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Burundi - Religion

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.8 million (July 2013 estimate). Although reliable statistics are not available, religious leaders estimate approximately 60 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, while 20 percent belongs to indigenous religious groups and 15 percent to Protestant groups.

Muslims constitute 2 to 5 percent of the population, and live mainly in urban areas. Most Muslims are Sunni, although some are Shia. Overall Burundi's Muslim population is of the more tolerant variety. Many of Burundi's Muslims originate from either India or Pakistan and are active within their ethnic communities, which also include many Christians.

Adherence to dogma, either traditional or Christian, is flexible. Christianity, as a pure form, is rare except near mission centers. In rural areas, especially, converts generally retain traditional beliefs simultaneously with their adopted religious faith.

The traditional belief states that all men and animals possess the same principal life force, igitshutshu, which is projected into physical existence. This invisible soul, which an animal carries disappears when the creature dies, but in humans it is transformed into a spirit of the dead. It eventually eliminates the personal identity of the human and becomes an energy force in the spiritual world. Rituals and mediators allay impending disaster from malevolent spirits. Imana is the most powerful force, but is least concerned with worldy ativities.

Catholic missionaries have been active since the late 19th century. Certain similarities between tribal religion and Christianity account for much of the success of the missionaries. In addition to proselytizing, the Church has been instrumental in establishing educational, medical, and social work facilities and in contributing to the development of a native elite and leadership class.

Imana is the core of traditional religion. He and a group of nondivinatory spirit are accorded specific functions in the invisible world. Although many spirits are of local origin, the belief in Imana as the eternal, supreme source of all good is universal in Burundi. Imana's names indicate the roles he performs in relationship to man. Reverential titles include: Rurema, the creator; Rugaba, the giver; Ruklaza, the healer; Sebibondo, he of little children; Itanga or Itang'ikunda, he who gives with love; Niyonzima, the living one; and Rugir, always active.

The saying "Imana Y'i Burundi" (Burundi is Imana's country) indicates the nation's strong dependence on the supreme being. The people's fatalistic attitude and total resignation to his will are illustrated in the statement "We have done our best, it is up to him." The name is used in proverbs, in naming children, and as words of comfort, warnings against complacency, blessings, saluations, and during rites associated with marriage and death. Oaths take the form of "May Imana give me a stroke," or "May I be killed by Imana." In another instance, when a long-desired child is born, people say to the new mother, "Imana has removed your shame."

There are no formalized public cults, sacrifices, idols, or priests dedicated to Imana, but individuals perform informal ceremonies imploring his blessing. There is a tradition that, before retiring, a woman may leave a pitcher of water for Imana, with the hope that he will make her fertile. At times the word "imana" is used in flattering the spirit, which is somewhat contradictory to the belief that people cannot alter the will of Imana, regardless of the amount of sacrifice offered to him.

Creation myths and legends concerning Imana's relationship to msni do not exist, but stories describing' Imana's travels through the country are told. There is also a tale that speaks of Imana's assuming a visible form in order to chase death. Some animals, such as the white rooster, lamb, or water wagtail (a bird), are thought to be associated with Imana and the harbingers of good luck.

The word "imana" also indicates the intangible life force of all things, organic and inorganic. Ihuman beings, plants, stones, fire, and rivers all have iniana, a soul which becomes apparent when, for example, a fire dies, then suddenly bursts into flame without being kindled.

The departed ancestors form a group of malicious spirits called ubuzima, mizimu, imizimu, or abasimu. They bring misfortune, sickness, crop failure, and cattle epidemics because they envy the living the cherished things they had to leave behind. Their power, actuated by the male spirits or grandfathers, extends only over their own clan. The living members of a family must consult a diviner to discover the reason for the ancestors' anger. Respect is shown principally by joining a secret cult group. Hutu placate the hostile ancestral spirits more frequently than the Tsutsi, who have adopted an attitude of reverence without fear or subservience.

The nature spirits, bisigo and bikange, once-human forms now disembodied, inhabit the incorporeal world. Although they keep to themselves in desolate places, they will capture and punish intruders for disturbing their territory. The bihuiae, souls of men who died a violent death, wander around seeking humans to harass. Many people wear charms for protection against their evils.

Medical practitioners known as a abafumu (singular, unmufumu) possess powers to ward off misfortunes and disease caused by the supernatural powers of malevolent spirits. The insignia of office - a leopard skin, a headdress made from a cowtail, and a gourd rattle - and the various curing techniques are passed from father to son or are earned by apprenticeship to a practicing unmufumu. As respected members of the society, the abafumu are paid a fee and may become wealthy and politically powerful. Although this practice is changing, traditional techniques are still preferred, because of the belief in the spiritual cause of illness.

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Page last modified: 30-05-2015 21:11:27 ZULU