Royal Drummers Burundi. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that excited about to be traveling to Burundi. Fellow travelers have shared with me their stories of corruption and difficulties with the police. And finally, my research did not result in any must-see landmarks in Burundi. There is no equivalent of gorilla trekking, Grand Mosque, or Table Mountain in Burundi. But, when you are on a quest to travel to every country in the world, your hands are a bit tied. I was going to Burundi. It was going to be my 134th country.
Burundi is a small East African nation of approximately 8 million people that is landlocked. It is squeezed in between Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania. The former capital and city of commerce Bujumbura contains about 10% of the nation’s population. Unbeknownst to me, I had learned after my trip, that Burundi had moved its capital to Gitega from Bujumbura just weeks before my arrival. I guess this was not big international news.
My guide Hypolite met me at the airport and settled me into my hotel on the lake. I planned to spend three nights in Bujumbura with a day-long road trip outside of Bujumbura. I noted on my itinerary “drum performance” in Gitega.
We hit the road, with some of the roads not being that good and with many others being narrow and twisting around mountains. Many bikes overloaded with bananas either labored up the hills or whizzed down them. On the itinerary was the source of the Nile, a visit to a waterfall, and the palace of the former king. And then ending with the drum performance.
After visiting the king’s palace, a fenced in area of several circular straw structures, I was led over to an open-air area on a hill. The drum performance was about to begin. Not surprised, but I noted I was the only foreigner here, no other tourists. A hundred or so villagers joined me in the drum sanctuary and sadly many were dressed in rags. This was a command performance for one.
And with the pounding of the drums, the Royal Drummers of Burundi entered the sanctuary. And it was quite an entrance, large drums were balanced on their heads, as they paraded in. The performers then created a semi-circle. The men were dressed in the colors of the Burundi flag, vibrant reds, greens and whites.
The drummers are entwined in the history and culture of Burundi since the 16th century The performances are used to mark ceremonies such as births, funerals, and when the king was coronated. These performances have taken place for centuries, and the traditions are passed down from father to son.
For the next hour, I was wowed and hypnotized as twenty plus drummers pounded on their drums creating melodies from their rhythms. Their enthusiasm was contagious as I wanted to join but did not want to embarrass myself. The performers took turns in the center of the semi-circle. The men in the center exhibited their athleticism jumping and hopping up in the air, sometimes apparently not constrained by gravity.
Unfortunately, the performance came to end. The drums magically were hoisted and balanced on their heads. The performers skipped while pounding on the drums in unison as they left me wanting for more.
The performances take place in Gitega which is a couple hour drive from Bujumbura. I arranged this performance through my guide. The cost is a criminally low $55.
Often, people ask me why I travel. And this visit to the drum sanctuary epitomizes my love or obsession of travel. It is the magic, the surprise, the unknown, the unique. This is why I travel.
Royal Drummers Burundi.
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