Uganda: Burundi Protests ‘Misuse’ of Its Sacred Drum at Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Festival

Nairobi — Burundi’s Ministry of culture has protested the use of its national sacred drum at Uganda’s Nyege Nyege festival citing contempt.

Burundi warned on Monday that anyone found to have violated the use of the drum will face legal action.

“The Ministry in charge of Culture informs national and international opinion that it will never tolerate anyone who violates Burundian Culture and customs,” the country’s Ministry of East African Community Affairs, Youth, Sports, and Culture said.

The statement came after photos surfaced online of women playing the drum during the just concluded Nyege Nyege festival in Uganda breaching cultural norms that prohibit women from playing the highly revered drum.

The drum was registered by UNESCO in 2007 as a World Cultural Heritage and its use is governed by a Presidential decree issued in October 2017.

The Presidential Decree No.100/196 stipulates that only male performers would be allowed to perform the drums in the future.

“It is strictly forbidden to those of the female sex to beat drums. They can however carry out female folk dances accompanying the drums,” the decree signed by Burundi’s former president, Pierre Nkurunziza, reads in part.

Inscribed in 2014 on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Burundi’s ritual dance of the royal drum is a spectacle that combines powerful, synchronized drumming with dancing, heroic poetry and traditional songs, according to UNESCO.

UNESCO says the dance requires at least a dozen or so drums, always in an odd number, arranged in a semicircle around a central drum.

“Several are beaten in a continuous rhythm, while the others keep to the beat set by the central drum. Two or three drummers then perform dances to the rhythm. The ritual drumming is performed during national or local feasts and to welcome important visitors and is said to awaken the spirits of the ancestors and drive out evil spirits,” a statement posted in UNESCO’s website reads.

According to UNESCO, bearers are recruited from sanctuaries across the country, many of whom are descendants of drum sanctuary guards.

“The ritual dance of the royal drum, the values it embodies, and the specialized drum-making skills are passed down essentially through practice but also through formal education,” UNESCO notes.

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