Burundi, country in east-central Africa, south of the Equator. The landlocked country, a historic kingdom, is one of the few countries in Africa whose borders were not determined by colonial rulers.
The vast majority of Burundi’s population is Hutu, traditionally a farming people. Power, however, has long rested with the Tutsiminority, which historically has controlled the army and most of the economy, particularly the lucrative international export of coffee. Few real cultural differences are distinguishable between the two peoples, and both speak Rundi (Kirundi). Such linguistic homogeneity is rare in sub-Saharan Africa and emphasizes the historically close cultural and ethnic ties among the peoples in Burundi.
Even so, ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi has plagued the country since it gained independence from Belgium in 1962, at a great cost in human life and property. Few Burundians escaped the ensuing anarchy into which the country was plunged when this interethnic violence flared anew in the 1990s, a bloody conflagrationthat well illustrated the Rundi proverb “Do not call for lightning to strike down your enemies, for it also may strike down your friends.” Neither the presence of an international peacekeeping force beginning in the late 1990s nor the ratification of an agreement to share power between Hutu and Tutsi were immediately effective in curbing interethnic violence, which also spilled into the neighbouring countries of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Burundians are now faced with the task of quelling ethnic dissent, promoting unity, and rebuilding the country.
Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, lies at the northeastern end of Lake Tanganyika. The old section of the city comprises buildings from the German and Belgian colonial periods, as well as a central market filled with hundreds of vendors’ booths. The country’s second city, Gitega, is also its cultural capital, containing the national museum and several schools. Gitega lies near the southernmost source of the Nile River and a spectacular waterfall, Chutes de la Kagera.
Burundi is bounded by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, Lake Tanganyika to the southwest, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west
Daily life, social customs, and the arts
Much of Burundi’s rich cultural heritage, most notably folk songs and dances, was intended to extol the virtues of kingship; however, since the fall of the monarchy in 1966 (and particularly after a massacre of Hutu in 1972), such cultural expression has waned. Burundian daily life has since been conditioned by the exigencies of survival in a time of civil strife and ethnic hatred, and many important social institutions, such as the family and the village council, have lost their force, weakened by political chaos and the wholesale displacement of populations. Once widely celebrated events include the annual sorghum festival (umuganuro), the occasion for a magnificent display of traditional dances by court dancers (intore). Also participating in the festival are drummers beating the Karyenda(“sacred drum”), an emblem of the monarchy—their performance is intended to give both musical and symbolic resonance to this festival and to other ceremonial occasions. Government efforts to promote interethnic harmony through displays of a shared cultural heritage have been sporadic and only modestly successful. Burundian museums that celebrate the country’s heritage include the National Museum in Gitega and the Living Museum in Bujumbura, which also includes botanical gardens and animal exhibits.
Traditional activities such as drumming and dancing contain aspects of both culture and competition: the Intore Dancers, a group that celebrates national folklore, has won numerous international folk dance competitions, and drummers compete with the traditional Karyenda drums. Burundi’s best-known cultural export is a troupe of traveling musicians called Les Maîtres-Tambours du Burundi (Drummers of Burundi). This group, made up of as many as 30 percussionists and dancers, produces an energetic, polyrhythmic sound organized around the inkiranya drum. The addition of the amashako drum, which provides a continuous beat, and the complimentary rhythm of the ibishikiso drum complete the impressive sound. The group has been widely influential and has made many recordings. Burundian singer Khadja Nin has also released several recordings, with lyrics in Swahili, Rundi, and French.