Female dancers of Inganzo Ngari 2011

Dance Performances in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Research by Dr Carine Plancke

Supported by a Fernand Braudel-IFER and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie IEF Fellowship (2014-2016)

In contemporary Rwandan society, a revitalisation of ‘traditional’ dances can be observed which manifests in the proliferation of youth dance troupes, especially in urban areas. This revival is part of the drive that has characterised Rwanda to reconstruct itself after the tragedy of the 1994 genocide. Since reaching power by putting an end to the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front has undertaken the project of constructing a ‘New Rwanda’ on the basis of national unity. The mention of ethnic belonging is prohibited in favour of the development of a common Rwandan identity. Furthermore, the new Rwanda is conceived as a modern nation which strives for economic development and is open to the global market system. The ambitious ‘Rwanda Vision 2020’ development plan, ratified in 2000 by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, is scheduled to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country with a knowledge-based economy by the year 2020.

Cultural heritage is integrated in this undertaking to create a unified and developed Rwanda. The performance arts, in particular ‘traditional’ dance, are highly promoted by the government. In 1998, the African Union made Kigali the capital of African dance. Thanks to this connection, Rwanda organises the Pan-African Festival of Dance (FESPAD) every two years. Dance has also been integrated into newly reinvented national ceremonies such as the name-giving ceremony for baby gorillas (kwita izina) and the annual harvest feast (umuganura). More broadly, dance has now become an essential aspect of official ceremonies in Rwanda.

Male dancers of Inganzo Ngari, 2011

The project examines the current revitalisation of Rwandan dances in connection with the country’s post-genocide endeavour to construct a new national identity. The research is focused on the Inganzo Ngari dance troupe, which is currently considered the best of its kind in Kigali and serves as a model for the numerous other burgeoning troupes throughout the country. Inganzo Ngari has been singled out by the government as a troupe that succeeds in shaping a new Rwandan identity through its performances. In a governmental prospectus showcasing the accomplishments of Rwanda between 2003 and 2010, it was highlighted as an example of how to revitalise Rwandan cultural heritage.

Between 2011 and 2013 seven months of fieldwork were carried out in Kigali with Inganzo Ngari. The fieldwork stay comprised observation, semi-structured interviews and an intensive participation at the dance rehearsals and performances of the troupe. This in-depth research made it possible to get a thorough understanding of current transformations in the dance performances and the way the troupe succeeds in embodying the new Rwanda.

Images: Dancers of Inganzo Ngari perform at the Serena Hotel, Kigali, 26 July 2011 (© C. Plancke)