Grilled tilapia in a restaurant on Lake Kivu, Rwanda

Rwanda Culture

Music, Literature and Art

Traditional art forms in Rwanda include music, dance, and poetry in the native Kinyarwanda language. They are an integral part of Rwandan society at ceremonies, festivals and various social gatherings. Here, too, traditional art forms are increasingly losing importance in favor of contemporary influences. While the dance was traditionally performed spontaneously and emotionally guided by everyone on all occasions, today traditional dance, accompanied by singing, clapping, drums and bells, is performed by dance groups at family celebrations and official occasions.

Regional peculiarities as well as traditional social characteristics (popular or royal or with influences from arable farmers, hunters or cattle herders) offer a good diversity of the performances. The choreographies that are often performed include various music and dance performances. These consist of the umushagiriro, a slow elegant dance performed by women, which is traditionally accompanied by a hymn of praise for cows. Other important components of a traditional cultural performance are folk dances, consisting of highly complex dance choreographies such as the faster Ikinimba performed by men, which depicts everyday themes, as well as various harmonious rhythmic pair dances. The climax of the choreographies is the spirited male dance of the warriors ” Intore ” as well as the unmistakable drum spectacle (Ingoma), also traditionally performed by male ensembles.

According to payhelpcenter, Rwandan pop music likes to combine traditional with modern musical elements. Important representatives of this music genre, such as Cecile Kayirebwa, Muyango or Masamba, have had long and successful careers. However, these are little known outside of their own diaspora. The same genre of music enjoys promising talent, with Jules Sentore and Swedish-based artist Diane Teta playing prominent roles.

The popular musician Kizito Mihigo, who died in February 2020, came from the field of church music. He was one of the few professional Rwandan artists with the appropriate academic training. He is also known from his participation in the arrangement of the Rwandan national anthem.

Gospel is another popular style of music in Rwanda. Each church and school community has its own choir. A few choirs like Ambassadors of Christ have managed to make a name for themselves nationwide, and in some cases even beyond national borders.

An important dynamic pop music scene, which has the modern American and world pop stars as models, manages to inspire a large and mostly younger audience on a national level with its talent and creativity. At that, rapidly changing scene include James Ruhumuriza known as King James, Butera Jean d’Arc aka Knowless, and the last winner of the most important music show National competition Guma Guma Superstar (PGGSS), Bruce melody. The US-based pop stars Meddy and The Ben, among others, are active beyond the national borders.

” Afrobeat ” is also very popular. The trio Urban Boys is one of the best-known advocates of this genre. Through co-productions in collaboration with renowned musicians such as the Nigerian pop star Timaya or his compatriot Iyanya, they manage to inspire a significant proportion of the young audience.

Rwanda’s most famous writer is the multi-talented Alexis Kagame, who died in 1981. As a historian, ethnologist, poet and philosopher, he left the Rwandans in many ways a long list of valuable works. His literary implementation of the oral tradition of history remains one of the most important written works in Rwanda. His scientific analysis in “La Philosophie Bantu rwandaise de l’être” on religion, culture and worldview of the ancient Rwandans is also of inestimable value.

Traditionally, theater and visual arts are less pronounced. Very finely crafted wickerwork is typical for handicrafts. The National Museum in Butare, among others, offers an important collection. More recently, works by painters have also spread.


Plantains, legumes, sweet potatoes, beans and cassava, as well as a large selection of fresh vegetables, make up the majority of the staple foods in Rwanda. Maize plays an important role, especially in the northwestern part of the country. Rice is also being grown increasingly. Beef, goat and, increasingly, pork are popular, but – not least because of their limited availability – they are only eaten on special occasions. Fish is also available in limited quantities from local freshwater lakes, especially tilapia and tanganyika sardine (also known as “ isambaza ”). In the capital, the offer is enriched by the Nile perch, which is imported from neighboring Lake Victoria (Uganda).A range of tropical fruits such as banana, pineapple, papaya, avocado, mango and passion fruit are also offered in local markets.

The national dishes include, for example, colorful beans and peas, fresh or dried, which are prepared either with various vegetables such as amaranth, aubergine, kale, carrots and pumpkin or with tuberous fruits such as cassava. Plantain in peanut sauce and “ Isombe ” (mashed cassava leaves, prepared with, for example, tomato and meat sauce) are also popular. Steamed or fried sweet potatoes are also served. “ Ubugali ” (also called “Foufou”) is popular as a side dish, especially in urban regions; It is a pulpy paste made from cassava flour and water, which is known nationwide in Central and East Africa.

Traditionally, food in Rwandan society is consumed privately. Eating out on the go or at work, for example, is not good form. For this purpose, regular meals are provided in the daily routine. In urban areas, numerous restaurants offer rich buffets at lunchtime at affordable costs. Snacks and other forms of fast food are a new phenomenon in Rwanda and are not yet widely available. In general, meals are given little time as enjoyment rituals, and they are even less understood as a topic of conversation. The drinking culture, on the other hand, is given more attention. The national drink is traditionally “ Urwagwa ”, a drink similar to liqueur, which consists of fermented banana juice, and “Amarwa”, a home-brewed Sorghum beer.

As a non-alcoholic drink, many Rwandans like to drink milk. Tea is also mostly drunk with milk and sugar and is clearly preferred to coffee. However, coffee is growing in importance. Over the past few years, more and more modern “ coffee shops ” (such as Bourbon Coffee, Shokola, Neo etc.) have sprung up in the capital. There you can get high-quality Rwandan coffee and fresh fruit smoothies, for example.

In the usual pubs (bars), but also at various social gatherings, mostly local beer is drunk. In addition, as a snack, skewers (also called “brochettes”) made from grilled goat meat and vegetables are served. On special occasions, for example, crispy grilled whole fish or chicken with grilled plantain or French fries and tomato salad are served.

For the affluent social class as well as for the “expat community” of the capital Kigali a variety of pubs and restaurants offer a selection of high quality international dishes, including Indian, Chinese and other Asian, Italian and Ethiopian cuisine.

Grilled tilapia in a restaurant on Lake Kivu, Rwanda

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