The Gorilla Guardians Village/ Iby’iwacu cultural center
Volcanoes National Park isn’t just a place to see gorillas—it’s also a prime spot to immerse yourself in Rwandan culture at Gorilla Guardians Village. Run by reformed poachers, the non-profit cultural village gives tourists the chance to try their hand at Rwanda’s most famous crafts and activities. While most of the focus of Volcanoes National Park falls squarely onto the animals, this ‘cultural village’ puts the spotlight back onto the people. Visitors get to experience Rwandan village life by grinding seeds, firing bows and arrows, taking part in a traditional intore dance and even partaking in the marriage of a king to his queen.
Rwanda’s Cultural Melting Pot
The Village combines all of Rwanda’s known cultural traditions, people and history into one place for display and a personal experience. International visitors get to see what life was in a typical African village setting – the lifestyle, houses, traditional dances, dressing code, food, herbs and how the ancient kingdoms were generally organized. Tourists are given an opportunity to learn ancient hunting skills, try weaving baskets/mats, carpentry. This unique experience has won the hearts of many visitors who wish to indulge in the culture of Rwanda’s native community after visiting the capital Kigali, seeing the gorillas and hiking a mountain like Karisimbi. It is also a great place for relaxation while offering opportunities to purchase local craft, gifts and souvenir to show friends back home.
You’ll learn how to carry a basket on your head (like the Rwandan women do), weave your own baskets, shoot an arrow, and grind grains with a heavy stone. The enthusiastic guides make the entire experience feel like a big party.
It’s worth sticking around for the intore dance recitals at Gorilla Guardians Village. The traditional dancers, decked out with long straw wigs and skirts, put on an exciting show to the beat of rhythmic drumming. You’ll be up and dancing with them before you know it.
Besides the considerable revenue and publicity it helps generate, the Iby’iwacu cultural center serves as a unifying factor for Rwanda’s cultural/tribal groups like the Tutsis, Hutus and the Batwa. This entertainment center helps encourage a feeling of oneness based on a common shared ideology. Many of the local entertainers like the Batwa were once poachers and the Gorilla Guardians Cultural Village has given them an opportunity to do something different – Something that helps them earn a living for their families while keeping them away from poaching.
What to expect at the Iby’iwacu Cultural Village
the Iby’iwacu cultural Centre is designed to offer many interesting learning activities while at the same time allowing visitors to relax and get a feel of the local culture. Visitors are usually welcomed by loud dancing and drumming at the main gate which is only an indicator of the many great activities forthcoming.
Home visits and community walks: The best way to understand the diversity within the human race is by interacting, sharing and generally getting immersed in the cultures of different communities. The home visits and community walks while visiting the Gorilla Guardians Village gives visitors great opportunities to understand the cultural uniqueness of the Kinyarwanda culture and heritage.
During a visit to the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you get the chance to sit side by side with the locals in their traditional homes and grass thatched huts. As you sit down, the elders will share with you information and stories about Rwanda and her rich history/heritage. You will be presented with an opportunity to visit the local banana and vegetable plantations. You might even learn the art of preparing one of the traditional foods or using a special grinding stone to make fine millet flour.
Watching, listening and dancing to traditional music, dance and drama: Music, dance and drama defines African tradition and culture as it gives one a sense of belonging. For visitors interested in traditional music, the Iby’iwacu cultural center offers opportunities to listen to several unique local Iby’iwacu Cultural Village in Rwandamusical sounds including the Ingoma, Amakondera, Umuduri, Inanga, Iningiri, Ibyivugo and Agakenke. Each sound is unique, with special musical instruments and dancing style/steps. The Intore is one example. This popular warrior dance is performed by men with grass clothing and little bells wrapped around their legs while holding out spears in a mock battle or as a way of celebrating victory over an enemy. These youthful men and women with their smiling and happy faces will be eager to invite you to take part in the dance or at least learn how to drum.
Meeting traditional healers: In the ancient times, traditional healers played a big role in their communities. They were consulted by people whenever they had any ailments. These traditional healers used herbs, tree branches, roots, shrubs and to help cure known illnesses. The healers know how to apply these drugs and have studied their use for many years while building on knowledge and ideas that have been taught for thousands of generations. They are proud to narrate how traditional medicine has survived through colonial times to remain influential in the modern times. While at the Gorilla Guardians Cultural Village, you will meet some of the traditional healers who will be eager to demonstrate how the local medicines work.
Visiting the Batwa community: The Batwa pygmies are former forest hunters and fruit gatherers who once lived in the dense forests of Rwanda and Uganda. They were evicted from the forests decades ago by governments and resettled in new locations outside the forest. Some of them are stationed at the Iby’iwacu cultural Centre. The Batwa have greatly contributed to the tourism sectors in Uganda and Rwanda ever since embracing life outside the forest and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by tourism. After abandoning poaching and life in the forest as hunters and gatherers, the Batwa have learnt pottery, art and design, dance and drama. While at the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you will be amazed by their demonstration of hunting skills like setting up animal traps, using tools like spears, bows and arrows.
Taking the local brew: Apart from the joy and relaxation that drinking alcohol brings, taking local beer in a group setting was a unifying activity within the African traditional social setting. This was particularly so during the numerous ceremonies like that of new harvest and welcoming newborns. For one to fit in and appear involved during these ceremonies, they had to take part in the drinking. While visiting the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you will learn how the banana brew is made and fermented. You are expected to actively participate, crowning it with at least a sip of the final product.