Kwita Izina: The Historically-Rooted Rwandan Ceremony That Helps Protect Mountain Gorillas
Kwita Izina helps Rwanda raise awareness and funds for the conservation of the country’s gorillas.
Since 2005, Rwanda has officially held the Kwita Izina — a mountain gorilla naming ceremony — to promote conservation, biodiversity, and encourage environmental sustainability.
In that time, over 300 baby gorillas have been given a name, each one thoughtfully selected to reflect the infant’s individual story and heritage.
Kwita Izina means “to give a name” in the national language, Kinyarwanda, and is modelled after the ancient Rwandan tradition in which children are named in the presence of friends and family. Before 2005, park rangers and researchers named Rwanda’s mountain gorilla babies as part of monitoring each gorilla in their family and habitat.
But this event is much more than just a naming ceremony. It is an opportunity to celebrate the efforts of the communities that live around the gorilla habitat (Volcanoes National Park), along with research partners, vets, and the dedicated conservationists, rangers, and trackers who protect the gorillas all year.
“A name professes the aspirations parents have for their children, so we determine our own destiny through the names we give our children,” says Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board. “In a way, we are defining our common destiny through Kwita Izina — we are defining where we want to go.”
In addition, Kwita Izina helps Rwanda raise awareness and funds for the ongoing protection of the country’s mountain gorillas and the expansion of their habitat.
Efforts like Kwita Izina have yielded great results too. In the 1980s, just 242 individual gorillas were recorded in the Virunga Massif: now, over 600 roam the region, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reclassified the species from “critically endangered” to “endangered” in 2018.
According to a statement from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), “in the 2010 census there were 480 mountain gorillas [and] the 2016 census report indicated 604 individuals in the Virunga Massif. These efforts have contributed to the increase in [the] number of mountain gorillas worldwide (1,004), and categorised as no longer critically endangered.”
Furthermore, Rwanda welcomed over 1.6 million visitors in 2019, among whom almost 17,250 visited the majestic mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The park permits sold were worth $25 million — a 25% increase compared to 2018.
At the 2016 ceremony, naturalist Sir David Attenborough named a baby Inshungu, meaning “blessing”. And in 2018, baby Ikipe, meaning “team”, was named by former Arsenal footballer, Laureano Bisan Etamé-Mayer, alongside Izahabu (“precious”), Kunesha (“to win”) and Uburumbuke (“prosperity”).
For 2020, 24 baby gorillas that call Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park home will be named on World Gorilla Day by the Volcanoes National Park staff — the frontliners of conservation who protect and care for them every day. The event will be celebrated virtually this year, due to COVID-19, with the video available on YouTube here.
On Sept. 25, a Conversation on Conservation will be held, to discuss conservation opportunities and challenges, and encourage dialogue on conservation — as well as highlighting the impact of conservation and eco-tourism on community development. The event will be live-streamed from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. CAT. on the Visit Rwanda YouTube channel.
World Gorilla Day marks the day that renowned gorilla conservationist Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda in 1967, and encourages people to contribute to the conservation of gorillas.
In 2017, Dr. Tara Stoinski, who now runs the research center, named a baby gorilla Macibiri in tribute to Fossey, whose Rwandan nickname was Nyiramacibiri, believed to roughly translate as “the woman who lives alone on the mountain”.