Peacebuilding and the Arts

Drumming and Reconciliation in Rwanda, Burundi, and South Africa

Drumming Brings Up the Spirit by Nicholas Kotei Djanie

In this portfolio, Ghanaian master drummer, dancer, teacher, and performer Nicholas Djanie writes that drumming "offers an embodied experience of the interconnectedness of all people." The portfolio explores that experience of interconnectedness-an experience that begins not with words, but with the breath and the heartbeat-and describes how powerful it can be in helping people who have been alienated from one other to envision themselves as working toward a common goal. Appropriately, this portfolio asks us to use our senses along with our intellects, to understand the conciliatory power of the drum by looking at images and listening to musical clips, as well as by reading about Nicholas's experiences and the theoretical framework that underlies them. The photographs and video clips in this portfolio remind us that the focused presence, the collaboration, and the enlivening playfulness that are part of drumming must be felt, not merely talked about, to be understood.

The Rhythm of Reconciliation by Lena Slachmuijlder

While serving as director of Studio Ijambo, Search for Common Ground's radio station in Bujumbura, Lena Slachmuijlder gathered testimony from dozens of drummers. In Burundi and South Africa, among other places, drummers spoke about the power of drumming to create feelings of equanimity in the aftermath of loss and to sustain relationships across ethnic divisions. By presenting and giving context to the voices of these drummers, this paper brings to life the notion that people who have suffered through violence and trauma can receive singular benefits from a nonverbal and non-narrative mode of self-expression, and from the focused whole-bodied participation that many art forms both elicit and demand. Lena describes and reflects on the role of drumming circles in Burundi, which served as social spaces in which Hutu and Tutsi drummers could communicate and co-create even during that country's most violent years. In many cases, a drummer's identity as a drummer became more salient, more important to his sense of self-esteem, than his ethnic identity. Lena concludes by proposing a new annual reconciliation ritual in Burundi in which drumming would play a central role.

A PDF of the working paper may be requested by completing the online publication request form.

About the Fellows

Nicholas Kotei DjanieNicholas Kotei Djanie and Lena Slachmuijlder worked toward reconciliation in divided communities through African drumming, music and song. Nicholas a master drummer, dancer, teacher and performer is currently performing in Drumstuck in New York City. Lena a musician, cultural facilitator and an experienced radio and print journalist, currently directs Search For Common Ground's project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While Brandeis International Fellow in 2002-2003, she directed "Studio Ijambo," a radio station affiliated with the organization Search for Common Ground in Burundi. In recent years, they both contributed to a four-day peace festival in Burundi, and Nicholas collaborated with the Rwandan National Olympic Ballet to create a dance-drama telling the story of the Rwandan genocide and the efforts underway towards reconciliation. They wrote: "We both believe, based on our experiences, in the creative and spiritual power of drumming, song and dance to transform individuals and communities, deal with trauma, and facilitate the process of reconciliation around the unity of rhythm." During theLena Slachmuijlder Fellowship, they documented and thought critically about their on-going work in Burundi, Rwanda and South Africa, particularly addressing questions about how participation in drumming, music, dance experiences and performances affect relationships, the development of trust, and personal and communal healing.