which means courage in Kinyarwanda.

Shaffer Chimere Smith, better known by his stage name Ne-Yo named a baby gorilla from the Kuryama family, ‘Biracyaza’ which means greater things are coming for Rwanda.

For more on Rwanda visit www.visitrwanda.com

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