History of Burundi

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Burundi is one of the few countries in Africa, along with its closely linked neighbour Rwanda among others, to be a direct territorial continuation of a pre-colonial era African state.


Kingdom of Burundi

The origins of Burundi are known from a mix of oral history and archaeology. There are two main founding legends for Burundi. Both suggest that the nation was founded by a man named Cambarantama. The legend most promoted today states that he was Rwandan. The other version, more common in pre-colonial Burundi, says that Cambarantama came from the southern state of Buha.[citation needed]

The first evidence of the Burundian state is from 16th century where it emerged on the eastern foothills. Over the following centuries it expanded, annexing smaller neighbours and competing with Rwanda. Its greatest growth occurred under Ntare Rugamba, who ruled the nation from about 1796 to 1850 and saw the kingdom double in size.

The Kingdom of Burundi was characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. The king, known as the mwami headed a princely aristocracy (ganwa) which owned most of the land and required a tribute, or tax, from local farmers and herders. In the mid-18th century, this Tutsi royalty consolidated authority over land, production, and distribution with the development of the ubugabire—a patron-client relationship in which the populace received royal protection in exchange for tribute and land tenure.

European explorers and missionaries made brief visits to the area as early as 1856, and they compared the organisation of the kingdom of Burundi of that of the old Greek empire. It was not until 1899 that Burundi became a part of German East Africa. Unlike the Rwandan monarchy, which decided to accept the German advances, the Burundian king Mwezi Gisabo opposed all European influence, refusing to wear European clothing and resisting the advance of European missionaries or administrators. The Germans used armed force and succeeded in doing great damage, but did not destroy the king’s power. Eventually they backed one of the king's sons-in-law Maconco in a revolt against Gisabo. Gisabo was eventually forced to concede and agreed to German suzerainty. The Germans then helped him suppress Maconco's revolt. The smaller kingdoms along the western shore of Lake Victoria were also attached to Burundi.

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