By Jheri St. James
The earliest inhabitants of the
area were Pygmy peoples, followed by Bantu tribes; then came
colonization by Germany, then Belgium, later a U.N. Trust
Territory. Until the downfall of the monarchy of Rushatsi
in 1966, kingship remained one of the last links that bound
Burundi with its past. From independence in 1962 until the
elections of 1993, Burundi was controlled by a series of military
dictators, all from the Tutsi minority. These years saw extensive
ethnic violence including major incidents in 1964 and the
late 1980’s, and the Burundian genocide in 1972. In
1993, Burundi held its first democratic elections, but a few
months later, Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated, which resulted
in a vicious civil war between the Tutsi and Hutu peoples.
Hundreds of thousands of Hutus were massacred by Tutsi-dominated
armies. After years of such instability, another in a series
of cease-fires was signed in 2006. Since independence, Burundi
has known these kinds of cycles of violence, assassinations,
and coups d'etat. Political extremism latched onto ethnicity,
creating fear, mistrust, and panic among the population, shattering
ethnic harmony and coexistence.
are unpleasant sensations of irregular and/or forceful beating
of the heart. In some patients with palpitations, no heart
disease or abnormal heart rhythms can be found. Reasons for
their palpitations are unknown. In others, palpitations result
from abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Arrhythmias refer
to heartbeats that are too slow, too rapid, irregular, or
too early. Rapid arrhythmias (greater than 100 beats per minute)
are called tachycardias. Slow arrhythmias (slower than 60
beats per minute) are called bradycardias. Irregular heart
rhythms are called fibrillations (as in atrial fibrillation).
When a single heartbeat occurs earlier than normal, it is
called a premature contraction. Abnormalities in the atria,
the ventricles, the SA node, and the AV node of the heart
can lead to arrhythmias.)
* * *
“The goal of life is to make
your heartbeat match
the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
* * *
But not everyone succumbed to the madness. Burundi's heroes
are ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Studio Ijambo,
a radio studio set up by USAID-funded Search for Common Ground,
has produced a weekly program called Pillars of Humanity since
1999. This program has highlighted the stories of Burundians
who, during moments of extreme crisis and ethnic violence,
risked their own lives to save people of a different ethnic
new generation of Burundians celebrate their elders
who forged new ground so their children could live in
peace. Photo Credit: Stephane Mora/Search for Common
2003, Studio Ijambo decided to invite all those Burundians
who had featured in their radio programs to participate in
a “Heroes Summit.” The Summit gave a voice to
these heroes by facilitating a forum for sharing and discussing
their experiences as well as their collective vision of the
future. The events were broadcast live on radio. One of the
Summit activities was a “Playback” Theatre, in
which stories of individual bravery were retold by actors.
A Hutu woman told about hiding her Tutsi neighbors in her
field under branches to keep them from Hutu militia. After
the militia left the area, she had her younger brother escort
their neighbors to the safety of a Tutsi army outpost. Along
the way they met with an angry Tutsi mob, who overpowered
them and killed her brother because he was a Hutu. Since then
the woman has been ostracized as a traitor by her family.
After seeing the playback troupe retell her story, the woman
said through tears that she has believed in her heart that
she did the right thing. Now that she has been recognized
as a hero, she hopes that her family will come to believe
some emotions don’t make a lot of noise.
hard to hear pride. Caring is real faint—like a hearbeat.
And pure love—why, some days it’s so quiet, you
don’t even know it’s there.
Many heroes whose stories were shared in the Playback theatre
found the experience to be cathartic, as they too had been
ostracized by family and neighbors and experienced tremendous
guilt despite their bravery. Over the course of the three-day
summit, hundreds of such stories were shared, giving voice
to these heroes by facilitating a forum for sharing and discussing
their past experiences, as well as their collective vision
for the future. The forum recognized and reinforced the potential
leadership role of these Burundians. The summit encouraged
the sharing of experiences between the Burundian heroes and
those from Rwanda, Congo, Nigeria, and other exemplary peacemakers
and leaders. It promoted discussion, debate, and recommendations
for strategies around peace and reconciliation. Studio Ijambo
Deputy Director Adrien Sindayigaya offered this view: “There
is an inspiring face of Burundi that has been hidden from
the world. The Summit has been a celebration of humanity.”
Eugene Buhinta, a 23-year-old student from Bujumbura, reflected
that “We the young, we will live on now having seen
these examples of such courageous people and that can give
us hope for a better future.”
“There is nothing better than
adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains
its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance
the next time.” – Malcolm X
* * *
is a landlocked country with an equatorial climate. Called
“the heart of Africa”, it lies on a rolling
plateau with Lake Tanganyika in its southwest corner and
is located in Central Africa, east of Democratic Republic
of the Congo. It is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland
in the U.S. Geographically isolated, facing population pressures
and having sparse resources, Burundi is one of the poorest
and most conflict-ridden countries in Africa and in the
world. Its small size belies the magnitude of the problems
it faces in reconciling the claims of the Tutsi minority
with the Hutu majority.
The birth rate
is 42.22 births/1,000 population; infant mortality rate
is 63.13 deaths/1,000 live births; life expectancy at birth
is 50.81 years. Estimates for this country explicitly take
into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS;
this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant
mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates,
and changes in the distribution of population by age and
sex than would otherwise be expected.
not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't
face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it. –
life in Burundi is much like that of neighboring countries
and its prominence has been limited by the civil war, but
the Master Drummers of Burundi are the most famous internationally
famous performing group from the nation, and football (soccer)
is the most popular sport.
Royal Drummers of Burundi have performed in the same way
for centuries, passing down traditions and techniques from
father to son. The members of the ensemble take turns playing
the Inkiranya, dancing, resting, and playing the other drums,
rotating throughout the show without interruptions. At the
start of their performance, the drummers enter balancing
the heavy drums on their heads and singing and playing.
There are some extra members two carry ornamental spears
and shields and lead the procession with their dance. Their
performances were traditionally a part of particular ceremonies,
such as births, funerals and the enthronement of Kings.
In Burundi, drums are sacred and represent, along with the
king, the powers of fertility and regeneration. The origins
of their performance are shrouded in ancient legend and
like to think that when I sing a song, I can let you
know all about the heartbreak, struggle, lies and
kicks in the ass I've gotten over the years for being
black and everything else, without actually saying
a word about it.” – Ray Charles
* * *
normal resting adult heart beats regularly at an average
rate of 60 times per minute. How fast the heart beats (heart
rate) is governed by the speed of electrical signals originating
from the pacemaker of the heart, the SA node. The electrical
signals from the SA node travel across the atria and cause
these two upper heart chambers to contract, delivering blood
into the lower heart chambers, the ventricles. These electrical
signals then pass through the AV node to reach the ventricles.
Electrical signals reaching the ventricles cause these chambers
to contract, pumping blood to the rest of the body, generating
the pulse. During rest, the speed of electrical signals
originating from the SA node is slow, thus the heart beats
slowly. During exercise or excitement, the speed of signals
from the SA node increases, and heartbeat quickens.)
July 20, 2006, we received a letter from Patricia N. Moller,
Ambassador from Bujumbura, Burundi, thanking us for our
letter of June 15. “On behalf of the US Embassy in
Bujumbura, I would be delighted to contribute to this innovative
art project. Our Embassy’s Facilities Maintenance
Assistant, Mr. Pascal Jumatano, has accessed your website
and will send you a sample of Burundian soil as soon as
we receive dthe appropriate packaging materials. I am happy
to assist you and wish you good luck in carrying out this
later email: “Mr. Pascal Jumatano and I took a soil
sample for you today (7/24/06) from a location called ‘Livingstone
Rock’ about 10 miles outside of Bujumbura, Burundi.
We are sending the sample back to you by DHL right now.
In the package we included some historical information about
Livingstone Rock. On behalf of our Ambassador, Patricia
Moller, and the entire US diplomatic mission in Burundi,
I wish you good luck in your art project. Sincerely yours,
Matthew Blong, General Services Officer, US Embassy Bujumbura.”
wrote back: “Thanks to the both of you for participating
in the art project. At a time with so much conflict in the
world, it is comforting to meet such good people willing
to help in my effort” on 7/25/06.
it took a month of tracking the little box of soil from
there to its final destination in Hawthorne, California.
Apparently the paperwork was bad or missing, then the carton
got lost, and many more communications passed between Gary
and DHL: “We are still searching for 7709767354. There
was a package believed to be from Mexico that Rina is checking
into. Look on the bright side, each time we’ve misplaced
a package or delivered it late . . . We are helping you
save some money on your project (smiley face). I can find
a silver lining somewhere!!! I’m not making light
of this, I’m just playing back with you (smiley face).
I’m sure you can appreciate that (smiley face). I’m
still waiting for more info too. Anita J. Holquin, Telesales
representative, DHL Express, Tempe, AZ.” Dated August
on August 23, Anita wrote: “Good morning, Gary. That
would be a “YES” that you are still waiting
for 7709767354. (frowny face). I was hoping that this package
magically appeared since the last time we talked (smiley
face). I am still searching for it. You are a lot of fun
to work with, even in the face of these bumps and bruises.
To quote Joi Ito (with modifications): ‘This email
reflects my thoughts and opinions. It does not reflect the
thoughts or opinions of my employer, my husband, my kids,
my dogs, my cat, my mouse, my bird, my car, or my computer.’
Hope you’re having a great day so far!!! Anita J.
August 29, over a month after shipment, the tiny little
container of precious Burundi soil arrived, Gary having
paced the floor at nights, spent much time on the telephone
and computer, tracking his latest little baby.
is the process at Common Ground 191; and Gary endures it
every single time with every single package of dirt that
comes from every single country. Surely some are more easy
than others, but this one was nerve-wracking.
the way, big thanks to our team of soil collectors from
The Site: In a vague way, everyone
knows that M. Stanley found David Livingstone in the African
jungles and greeted him with the famous remark, “Dr.
Livingstone, I presume?” Livingstone was already a
famous explorer when he set out in 1866 to find the source
of the Nile river, a question that had agitated the scientific
community in England and elsewhere for many years. He had
not been heard from for several years, and his absence had
become a matter of international concern. In 1869, the New
York Herald sent journalist and explorer Henry M. Stanley
to search for him. He finally found him in November 1871
in a small southeast African town. He greeted Livingstone
with the famous words. “Yes,” replied the pale,
weary, grey-haired missionary. “I thank my God I am
permitted to see you,” said Stanley, and to this came
the reply, “I feel thankful that I am here to welcome
It was a glad day for Livingstone. Letters
and supplies were abundant and appreciated. He forgot his
ailments and became overjoyed in this Good Samaritan act.
Together the men spent four months exploring Lake Tanganyika.
Stanley became a hero worshipper of his companion. Once
he wrote, “I challenge any to find a fault in his
character . . . The secret is that his religion is a constant,
earnest and sincere practice.”
places claim to be the meeting point between Livingstone
and Stanley. It appears to be Ujiji (situated on the eastern
shores of Lake Tanganyika, about 10 kms at the south of
Kigoma in Tanzania, an Arabic settlement during the slave
trade, the terminus for the old caravan route from thecoast.
Ujiji has also a historical significance for explorers.
It is a place where Burton and Speke first reached the shore
of Lake Tanganyika in 1858, and the palce where Dr. Livingstone
met Stanley in 1871. A monument known as Dr. Livingstone
memorial has been constructed to commemorate the meeting.
other is Mugere (11/25/1871) at 10 kms from Bujumbura (Burundi)
would have been also the place where Dr. Livingstone encountered
Stanley. The two men walked alongside all the bumumbura
coast to the rusizi Delta, stopping near the actual site
of Nyanza, Rumonge, Rsha, Mugano, Magara, Kubezi and on
the right bank of the Mugere mouthpiece (in front of the
place where La Pierre de Livingstone had been erected).
The photo is taken from the Tanganyika Times, a newsletter
of the American Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi 9/21/05 with
another group of visitors.
Bujumbura has a choice location, sprawling up the mountainside
on the northeastern tip of Lake Tanganyika, overlooking
the vast wall of mountains in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo across the waters. Swaying palms fringe the lakeshore,
giving it something of a coastal feel. The Burundian capital
is a mixture of grandiose colonial construction - with wide
boulevards and imposing public buildings - and the sort
of dusty, anonymous suburbs found in many African cities.
Buj, as many foreign citizens refer to it, is also one of
the most important ports on Lake Tanganyika.
* * *
is the heart of the story of Burundi? As the organic human
heart has many parts, so the Burundi story has many parts—the
good hearts of the heroic, everyday collectors, the almost
inverted heart-shape of the Livingstone Rock, the heartbeat
of the Royal Drummers of Burundi, calling out across the
earth that Burundi lives, that the “Heart of Africa”
is beating with electricity, optimism and hope in spite
of its challenges. No arrhythmias here! Common Ground 191
shares this positive idealism and hopes to memorialize it
in the final 196 ft. fresco, which will include the soil
of the heart of Burundi.