Facts About Culture, Geography, and History of Burundi
Burundi is a tiny East and Central African Republic bordering Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). To learn more about Burundi, we have compiled 12 interesting facts about it to help you unravel this fascinating country.
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12. Burundi is a member of the United Nations.
Burundi got independence from Belgium on 1st July 1962 as a Constitutional monarchy under King Mwami Mwambutsa IV. Later on, it joined United Nations on 18th September the same year. It later became a republic in November 1965 after the monarchy was overthrown and abolished by Captain Michel Micombero.
History of Post-independence Burundi has been turbulent with plenty of coups, civil wars, and genocides. It is a history with so much to learn and so much to wonder.
11. Burundi won a gold medal in 1996 for the first time in Olympic history. In doing so, it became the poorest country ever to win an Olympic gold medal.
Burundi, prior to 1996, had been unable to field athletes in the Olympics. It never even bothered to join the Olympics movement until then. However, through great personal effort and success of their athlete – Vénuste Niyongabo, Burundi sent a team to the Olympics.
Vénuste Niyongabo got a personal reward by winning an Olympic gold medal in the 5,000m race. This also became Burundi’s first and so far, the only Olympic gold ever won.
10. The country’s motto, “Ubumwe, Ibikorwa, Iterambere” means “Unity, Work, Progress” in Kirundi.
Burundi, being largely agrarian society, hard work is a natural phenomenon. However, unity and progress have largely been elusive. Though homogeneity of Kirundi amongst the various ethnic communities is one of the rare surprises in Africa, it has not translated into peace.
Persistent ethnic and class conflicts, civil wars and genocides have meant that progress remains elusive. This too has affected productivity thus rendering Burundi as one of the poorest countries in the world and at one time touted amongst the 17 most dangerous countries to live in.
9. Due to farming and overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion are becoming concerns for the population of Burundi.
Burundi is a densely populated country with one person hardly owning more than an acre piece of land. This population pressure coupled with poverty and underdevelopment has meant that wood remains the only affordable means of cooking fuel.
To make it worse, ancient pastoralist tradition of keeping large rather than healthy herds of cattle has meant that more forest has to be cleared to pave way for grazing ground.
8. A majority of the population of Burundi lives in villages that are scattered throughout the highlands.
Over 80% of Burundians live in rural areas. Burundi is largely poor and underdeveloped. Having one of the lowest literate rates in Africa and the world, this means that youths lack modern knowledge and skills required to diversify their livelihoods away from dependence on rural agriculture.
7. Protein and fat intake in the population of Burundi is very limited. As a result of it, a disease known as kwashiorkor is common.
Burundians rely largely on starchy cereals and tubers for their daily meal. Maize is the main staple food. Traditionally, the Hutu majority (comprising 80% of the population) are not adept at keeping livestock and thus are more dependent on plant-based sources of food. This means less protein available for their diet.
6. Beer, which is an important part of social interactions in Burundi, is drunk through straws.
Beer is an important traditional drink for social interactions in most traditional African setups. Traditional beer used to be drunk from one central pot by almost a dozen people using long straws. While most of Africa has left this tradition, Burundians still love using straws for their beer – both traditional and modern beer.
5. Upon the death of a cow, its meat is eaten and horns are planted in the soil near the house. People in Burundi believe that this brings them good luck.
Cows occupy a near-sacred place in the Burundian society. Its horns are considered sacred element. While in most other traditional African societies horns are used as musical instruments and sometimes as part of magicians’ paraphernalia, in Burundi, they are ‘planted’ instead.
To the Burundians, this is akin to ‘planting’ blessings. In some ways, it acts as thanksgiving for the delicious meat provided by the departed cow, but more so as blessings for more cows to come.
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4. Ninety percent of the population of Burundi is employed in agriculture.
Burundian economy is based on agriculture. Burundi lacks significant mineral wealth. It is also a landlocked country within the interior of Africa thus meaning that it lacks access to direct international trade routes.
With high illiteracy levels coupled with poor industrial skills and lack of capital, most Burundians resign themselves to their land as the primary source of their livelihood. Its primary agricultural export is Arabica Coffee. Other notable agricultural exports are tea, sugar, cotton, and hides.
3. Burundi is a country heavily affected by sex trafficking and forced child labor.
Due to civil wars, overpopulation and extreme poverty, thousands of Burundian girls are trafficked into prostitution in other East African countries, mainly DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. Some are trafficked as domestic slaves in the Middle East, mainly Oman and Qatar.
Boys too are not spared. Boys are trafficked into slave labor in Tanzania and DRC. There has been laxity in terms of government intervention. This is because of inadequate budget and the fact that some State officials, more so, security officers, are accomplices to this trade.
2. Burundi has been home to The Twa, Hutu and Tutsi peoples for at least five hundred years.
Burundi is one of the oldest nation-states in Africa. It is one of the few countries in Africa where colonialists neither created nor altered its boundaries. Both Twa and Hutus have coexisted in Burundi for over half a millennium.
Tutsis are considered later entrants though their arrival is estimated to have occurred more than 500 years ago. This is what has made them have a homogeneous national language despite different ethnicities.
1. Cattle are a symbol of health, happiness, and prosperity. A typical Kirundi greeting, “Amashyo,” translates as “May you have herds of cattle.”
Burundians revere cattle. They are the symbol of wealth. Traditionally, the more cows one owns the more wealthy the person is considered to be. Cows not only provide milk, meat, and hide but are also valuable when it comes to payment of dowry during the marriage. This means that boys from a family with plenty of cows have an upper hand in attracting the best brides in the community.
Burundi has a rich history as a nation-state dating over 500 years. There are many lessons to learn from Burundi. Some are pleasant and some not so pleasant. Yet, that’s what makes up humanity.
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