Traditional Itorero was a cultural school where Rwandans would learn language, patriotism, social relations, sports, dancing, songs and defence. This system was created so that young people could grow with an understanding of their culture. Participants were encouraged to discuss and explore Rwandan cultural values.
Itorero trainers planned daily activities according to different priorities and every newcomer in Itorero had to undergo initiation, known in Kinyarwanda as gukuramo ubunyamusozi. The common belief was that intore were different from the rest of the community, especially in matters of expression and behaviour because they were expected to be experts in social relations, quick thinkers and knowledgeable. Each Itorero included 40 to 100 participants of various age groups and had its own unique name. The best graduates would receive cows or land as rewards.
The tradition of Itorero provided formative training for future leaders. These community leaders and fighters were selected from intore (individuals who took part in Itorero) and were trained in military tactics, hand to hand combat, jumping, racing, javelin, shooting and endurance. They were also taught concepts of patriotism, the Rwandan spirit, wisdom, heroism, unity, taboos, eloquence, hunting and loyalty to the army. To learn more about Rwandan Cultural Values, download a document covering the topic here.
Itorero was found at three levels of traditional governance, family, chief, and the king’s court. At the family level, both girls and boys would be educated on how to fulfil their responsibilities as defined by the expectations of their communities. For example, the man was expected to protect his family and the country, while the woman was expected to provide a good home and environment for her family. Adults were also asked to treat every child as their own in order to promote good behaviour among children.
At the chief level, a teenage boy was selected by either his father or head of the extended family to be introduced to the chief so he could join his Itorero. Selection was based on good behaviour among the rest of his family and his community.
At the king’s court level, the person selected to join this highest level of Itorero could either be the son of a man who went through the king’s Itorero or a young man who distinguished himself while in the chief’s Itorero. The king could also select the young man who would join his Itorero based on his own observations of the candidate in action.
Both the chief and king’s Itorero trainings lasted for long periods of time to test the perseverance of the participants. Those who performed well would be rewarded with cows, allowed to return home and get married, or were nominated to various national duties. Intore who distinguished themselves were called ‘Intore zo ku mukondo’, which translates as the ‘frontline Intore’.
During colonisation, traditional Itorero gradually disappeared because the core values taught did not align with the structures established in society. In 1924, the colonial administration prohibited classic Itorero and introduced western-style schools. The Itorero during and after the colonial period were different in the sense that they focused on singing and dancing, whereas the other core civic education components of Itorero, such as respect and good relationships with others, were no longer taught.
To learn more, download the Itorero Strategic Plan 2009-2012 here.
To learn more, download a copy of a presentation on Itorero here.