Languages Kinyarwanda, French, English, and Swahili are the

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Last updated: April 8, 2019

Languages    Kinyarwanda, French, English, and Swahili are the official languages that are spoken by the Republic of Rwanda.     Kinyarwanda is a Bantu ethnic language with more than 12 million speakers in various countries including: the Demographic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, In Rwanda, Kinyarwanda is the only ethnic language and is an official language. It is a language spoken by the three Rwandan ethnic groups: the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa people. During the 15th century, Kinyarwanda developed as the cultural identity of these ethnic groups following close interaction among the three. It is the most widely spoken national language in the country, with about 93% of the population using the language. As a result of being an official language, it is used as a medium of instruction in institutions, administration, media, and commerce.    Because Rwanda is a former Belgian colony, it adopted French as an official language.

However, only about 0.1%, mostly the educated, of the population speak French, despite it being a colonial language. The language was slowly replaced by English as a result of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 negatively affecting the status of the language among the Rwandese people. The involvement of the French in the genocide triggered efforts by the Rwandese people to detach themselves completely from the French and francophone influences.    In Rwanda,  the third official language is English, spoken by about 0.2% of the population.

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It became an official languages in the late 20th century and was introduced in schools in 2008. The transition from French to English was started by the desire to break the influence of French, and to align Rwanda with the East African community. Additionally, the use of English provides an economically viable option by increasing the number of foreign investors from English speaking countries. Currently in Rwandese institutions, English is currently used as the primary mode of instruction.    The Rwandan government officially made Swahili an official language in the country in February 2017. It’s adoption came as a request by the East African community for members to include Swahili as one of the official languages. The language is to be used in administrative functions, and in official documents. Swahili will also be adopted into the curriculum as a compulsory subject.

    Religion        The six major religious beliefs in Rwanda include: Roman Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity, other forms of Christianity, Islam, Atheism or Agnosticism, and African folk belief    Roman Catholicism along side Protestantism and other forms of Christianity are the largest religious beliefs of Rwanda accounting for 96.3% of the population. Roman Catholicism is the largest religious group, followed by 46.5% of the population, and it was first introduced to Rwandans when the country became a part of German East Africa (1891-1919). Furthermore, in Rwanda, Protestantism is the second largest Christian group and religion, followed by 45.4% of the population. After World War One, Belgian Protestant missionaries entered the country as a result of Belgium gaining control of Rwanda as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi (1916-1962).

As a result, Protestantism gained importance in the country and surrounding regions in the 1930s. Additionally, the other forms of Christianity combine to represent a total of 4.4% of the country’s population making it the third largest religious belief in Rwanda. Out of all the other forms of Christianity in Rwanda, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most notable and harassed group.    In Rwanda, Islam is the fourth largest religious belief, having only 1.

8% of the population practicing the religion. Sunni Islam is followed by most of the Muslims in the country. It is thought to have first arrived in Rwanda in the 18th century through Muslim traders from the East Coast of Africa. However, it had not become a prominent part of the country until the very end of the 19th century.    The number of people in Rwanda who claim they are either atheists or agnostics account for 1.8% of the population.

In Rwanda, atheists and agnostics are not officially counted in the country, and there is a stigma attached to being non-religious in this highly religious country. Since the end of the Rwandan Genocide, there has been an influx in the amount of people who claim they are atheist or agnostic.    In Rwanda, The amount of people who say that they follow African folk beliefs is only about 0.1% of the population. Only a handful of people in the country practice African folk beliefs, but many followers of other faiths in the incorporate some traditional elements into their religious practices. The predominant African Folk belief is the belief in a supreme being called Imaana, as well as other lesser deities. They also believe that, via the spirits of ancestors, these deities can be communicated with.

     Ethnicity    The three predominant ethnic groups in Rwanda include: the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa people.     In the African Great Lakes regions in Burundi, Rwanda, and some portions of the Demographic Republic of Congo the ethnic group, Hutu, is centralized. In Rwanda, it is the ethnic majority, consisting of about 84% of the population according to the 2015 census. As a result of the great Bantu expansion in West Africa, the Hutu immigrated into the Great Lakes region. They speak Rwanda-Bundu as their native language, which is divided into two dialects; Kinyarwanda and Kirundi which are the official languages of Rwanda and Burundi respectively.    The Tutsi are a sub-ethnic group of the Banyarwanda who are located primarily in Rwanda and Burundi. In Rwanda, the Tutsi account for about 15% of the population, making it the second largest ethnic group. The Tutsi are divided into two groups; the Northern Tutsi residing in Rwanda are known as Ruguru while the Southerners living in Burundi are called Hima.

The Tutsi have resided in Rwanda for over 400 years and have intermarried with the Hutu. The Tutsis native language is the Rwanda-Rundi which is composed of Kinyarwanda and Kirundi. Additionally, French is also spoken as a second or third language.    Of the Great Lakes region, the Twa people are the longest surviving currently inhabiting Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, and portions of the Democratic Republic of Congo as Bantu caste. In Rwanda, they are an ethnic minority accounting for only 1% of the population.

The Twa are semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers living in association with agricultural communities. They arrived in Rwanda alongside the Hutu as distinct people and mixed ancestry in the 15th century AD. Due to the expansion of agriculture and increased logging, the Twa were forced  to leave the mountain forests in search of new homes. As a result, they have been marginalized with little access to basic amenities like schools, and continue to suffer discrimination and prejudice due to their pygmy ancestry.

Culture     The Rwandese female cultural dress is known as Umushanana and it was traditionally made from animal skin and bark cloth. The clothing consists of a long skirt covering all the legs with a ribbon of the same material wrapped over one shoulder worn over a blouse. A traditional male clothing consist of a wrapper skirt and beads. These skirts are wrapped around their waist and the beads are worn around their necks.Ibitoke – sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, cassava, Isombe – mashed cassava leaves, and posho are the major staple foods for local Rwandese. Those near water bodies such as Lake Kivu eat mud fish and tilapia as they are the common fish species caught. Beef, goat meat, and pork are also widely eaten as stew or roasted.

Since many local Rwandese are also prominent cattle keepers, they produce milk as well which is fermented to form Ghee and Ikivuguto, a common drink enjoyed by many local Rwandese.    The local Rwandese are blessed with artistic skills of making handcrafts such as: clay pots, woven papyrus mats and baskets, jewelry, art pictorials, wood carvings and much more. These handcrafts can be found in craft villages including: Ivuka art center, Rwanda Nziza, Caplaki craft village among others. The crafts in Rwanda are produced countrywide where each region is well known for its unique crafts. For example, the southeastern region is well known for its Imigongo, a mixture of cow dung and various natural colored soils painted into decorative folds.    Most of Rwanda’s festivas are focused on the country’s rich culture and the arts. Some of Rwanda’s Film Festivals include the Rwandan Mini Film Festival and the Hillywood Film Festival.

The Rwandan Mini Film Festival is held annually every March, and allows amateur filmmakers around Rwanda to showcase their talents. The Hillywood Film Festival is aimed at showcasing Rwanda’s growing film industry in hopes that it will one day be similar to the industry in Nigeria. The festival highlights the talents of filmmakers from across the African continent every July. Another interesting festival worth attending is the Gorilla Naming Ceremony which is held every June in Kiningi.     In 1994, throughout the span of three months, about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda in what came to be known as the Rwandan Genocide. As a result, the United Nations has named April 7th as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwandan Genocide. On this day Rwandans commemorate the deaths of the 800,000 people who were murdered during the genocide in Rwanda, central Africa. Candle-lighting and a minute of silence is a common way in which many people around the world hold memorial ceremonies that honor the victims of the genocide.

    Music, dance, and drama performances are common during festivals, social gatherings, and marriage ceremonies. The Rwandese have two major traditional dances that are; Intore dance which encourages hunters or fighters, and Inkinimba dance usually performed by the farmers to celebrate their harvest. The dance, Inkinimba, is also performed when telling stories about the country’s culture, history, or when praising the fallen Rwandese heroes. Throughout all these cultural performances, they play accompanied instruments such as: Amakonder – a Rwandese cow horn, Inanga, Ingoma – drums, and Onigiri – a locally made guitar and Muduli.    The hill, a collection of families living on a single hill, was historically the central social and political unit.

Each hill contained a chief who linked the population to the monarch. Chieftaincies were abolished in the 1960s, however most people still live in individual family compounds surrounded by banana groves and fields scattered across the hillsides where their hills used to be.    Agricultural work is heavily divided between mean and women; Men clear the land and assist women in breaking the soil, while women engage in most of the day-to-day farming activities, such as planting, weeding, and harvesting. Additionally, men do the heavy jobs around the house, such as construction, while women are primarily responsible for preserving the household, raising children, and cooking food. Furthermore, the status of men and women in society is also divided. Women in Rwanda hold very few political positions and have limited economic power.

Many women’s associations have attempted to increase the status of women in recent years, but have had little apparent success.

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