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South Africa: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

South Africa



map1Location: Southern tip of African continent.

Capital: Pretoria.

Climate: Semi-arid, Sub-tropical.

Population: 48,782,756 according to July 2008 estimates. Nearly half the population, 50%, live under the poverty line with an unemployment rate of 24.3%. The presence of a considerable percentage of disadvantaged sections left over from the apartheid period, aging infrastructure, lack of investments, and other related issues have kept the South African economy from soaring in spite of abundant natural resources such as gold and diamonds. Steady growth has been recorded in recent times since 2004, but it is still an uphill task against considerable odds.

Ethnic Make-up: Black 79%, White 9.6%, Indian 2.5%, Others 8.9%.

boyReligions: Christianity (various denominations) 80%, Muslim 1.5%, Others 3.3%, Non-believers 15%. The government actively encourages Christianity, as a result of which much evangelization is carried out by various Christian denominations such as Protestants, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and the Dutch Reformed Church.

Language: IsiZulu 23.8%, IsiXhosa 17.6%, Afrikaans 13.3%, Sepedi 9.4%, English 8.2%, Sesotho 7.9%, Xitsonga 4.4%, Others 7.2%.

Government: Republic.

cityTravel Issues: Travel to South Africa requires a valid passport with at least two blank pages, a valid visa, proof of adequate funds, and documents proving onward or return journey. If passing through regions affected by yellow fever, you need to produce a certificate stating you have been immunised. Some countries are exempt from the need for a visa and you’ll have to inquire at your nearest embassy to ascertain your specific requirements.

Health & Safety: No vaccinations are mandatory unless arriving from a yellow fever zone, in which case you need to provide certification of vaccination. Immunization against hepatitis B, tetanus, and measles may be considered. Sun protection may be required and it advised to bring along sunglasses, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. If traveling to National Parks, malaria prophylaxis is recommended.



girls1The People

The South African population is predominantly black followed by a small minority of white and Asian people. The concept of Apartheid or Apartness was practiced to keep the racial divide intact in favor of the white minority. Though the practice has been abandoned, racial inequality is very pronounced in society.

The Religion

There is no state religion in South Africa, but Christianity in its various denominations is practiced widely. Over 2.5 million are Roman Catholics, followed closely by about 1.8 million Methodists, and 1.2 million Anglicans. Other faiths have a presence with about 350,000 Hindus, 100,000 Jews, and roughly 400,000 Muslims. In remote areas traditional faiths are still practiced by certain tribes.


Role of Family

Family roles differ according to socio-economic status and ethnic background of the people. Families coming under the high class section with ample economic security have more stability when compared to the low income or unemployed sections of society. Traditionally, obedience and respect for parents is inculcated in the culture but a stressed socioeconomic status brings about unwanted pregnancies, desertion, living together, street violence, unemployment and other related ills that throw family life out of kilter. Generally speaking, people of ethnic backgrounds value their extended family members and communal living while the European background South Africans appear content with the nuclear family structure.


Ancestors are revered more in tribal communities where they are considered conduits with the spirit world.

Recreational Activities

Recreational activities for the Europeandescent South Africans differ slightly from that of the African descent South Africans. The former love their cricket, rugby, and football, while the latter lean towards athletics, boxing, and football in less well maintained facilities. The National Parks are favorite haunts for trekking, hiking, and other outdoor sports.

Anything else important for this culture

Depending on who you are with you have to make adjustments to your social behaviour. Racial prejudice and violence are a fact of life, and travelers have to be on the watch out.

south african elephants


Meetings & Greetings

Among South Africans of European descent, normal western conduct is all it takes where greeting and introductions are concerned. This can also be adopted in urban contexts. In rural areas greeting modes differ with the ethnic heritage of the person you’re interacting with and so it is best to seek the advice of local friends.


It shows good form to keep your appointments on time and to be punctual for meetings and formal dinners. A lot depends on the good will you generate among the South African community. Members of the white community in rural areas are said to have Calvinists roots and to hold rather conservative views. It would pay to be extra vigilant with the manner of dressing and conduct when meeting them.

Gift Giving

Generally gifts are exchanged around Christmas time and presented for birthdays. If visiting a home, flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine is well received. It is alright to immediately open a gift and show appreciation upon receiving it.

lady2Dress Code

Although dress codes are getting more relaxed these days, it would be a good idea to stick to formal suits on first meetings. Women still face an uphill task when making their presence felt in the world of business, and dressing sensibly might ease the task a bit. Casual clothing is acceptable almost anywhere.

Dining Etiquette

Dining in urban cities follows western etiquette and does not call for any formal moves. When dining with other ethnic groups it is proper to be culture sensitive and follow cues.

Visiting a home

If invited to a home, arrive on time, well dressed, and bearing a token gift for the hostess. Casual clothing is acceptable if you’re not meeting for the first time.

Communication Style

The form of English spoken in South Africa may appear strange at first due to the strong Afrikaans influence. However you soon make sense of it and start using the same sentence constructions quite naturally. If something does not make sense, it is perfectly alright to ask again until you’ve understood.

Dos and Don’ts

The South African community has nuances of racial prejudice perhaps never experienced in other parts of the world. It would be advisable to not rush headlong into unknown territory where social behaviour is concerned but take caution as a watchword. Cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town have their share of daylight robberies and bold pick pockets. Take care to keep your valuables out of sight and keep duplicates of all important documents separately. Always be courteous regardless of the ethnic origin of the person you’re interacting with.


Boys, shanty, lady, and boy photos by thomas_sly
Soccer photo by Celso Flores
Elephant photo by exfordy
Girls in pink photo by borderlys
Johannesburg by austinevan
Mandela book photo by maureen lunn

Nigeria: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Nigeria

woman at nigerian market 


map of nigeriaLocation: Western Africa, bounded by Niger in the North, Cameroon in the East, Benin in the West, and the Gulf of Guinea in the South.

Capital: Abuja.

Climate: Nigeria experiences tropical weather with some aridity in the North and equatorial weather in the South.

Population: 149,229,090 as per July 2009 estimates. About 70% of the population live below poverty line while unemployment rate hovers at 4.9%. Nigerian economy is solely dependant on its rich yet underutilised oil reserves. Political instability and corruption have led to inadequate management of resources. In recent times the Nigerian government has begun to focus on infrastructure in a bid to bring about economic reforms. Other than oil Nigeria has resources such as coal, tin, palm oil, peanuts, cotton, rubber, cement, chemicals, and a successful shipping industry.

traditional nigerian drummersEthnic Make-up: Main ethnic groups from about 250 are Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%

Religions: Islam 50%, Christianity 40%, and other native religions. The Constitution guarantees freedom to practice all faiths.

Language: The official language is English, but about 500 different languages are spoken in Nigeria. Some important native tongues are Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, and Kanuri.

Government: Federal Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Nigeria requires a valid passport, a Nigerian visa, and a return ticket. A visa application has to be accompanied by 3 recent passport size photographs, visa fees, an onward ticket, and a letter of invitation/reason for wanting to visit Nigeria. Visas cannot be obtained on entry or at the border. Extensions can be obtained from the Immigration Department of the Federal Secretariat.

Health & Safety: Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory for all travellers to Nigeria. Other recommended immunisations include Tetanus, Hepatitis A & B, Polio, Typhoid, Malaria and Meningitis.

motorcycles in lagos 


kids in nigeriaThe People

Nigeria is home to about 250 ethnic groups, each with their own languages and customs. People are very traditional when it comes to marriage and family life. Christians are allowed only one wife while Muslims may have as much as four. Extended families are the norm and often wives in a polygamist set-up work together in farms.

nigerian manThe Religion

Main religions practiced in Nigeria are Islam and Christianity. Christians occupy the Eastern and Southern States of the country while Muslims are to be found in the North.

Role of Family

In rural Nigeria, the onus for earning an income, as well as taking care of the family, often falls on women. Women tend to farms as well as make and sell homemade products to feed and clothe their children. Men are very patriarchal in their attitudes to women; however, mothers and sisters have more say in family matters than wives do. Having a number of offspring is a matter of pride for a man.  


A belief in animism prompts a strong faith that appeasing ancestral spirits brings good fortune and prosperity to the tribes. Therefore, ancestors are propitiated with a number of rituals including animal sacrifice and juju ceremonies with animal skulls and bones to ensure their blessings. Even some Christians share these beliefs and incorporate these rituals in their mode of worship. Elaborate masks made of bronze, wood, or terracotta, are worn at funerals to appease the dead soul. 

peppers in nigerian marketRecreational Activities

Football, aka soccer, is a popular recreational activity. Big cities such as Lagos have all sorts of modern recreational outlets including sports venues and computer games. Cricket, polo, and wrestling are considered pastimes of the affluent. 

Anything else important for this culture

Inter-ethnic fighting is a source of great instability in the social fabric. Similarly, religion forms the basis for quite a few conflicts. These are compounded by poverty and a terrible divide between the rich and the poor. Elders in Nigerian communities, both male and female, are accorded a great deal of respect. They are greeted by kneeling down before them as old age is believed to be a divine gift bestowed only on a worthy few. Nigerians set great store by education and therefore, like to be addressed by any title they may possess.

 nigerian market


Meetings & Greetings

Meetings between Nigerians involve a handshake followed by rather lengthy well-wishes bestowing good health and prosperity for everyone including family members. This holds true for old friends as well as someone introduced for the first time. Often business meetings commence only after such elaborate greetings on both sides. Muslim Nigerians may not shake the hands or touch the opposite gender in any way while greeting them.

3 nigerian ladiesCourtesy

Always show respect for elders. It is considered bad manners to use your left hand to pass things or pick up anything. Avoid discussing politics and issues such as religion, corruption or civil unrest with strangers or casual acquaintances.

Gift Giving

If invited to visit a Nigerian home it is good to bring along a token gift in the form of chocolates, pastries, or fruit. Gifts should be handed over and received with both hands and never with the left hand alone. Gifts are not opened as soon as they are received.

nigerian soccerDress Code

A definite hierarchy exists in Nigerian society and you need to dress according to the level you are moving in. If meeting with someone from the affluent circles, a formal suit or jacket would be necessary. Women need to be dressed conservatively and may accessorize generously. While in other circles,dressing calls for tact, and care has to be taken to not look overdressed. Casual to smart clothing minus accessories would be considered appropriate. It is always wise to avoid expensive jewellery and flashy clothes when traveling in strange places.

Dining Etiquette

Etiquette requires you to wash your hands before and after a meal. Nigerians are very hospitable people and ensure that guests have eaten before they themselves sit down to a meal. This is especially so in rural areas.

children in nigeriaVisiting a home

Leave your footwear outside before entering a home. While seated ensure your foot is not pointed outwards at anyone or at the food. Tea will be offered in three rounds with increased sweetness to signify the flowering of the relationship between the host and the guest. Never refuse these rounds of tea even if all you imbibe is a sip. Fruit juices may also be served. Food and drink should not be taken at the same time. never pour your own drink or refill; always wait for the host to do so.

Communication Style

Nigerians open up only after they have established a relationship. Thus the initial stages of a business meeting may well be spent on chit chat that might appear meaningless. Direct eye contact may appear an affront in conservative societies or when speaking with older people, and so, the gaze should be directed to the forehead or shoulders when speaking with them.

nigerian town

Dos and Don’ts

Do not rush directly to matters at hand but rather spend ample time on greeting and introductions however pressed for time you may be. Do not rush to a first name basis unless invited to do so. If greeting a woman take the cue from her on whether to shake her hand or merely bow gently in greeting. If offering gifts to a woman, men have to mention that it is conveyed from their mother, wife or sister. Women, as a rule, do not travel alone and may face problems if they attempt to do so, especially after dark. Do not order pork or alcohol if dining with Muslims.


Motorcycles, market lady and peppers by satanoid
Town and drummers by
Barefoot In Florida
3 ladies and 4 kids by
Soccer by
Man in market by
Man walking by

Lessons Learned from Christians in Cameroon

by Melissa Chang |

Africa, Cameroon, Jesus Film, Stories from the Field

jesus film in africaDear Melissa,

I can’t explain why – maybe it’s because it’s Africa and there are no spare parts and no Best Buys around the corner, but every film showing comes extremely close to never happening. I remember this from when I spent 3 months in Kenya doing this also.

So tonight, our group lost an adapter so that the generator was African voltage and the projector was American voltage – so they didn’t connect. Finally, one of the Cameroon team members cut the chord in half, stripped it and rewired it. Someone forgot the stakes to stake the screen into the ground so we found some government building to show the film on. Then, there was no audio chord to the speakers, so we had to take turns holding the mic next to the computer audio for the whole movie. Then they realized they had forgotten the gas for the generator, so a kindly African volunteer hopped on his moped to go find some. His motorcycle broke down on the way, so some other volunteer took over from there while he got help.

Eventually, and miraculously, with lots of prayer, it almost always seems to work out. Really I think it is because these Cameroon Christians just never give up no matter how long it takes. They believe there is a solution and they don’t quit until they find it. Also, it shows how important this film showing is to them.

When we asked our Cameroon leader what we were going to do after he had cut and stripped that chord in case we needed that chord tomorrow, he said “But we need to deal with today.” Then he quoted us this scripture “Don’t worry about tomorrow for today has enough troubles of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

I have a lot to learn from these guys.

Stories from the Field: I’m Here!

by Melissa Chang |

Cameroon, Stories from the Field

cameroon arrival
Dear Melissa,

Since I don’t journal, I thought that I might try to write you a letter or 2. That way, I can keep you informed.

1st of all – the plane ride and jet lag almost killed me. I thought I might not be able to wake up in time for the trip. I prayed and prayed, and thank God today is Friday, and I finally woke up feeling more myself. I really, really WANTED to be here because I WANT to be here and be at the top of my game.

So, day 4 and we are still traveling. Travel the Road was a very good name for a missionary reality show because that is like a huge part of missions – getting there. Then you are so depleted and are at your worst, but you have to suck it up and find it within you to be your best again because now you have to go and enter the culture.

So, this kind of will tell you how I feel. We got off the plane, got our luggage, took a van through the city to our hotel. Bam! We entered the culture. Mopeds everywhere, shacks and storefronts jammed together and on top of each other with not one inch of space. Trash in the streets, vendors selling bananas, homemade furniture, mangos, roasted corn, clothing, women dressed in full African colored fabric from head to toe and young boys in tattered clothes selling 100’s of bags of peanuts which they carry on their heads.

The smell was the 1st thing that hit me. It is the unique smell of Africa; smoke from burning coal and trash, people who are very hot, and various meats being grilled over open fires – even in the city. I breathed it in and smiled. I looked around at all of the sights and honking mopeds swerving in & out of traffic, and I thought to myself “you know if this doesn’t kill me, it’s going to be awesome.”

Since then, we have just been having orientation and trying to get enough to eat, which has been difficult. Sweat is literally dripping off of us at all times. Tonight, a 4 hour van ride to our last and final destination far into the northern villages. And then, tonight it begins! We are showing the 1st film show in Gizega tonight!

Photo by Elin B

Robert Moffat: The King’s Gardener in Africa

by Stephanie Colman |

Africa, Famous Missionaries, South Africa

 lion in the grasslands
Photo by lensbug.chandru

While being a missionary is not an easy task,it is full of rewards, especially the reward of seeing seeds sown for Christ come to fruit as salvation. Robert Moffat’s dream was to plant a “Garden for God in Africa.” Robert Moffat was born in 1795 in Scottland and died in 1883. His life was full of excitement and heartbreak yet he never let anything stop him from spreading the Word of God. Robert Moffat was involved in opening many mission stations in the interior of Africa. He served as a missionary in Africa for over 50 years.

After many ears of toiling spreading the Good News and planting seeds Robert Moffat had seen no fruit of salvation yet. A turning point in Robert Moffat’s missionary career happened after a conversation with his wife in which Robert said ”Mary, this is hard work, and no fruit yet appears;” and Mary his wife replied, “The gospel has not yet been preached to them in their own tongue in which they were born.”

African boysRobert Moffat then began a focus on learning the native language and began visiting more remote tribes. Soon after the first fruits of his labor began to be reaped as the salvation of the Bechuanas and other natives became evident. He completed the translation of the Bible into Sechwana which is the language of the Bechuanas after 30 years of laboring on the project.

Robert also wrote two missionary books, Missionary Labors and Scenes in South Africa and Rivers of Water in a Dry Place. He is also most famous for inspiring his son-in-law David Livingstone to enter missionary work in Arica with his famous quote:

“I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary has ever been.”

Robert Moffat and his wife Mary never gave up hope that they were doing the work of God as missionaries in Africa. They continued on no matter the circumstances that they faced. They are both a wonderful testament of the faith and perseverance which we as Christians should strive to obtain.

Missions Twitter: Week Ending 7/24/09

by Melissa Chang |

Africa, Missions Twitter, Stories from the Field, Tanzania

africaWe at MissionsLaunch like to let you know what’s being tweeted about in the world of Twitter surrounding missions. This week our theme is “Tweets from the Field.” We have especially been enjoying the tweets of mamaafrica who has been a long-term missionary to Tanzania for 5 years. Read and enjoy. Also, be sure to follow mamaafrica on Twitter. Happy Friday! 


mamaafrica: Brick making has turned into a marathon today.

mamaafrica: We have a clear sky, we have the usual soft wind and this day has been like all others

mamaafrica: Four year old boy just outside fence whistling and walking with a brick on his head. Walks ten feet and stops to wave at me

mamaafrica: The child does not know he is poor. With loving people around him and work being his play, he is rich.

mamaafrica: @rileynathan Congratulations! Mission work is so rewarding. God is blessing you. You will see

mamaafrica: Holding a baby who held his arms out for me to pick him up and hug him again and again and again was so wonderful.

mamaafrica: He had been left in an empty home for days.

mamaafrica: Found covered with bug bites and extremely malnourished he was taken to the Musoma Orphanage.

mamaafrica: Pictures of our work here in Tanzania http://bit.ly/DEHSe

mamaafrica: Had a Sanitation and Hygiene class for women of Bunda.

mamaafrica: Love being with God’s animals in Africa. http://mamaafrica-tz.blogsp…

mamaafrica: http://twitpic.com/8r2x7 -Children eating the papaya as they make bricks. Joy of giving

mamaafrica: Living in a country with no books is hard. Even with the problems in the U.S., you are so blessed with reading

mamaafrica: Watched an amazing African sky while electricty was out.

mamaafrica: http://twitpic.com/6c0wu – when you are 5 it is your turn to carry the baby on your back.

mamaafrica: http://twitpic.com/6c0m7 – Children who see no white people are afraid of Mzungu. A little boy in church next to me

mamaafrica: @MissionsLaunch Thank you so much. Just had a group showing the Jesus Film every night/ week. If we had a projector we could do it in Swhil

mamaafrica: Tuesday morning: Tea Toast and Twitter. All is well in Tanzania.

mamaafrica: Just found out that I too have malaria. Ugg. Feeling the war in my blood right now.

mamaafrica: Just heard a helicopter. Have not heard that in 5 years.

mamaafrica: is waking up to a soft rain. I like to think my same rain is cooling off the animals in the Serengeti just over our hill.

mamaafrica: Because of pounds of new bio-filters 450 more people for will have clean water.

mamaafrica: When I see the school going up, I hope I can use it to make a difference

Photo by sly06

Missions Twitter: Week of 7/10/09

by Melissa Chang |

Africa, Burundi, Stories from the Field

AFRICAWe at MissionsLaunch like to let you know what’s being tweeted about in the world of Twitter surrounding missions. This week our theme is “Tweets from the Field.” We have especially been enjoying the tweets of daninreallife who is on a short-term missions trip to Burundi. Read and enjoy. Also, be sure to follow daninreallife on Twitter. Happy Friday!
daninreallife: Africa in 8-days. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready… I’m so ready!

daninreallife: In church in Burundi watching offering collection, mostly cash and 1-chicken.

daninreallife: Sun has set over the Congo, cool breeze blowing, God is good.

daninreallife: Sunday in Cibotoke: we are beyond internet connection, I can only transmit via phone. We also learned water is not on 24-hrs but whenever.

daninreallife: Sun has set over Congo, sky darkening. Sipping tea in thick humid air, reflecting on Burundi church planting campaign.

daninreallife: In Burundi, on hill surrounded by cows & people. 3-gospel presentations going @ same time. Cool!

daninreallife: In Burundi, shared Jesus w/ a Christian family. Children sang songs for us (new for me). We prayed together. We left the kids our lunch.

daninreallife: NOOoooooooo!! Left my shaving kit in Burundi! Tooth brush, soap, shampoo, razor… All gone! Oh well, I’ll still look good in 10-days.

daninreallife: In Burundi, our bus driver, who became a Christian last week, went w/ e-cube & led 6-people to Jesus!

daninreallife:Love my translator. Choir dancing (not singing) in front of me, translator leans in & says, “They dance”. Uhh, thanks, I’m not blind.

daninreallife: At Burundi Rwanda border customs made us unload all our bags & searched them…

daninreallife: Almost out of “hand wipes” they go fast when water is out at hotel. 12-days to go in Africa. :-(

daninreallife: Going to bed tired, filthy & sweeting in Burundi. Good day 5-Americans, 11-Burundi & 2-Tanzanians shared Jesus w/ 1201-people, 472 prayed.

Photo by  Jonas B

Kenyan Artists Contextualize Stations of the Cross

by Heather Carr |

Africa, Contextualization in Missions, Kenya

kenyan jesus and maryArtists have long put paint to canvas, or chisel to stone, in an effort to help us comprehend the sacrifice Christ made for us. Many Christians put these masterpieces to use in a practice known as the Stations of the Cross. Artistic impressions of the hours leading to Jesus’ death and burial are displayed to assist followers in reflecting on the scriptures. In Kenya, one church has used this practice to reach the local Christian community at its heart.

A trained team of young Kenyan artists was asked to paint a set of stations that would reflect the life and environment of the people of Turkana, Kenya. Authentic Turkana people, dress and localities are pictured in the familiar scenes of the Passion. Roman soldiers are replaced by Kenyan warriors. Pilate is shown in the traditional dress of a Turkana chief, and the cross fashioned from a local tree. The backdrop of many of the stations is comprised of local scenery, including the shops and houses of its residents.

The Turkana people now share an intimate connection with Jesus’ presence among us. Through the work of these Kenyan artists, personal relationships with Christ are strengthened through an intimate understanding of the suffering of our savior. Remembering that Jesus knows the pain of human suffering offers hope to a people who regularly face the burdens of disease and hunger. To view all of the Stations of the Cross in Lodwar Cathederal, Kenya, check out the Africa: St. Patrick’s Missions magazine article Through Nomadic Eyes.

Touching Video:People in Ethiopa Seeing Jesus Film 1st Time

by Melissa Chang |

Africa, Ethiopia, Stories from the Field

This is amazingly touching video of the Gamo people of Ethiopa seeing the Jesus Film in their language for the first time ever. The people are so emotional during the showing that they are wailing and crying when Jesus is crucified. The video tells the story from the perspective of a couple who felt God calling them to adopt an entire language for the translation of the film. It shows them being welcomed by the people of Ethiopia and being there to help start the first reel as the Jesus Film premieres in the new language.

This Jesus Film translation was made possible by a partnership between Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Jesus Film Project, as well as the generous donations of those in the video.

If you want to view the Jesus Film online in any of over 800 languages, you can here.

Rwanda: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Cultural Sensitivity, Rwanda


Beautiful African Road
Photo by d_proffer

Location: Central Africa; bordered by Burundi in the South, Uganda in the North, Tanzania in the East, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the West.

Map of RwandaCapital: Kigali

 Climate: Surprisingly cool due to the high altitude. Hot in summer, with two rainy seasons

Population: 9,907,509 according to 2007 estimates. The economy of the land is mainly agriculture based, but the ethnic massacre of 1994 took a massive toll. Lately extraction of natural gas and other industry have given a boost to the flagging economy. With generous amounts of international aid and privatization programs there is a 6% annual growth which bodes well for the future of the country.

Boys in RwandaEthnic Make-up: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1% Religions: Christians (Roman Catholic) 70%, Muslim minority 5%, Indigenous 25%

Language: Kinyarwanda, French, English, Kiswahili used for trade and commerce

Government: Republic

Travel Issues: A valid visa is required for travel to Rwanda by all visitors except nationals of Tanzania, Uganda, and the U.S. for up to 3 months stay. A completed application form, along with a valid passport, 2 passport-sized photos, statement of reason for visit, and visa fee is to be submitted to the Consulate in your country. You can extend your visa at the Immigration office in Kigali.

Skulls in RwandaHealth & Safety: Immunization against Yellow fever is mandatory. Cholera, Typhoid, Polio, Malaria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B vaccinations are strongly recommended. If you plan to visit rural and forest areas and may come into contact with wildlife, a rabies shot is advised. Clean water is scarce and water for all use from brushing teeth to drinking should be boiled or bottled. Avoid swimming in fresh water to prevent Bilharzia, which is the case of miniscule worms entering your body through the skin. Other risks include Trypanosomisasis (sleeping sickness), onchocerciasis (river blindness), and meningococcal meningitis. Be warned that in the event of an emergency, medical facilities are limited. Border areas, especially the one with the Democratic Republic of Congo, are said to be dangerous and any travel outside of the capital, Kigali, is best avoided.

smoke on the mountains africa 
Photo by d_proffer


boys in rwandaThe People: The Hutus are the majority population and are mostly an agrarian community. Each family cultivates its own land and live on it. They do not form communities but live apart. Rwandans are known for their soft-spoken nature and polite mannerisms.

The Religion: Christianity is the major religion in Rwanda, with a large Roman Catholic following. Their worship is however tinged with their traditional beliefs and rituals. About a quarter of the population are animist, in that they do not worship any deity, but believe that there is a soul in all things, including animals, plants and other entities.

Rwanda Gorilla ParkRole of Family: Traditionally, the families are patrilineal. There is a great degree of reverential fear for the older generation who take control of the whole extended family. The oldest male has the last word and is seen as closest to the ancestors. Children belong to the whole family and are brought up as such. Paternal uncles are referred to as “the other fathers.”

Ancestors: Rwandans have great respect for their ancestors and consider them the link between God and the living. They worship their ancestors and propitiate them with sacrifices and prayers.

Recreational Activities: Wildlife safaris are a favorite recreational activity. Next in line of popularity is mountain climbing. In the rural areas youngsters have a passion for athletics and football. Traditional singing and dancing are part of routine life and taken part by all ages with gusto.

 Rwandan Children
Photo by genvessel


Rwanda BicycleMeetings & Greetings: In business circles, a firm handshake is the accepted norm of greeting. When meeting the opposite gender, a slight bow with a courteous Good morning should suffice. Small talk should pave the way for what’s to follow. When in doubt, take your cues from your host. Do not expect Western-style expansiveness and casual body language.

Courtesy: Normal social courtesies should see you through comfortably. Keep your voice levels low and your movements slow and dignified. Eye contact between males is a sign of confidence.

African BusGift Giving: Though there is no gift giving concept, it may be considered courteous to carry a simple gift when visiting a family. If involved in business deals, learn to distinguish between gift and bribe.

Dress Code: If on business, it is advisable to wear a lightweight suit and tie. Appointments should be made well in advance and confirmed closer to the date. Some French may help you get ahead, as most Rwandians do not speak English. Women should preferable be well-covered with shoulders, arms, and legs appropriately covered.

boy in central africaDining Etiquette: In cities like Kigali, dining at restaurants may not involve anything more than normal table manners. For other situations, take your cue from your host. While there are no rigid rules or formalities, you would need to tread with caution if dining with an elder.

Visiting a home: If invited to a home, arrive with a simple gift of chocolates, fruits or some toys for children. Chances are your host will have simple circumstances that he is eager to share with you. Show adequate enthusiasm and appreciation by sharing a meal with the family.

Communication Style: A simple, direct mode of communication should see you safely through. Do not engage in arguments or unnecessary comparisons that will hurt the sentiments of your host. Rwandians can be quite emotional and can easily be agitated by unwarranted condescension. It is best to keep things simple and uncomplicated.

Dos and Don’ts: However close you feel to your host, do not bring up contentious topics such as politics or religion. The society is heavily patriarchal and there is no concept of women being treated anywhere near as equal as men. Therefore, a single woman attempting discussions or meetings will not be taken seriously unless accompanied by a male.

downtown kigali
Photo by d_proffer

Skulls, Gorilla sign, Bicycle, and Bus photos by d_proffer
3 boys by loufi
Two closeup boys by genvessel
Smiling Boy by TKnoxB

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