Although the majority of students at Hope Africa University are Burundian, it is an international university with fourteen countries represented, some outside of Africa. There are students from as far as Haiti, Turkey and Cameroon, as well as the nearer neighbors of DRC, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Thus a Cultural Day to celebrate and exhibit the different cultures is very appropriate. Such was last Friday at HAU.
It opened with the famous Burundian drummers. Twelve drummers beating in time together to a variety of rhythms. They took turns coming out to the lead drum in the middle, setting a rhythm, doing a call-response, jumping, twisting, turning, playing, all in time, all in bare feet on the rocky ground. One leader was quite the character, with a huge smile and expressive eyes, he teased and joked with his rhythms as if he was trying to trick his fellow drummers, making the audience laugh and clap. It is not uncommon to hear drumming around the city as different groups gather to practice or to perform. One HAU student belongs to this group of drummers, inviting them to perform for this Cultural Day.
Another performance was the singing of the national anthem of the DRC (Congo) Burundi’s neighbor to the west on the other side of Lake Tanganyika. All the Congolese students stood and joined in, singing in French. They were widely represented among the audience as there are many Congolese students attending HAU due to the strife and violence that is going on in their country.
One of the highlights of all the performances was the dancers from Rwanda. The young men and women came out in colorful traditional costumes, dancing together the ceremonial dance of a dowry party. The women danced, then the men, then they re-enacted on the stage the coming together of the families to celebrate the engagement of the couple who were to be married. All the participants danced with such joy and grace, expressing their pride in their culture through this beautiful form of art. Among the young male dancers were two that are my students. I marveled to see their expertise at dancing, their expressions of joy and their passion for this traditional form of art.
With each group that performed there were different members of the audience that cheered for their countrymen as they understood the particular elements of the performance. Everyone clapped their pleasure and approval of the beauty, diversity and unity that was represented with each performance. Faces were reflecting the joy and warmth of human acceptance and solidarity. It was a great time of celebration! Humans at their best!
I found myself thinking again about the hope this generation has and the privilege it is to work with them. It is the prerogative of youth to be hopeful but many of these students have been “facing African realities” since birth as refugees, orphans, victims; so for them to have hope and optimism is not something to be taken lightly. These students often talk about making life better, seeking growth, implementing change, creating solutions. If they can learn, work and live with the same vigor they display in their dancing, drumming and singing, they will indeed realize their hopes for a better future for their countries, their children and themselves.