A group of women are sitting huddled next to each other as they weave baskets and chat among themselves. It is in the afternoon, and it has just rained some half an hour ago, so the air is still cold and misty.
However, such an uncompromising weather does not dampen their spirits. Sitting on a large mat, the six women continue to furiously make different traditional handicrafts, which they hope will make them have a merry Christmas this time round.
In front of them are displayed different traditional handicrafts they have managed to make today: mats, baskets, gift cards, small pots, clothes, sandals and shoes; all made from traditional materials.
Just a few meters away, the sounds of traditional African drums can be heard. A group of children, youth and men are singing and dancing to the symphonic beatings of the drums by the drumsticks, but the sounds can be cut off after every some few minutes and would attentively listen as their leader, who is their trainer, teach them some aspects and moves of the songs and dances.
They are practicing since in just a few days, they should have polished their traditional music and dancing skills to be able to showcase to visitors who are expected to throng their village during this festive season.
The group of weaving women and dancing children, youth and men are expected to showcase their different skills during the 12- day Christmas Village Festival that will officially kick off on 22 December 2018 and end on January 1, 2019. The cultural fiesta is going to happen at Red Rocks Cultural Center in Nyakinama Village, Musanze district.
The main aim of the festival is to connect the locals with tourists and the theme is to display different shades of Rwanda authentic traditional and cultural life.
Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Red Rocks, says they have been holding Christmas Village Party for seven years now, and its main agenda is to provide the local community an opportunity to sell their products and skills to visitors who are going to come to various establishments like Red Rocks during this festive season.
“This is the end of the year and these women are going to have the opportunity to sell their products at discounted prices to clear the stock they have and make way for the new products they are now making that will also make part of their next year’s collections,” says Bakunzi.
Bakunzi adds that the 12 days is going to be a marketing blitz for the locals, and will also give them the chance to sell some of their traditional products to tourists who purchase them mostly as souvenirs and gifts to their loved ones.
“The locals will also take this opportunity to showcase their music and dancing skills throughout this period, since we want to make our visitors to have that festive environment when they come here during this festive season. This is going to be provided by our traditional dancing troupe,” he adds.
Apart from selling their handicrafts, other activities expected to rock the festivals include preparation of traditional Rwanda cuisine, demonstration of how to make the traditional banana beer, story telling by the sides of the campfire, interaction between the locals and the tourists, and playing of various traditional and modern games.
The festival, according to Bakunzi, is meant to showcase Rwanda traditional culture to tourists, to make the locals gain from their talents and skills and to create an atmosphere where people of
different backgrounds are going to converge and learn from each other.
Bakunzi further says that since its inception, the Christmas Village Party has fostered mutual cultural understanding among the tourists and locals, and has also provided an avenue through which the locals can now gain from thriving tourism around the Volcanoes National Park.
“Most of these women and youth come from vulnerable families. Some of them don’t have husbands to take care of their families. Most of the time, they rely on their small farms for subsistence farming but this is not enough to cater for all their basic needs. But when they use their art and handicraft skills and make products that tourists can buy, then they are able to supplement their resources and help uplift their livelihoods,” says Bakunzi.
For Jeanette Mushekimana, a 39-year-old widow and mother of three, she says that she has been selling her products at Red Rocks Rwanda and in Musanze town and hopes that the coming festival is also going to help her make money from her products and enjoy the festive season with her children just like the rest.
“I have made over ten different products I hope to market during the festival. I will sell the products that I had made this year at discounted prices and hope that next year, I will manage to sell all the products I am currently making,” she says.
Mushekimana adds that she is also going to make traditional food during the festival and if opportunity comes take some of the visitors to her home to show them how Rwanda rural families go about their daily lives.
Theophille Kamana, a traditional herbalist is also busy making healing concoctions that he hopes to display during the festival, adding that even though people now resort to modern cure when they are ill, traditional medicine still have a place for its curative values.