Iby’Iwachu cultural village is one of the community owned enterprises in Rwanda which was started with a major aim to address local community conflicts with mountain gorilla conservation around volcanoes national park in Nyabigoma Kinigi,Musanze district north of Rwanda. Prior to its formation,people used to depend on volcanoes national park resources through illegal poaching for bush meat, timber, wood and water collection and wild honey gathering which were restraining conservation of gorillas and other wildlife.
A part from being a platform for locals to exhibit the rich cultural heritage of Rwanda, the cultural village initiated important projects which aim at changing the lives of people through enterprise development where individuals use arts and crafts to start up community based tourism business which helps them to earn a living from sale of craft products to tourists who come to visit the village. The cultural village also provides conservation support through educating locals about sustainable agriculture projects including vegetable growing, bee keeping, goat rearing as alternative resources of livelihood apart from depending on the forest products.
In 2011 the village successfully initiated a project called “goats for gorillas” with the aim that for each tourist who goes on gorilla trekking, gives an amount equivalent to a goat which goes to every local household living near volcanoes national park. Poachers have been reformed since they no longer depend on bush meat while generating income from sustainable farming and goat rearing which guarantees economic and food security. Since the inception of this project over 10,000 goats have been given to locals around volcanoes national park, which have lived to multiply resulting into strengthened mountain gorilla conservation by locals themselves.
Therefore local communities including ex-poachers have come to realize the importance of wildlife conservation while tapping into the tourism market. This has been achieved through mobilizing local communities around the park supporting children with access to education in schools where access to clean water has been increased, healthy care facilitation giving advice to people to improve their welfare hygiene and avoid the risk of human infectious disease transmission to gorillas.
In doing so the future generations will come to learn the good side of conserving wildlife while improving standards of living and alleviating poverty which gives hope for the survival of gorillas in the future.
Tourists who come for gorilla tracking in Rwanda have an opportunity to explore the unique traditional rural life of Rwandan culture, traditions, beliefs with well established activities that tourists can engage or participate inwith the help of experienced local guides who will share a story of their lifestyles is an incredible experience away from the mainstream wildlife safaris. Iby’Iwacu village has attracted several of Rwandan safari travelers who in turn bring dollars direct to local people through purchase of quality souvenirs or paying for various activities.
The guided community walks last for two hours but worth taking as you get a warm welcome of hospitable locals who will treat you like a special guest. As you get immersed into the village life, the young men, women will entertain visitors with their eight types of Intore traditional dances backed by traditional musical instruments such as drums, flutes featuring gorilla songs that have been composed by Ngayabatema and other local people to educate the young generations about conservation in form of rap songs called Ibyivugo in Kinyarwanda.
The walk also takes visitors to the former Rwanda king’s site in a real traditional wooden and thatched palace. The local elder at the site will explain interesting stories about the former king, describe for you the meaning of several symbols and also give you a chance to learn how the king used to perform his powers through a community ceremony open for visitors to take part if interested.
For the visitors who wish to take photographs, the local guides will tell you whenever you ask because the different sites are unique and it’s impossible to leave minus memories that you will live to remember. A visit to a local traditional healer is fantastic to see how local medicinal herbs are used to cure several diseases in this modern world. Various species of plants are displayed and their importance will be explained to you.
As visitors enjoy the community walk interacting with locals, a chance comes by the way to explore how bananas are used to brew local beer. You will learn or participate in the 7 day fermentation process of local beer brewing and get to taste the banana beer while waiting to be served a local cuisine and dinning with locals in a banana plantation is unforgettable cultural encounter.
Pottery making is one of the strong enterprises in the village, the Batwa who once lived in the forests usually show case their experience and techniques of curving woods, how they used to hunt and kill animals, make fire from woods and finally narrate a touching story of how they have lived since their eviction from the forest to change from poaching and resort to conservation as part of their new life challenge.
You will appreciate the impact of Ibyiwacu cultural village when you visit local schools and see how conservation education is changing lives of young children preparing them to be future conservationists. It’s not a surprise that the founder of Ibyiwacu cultural village Edwin Sabuhoro won the international eco tourism club award in 2007 for having turned poachers into conservationists and the ground work has come to get support from international conservation bodies such as the IUCN.