lyrikline blog

Poetry from Burundi

Posted in Adams Sinarinzi, Autoren / poets, country portrait, Länderporträt, our network partners by Heiko Strunk on 20. April 2016

By Adams Sinarinzi of Ubuntu Advocates Initiative, the Lyrikline partner organisation in Burundi

Presenting poetry from Burundi is not an easy task. T.S. Eliot seemed to think true poetry is hardly translated, and one needs to truly sense where those words are from. Until the emergence of the modern, there was no need of presentingpoetry, for poetry was part of life.

….do you feel her drive?
Look at his eyes,
Do you read his verse? 

But the unity of life, some will say, was lost with the last myth and cosmic societies, that Burundi belonged to until a century ago. Dissolved by the increasing requirements of the modern world, several separate and independent spheres were born. One of them, the arts and culture, has grown (often unwillingly) to acquire the function of precisely representing the lost unity.

Beyond their powers to express the various contradictions and sensitivities, the world literature offers us symbolic levers for an understanding and appropriation of our lives. The young contemporary Burundian literature is best understood in this context, which is of an attempt to understand its environment and express its sensibility to the world.

In his academic book La Littérature de langue française au Burundi, [2] Professor J. Ngorwanubusa of the University of Burundi regrets however the few avenues for the literature of Burundi. There is barely any publishing house; a few reviews had been existing in the 1960s and 1970s but never survived except a few Christian reviews run by a few members of the Burundi Catholic Church.


But the interested literary person won’t miss the corners behind the central market where the old (often stolen!) books are sold, the oldest book storeLibrairie St Paul, or the French cultural center (whose interesting café hosts the unfortunately more and more penniless intellectuals in the city!) and of course the newly opened Lire Africa in Gallerie Alexander, specializing in fiction from Africa. A blog by the poet Thierry Manirambona (“la plume burundaise”) lists an impressive archeology of Burundian books old and new, and a few poets do publish their poetry  directly on the internet as the acclaimed Ketty Nivyabandi.

Poetry in print might be hard to find in the country, but if you are insisting you will discover the underground intellectual and literary scene of the marvelous Café literaire Samandari that meets every Thursday evening at the Burundi Palace right in the middle of the city center. But one should say they met there, for since a year now these meetings are no longer held.

A poetry scene is growing despite the torrents of bad politics that led to unrest in Burundi after the terrible political crisis in 2015 that leaves little room for free speech in the country today. With many journalists and writers now in exile, the little literary scene might seem frightened, endangered. But thinking that would be wrong.


Despite non-conducive environments, artists are launching fearless theater festivals, writing workshops and new writers’ collectives are emerging. There is an unprecedented new wave in the country that has been fermenting and  is starting to emerge. And these are largely young people that have grown with no prejudice of the past and have a strong desire to reclaim their long awaited dignity. They swear to unlock the future, reads their poetry.

I have a brilliant friend
He has a thousand men theory
Men in our thousand hills
Plotting for our people to have a voice [3]

In the meantime, wishing the best to our fellow poets, we are honored to share with a greater public the poetry now produced in Burundi. A poetry written in the present tense, one at the heart beat of a country.

Small country profile

Burundi is a country in central Africa, bordering Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following the dynasties of Abega (Law men)and Abaganwa (ruling kings), Burundi was a protectorate of Germany and later a mandate territory of Belgium until its independence in 1962.

The range of its formal literature spans from the traditionalist literature transcribed during the 19th century celebrating the cow, proverbs that reflect the Burundian rural culture, to the most contemporary political works that were born at the end of the colonial period under the various regimes and civil war that unfortunately bloodied the independent Burundi.

These literatures, if available in books, are mostly in French. The editorial infrastructure in the country is dire. Very few new volumes appear every year due to the low economic means available. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world today.


[1] From:  Adams Sinarinzi. These are no prayers. My countrymen in the streets (Burundi)

[2] Juvenal Ngorwanubusa, (2013). Littérature de langue française au Burundi. Les Archives et Musée de la Littérature (Belgique).

[3] From: Adams Sinarinzi. Numbers ou journal d’un poème perdu. A young poet’s poem (Burundi)


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