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Rwanda: Rwanda Art & Culture Profile 2012






Rwanda Art / Culture Profile 2012


Rwanda is 1,500 kilometers from the Indian Ocean. Since Rwanda has no rail network, it relies on two main export routes to the Indian Ocean: one by lake and rail to Dar es Salaam, and the other by road to Mombasa. This route through Mombasa normally carries more than 70% of Rwanda's imports and about 80% of exports. Rwanda's external trade is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in economic and political relations with Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Despite its political difficulties, Rwanda's arterial roads remain in good condition. There are about 1,200 kilometers of tarred roads and another 12,000 kilometers of unpaved main and secondary roads. In 1992 there were 27,441 registered vehicles. Commercial transport is largely in private hands. The country has no rail network, but Kanombe airport has been repaired and is functioning. The Belgian carrier, Sabena, has scheduled direct flights to Kigali. The capitol can be easily reached from Kampala, Nairobi, and Bujumbura.

Rwanda -- Ethnic Groups

The original inhabitants of Rwanda were the Batwa. The Batwa continue to live as hunter/gathers in the north of the country, but constitute less than 1% of the total population. About the early 14th century the Bahutu farmers, who belong to the Bantu group, came to the country andimposed their language and customs on the indigenous inhabitants. Theyestablished a socio-economic system based on small-scale agriculture and pettykings called bahinza. Their connection with the soil is amply illustrated by the fact that bahinza means `those who cause things to grow,' illustrating strong connections between the political and the agricultural. The Batutsi, who are descendants of a herding people, arrived from the north in the 15th and 16th centuries and established traditional political domination based on monarchy in the area. Some scholars have drawn connections between the Tutsi and the Maasi, the Oromo of Ethiopia, the descendants of the Biblical Ham, and even the ancient Egyptians. Under Tutsi rule, ownership of land was the sole prerogative of the Tutsi king, the Mwami. The relationship between the Tutsi and Hutu developed into a patron-client contract known as ubuhake, an unequal agreement whereby the Hutu gained use of Tutsi cattle and their products in return for labor and military service. The power of the Mwami was reinforced by a myth of divine origin. In the late 19th century the Mwami Kigeri II expanded the borders of his kingdom, which survived until the Germans arrived in 1894. Tutsi control was strongest in the areas around Nyanza, though the Hutu continued to control some areas in the northwest. The structure of the Tutsi monarchical system was set up in the 1800s, consisting of a hierarchy of chiefs and sub-chiefs with the Mwami at the apex of the pyramid. The lowest unit was the umusozi or hill. The Hima, a small tribe of Nilotic nomads, continue to make their livelihood traveling through the northern and northeastern portions of Rwanda.


The majority of Rwandans, about 65%, are Roman Catholic, with another 9% Protestant. Only about 1% of the population is Muslim. About a fourth of Rwandans are adherents of indigenous beliefs. However, these numbers and divisions are not clear cut. Many Rwandans practice both their traditional religion and Christianity at the same time. At the core of traditional religion is a supreme being or spirit called Imana. This supreme being can only be addressed through intermediaries, and they can be Christian, the spirits of deceased family members known as abazima, or other illustrious ancestors. In this final category, Ryangombe and Nyabingi are two venerated ancestral deities that can intercede and ask for power and benevolence from Imana but do not posses them themselves. Ryangombe is venerated mostly in southern and western Rwanda. Nyabingi is a goddess venerated mostly in northern Rwanda.

Rwandan's believe that one's familial ancestors, the abazima, can protect and benefit living family members if they are honored and remembered through sacrifices. When they are not, and sacrifices are not performed, they can cause illness or other misfortunes. Diviners are called upon by family members to interpret the wishes of abazima and to recommend ways to appease angered ancestors.