Disclaimer: This post, or at least a “cleaner” version of it (and under a different title), was published on “Voices of Africa”. Check it out here.
The clouds are drying out, temperatures are rising, the mud is turning into dust, the air becoming more humid and mosquitoes have multiplied… the dry season is here. Students all over the country are preparing their finals; Burundians all over the World are shopping and getting ready to come home for the holidays… It’s that time of year! The time for Imanza!
Imanza is the plural of Urubanza, which can refer to a function or a ceremony such as a a wedding, a death related ceremony like Guca ku Mazi and Kuganduka, a house warming… and for the sake of this post, a graduation party, a birthday party, a house party, a barbecue… any kind of celebration really, good or bad.
This season, I already know of at least seven Imanza I’m potentially invited to or in which I’m likely to have some kind of responsibility. We don’t have wedding planners here, or planners of anything really… when a person has Urubanza they call on their relatives and closest friends to help with the planning and organisation… and to contribute; which for some is the most interesting or frustrating part, depending on where they’re standing.
Traditionally, when somebody invites you to Urubanza, you go to your fields, chop your best bananas or sorghum and make some banana or sorghum wine that you would offer to the host on their big day – kind of like bringing your own drinks. In some circumstances, other goods or services may be offered, such as assistance in the fields to a family in mourning the death of a loved one – they aren’t allowed to do any work for at least a week after the burial, a period which is concluded with Guca ku Mazi.
When you don’t happen to grow bananas or sorghum in your backyard, you give money; and we’ll say that you brought your Umubindi (pot of wine) in an envelope. Yes, Burundians are masters of poetry!
Invitations are almost seen as ‘requests to contribute’. The size of a contribution usually depends on the contributor’s income and their relationship to the host; although a person of my position wouldn’t be expected to contribute anything less than BIF 10,000 (about 7 USD) per Urubanza; though contributions may go up to the hundreds of thousands of francs, especially when there’s a close relationship with Nyene Urubanza (the host). Contributions may be paid before the actual event, though in certain ceremonies like Guca ku Mazi and Kuganduka, envelopes are circulated around for the guests to put their contributions in.
When you don’t contribute you’re seen as antisocial. In fact, it may happen that a person will not go to Urubanza but still send their “envelop” anyway. That’s how much we value our social status! And that’s why it’s important to clearly write your name on your envelope so that when Nyene Urubanza dresses up a list of who contributed and how much, they’ll speak well of you to their entourage and eventually reciprocate in the future. When you don’t have money to give (for instance, you’re not employed) you can offer your “hands” i.e. running errands, decoration, helping in the service, etc. There’s even a name for it in Kirundi: Guca umukozi. This is how we roll.
Nobody usually complains about contributing when circumstances are sad. In fact, everybody tries to help in some way or the other. But when it comes to happy events, there are quite a few free-riders who’ll schedule Urubanza without any funds, expecting to pay it off with the eventual contributions… like this one guy who wants Kuganduka on his parents killed during the war… in 1993! Let me explain…
So traditionally Kuganduka is a ceremony which definitively concludes the mourning period (Guca ku Mazi is partial) of one year after the death of a person; and usually a relative of a deceased whose mourning hasn’t yet been lifted isn’t supposed to hold any other kind of celebration. In fact, Kuganduka is supposed to be the first happy event, which usually involves thanking those who stood by the family during the difficult times.
Between 1993 and today, this guy got married twice and had kids. Is it unfair to assume that he’s probably broke and looking for an “honest” means to make some quick cash? That won’t stop us from going to his Urubanza anyway, and contributing, because we have to!
Then there are the school graduations, birthday parties and other social gatherings which often involve reconnecting with friends and family especially those who are on holiday from abroad…
It’s that time of the year when we take our best outfits to the dry cleaners; go out shopping for new ones and start practising signing cheques! It’s that time of the year when invitations start flowing in and one has to decide which Urubanza they are going to attend, because sometimes it’s just impossible to go to all of them. For instance, I have two of my very good friends who are getting married on the same day.
Whose Urubanza will I go to? How will I explain my absence to the other? How much will I contribute? What will I wear? Shall I call in sick? All these existential questions that many Burundians start asking themselves around this time of the year… until the rains start falling again, temperatures drop, students head back to school, the diaspora return to wherever they live and bank accounts are empty… sometime in September…