The dance of Rwanda’s Warriors
Tall, strong, dark figures pacing from side to side. Their voices echo, and in unison they chant. Harmoniously, there is a cacophony of sounds emerging from brightly dressed men. These men are the chosen ones, the warriors, handpicked to serve the King.
Listening to music that accompanies the dance, you will hear a variety of tones and beats. The main presiding sound would be the melodious voices of the warrior-dancers themselves, who often put in amusing phrases into the lyrics. A running poetry commentary is also a norm. There is drumming and horn blowing as well which accompanies the melody.
You’re experiencing the Intore Dance. One of Rwanda’s rich cultural treasures which has been passed like the prized heirloom. The pride and joy of the country, these men who risked their lives as warriors protecting the kingdom. This used to be a celebratory dance performed by the warriors, and is now is performed ceremoniously in Rwanda during weddings and child naming ceremonies and even outside Rwanda in exuberant Rwandan celebrations in the Americas and Europe. These warriors used to serve the King, the Umwami, and they too received royal privileges.
Just as they received royal privileges, many of the Intore dancers were looked at as an upper class of society. Many families prayed that their sons would be selected to be a warrior by the King because it brought prestige and honour to the family. These boys would be given private lessons and receive special education from the King himself. Post such training, the boys would be required to don the costume and dance. These boys are then said to be ready to defend their King and kingdom.
Going to Rwanda and not attending a performance of the Intore Dance would be an opportunity lost. The performance is a sensory delight. Feast your eyes on the dynamic and colourful costumes, ranging from the blonde headpiece to the patterned scarves and the grass skirts. This headpiece in particular made from banana leaves which is bleached and pieced together, as a symbol of trust by the King.
Rwandan Intore Dancers at the Singapore Chingay 2015
Nowadays, with changing times, the role of a woman in the Intore dance has also evolved. Women used to take the backseat, as they were in charge of the house and rearing children and so never were warriors as such, and thus did not participate in the dances. In modern times, however, women don the imishanana while performing, not being conformed to the gender-stereotype of their roles just at home.
The evolving nature of the Intore Dance comes with the evolution of Rwanda itself. As Rwanda rises up to its potential, as a destination for luxury travel, the hub of business in Africa and has a foothold in ICT, Rwanda’s culture will undergo changes, just like how its Parliament has, to host more women and adapt itself in the new times.
Where to watch an Intore Dance:
Iby’ Iwacu Cultural Village in Musanze
National Museum of Rwanda
RDB office at Kinigi, Volcanoes National Park
Lodges and hotels
Nikita Dhar is a former intern with the High Commission of the Republic of Rwanda. With a keen interest in current affairs and world politics, she contributed to the social media and editorials for the High Commission.