Yesterday, I followed a live stream on Rwanda Museums’ Facebook page. It was a step-by-step demonstration of the process of churning milk, a common household chore in traditional Rwandan societies. Churning milk is done to produce cooking oil out of fermented milk. Popularly knows as ikivuguto, fermented milk is widely consumed in Rwanda.
A long time ago, oil extracted from ikivuguto was also a common skincare product. Butter is still an important ingredient of skin lotions but modern brands lack the enrichment of the organic milk by-product processed the traditional way.
The first step in the supply chain of this authentic product is milking the cow. In yesterday’s virtual tour, I was ushered to the backyard of the King’s Palace by Teta Ndenga Nicole, Miss Heritage 2020.
While in the backyard, I encountered a herd of Inyambo (long-horned cows). Inyambo is a noble species. The poem-loving gentle cows used to parade in front of the king during important royal functions. These cows know their names. They respond when called. They are exceptionally smart. They are celebrated and praised. When female traditional dancers stretch their arms during their electrifying performances, they dance to the tune of the elegant Inyambo.
I need an entire day to talk about Inyambo but I don’t have a whole day. Let’s get back to the topic of churning milk. After milking the cow, milk is handed over to the woman responsible for taking care of this highly perishable drink. In the king’s court, there used to be a virgin girl who was in charge of handling milk. Artistically crafted utensils of all sizes and shapes, bearing distinct Kinyarwanda names, adorned her neatly kept hut.
It would take up to four days to complete the process of fermentation and produce ikivuguto. When ready, ikivuguto would be poured into igisabo which is a roundish, thin-necked container.
Churning is done by shaking igisabo gently and carefully to stir its content while releasing built-in pressure gradually. This is usually done while singing.
Finally, oil is separated from ikivuguto and kept in rweso, a bowl-like utensil. As mentioned earlier, this oil is used for cooking. It is also the secret behind my grand mother’s perfectly nourished skin.