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Rwanda Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Rwanda
Rwanda has a rich, vibrant culture based on traditional dance, crafts song and drumming. History and culture is communicated through the generations with songs, poetry and stories providing links to the past. Visitors to Rwanda should catch a cultural performance of dynamic dance and music to appreciate the heritage and identity that is carried by these songs and dances.
There are three main ethnic tribes in Rwanda - Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, each having their similarities and differences. The Twa comprise less than 1% of the population, and are hunter-gatherers, having lived in Rwanda for centuries. The Hutu and Tutsi are not divided by ethnicity but by a social caste system, with the Tutsi traditionally living pastoral lives and being members of the ruling class, and the Hutu traditionally being seen as peasant farmers. This is malleable though, as intermarriage between the two is quite common, so children may have a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother. While this has lead to much division and conflict in the past, Rwanda has more recently enjoyed 15 years of relative harmony, with these ethnic groups living and working alongside each other in peace.
Foreigners and travellers will find most Rwandans live simple lives, devoid of modern conveniences and perhaps it is because of this that Rwandans are known for being friendly, genuine and very accommodating to visitors. Homestays in particular provide valuable insights into the culture of Rwanda.
Rwanda is considered the lightning capital of the world due to intense thunderstorms during the rainy season
Geography and Environment of Rwanda
Sharing borders with Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda is a densely populated, landlocked nation. Covered in grassland, mountains and rolling hills, most people in Rwanda live in villages surrounded by farmland. Plantations of cash crops like coffee and tea are common, but small subsistence farming is the main source of income for most Rwandans living in rural areas.
The dense jungles and national parks of Rwanda house many species of animal including gorillas, baboons, chimpanzees and prolific birdlife. Unlike many other African bodies of water, freshwater Lake Kivu is free from crocodiles and hippos, so it’s a great spot for swimming, fishing and other recreational activities.
History and Government of Rwanda
The original inhabitants of Rwanda, the Twa, lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for centuries before the arrival of the Hutu people. Then the Tutsi brought with them a feudal system of land ownership and society. In 1890 Germany took control of Rwanda, and ruled until 1916 when the Belgians overpowered the German forces during World War I. Under Belgian rule, clashes between the Tutsi and the Hutu were frequent and a precursor to the violence of the 1990s. Independence was granted in 1962, and the Hutu majority came into power. Because of this, Tutsi people were marginalised, with less access to education and employment opportunities. This imbalance created simmering tensions within Rwanda, culminating in armed conflict and displacement of people.
In 1994, Rwanda erupted into civil war following the death of the president in a plane crash (the plane was shot by a missile while trying to land in Kigali). Months of bloodshed ensued - it's estimated that close to a million people were killed within a period of 90 days. Millions of Rwandans fled into neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania to escape the violence, murder and looting that had taken over their country. Due to the loss of life and infrastructure caused by the genocide of 1994, many Rwandans today live in poverty. Despite this, Rwanda is currently rising out of hard times to move into the future with increased prosperity and improved living conditions. The economy is slowly improving due to a flourishing tourism industry and a new government that has invested in education and infrastructure.
Rwanda at a glance
- Kigali (population 851,000)
- 11.3 million
- Kinyarwanda, French, English
- (GMT+02:00) Windhoek
- Type C (European 2-pin), Type J (Swiss 3-pin)
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