Kwita Izina: baby gorillas’ naming ceremony celebrates our close connection to endangered Great Apes

07 September 2018

Each year, a naming ceremony is held for newly born baby gorillas in the Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve in Rwanda: Kwita Izina. Closely modelled on a tradition that has been part of Rwandan culture for centuries, the ceremony is a reminder of our close relation to these great apes who share 99% of our DNA. It was adopted in 2005 to create awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorilla. “A names professes the aspiration parents have for their children” explained the Rwanda Development Board Chief Tourism Officer, Belise Kariza. “So we determine our own destiny through the names we give our children. In a way we are defining our common destiny through Kwita Izina – we are defining where we want to go.”

This year, 23 baby gorillas were named during the festive ceremony that was held on the foothills of the Virunga Mountains in Kinigi, Musanze on 7 September. Noëline Raondry Rakotoarisoa, representing UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme (MAB) was among the personalities chosen as namers. The name she gave the baby gorilla is Imbaga, which can be translated as Crowd. “Imbaga symbolizes the crowd of women and men living in biosphere reserves all over the world who are engaged to act collectively and responsibly to build thriving societies in harmony with nature” she explained. “I am confident that the communities living in this area are sharing the same vision and therefore, without hesitation, I wish Imbaga my baby gorilla a long and happy life in the Volcanoes Biosphere reserve.” Other names included Ikipe (team), Indakemwa and Izahaby (precious), Kunesha (to win), Intaruwa (the paramount), Umusaruro (harvest) or Uburumbuke (prosperity).

The Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve, which is home to the mountain gorilla, contributes to promoting sustainable tourism by fostering socio-economic development and environmental protection in a positive manner. Tourism focused on natural environments forms a large and growing part of the tourism industry in Rwanda.

Holding the ceremony in the biosphere reserve is particularly significant, not only because it is home to the endangered gorillas, but also because it is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, learning sites for sustainable development that aim to improve interactions between social and ecological systems, and promote solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Together, the 686 biosphere reserves are home to over 256 million people – quite a crowd.

The ceremony was the culmination of a week-long “Conversation on Conservation” conference that serves as a forum for conservation and sustainable tourism, with project presentations, debates and exhibitions in September. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Conservation is life’.