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The Structure of the Burundian Family feat. Keke

Before I hand over to Keke, let me tell you a little more about the creation of THE SOCIAL COFFEE BLOG: Every week, Keke and I talk on the phone. We update each other on what is happening in our lives and discuss current subjects for the blog. After a while, I realized that every week, Keke asks me how my family is doing. Week by week, I learned about Keke's family - and Keke and I started to speak about how families are structured in Burundi and what role family plays in Keke's culture. Here is what Keke said:

The importance of family in Burundi

"Indeed, people in Burundi attach great importance to the family and they believe that it is characterized by moral and religious values. If a single family member is in trouble, this affects the whole family. Solidarity in the Burundian family consists of attachment to the other both in happiness and in misfortune.
The presence on the wedding day of a family member is almost mandatory and so is the presence at the time of death, especially on the day of the mourning. At this time, we go beyond our own problems to be among the others
Social practices are common to Burundians and transcend ethnic, clan, or regional distinctions. Of course, we can identify different lifestyles and habits between, for example, the townspeople (especially the people of Bujumbura) and the rest of the hill country, but that aside, we note a great homogeneity of Burundian customs. The nuclear and extended family constitute the framework of the social construction of any individual. The neighborhood is also essential in daily life."

Keke is sitting infront of a larg tree on a bench.
Keke outside the museum in Bujumbura

Keke then outlined various facets of life that impact the structure of the Burundian family:

Childbirth is of social importance

"The birth of a child is an event which is celebrated collectively, with visits, presents and exchanges of good words. Izina, the ceremony of giving the child a name, is important."

Education at home

"The education of the children is left to the women, but the children are also in close contact with grandparents, fathers and neighbors every day. They are given a wide range of knowledge and discoveries during their first years."

Public and private education

"In its current form, the public or private education system is a legacy of the Belgian colonial period during which Catholic missionaries had the upper hand over school and educational structures. This story has left traces. For example, all students wear uniforms. Also, homework and exams are rather difficult. Also, there are faith-based institutions for the education of children.
During the war, private schools flourished to compensate for the deficiencies of the public system. Located in the cities, they are mainly frequented by children from wealthy families. They start at and then continue to primary and secondary school. They follow the Burundian programs, except the international school and the Belgian and French schools which adopt the teachings and diplomas of European schools.
Several private universities, created in the years 1990-2000, coexist with the public university (UB). They are, for exammple, in Bujumbura or in Kiremba."

Children sitting at desks in a dark classroom with brick walls
Classroom in Burundi

People cooking on the ground, pouring water and making food.
Parents preparing schools meals

Marriage and social norms

"Marriage is an institution that has evolved with evangelization, urban modernization and living conditions during the war. The age of marriage lies betwenn 23 and 25. The ability of the suitor's party to pay a dowry and to build a home for the future couple is an important aspect within society. In rural areas, the dowry may include one or more cows. But it can also consist of utilitarian objects or jugs of beer. The preparation of the ceremony lasts for weeks and involves families, friends and neighbors who form an organizing committee. Marriage indeed unites two individuals and their families, but the commitment is also social and to the local community. The passage before the civil registry office is less important than religious ceremonies and social celebrations."

Five women in traditional Burundian wedding gowns stand holding flowers
Traditional wedding in Burundi


"Death is a socially shared family event. Mourning normally involves a period of one week during which the family receives visits and must not leave the home, sweep it or wash. Then, two mourning risings follow one another. The so-called guca amazi, going to the water, marks the return to the active life of the family. The final lifting of mourning (kuga nduka, removing mourning) takes place one year after the beloved person died. This is an important ceremony with occasional speeches that are mainly used to settle questions like the division of land and property."

The role of women in society

"The war had contradictory effects on the status of women. Increasing responsibilities have weighed on women with the multiplication of single-parent households (widowhood), the number of orphans, or the need to compensate for economic deficiencies due to the absence of husbands.
Once married, women are respected as providers of life, that is to say when they give birth. They become mamas, and the birth of their first child makes them access a higher degree of social recognition. They educate children and help them grow up."

Woman standing in colourful robes
Burundian women at a coffee finca

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