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Burundian Drums: Description and History


Description of drum

The Burundian drum is made from the tree trunk of a tree locally known as Imivugangoma , cordia-africana. The Burundian name means "trees that make drums speak". An adult ox's or cow's skin is stretched over this hollowed-out section of trunk and secured to the wood using wooden pegs. Usually, the drum is played with sticks called imirisho.

(Photo Heavenly Planet)

The term ingoma (drum) in Burundi has a very wide semantic field; it can refer to percussion drum, ritual drum, dynastic drum, power (royalty or otherwise), reign (or equivalent), government era, or a particular country (kingdom). During the monarchy period, noone in Burundi could manufacture a drum or have a drum manufactured without a formal order from the king, who alone held the privilege of owning the drums and having them played for him.

History of Burundi drums

The sacred drums

During the period of the monarchy kingdoms (XVI – XVII s) drums in Burundi were much more than simple musical instruments. As sacred objects, they were only played under exceptional circumstances and for ritual purposes including at the coronations and funerals of kings. The sacred drums were the myth of the country, symbols of the sovereignty of the king. They assured the protection of the country and kept rhythm with regular cycle of the seasons which ensured the prosperity of the livestock and maximum yield from the crops.
There were several Royal sacred drums and each had their own specific roles in the royal court customs.

a). Karyenda: This drum assured the security of the country and was always hidden in the royal court. During wars, the kingdom was not conquered if the enemy didn’t arrive to capture this drum. Hence whoever was in charge of watching it had to take a fidelity oath that he had rather die than hand it over or show it to anyone, including the biological prince, and especially the enemy of the country.

Karyenda was only brought from its sanctuary on very rare occasions particularly during the rites associated with umuganuro- celebration of the first fruits and of sowing the sorghum – which corresponded to the announcement of the beginning of agricultural season. At this important event, the king himself beat the drum three times on the eve of the ceremony giving a kick off to other drums. Karyenda also was used to announce the death of the king.

b). Rukinzo: Took part in the ceremony of the king going to bed and waking up and generally marking out the rhythm of the life of the court. Rukinzo also accompanied the king everywhere he went and was replaced with each change of reign.
c). Ruciteme: Assured the protection of livestock at the king's court.
d). Murimirwa: Assured the protection of the crops.
e). Nyabuhoro: Stayed at the royal court to assure the peace of the country.
f). Inajurwe and Inakigabiro: These drums assured the protection of the country against calamities of all natures. They were the foundation of the nation.

Since the end of the monarchy, the sacred drums have been kept at a historical place in Burundi, but no one knows what became of Karyenda.

Simple drums

There were other drums that were reserved for games and dances solely at important events of the nation and even then it had to be in the presence of the king. Noone else could authorize the performance of drums.

Nowadays, the drum remains an instrument that is both revered and popularly reserved for national celebrations and for distinguished guests.

The drum sanctuaries

A tight network of high places formed the political, religious and mythical framework of pre-colonial Burundi. Among these high places we can include the drum sanctuaries. These were properties owned by mainly Hutu lineages and they alone, with the king's consent, held the privilege of manufacturing, playing and keeping drums. These clans were also responsible for bringing drums to the court on the occasion of the ritual of the umuganuro. A sacred drum was enthroned in each sanctuary, surrounded by its attendants, the ingendanyi (companions) drums, and a set of drums that played for them.

Examples of sanctuaries:

Gishora hill, not far from Gitega: sacred drums kept there: ruciteme (for whom one clears brush) and murimirwa (for whom one ploughs); maintenance of sacred python in a nearby corpse. Lineage of Abanyakisaka drummers attended drums at these sanctuary.
Higiro hill, also not far from Gitega: the sacred inakigabiro (lady of the land) drum. Lineage of the Abashaka drummers;
Magamba hill: the lineage of the Abazimbura of this sanctuary was responsible for renewing the rukinzo drum with each change of reign.

Music of the Drum

Burundi drummers are representatives of Burundi folklore. This ritual dance surprises and fascinates because it’s unique in the world to impose (the cadence of the dancer) drummers to follow the movement of the dancer.
The drummers use two sticks of 30 to 40 centimeters, known as imirisho, to beat the drum.

Drums are placed on half circle of 12 to 25 following an ascendant order. One drum called Inkiranya, is placed at the middle, and is reserved to the leader of the dance. Drums are divided in two parts based on their rhythms. The first part of drums called Amashako provides a continuous beat and their drummers are known as Abakokezi. The second part of drums called Ibishikizo follows the movement imposed by the dancer and the drummers are called Abavuzamurisho. The latter observe the movement of the dancer, because the change of the rhythm is indicated by his/her gestures.
The drummers take turns playing the inkiranya, dancing, resting and playing the other drums, rotating throughout the show without interruptions. At the start of the performance, the drummers enter balancing the heavy drums on their heads and singing and playing. There are some extra members who carry ornamental spears and shields and lead the procession with their dance. The dancers perform a series of rhythms, some accompanied by a song.
The play of drummers is relevant to sound and gesture rhythm that fascinate generations with mixture of spectacular gravity and admirable fantasies. The music expresses the popular and vital joy.

Source :Olevi Art & Culture LLC