Poetry in Rwanda is turning out to be more than just rhythmic lyrical spoken word; it’s become part of the distinguished Rwandan culture, dominating virtually every sphere of life in the East African country.
For decades, Rwanda has produced some of the world’s most celebrated poets, who have demonstrated great mastery of rhythm, lyrics and grace, which have always been a major component of Rwanda’s social scene.
The world still enjoys literature created by the late Alexis Kagame– one of Rwanda’s most popular poets. Kagame authored major poetry books including Sources of Progress, Dynastic Poetry of Rwanda, and The Introduction to the Great Lyrical Poems of Ancient Rwanda.
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Young Rwandan Poets
Today, poetry in Rwanda is giving young authors and musicians a platform to exercise and demonstrate their command of oral literature. To them, poetry enables them to express their fear, anger, joy and understanding of life.
Natasha Muhoza, an upcoming Rwandan poetess, told The New Times in a recent interview that poetry gives her the platform to question and relay her confusion and excitement with a degree of liberty.
Poetry is the space where I’m allowed to question, address my confusion, excitement and to document and record my adventures. It’s my platform to artistically say anything about anything. Poetry to me, my place of freedom, she said.
Another young Rwandan poet and the recent winner of Transpoesis’s Poetry Slam, Buce Ntwali, told The New Times that to him poetry holds the power to set people free and effect change.
Poetry is important to me because it has the power to liberate and to change. Through poetry I unburden my soul. In doing so, I know that there is someone with whom my writing resonates and can relate to it. So ultimately poetry does unite people in the concepts of humanity and unison in thoughts and emotions, he said.
Poetry Competitions in Rwanda
In 2013, U.S Embassy in Rwanda hosted a poetry competition dubbed ’16 Days Poetry Contest’ whose agenda was to commemorate the 16 days campaign and International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Young Rwandans were requested to submit 10-line poems on the theme ‘Gender Based Violence- We Make It Stop’. It was an event aimed at promoting English as well as creating awareness around gender based violence.
Andika Rwanda is another major initiative aimed at promoting the culture of reading and writing in Rwanda. Through this initiative, students and community members compete by writing interesting stories and poems, and the best are printed and distributed to children across Rwanda.
Last year, a Swiss poetess and anthropologist Andrea Grieder organized a two-day workshop that brought together Rwandan poets and poetesses under the theme: Discovering the Transformative Power of Poetic Writing. The event was succeeded by another huge workshop labeled ‘Kigali Vibrates with Poetry’, which was aimed at promoting the appreciation of poetry in Rwanda.
As Rwanda endeavors to put its gloomy past behind, poetry appears to have taken the center stage as a tool to help foster the much-needed cohesion and integration across the country.