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Home » Child/Adolescent Mental Health » Who’s At Risk? » Refugees » Burundi » Burundi Refugee Cultural Considerations

Burundi Refugee Cultural Considerations

  • Burundians value their families and fellow villagers.  They believe it’s the village’s responsibility to raise a child.  Therefore, they feel obligated to provide assistance to those in need.
  • Burundian names consist of the family name (usually written in caps) followed by one’s given name.
  • Burundians place great importance on  the ability to resolve conflicts impartially, called ubushingantahe.
  • Village elders are usually called upon for matters requiring wisdom, mediation and problem solving.
  • A greeting usually begins with a handshake, an embrace or three kisses on alternate cheeks.
  • When shaking hands, the person showing respect makes no eye contact and bows slightly to show humility. 
  • In rural areas, women traditionally greet each other with a song.  They may sing and begin talking as soon as they see each other, even from a distance.
  • Meals are usually eaten twice a day at unscheduled times. 
  • It is impolite for guests to refuse beverages or food.
  • Girls are expected to eat little and most Burundians do not want to be seen as overindulgent when eating.
  • Burundi has a patriarchal family structure and the father usually chooses his favorite son, regardless of birth order, as the samuragwa, the son in charge of the other sons and of the family property.  Only male children can inherit land.
  • Older children are often given the responsibility for younger siblings when parents are away or busy.
  • Polygamy is forbidden by law but sometimes occurs in Muslim communities due to poverty.  For example, a woman from a poor family may agree to be supported as a second wife, though she knows she has no standing under the law.
  • Loved ones are generally buried in graves near the family home, and immediately after the burial the mourners wash their hands in a cleansing ritual.  At the end of a one week mourning period friends and family gather to comfort one another and reflect on the life of the deceased.
  • Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, made worse by many years of civil war.  The vast majority of people are subsistence farmers who rely heavily on foreign aid.
  • While education is free and encouraged, the fees for books and uniforms can act as a deterrent.  Most families choose to send their sons to school, keeping their daughters home to watch younger siblings and tend to the household.
  • Malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition are widespread.
  • Herbs and other traditional medicines are often relied upon to alleviate the symptoms of many diseases and some towns have organizations of traditional healers.