More and more young Burundians are becoming interested in Chinese kungfu, as evidenced by a wushu (martial art) federation located in Bujumbura, capital of Burundi. Founded in 2017, the Burundian Wushu Federation now has 17 clubs in different provinces of the country. According to Yves Ntirenganya, Founder and President of the federation, this art has the potential to strengthen social harmony. "However, some people in my country have not yet understood the spirit of kungfu," he said.
The 29-year-old founder studied Chinese kungfu in 2003 when he was in primary school in neighboring Rwanda. "I studied kungfu from a Rwandan, who had learned kungfu from a Chinese master. I am a second-generation student of Chinese kungfu," he said.
These clubs take part in different competitions, and are also active in making films. Ntirenganya said five films have already been produced. "Our most famous film is Umutwe W'inkuba (The Head of Thunderbolt). We made it to promote kungfu in Burundi. We also have movies that have not been released because of copyright issues, and we are thinking about how to disseminate them, including through the Internet that can serve us as a channel," he told ChinAfrica.
An art that inspires
Another way to promote kungfu is to organize shows in different provinces of the country, including Muyinga and Ngozi in the north. "The practice of kungfu is new in Burundi. Burundian people know about it mainly through the films of Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. It is important for us to develop this art at home because, in 2020, there will be international competitions in Beijing and we want to be present," said Ntirenganya. He added that Burundi is preparing to participate in the competitions of African wushu federations organized on the continent.
Kungfu is as much a self-defense sport as a philosophy of life to engage and live in harmony with others. "That's why this art inspires us a lot, even though it comes from abroad. In the Burundian tradition, people fought to protect the country's borders. Thus, the grandsons of Ntare Rugamba, former Burundian King, undertook to learn martial arts," he said. "Some people think that martial arts were invented for attacking. This is wrong. They were developed to protect the weak and teach how to live together in harmony. We seek peace, that's why this art inspires Burundian youth."
According to him, the Burundian kungfu practitioners do not have to feel embarrassed during the various competitions in which they participated. For example, during a training event in China at Shaolin Temple, one of China's sacred places of kungfu located in Henan Province, the three Burundians who represented their country took the lead, along with practitioners from seven other African countries including Cameroon, Chad and Djibouti.
Ntirenganya pointed out that since kungfu was only recently introduced in East African countries, it is rare to see competitions being held there. With the limited means at its disposal, it is difficult for his federation to be represented at the annual competition held in Morocco. "We hope to participate in the competition one day with the support of the Burundian Government," he said.
In addition, for its films, Ntirenganya said his federation does not have enough equipment to make them as good as it is expected. "Sometimes we shoot with a single camera, which does not allow us to have the image that we want. We also need to make physical sacrifices; sometimes an actor can get hurt during training or performance. We need support," he noted.
The Chinese Embassy in Burundi has proposed to build a dojo dedicated to the practice of kungfu. However, the inhabitants of the district where the Ministry of Culture and Sports had granted land for this purpose refused to have the dojo built there. "Fortunately, the ministry in charge of public works has granted us a parcel of land in another locality and we hope that the urban administration can give us the necessary documents soon," he said.
The challenges faced by the Burundian Wushu Federation show that some Burundian people still don't understand the principles of kungfu. "Chinese kungfu is an integral part of the traditional Chinese culture," said Zhu Jiahui, Political Attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Burundi. "Its primary goal is to teach self-defense. It must be considered as a real sport because it allows you to develop physically." According to him, Chinese kungfu has a spirit, something that resides inside and is also anchored in Chinese culture. With its advantages, kungfu attracts many young people, not only Burundians, but also from all over the world.
"In many Western countries, there are wushu federations. International kungfu stars have been promoting this art. Due to China's economic development, especially the increase of China's connection with the rest of the world, kungfu is becoming more and more famous around the world. This is a good opportunity for the development of kungfu in Burundi," said Zhu.
According to Zhu, the Burundian Wushu Federation has close relationship with the Chinese Embassy. The embassy staff travel regularly to the training grounds to see the level of Burundian practitioners. Every year, there is a national championship in Burundi. On this occasion, the ambassador and other important officials of the embassy are always present to give the prizes to the champions.
Last year, three members of the Burundian Wushu Federation went to China for a three-month training in Shaolin Temple. They have been taught not only about martial art itself, but also about Chinese culture and language. They had the opportunity to make their presentations to the Chinese leaders at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in September 2018, said Zhu.
Each year, the embassy assists the federation financially. "It's not just about the Burundian Wushu Federation, it's also our duty [to promote kungfu as a part of cultural exchanges between China and Burundi]. Last year, we planned to build a dojo for the federation for daily training and a production house for producing their films. This is not yet achieved, but we think about it favorably and, if the opportunity arises, we will do it," he promised.
To reassure those who misunderstand kungfu, Zhu explained that there is a big difference between kungfu and boxing. "In our culture, it's harmony that not only takes precedence over success, but also over our own interest. If it is necessary to defend ourselves, we are capable of using kungfu for it, even if we prefer to live in harmony," he concluded.
(Reporting from Burundi)
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