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Rwandan First Lady celebrates at umuganura festival

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Rwandan First LadyBy Edwin Musoni

The First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, serves milk to children at the closure of the Umuganura festivities at Petit Stade, Kigali, yesterday. Courtesy.

First Lady Jeannette Kagame, yesterday, joined thousands of people at colourful celebrations that marked the closure of three days of Umuganura (harvest day) festivities.

The event, held at Petit Stade in Remera, Kigali, was characterised by display of cultural attributes, with the First Lady serving milk to children – an act that traditionally signified celebration of the annual Umuganura event.

This is the third time Umuganura or harvest day has been feted in modern era.

This year’s celebrations started on Wednesday with carnival walks in both Kigali and Nyanza in the Southern Province – the seat of Rwanda’s ancient monarchs.

The carnivals – two in Kigali and one in Nyanza – were followed by two exhibitions showcasing the country’s achievements and cultural heritage, with the one in Nyanza featuring a ‘parade’ of Rwanda’s Inyambo traditional cows at the Urukari ancient history museum.

Speaking at the main event in Kigali yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Geraldine Mukeshimana, said, “This is not just a day to celebrate, it’s an occasion to take stock and acknowledge how far we’ve come, and look to an even more productive future.”

She said Umuganura is an opportunity to interact and cement national cohesion. “We use our culture as an inspiration for homegrown solutions and therefore manage to come up with timely and appropriate mechanisms to address the challenges that confront us as a people.”

Some of the ages old Rwandan practices that the current generation turned to as it sought to rebuild the country following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi include Gacaca courts, the Abunzi (community mediators), Imihigo, (performance contracts) and Umuganda (community work).

The Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Sports and Culture, Edward Kalisa, said that although, traditionally, Umuganura was a day to celebrate a good harvest, a lot had been incorporated in recent events. “We celebrate achievements we have recorded in several sectors, including good governance, social welfare, ICT and agriculture, among others.”

This year’s harvest day was celebrated under the theme ‘Umuganura, a Pillar to Self Reliance.’

Historically, Umuganura started from planting to harvest season.

The month of August was the beginning of the harvest season and therefore a time for kingdom wide celebrations.

Residents would gather in their respective families and localities to celebrate their harvest, while a bigger ceremony would be held at the King’s Palace (Urukari) in Nyanza. The Abiru or aids, who were the custodians of Rwandan culture, would be commissioned to lead the country through the ritual.

The Abiru b’umuganura, the aids who were specifically in charge of the national harvest day, would collect brand new hoes from the King’s palace and take them to Bumbogo (in the present day Rulindo District), with the tools having been blessed by the King.

In Bumbogo, the chief of the Abiru, would launch the farming season in August or September.

Later, in late February, the Abiru would go to the King’s palace and collect a basket or igitenga which they would then deliver to the chief Umwiru in Bumbogo as a symbol of the launch of the harvest exercise.

The first harvest would be put into the same basket and then delivered to the King, also then referred to as Umwami Nyir’u Rwanda, loosely translated to mean ‘King who owns Rwanda’.

Subsequently, a banquet would be organised at the palace during which the King, the Queen and the chief of Abiru would bless the farmers and wish them good harvest for the next season.

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