Burundi Drum Dance: Recalling the culture

Cultural art forms always represent a society. Its uniqueness, values, morals and ethics will be conveyed through these art forms. Inside a nation there will be particular art form for different societies. For every society, their art forms will bring pride and joy more than entertainment. Let’s have a look at a cultural dance form which is unique in its own way.

Have you heard about Burundi drums?? Burundi is in Africa. Burundi drums is a ritual dance of the royal drum, it’s a spectacle combining powerful, synchronized drumming with dancing, heroic poetry and traditional songs.

Burundi drums have been recognized by UNESCO as intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The entire population of Burundi recognizes it as a fundamental part of its heritage and identity.

At least a dozen or more

drums are used in the dance. The number of drums arranged in a semi-circle around a central drum. Several are beaten in a continuous rhythm, while others keep to the beat set by the central drum. Two or three drummers then perform dances to the rhythm.

Burundi drums have a heart beat rhythm and sound by vibration. They are made in a special wood and covered by a cow skin specially treated to resist to the wood steak hits.

The drums are a potent symbol of a feudal kingdom at peace and united.  When Burundi gained independence from Belgium in 1962, the karyenda was the symbol on the national flag and its coat of arms from 1962-1966. It was replaced after the republic was established. Traditionally the most important folk songs and dances were performed to extol the virtues of the kingship. 

One big festival was the annual umuganuro (sorghum festival), which was a huge display of pomp, festivities, and dances for the royal court.

“This drum symbolized the stability of the kingdom” said Father AdrienNtabona, a Catholic abbot and anthropologist.

In Burundi, for centuries, the monarch’s rule and the people’s harvest have been accompanied by the thunderous and celebratory procession of the country’s drummers and dancers.

In ancient Burundi, the beat of these drums proclaimed the major events of the country – enthronements and funerals of rulers. The drums would signal the beginning of the agricultural year and the sowing of the Soghum seeds that go to make Soghum beer.

The relationship in Burundi between drum and nature is so strong that various parts of the drum are named after the concept of fertility.

The drums have lost none of their revered significance over the centuries. An ancient network of drum sanctuaries still exists in Burundi where the drums have been stored over the years until such time as they are brought out to be played. These sanctuaries are in places of importance, such as royal residences ruled over by a queen, sacred groves or in forests marking the tombs of kings and princes, known as ingoro y’ ingoma (the palace of the drums).  These sanctuaries  were the specific domains of family lineages who alone had the privilege of making, beating and keeping the drums as a sacred calling, and had the task of bringing a certain number of drums to each  Soughum feast. In the sanctuaries the main drum (the Inkiranya) is laud on a trestle of branches. 

Women drummers in Burundi ? Indeed a novelty and a shock to some, that is revolutionising the art in the Central African country.


The drums, despite all upheavals, have remained popular and are still revered. The old families who were wardens of the drums have tried to keep the ancient traditions alive. Some have an international outreach, such as the Royal Drummers of Burundi, or L. Ndoricimpa and C. Guillet, who recorded Les tambours du Burundi (The Drums of Burundi) in 1983.

The Ngoma drums that the drummers of Burundi plays are hollowed out from trunk of a particular tree called D’umuvugangoma (Corda Africana) meaning the ‘tree that makes the drums speak’..

At the beginning of the twentieth century these trees were already becoming rare and the men of the tribe had to travel far to find them. Each year they went in search of a tree from which four or five drums could be made. The chosen tree was marked and the feeling of it proceeded by a ceremony with the drummers circling the tree beating the drums borne on their heads. The chief then sprayed the tree with a compound of herbs in order to chase away the python that was said to live 

in its foliage. 

The trees would then be felled with an axe, measured and cut up. The individual parts are hollowed out and the insides and outsides polished. The bottom of the drum is shaped with an implement called an ‘Imbazo’ and a band is marked with a hot iron around the base as usually the only decoration.

The skin, which is made from dried and stretched cow hide, which is pegged around the open end of the cylinder and to its maximum.

Now the drums are commercialized, and people see the drummers as those who entertain them. Today at parties people pay to have a drum. Still the ancient ways of playing and dancing handed down from generation to generation.

Every cultural art form has become a part of entertainment. Until a cultural occasion arrives nobody even remembers their traditional art forms. But we all have to keep in mind that these art forms have a lot to say. A lot about our origin and existence!!!



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