“ Ibyiwacu cultural village is changing traditional perceptions of what constitutes tourism by turning fate into fame through sharing various aspects of rural cultures and livelihoods into tourist attractions and creating income-generating activities for rural poor people that have lived on bush meat, poaching for generations. The village provides tourists experiences beyond wildlife viewing, the people, culture and how we live. The village has created a new understanding of tourism among tourists, rural communities, tour operators, and local government officials. „
Iby Iwacu Culture Village - Rwanda
Normally my husband and I steer clear of places like this having been caught out badly by the 'Maori Experience' in Rotorua, New Zealand and the Masai Village in Kenya where I had to join in the dancing, the Moroccan Bely Dance that my husband had to join in this list goes on of the cringe worthy experiences we have been forced to attend and many others where we have disappeared to the toilet just prior to them hauling people up to join in. We were rather reluctant to go to this but our guide seemed quite determined so we agreed.
The Village is just outside the National Park and was set up to give poachers and their families a means of earning money so that they no longer poached from the forest. Along with the setting up of the village the poachers were educated about the value of the National Forest and how important it is to protect this valuable resource, not only for Rwandans but for the world as a whole in the future.
The people who 'perform' in this display village live in the village just beside it. The Cultural village consists of the King's house and a few other huts but not a lot else. I have no idea what it costs to go to this village as it was part of our tour and so included. We were not aware of this prior to visiting but our guide told us that this was the case.
As we arrived we were warmly welcomed by the guide who introduced himself and explained what the village was and what we would see there. Then the welcome party of dancers arrived. These male dancers would have been the King's welcome party and they went with him where ever he went. They danced and then formed a tunnel of dancers with spears up above us and we walked into the village with the village guide and our guide towards the King's house.
THE KING'S HOUSE
This was a pretty enormous hut with a floppy thatched roof. The front of the hut had a concrete entrance in front of the hut door. We were instructed to take off our shoes and put on these plastic slippers then go in the hut through the right hand door.
Once we were inside, it was pretty dark as there is no artificial light, only what comes through the doorway, we were joined by a young lady who proceeded to dress us up. I thought 'what the hell, just go with it'. We were dressed as the King and Queen and then we had to go out of the other side of the door to be greeted by all the village! We felt right nanas but they clapped and cheered and danced to show how thrilled they were to see us. Apparently the King and Queen rarely came out to greet villagers in days of old so this was a rare treat. I think the sight of the pair of us dolled up was a pretty rare treat as well. We then had to go back into the hut and sit on our stools, the guide then asked if he could join us, the king had to point his stick to agree to him entering. He then clapped his hands three times and bowed before entering.
The guide then explained how very powerful the King was. He controlled the whole country and made decisions about all kinds of legal and control issues. People would come to him to ask how to settle a problem and all sorts of issues.
We sat in the central conference area which was a sectioned off inner circle within the hut. The guide explained that this was where the elders of the different regions would meet with the king to solve problems. The Queen sat on his left and could discuss with the king as well.
A woven curtain hung over a doorway off this central section which led to the Kings' bedroom. Only the king could enter his bedroom through that doorway. The queen or other lady guests had to come in around the back of the woven central section. We were told that the king was married to all ladies in the country and could choose from any he fancied to entertain him for the night. When a lady was selected she was given gifts of cattle or whatever so this was an honour and the real husband was pleased. Any children born as a result were brought up as the King's children; those born to the real husbands were brought up with their own family.
At this stage we were allowed to remove all the royal trappings and go back outside and put our boots back on as we were going around the village. We didn't lose our welcome committee though and we walked through the village through the tunnel of dancers towards the medicine man.
THE MEDICINE MAN
This young man was being trained to take over from his father who was the original village medicine man. He wore an extraordinary hat and had a very cheerful face. He started by chanting a poem which village people believed had special powers and sounded a bit like the Hakka without the facial contortions.
He then took some leaves and crushed them in a large pestle and mortar added some water and that resulting concoction forced vomiting to get rid of poison. Another leaf was used for fever, another to help men have erectile problems! His description of that was hilarious and my husband said I think I can guess that one before it was translated by the guide which caused much hilarity.
This man sat in a very small hut and had a pair of bellows worked by two sticks which I had to go and try. He popped his furry hat on my head and so I looked even more ridiculous in the tent with him. Amazingly this small fire got iron hot enough the shape into different things for the villagers.
Having operated the bellows so skilfully I was shown how to grind the grain on a stone and had to go and try my hand at this skill too. It wasn't that hard to grind and so it was actually a pretty efficient method but quite hard work if you had to do any great quantity.
MEN AT WORK
Next it was my husband's turn to show his skill. Men had to hunt with a bow and arrow and we were told and shown how when one man hit the target or animal he leapt around cheering and whooping to let the others know, a bit like scoring a goal in football! The little man from the village shot his arrow and hit the target and performed the whooping and dancing to celebrate. My husband hit the target and instantly achieved the same dancing and whooping for his efforts and indeed al the village dancers also celebrated. The little man was so funny with his performance and had a toothless smile and what looked like a ladies hat and he just made us laugh all the way through.
The visit ended with a dance performance and the guide explained that the men's dancing was to show strength and the importance of their skill. The women dances were softer and more beguiling to emphasise their femininity. The little fellow who was such a character went and got the blacksmiths hat and walked like a gorilla, he then scratched and ate bamboo shoots and then charged at us beating his chest gorilla style. He was a real character and such a performer. Obviously that is his style as I read in the visitors book other people commenting on how hilarious 'The little guy' was.
Towards the end everyone joined in the dancing and our original guide got up and danced too, luckily I was filling in the visitor's book when they asked if the king wanted to dance. My husband doesn't mind as much as I do about joining in with dances and he was given a huge round of applause for his efforts.
A small group of the village children came along to watch too and then followed us as we walked back through to the real village where our car was parked. Our guide was talking to them and telling them to not pester; he said that people should not give them things for two reasons. Firstly it creates a begging culture and secondly if one child is given something then it causes huge fights and arguments as they all squabble over the item. We waved and smiled at them as we left and they waved and smiled back so obviously no hard feelings and they were not putting their hands out and grabbing hold of us in any way trying to get stuff from us and being a pest in any way, they just walked beside us.
My husband asked out guide what sort of tip he should give the village and he said about £5 equivalent would be appreciated as they could all buy a beer or similar with that so that is what we gave the village guide. They all waved us off and off we went through to our car.
Our guide gave an old man a tip as he had stood guard over the car while we were in the village so he was obviously the car park attendant.
I hope they make a success of the village scheme as more people visit the area to see the gorillas. It isn't widely advertised but they not many people visit Rwanda and this area by themselves. At our hotel there were two or three smallish groups and a few other couples like us who had personal guides. It would be impossible to get to the lodge where we were staying and this village without a very powerful four wheel drive. This is not the kind of country where you turn up and do a self guided driving tour as the driving is a bit hairy at times and the roads are fine along the main roads but once on the side roads they are made of these volcanic rocks crushed and this makes for quite a bumpy ride.
As I said this is usually the sort of thing I, particularly find embarrassing but somehow they managed to make us feel very comfortable and fortunately I was not asked to join in the dancing as I really hate that, I'll grind sorghum or pump bellows and will even be dressed up but I hate dancing, probably as I am so rubbish at it.
Luckily we both found this an interesting and very entertaining hour and I would certainly recommend anyone to visit this village as you learn a lot about ancient Rwandan culture and have a most entreating hour with lovely friendly people. As we left they said 'We promise to take care of the forest' which we thought was very heart warming. This is a country moving in the right direction and one of very few in the African continent and considering what they went through as recently as 1994 and things were not really settled until the turn of the century I take my hat off to them for how far they have come.
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