The New Times (Kigali)

15 February 2013

Rwanda: Hosting Jamafest Opens a New Chapter for Rwanda and Integration

CULTURE PLAYS a powerful role in human societies especially in their maintenance. When nations, or societies united by culture, share not only territories but values and belief systems, great strength results. It is easy to know who belongs and who does not; food, customs, clothes, symbols, language and other factors are readily identifiable member distinctions.

In many traditional cultures, tribal cohesiveness is maintained through a calendar of ritual events in which the village frequently dances from dusk until dawn. Many people join in, so there is usually a lot of call and response with people singing in answer to the drums or other percussive instruments. These events are about celebrating together, as a tribe, a clan, a village.

Dances, songs and drums are a trinity that recalls history from centuries ago. They are symbols of how Africans used the same instruments in times of war, peace, religion, marriage ceremonies, harvests, friendship and exchange of gifts. Drums and songs are used to welcome a child and during funeral rites.

Over a long period, almost all tribes have used drums to declare war and make peace. The trepidation that precedes battle, the warmth of a call that inspired the timid long ago were a function of the drum beat and war ensembles evoking the courage of battle-weary soldiers .

The drum beats. The adrenaline flows. And we either dance or we fight. Drums were the driving force behind the percussive din that characterised the ancient art of war. The goal was to energise your troops while terrifying your enemies with through thunderous noise. As warfare grew more complex, the function of the drum changed. Armies developed a codified set of drum rudiments that allowed leaders to communicate various messages to the troops and signal maneuvers.

As the technology of war changed, the drum's usefulness on the battlefield diminished. With automatic weapons, armies can now fire at will and electronic communications replaced the rudimentary drum commands.

But even as we think that drumming no longer summons courage marching unto war, we are reminded that modern armies continue to march to the beat of the drum, though now the purpose of this rhythmic energy is to not only stimulate the body, but also to forge a sense of group unity.

It is because of this sense of group unity that cultural festivals should be used as tools of getting East Africans together. The idea of JAMAFEST is to get the East African Community realities from the boardrooms and media pages and selected institutions, taking it to the East African citizenry, a noble and innovative move.

We should, as well, take a few steps further by thinking of forming an East African football team that can connect East African people in ways that we may not have imagined before. Then when those are followed by institutions like the East African ballet, with a cultural troupe that has an East African character, then local governments, schools, churches and hospitals and clinics having twinning programmes, a very strong foundation of creating the real East African Spirit will be have been laid. These different teams created will ensure the spirit's deep seepage and permeation.

Sport, for example, is not just competitive events between teams or individuals in their quest to win titles, trophies, and championships. Sport has a way of connecting as it unites passion and culture giving us a unique insight into people.

And culture does more. If the history of a city broadens the mind, then culture is the soul and heart of its people. A museum can teach you what people have learned and how a place evolved - art, war, politics, and education. Sport allows you to experience who people are - raw, spontaneous emotion and passion passed down through generations and relationships, shared moments, and culture.

Like peeling back the layers of an onion, culture gives you the true flavour of a people and can even bring a few tears along the way.

The authors of JAMAFEST have brought to fore aspects that will bring the East African people together over times and geography. The exhibitions during the week, staged by people from the grassroots, the small and medium players in their home countries will get closer to East Africanness. What will actually bond them and create meaningful and progressive unity of the local peoples, is when their local cooperatives start inter-border trading. This will be a big breakthrough, and will have created great conduits of lasting togetherness.

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