What is Umuganura and why is it celebrated?

“The Minister of Youth and Culture informed Cabinet about Umuganura Day that will be celebrated on August 7th 2020,” reads the statement on cabinet decisions of July 29th 2020. But what is Umuganura and why is it celebrated?

The word Umuganura can be translated as ‘First-Fruits Festival’ in accordance to its meaning in traditional Rwanda. Etymologically, the word Umuganura comes from the verb “Kuganura” which literally means tasting the first fruits of the harvest. In Rwandan Culture, it was prohibited for a family to eat the fruits of their harvest before having had their elders taste. This was called “Kuganuza”.

The traditional Umuganura, which has been described as Rwanda's pre-colonial National Day, was not a harvest festival, as it is sometimes thought today, but a first fruit festival. It was therefore celebrated before harvest. Umuganura was a day of feasting, and giving thanks to God and the Ancestors, not only for the harvest, but also for all the good things in life. The festival was also an occasion to bring together Rwandans from all social ranks in a bid to cement the social fabric of the Rwandan society.

Umuganura festival, at a national level, was marked by processions and march-pasts, parades and fashion shows, as well as a set of traditional games. As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of Home Grown Solutions - culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. One of these Home Grown Solutions is the First-Fruits Festival, also known as Umuganura.

Umuganura was reintroduced as national event in 2011 by the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR). This was motivated by the desire to bring together the younger and older generations to share and learn about the diverse, rich and unifying experience of the Rwandan tradition through a yearly celebration of achievements from all sectors that contribute to the development of the country.

Umuganura today: Celebrating a broad range of achievements and outcomes

After the reintroduction of culture- based initiatives such as Abunzi, Gacaca, Imihigo, Ingando, Ubudehe and Umuganda, Rwanda now has Umuganura Festival. On this day, Rwandans come together to reflect on the value-based home-grown solutions and how everyone can be part of the country’s development journey. The goal is to recognise achievements and efforts made in various sectors of the economy and come up with efficient strategies to increase national harvest in future seasons.

Umuganura today has broadened its meaning from formally being agro-based harvest to including achievements from other sectors that contribute to national development such as: health, education, ICT, sports, mining, infrastructure, culture, tourism and more. Accomplishments in all the current areas of government and private sector activities at all levels were fitted into the modernised Umuganura. The aim here, like it was in ancient Rwanda, is to thank God and Rwandans for the harvest and to strategise for the next season to ensure that the harvest is good.

In an effort to promote Rwandan cultural values, current Umuganura brings together Rwandans of all social backgrounds without exclusion just like the historical celebration of ‘Umuganura’ was a unifying factor for all Rwandans through acts of sharing what they had produced either at the family level, in the village or as a kingdom. This kind of tradition in Rwanda will always bring to view the past with the positive cultural values that can be used to continue building, uniting and reconciling Rwanda as a nation.

Different ministries and public institutions in Rwanda partner with the Private Sector Federation to organize and ensure the success of Umuganura. In this events’ framework on the national level, various activities like the exhibition of achievements in every province, evaluation and signing of performance contracts Imihigo and parades of the National Ballet, Drum troupes and Police Fanfare take place.

The celebration of ‘Umuganura’ contributes to the education of the young generation on the value and power of safeguarding the country’s cultural heritage for edutainment purposes. Umuganura as an event will help raise awareness among Rwandans, friends of Rwanda and policy makers on taping into the culture to create initiatives for the current development of the country and to foster unity in diversity and self-reliance.

Umuganura has been one of the inspiring pillars of dignity and solidarity of Rwandans since hundreds of years back. It is in this essence of unity and brotherhood that it is now the pillar of self-reliance resulting from economic performance, family welfare and national dignity. Rwandans remember that culture grows and reconstructs. Drawing into the culture to face the country’s current challenges contributes to the spirit of unit and solidarity, the real identity of Rwandans and leads to a nation of dignity, self-worth and respect.

Due to COVID19 pandemic, this year’s Umuganura will be celebrated digitally and in households.   

Visit http://rwandapedia.rw/content/umuganura for more information about Umuganura