Meet Rwanda's Rising Young Poets
If you know the likes of Caleb Femi, Solomon O.B, and Hollie McNish, then you know there's no denying the fact that the popularity of spoken or performed poetry is on the rise. Young poet and 2013 SLAMbassadors winner, Ollie O'Neill shared her favourite poets on Young Poets Network, detailing how more and more young people turn to words, poetry, and the arts to deliver honest and raw performances. The topics range from the mundane to important subjects such as politics, mental health, and socially relevant issues. In Britain, poetry and the spoken word is reaching a wider audience, allowing artists to promote the value of self-expression, vulnerability, and self-acceptance.
This use of poetry to raise awareness about racial issues, gender inequality, and community violence, is also growing in Rwanda. The Rwandan poets of today are able to thrive due to Nyiraruganzu Nyirarumaga, Queen Mother of King Ruganzu II Ndori, as she established a royal institution called the Seat of Poets. This institution actively promotes and preserves the art form, and poetry is on the increase as younger generations use it to define their experiences.
If you haven't followed any Rwandan spoken word poets yet, here are some you need to take note of:
Known by his stage name, the Lion King, he focuses on pieces that delve on judgment and the pitfalls of religion. He performs in English, Kinyarwanda, Luganda, Kirundi, and Kiswahili. Although a newcomer in poetry circles, he's already noted for making a significant impact.
This 23-year-old studied Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, but he definitely has more love for the arts than anything else. "I discovered that I wanted to be a poet when I was in P5 at Remera Catholique School," he told The New Times. A couple of his poems are about the 1994 genocide and he has performed them during the annual International Day of Reflection, which commemorates the loss of almost 800,000 lives. He also performs at weddings and different cultural ceremonies.
Malaika Uwamahoro has been a writer and a performer since she was a little girl. She's known in Rwanda as an actress, singer, and activist, whose spoken poetry deals with complex topics of rejection, unconditional love, and racial issues. Last year she spoke at the UN headquarters in New York about the 1994 genocide and how the country has moved forward from it. She also commented on the connection between art and the people of Rwanda, saying: "Art is a very powerful platform and the UN is a great platform... so if I can come and give a message about hope or about how this should never happen again, it's straight from the artist to the leaders, and an artist speaks for the people so I feel like this is the perfect place to send a message."
While the rise of poets and artists in Rwanda demonstrate that the country is indeed growing, it still faces problems of illiteracy. The good news is that organisations across the world are committed to helping children become literate in Rwanda through supporting schools and publishers in the country. The Christmas Jumper Day organised by Save the Children, is an event that aims to help Rwandan children learn to read and write. This is crucial as these are the foundational skills that can help them express themselves freely and creatively. Already, the program has provided aid for some 842,000 children, who may well grow up to be doctors, teachers, engineers, and of course, poets. Initiatives like these and the increasing number of venues that allow poets to perform on their stages allow poetry in Rwanda to grow.