Jewellery and Beadwork in Rwanda

Learn about the cultural significance of accessories in Rwandan culture.

Tiara (1)Original Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Throughout history, jewelry and beadwork have served a dual purpose: adorning the wearer and imbuing them with symbolic meaning. They could signify social status, participate in rituals, or even showcase wealth.

King RudahigwaOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Jewelry and Fashion

Woven into the fabric of Rwandan fashion, jewelry has long been a symbol of status, particularly for elite families. With King Rudahigwa's rise to power, its significance took on a new dimension. Though fashions have changed, jewelry's appeal ensures its beloved place.

Queen mother Kankazi by C.ZAGOURSKIOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Head ornaments

The royal headdress, a head piece covered in beads with a fringe falling around the face. It was worn by the King, or Queen mother during ceremonies, for example the enthronement of a new king.

The image shows Kankazi, the mother of King Mutara III Rudahigwa

RodOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Rods, Intambi

Once a symbol of high social rank among women and girls, Intambi - wooden rods embellished with tightly bound beads - were worn atop the temples, secured with raffia fibers. Today, these exquisite ornaments grace the heads of female dancers and add to the vibrancy of weddings.

Beaded tiara - Igikubwe by Peres blancsOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Maternity Tiara

The maternity tiara was worn by women after giving birth to their first children.

InkondoRwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Children's necklace

Wooden rods suspended on a band of braided hide worn as a charm to encourage a child's growth.

Necklace (22), From the collection of: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy
Necklace (1), Original Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy
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Left: Necklace Urunigi, worn mainly by women during ceremonies, Right: Necklace Umutambya: worn by women from wealthy families. This kind of jewelry is no longer common.

Bell - umudende by RUSANGIZA DamienOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Cylindrical bell

Forged in iron, these bells shielded warriors (7 enemies slain) & mothers (7 births) from the ominous power of the number seven. Their rhythmic clang declared their triumphs & adorned them with honor.

Bundle of leg braceletsOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Leg bracelets

A Rwandan symbol of wealth: The more "ubutega" leg bracelets a person wore, the greater their perceived riches.

Necklace (27)Original Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Jewelry in the 21st century

Jewelry Boom: Since the late 20th century, earrings blossomed on the scene, and diverse designs & materials from around the world found their way into Rwandan fashion.

Credits: Story

Content development: Yvette Tuyishime & Chantal Umuhoza 
Curatorial layout: Chantal Umuhoza
Photography: Cedric Ishimwe

References: Rwanda, a journey through the National Museum Collection. Celestin Kanimba Misago & Thierry Mesas
Rwanda, Its Cultural Heritage. Past and Present

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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