A Traditional Rwandan Wedding

IgisekeA few weeks (or possibly a few days) before the my sister’s Gusaba, someone came up with the idea of putting together a brief text describing the history and meaning of a Gusaba ceremony. The reason for this was my sister was marrying a man who wasn’t from Rwanda, and the text would help him and his family better understand the ceremony, which mind you, was going to take place in Kinyarwanda, as well. The task of creating the document was assigned to me, and it sort of evolved from a description of the Gusaba, to a summary of all our marriage ceremonies and traditions. I had to keep it short – it was on two sides of a single A4 – so there was a lot I had to cut out. I created it initially by copying, pasting and editing information I found online. I then presented the draft to knowledgeable friends and family who made several additions and amendments.

I thought there might be a few people out there who might be interested in reading this, particularly those who are simply curious about Rwandan culture.

Please feel free to comment if there is something you believe is missing or incorrect. 

The little data that I managed to collect I found incredibly fascinating and I would love to learn more. Ideally, in the comment, put the source – e.g. grandmother, uncle, Google, etcetera… or simply put ‘Source: my own massive brain’.

One of my sources was an 2007 article from The New Times that I found online: Gusaba in Rwandan culture by Ignatius Ssuuna – www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=1317&a=442.

Without further ado – below is the text as it was given to the groom’s family that day – enjoy!

A Traditional Rwandan Wedding

Marriage has always been a very important cultural institution in Rwanda. Prior to and after the wedding ceremony there are a number of traditional practices that take place. The nature of these practices have changed over time, with several ceremonies being combined to take place over a shorter period, however many elements remain as they were hundreds of years ago.


Many couples began with a relative of a bachelor pointing out a young lady as a potential bride for him. This was known as Kuranga which translates directly as, ‘to announce’. The bachelor’s family would then select a man as their representative to be the Umuranga who would act as the go-between for their family and that of the bride to be. His role included intensive research on the lady including her ancestry as well as the conduct of her relatives in society.

Gufata Irembo

Following the research, the bachelor’s father would go ‘gufata irembo’, literally, ‘to take the gate’. This was when the father of the potential groom, or a special envoy selected by the family, would visit the girl’s father to declare the intention of his son to marry their daughter. If the girl’s father accepted, arrangements would be made as to when the introduction ceremony, the Gusaba, would take place. Gufata Irembo still takes place today.


‘Gusaba’ is the Kinyarwanda verb ‘to ask’ and is the ceremony where the Umuranga officially requests for the daughter as a bride. The Gusaba is a battle of wits often involving traditional tongue-twisters as well as riddles and pranks from the girl’s side. The family of the would-be bride, as well as the people of her neighbourhood, were all consulted as, the welfare of children, even in marriage, is the responsibility of the community.


If the Umuranga was successful in Gusaba, the next phase would be the Gukwa – that is the payment of the dowry. The dowry was always strictly a cow, or several cows. Once the negotiations were over, the bride’s side would invite the groom’s side to share a drink. Then, before the groom’s side left, they would often be given a drink known as Impamba which they were to enjoy along their journey home. In modern times, if one side has travelled a great distance they may even be invited to share a meal together with their future in-laws before they return home.


After the Gusaba and Gukwa, the families would meet again to discuss the date of the wedding – this was known as Gutebutsa. In modern times, this is often done privately between the bride, groom and their immediate families without involving as many parties. 


Traditionally, before her wedding day, a bride would spend several weeks in seclusion being cared for by one of her aunts. During this time her aunt would give her advice on how to take care of her future family. The bride would also undergo intensive beauty treatments including daily applications of perfumed cow-ghee with special herbs to give her softer and smoother skin. She would also adhere to a diet regime reserved for brides. 

The Wedding Day

On the day of the wedding, a bride would be seated in a traditional carrier known as ingobyi. The ingobyi would have two handles which would be placed on the shoulders of two strong men who would carry her to the groom. After arriving at her groom’s home, she would be taken inside and a special banquet in honour of both the bride and groom would be held. The banquet would include traditional Kinyarwanda dancing and singing. 


The final ceremony is known as Gutwikurura. The wife’s family would visit her at her new home and bring a number of items to help her settle in. Prior to this, the wife would not have been seen in public and would have completely refrained from any work. In this ceremony, the wife would make a meal for her family and in-laws for the first time. 

At the end of any visit to a Rwandan home, including this one, a host would often offer their guests Agashingura Cumu – which literally means ‘that which pulls out the spear’. In the past, men would travel with spears and before entering a home they would pierce them into the ground outside the entrance. The drink would symbolically give the visitors energy to pluck out their spears. 

The wife’s family would then journey home and the young couple would begin their new life together.


46 Comments Add yours

  1. mamazumzum says:

    Very well summarized!

    The following are additional observations, personal comments and opinions garnered from the four weddings I ever attended an conversations with my parents and my grandmother.

    Kuranga actually also means to “hook somebody up” as seen this context.

    Gutebutsa, I always found a funny word, means “to hurry things up”

    Gutwikurura means “to unveil” or “to uncover” as the bride has been hidden all the time until this ceremony takes place.
    The Gutwikurura also involves a moment where the new couple feeds children with Ikivuguto (sour milk ?). These children MUST have both parents alive, and I have not understood exactly why.

    (I once witnessed a very rude woman chasing a little girl from the room where they were giving milk to other kids. The woman said: “get this orphan out of here, quick!”)

    1. Wow – new info! Cheers!!

      Regarding the Gutwikurura, I think what that woman did was very cruel. I can only guess that the background to that stipulation is to symbolise that the new couple’s children will not become orphans. That said, I think the way that woman spoke and behaved towards that little girl was extremely unkind… there are some things which cannot be defended by simply claiming you are upholding tradition.

  2. Charity says:

    Thanks Aka for a summarized yet detailed account. I had no idea the ceremonies used to be this many!!
    Good stuff!!

  3. Richard Gatete Mugarura Ruzindana says:

    Wow, wakhoze cyane sha.
    This is so helpful to remind us BanyaRwanda in Uganda of our ancestral roots and background. i dearly appreciate.
    Imana ighue umugyisha mwiza. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  4. stefy says:

    Thank you so much Akaliza for this information. It is so helpful and interesting. I am always interested in learning how different cultures do those things. Your article is wonderful. I have two questions, if you could give me an idea, please.
    1: Often I see people from Rwanda wear a ring on the middle finger or two rings(middle and ring fingers). What does that mean?

    2:The wedding day you mentioned after the Gutinyisha, is it the traditional marriage only or would it be the same for people getting married at church?

    Thank you! I will check back for the answers.

    1. Hi Stefy! I’m glad you enjoyed the article so much 🙂

      Regarding your questions:

      1. As far as I know, this is purely a fashion choice – but if there are any Rwandans reading this who know of any other reason why someone here would wear a ring on their middle finger, feel free to enlighten us.

      2. The wedding day I mentioned is a traditional wedding. Nowadays, most people would have a civil ceremony in the morning, the religious (church) ceremony during the day, the wedding reception in the late afternoon or evening, and the Gutwikura that night.

      I know – phew – that’s quite a packed day for the bride and groom!

      1. stefy says:

        Thank you much. I appreciate.

      2. stefy says:

        Please post more stuff from Rwanda’s culture!!!!!!

  5. Carlo says:

    My relatives always say that I am killing my time here at web, however I know I am getting experience every
    day by reading such good articles or reviews.

    1. That’s very kind of you to say 🙂

  6. Chris says:

    Murakose. Kinyarwanda cyangye nigicye ariko ndagerageza. Teaching myself kuri internet.

  7. thanks for the information,bt cud u send a short video of GUSABA!plz!!!!!gd job

  8. Nice summary Aka. Few comments:
    1. Reason why Rwandans wear the ring on the middle finger is because it is considered the engagement finger thus the engagement ring and on the other finger(which i dont know the name) only goes the wedding ring. But i really don’t know why it is done so.
    2. there are other ceremonies that come after gutwikurura namely:
    * Gutekesha (dont know if it is the real name): the grooms aunts & sisters help the bride prepare the first meal
    * Guca mu irembo: like gufata irembo, now the goes back to the bride’s parents to show that they have a solid home
    * parents both for bride and groom visits: the parents then pay a special visit to the new home to ensure that the home is solid but more emphasis is on the bride’s family.

    myths say that before all these initial visits the bride is not allowed to go to her parents house alone. (hope i’m not wrong somewhere because sometimes it becomes confusing… lol)

  9. akeisha says:

    Can someone tell me how does the bride dress on her wedding day including accessories and the historic purposes or reasons for wearing them. I am doing a school project and i would be glad if someone can help me with these things.

  10. Milan says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I recently traced my roots back to Rwanda and have been exciting learning more about the culture. 🙂

    1. Oh that does sound exciting – glad it was helpful!
      Hope you read the article I posted a link to as well 🙂

  11. umutonilouise says:

    This is a great piece Akaliza, it’s always good to know the reasoning behind these ceremonies or at least what they are called.

  12. jargon says:

    In the gutinyisha ceremony…..Lol I’m almost afraid to ask what cow-ghee is. Another interesting post. Now I know more about the ceremonies. 🙂

    1. Cow-ghee is similar to butter – in fact, I have seen it used in preparing certain dishes.

  13. steve says:

    i think Cow-ghee in Kinyarwanda (Amavuta y’inka)

  14. marie merci says:

    the one who asked abt the ring on the middle finger; its the ring of fiancaille, in modern rwandan marriage this ring is given to the bride in gusaba ceremony as the symbol of love and (a caution if i can say so… so that everyone would know that the girl is abt to get married). and the second ring will be given to the girl in the church ceremony
    thank u akaliza! u did a grt job to keep our culture alive.

  15. I am a Zambian dating a Lady from Rwanda so you can imagine your site worked like a well of wisdom for me. Am excited to hear more contributing comments to keep my intentions alive and correct. Thank you Akaliza!

  16. olivier chris says:

    about me am off

  17. Joy says:

    Thank you for this very interesting information. We are white british and our son is marrying a lovely Rwandan girl next year. Please can you tell us what our responsibilities about a dowry are to her parents? We have done a sort of Gufata Irembo by skype! It is a marriage of love and they are well suited, but we want to be very respectful of their traditions. Part of the wedding will be in Uganda, and the other part in Kigali. Any advice gratefully received.

    1. Hi Joy – my advice would be to get your future daughter in law to get a Rwandan friend to support your side. That is what was done for my brother-in-law when he married my sister. That friend can help advise you on what the family would expect – not all families are the same.

      Sorry I can’t give you a specific answer – I hope that helps!

  18. akariza says:

    thank you Akariza for more information that you have gives us

    1. theo says:

      thank you so much Akariza for that more information you have gives us about Mariage in rwanda. have nice moment please.

  19. Diane says:

    hey i was doing also my research about this and i came across ur blog, and it had helped me a lot. so thanks for sharing this.

    1. I’m glad it was useful 🙂

  20. Gael says:

    I most thank you for those explanations, I have been looking everywhere to find the traditions for a Rwandan wedding and proposal. I’m not from Rwanda but I would like to surprise her with following the traditional steps before I propose to her. Question: What could I give to the family as a present, I live in Europe and looking for something symbolic. She only has her mother left and want to make it special.

  21. Amon Personnel says:

    Wow that’s good to be update thanks.

  22. Aline says:

    Very helpful article, pls post more on Rwandan culture.

  23. Ildephonse says:

    hello,i am a student in university of Rwanda in college of science i am doing a research thesis for a bachelor degree in architecture sofar titled “preserving rwandan indigenous good culture” i found this information helpful to me too thank you to share here.we have a very good culture i did not know this !!!!!!!!!!!

  24. Ginyera says:

    Wow! so rich a culture. keep the spirit of sharing burning.

  25. uwevari says:

    The youth are future for our culture so keep_up

  26. Willianm T says:

    Thank you so much for this information am marrying a rwandeese girl and i needed to know what my inlaws would expect from me . This was very helpful
    Tumusiime W.

  27. mahoro pacis felix says:

    it is so good to know more about traditional weddings

  28. Julie says:

    Who is financially responsible for the various ceremonies, including the reception?

  29. Julie says:

    Also, someone mentioned that there is a party for the man and a party for the woman. Can anyone give me a little information as to what that is and entails?

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