Rwanda: The thrill of naming the for the 9th time, the mountain gorillas

gorilla namingA naming ceremony in Rwanda does not only have great importance when it comes to naming new born babies, but also to new born gorilla babies and families. As part of the Rwandan culture of naming new born babies, only one name is selected among many suggestions.

This name is not just a name, but a name that must have a meaning and reflect the owner as well as shape their future – like the Kinyarwanda saying that ‘the name is what a person is’ (izina niryo muntu).

In the same way, over 450 visitors, this June 22, 2013 travelled from around the world, from six continents, 30 countries; to join over 20,000 Rwandans in the annual iconic Rwandan gorilla naming ceremony “Kwita Izina” in which 12 baby Gorillas were officially given names alongside one family.

The 12 gorillas, all of one family, received both the family name and individual names for each. Among the person who named the gorillas, were world renowned film actors, conservationist, businessmen and women and political figures.

It is also important to note that it is a privilege for anyone in African culture to be given a chance to name some one. The gorilla naming ceremony for the 9th time, gave the opportunity and honour to some important personalities to name the primates. Among the name givers was:

Hollywood film actor, Isaiah Washington, who was also accompanied by his family; and were  given the honors of naming the 12 species gorilla family. And the name was- “Karisimbi” – translating the outstanding pillar and representation of the Rwandan community which he says has been an inspirational country to him and his family and the American people.

Washington, a veteran of several Spike Lee films and is best known for his role as Dr. Preston Burke on the ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy from 2005 until 2007.

Cyprian Chitundu, the Managing Director of ZESCO Limited, a power utility company operating under the supervision of the Zambian Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Development, called one of the baby gorillas- “Inyungura” – to mean benefit. For Chintundu, who referred to self as a technocrat, this was a choice of name because among the key roles of political figures, there should be a need to conserve nature. He said this name will mean addition & multiplication to Rwandans.

The newly appointed Japanese envoy to Rwanda- Ambassador Kazuya Ogawa named one of the gorillas- “Abasore”- , after doing a background research on the conditions in which the baby gorilla was born and name of the mother of this gorilla (called Mudakamwa), Ogawa says that the infant gorilla stood the challenges and represents the Rwandan youth who have to do likewise.

Paul Dalgleish, the Director of Sales and Marketing – Middle East – African Continent – Marriott Hotels International Inc was even more excited to be part of the ceremony since his organization has now eyed big investments in the tourism sector- with one hotel under construction in Kigali and another in Musanze district. He chose the name- “Isimbi” to mean the shining light of Rwanda’s tourism. He said that this gorilla will be a reminder of Rwanda’s growing tourism sector in the region- which has so far hit one million visitors to date.

Kenya’s Senate Speaker, Honorable Ekwe Ethuro, of the Jubilee alliance left no chances of referring to the gorilla name of his choice- “Ingamiya”-camel; as a symbol of Rwanda’s story and journey of resilience just like a camel which perseveres all harsh conditions, especially in his homeland of Turkana in arid areas of Kenya. He said that this name was so fitting in a way that Rwandans will have to refer to it as they work towards transformation, prosperity and development in reference to the country’s history of destruction witnessed during the 1994 genocide.

Jeffrey David Sachs, an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, couldn’t hold back his happiness to be part of the iconic cultural event held in Rwanda each year. As an educationalist, Sachs named a baby gorilla as- “Icyororo” (offspring) to mean the fertility of Rwanda and its leadership which has been a fertile ground of reference for many political figures and scholars to learn from.

There is no tourism without business involved. Pinto Ignatius, a prominent businessman, from Mumbai, India, managed to stand against all odds to arrive in Rwanda in his wheelchair. Though handicapped and assisted to reach the podium area, Pinto carefully named one of the baby gorillas as- “Imigano” (bamboos) – since the gorilla was born in a bamboo surrounding. He was accompanied by a six- men team and the first ever Indian tourist delegation in Rwanda. His mission is to know Rwanda more, especially the Kibeho legacy – where it’s stated, the Virgin Mary appeared to three catholic faithful on the Kibeho hills, in Nyaruguru district on November 28, 1981.

Dough Quest, the representative of Grass, a UN organization based in Nairobi, also named one of the gorillas as –“Iraje” (Coming) – to mean that with this new set of gorillas Rwanda was now having a significant growth in numbers of gorillas besides its unfailing efforts which have seen the country as an outstanding community in the gorilla conservation programs in the region.

For Taleb Rifai, the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) based in Madrid, Spain; He was not able to able to properly mention the Kinyarwanda word for his gorilla name, he put the name in simple terms which every local Rwandan wouldn’t forget, just like his pronunciation of the gorilla name- “Ubukirarugendo” (Tourism)- the name spoke for itself, but Rifai added that it was to inspire more tourists to come to Rwanda especially that the country was very welcoming in his view.

Nigerian Nollywood film star, Ramsey Tokunbo Nouah Jr, who is an award-winning Nigerian actor for the 2010 African Movie Academy named the baby Gorilla- “Ganza” (Conquer) to mean that ,just like Rwanda, the gorilla  will always be on top of the rest in everything.

Dr Paula Kahumbu, the executive Director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and Wildlife Direct, and chairman of the Friends of Nairobi National Park- also mentored by paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey; was not any less an African woman who said that the Rwanda experience of naming gorillas was a true spirit of African culture which her country should also emulate soon.

Using this opportunity to preach the importance of conservation and protection of extinct species such as the elephants and gorillas, Kahumbu named her baby gorilla as- “Ikigega”- (Store) – to mean the gorillas  are a store of national treasures and custodians for Rwanda’s wealth.

Last but not least, this gorilla naming ceremony would not have any meaning if it was only done by foreigners and not a single role of the locals witnessed. In this case, Louise Mukeshimana, one of the leading local conservation activists, took the delight to represent Rwandans in naming one of the baby gorillas as- “Fasha” (Help) – which translates to a call for help to the gorillas which have been under threat of extinction and also reminder for all Rwandans to spearhead the need to conserve the gorillas- since they are a source of revenue and livelihood for many.












About the author

Based in New York, Patrick is a Wall Street Broker and Financial Pundit. He works as a Foreign Consultant for Rwanda Eye. His insights on the current economic trends and its impact on Rwanda and Africa, makes him an invaluable asset to Rwanda Eye.

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