One of two big events that our group was to partake in during our trip to Rwanda was the baby gorilla naming ceremony – Kwita Izina. The other, a trek to see the gorillas in the mountains, would take place the next day. And everyone in the group was nothing short of excited for both events as we knew they’d be the two biggest highlights we’d take home as memories in an amazingly wonderful country.
The sixth annual naming celebration was taking place in conjunction with World Environment Day, Rwanda being the global host country. And the dignitaries and celebrities were certainly on hand to represent and bring awareness to what many believe is the most important problem in the world today – man’s effect on the environment.
We were shown to our seats in the “International Guests” section of the VIP tent, but I’m next to certain that it was only because of a language barrier between us and the hostess as we found ourselves actually sitting amongst various ambassadors. And, once he arrived, we were only eleven seats away from Rwandan President Paul Kagame. None of us complained of what was most certainly a mistake, but instead sat in a manner so as not to draw attention to ourselves; some even got up to walk around, leaving their belongings to hold their spots, to check out the happenings around the rest of the grounds.
Not much was happening elsewhere though as the epicenter of the event was clearly around the stage erected at the foot of the misty Virunga Mountains and Volcanoes National Park, the home of the mountain gorillas.
Just like the previous night’s Igitaramo celebration, the Kwita Izina ceremony was another great day of music and dancing. The costumes were nothing short of great, and the performers were even better as their energy was electric. I enjoyed every minute of the spectacular celebration, but quite honestly had to force myself to put down my camera to stop and just enjoy the event as well.
The dancing and musical performances continued on through much of the morning, but the time finally arrived to name the fourteen new baby gorillas born over the previous year to various groups in the mountains. Various people of importance to Rwanda were extended the honor of choosing a name for one of the new babies, a gesture that actually helps researchers track and monitor them in the wild, but the person most talked about and anticipated was Hotel Rwanda actor Don Cheadle, who was on a whirlwind trip to Africa of two days to be present at the ceremony.
In a news conference following the ceremony and lunch, Cheadle talked about the importance of the protecting the environment, and how it can also relate to tourism. And that is something that’s quite vital to the people of Rwanda as the Rwanda Development Board, our group’s host, hoped to generate $187 million USD in tourism this year from 750,000 visitors. The excitement I witnessed at the event, as well as the many people trekking to see the gorillas, leads me to believe that these may be modest numbers, but investment and expansion in Rwanda are still taking place as more and more people feel safe in returning.
President Kagame also held a news conference, just prior to Don Cheadle, where he too spoke of the importance of the environment and tourism for Rwanda. And as I listened to him calmly and eloquently respond to a slew of reporters questions, I couldn’t help but find myself agreeing with what he was saying as I knew it would ultimately lead to helping a species on the brink of extinction; fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas exist in the wild as they’ve been ravaged by poaching, disease, and a loss of natural habitat.
The United Nations Environment Program Executive Director and Under-Secretary General Achim Steiner touched on this, while congratulating Don Cheadle on being named UN Goodwill Ambassador at the event, and the importance of protecting the environment:
Thanks to TravelingAnnafor shooting the video with my spare camera.
As the Kwita Izina ceremony ended, we wrapped up our interviews and headed back to the hotel for what was to be, once again, a very early night as call time for our gorilla trek the next day would be one of the earliest of the trip. It’s impossible to complain at such a thing though, despite being up half the night with anticipation, as what we were going to see was a rare opportunity at watching a critically endangered species in their own environment, high in the Virunga Mountains.
Of course, with that said, none of us were prepared for exactly what that would all entail.