Land and People

The country falls into three main geographic regions. The narrow area in the west, which includes the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika, is part of the western branch of the Great Rift Valley and includes some lowland. To the east of this region are mountains, which run north-south and reach an altitude of c.8,800 ft (2,680 m). Farther east is a region of broken plateaus with somewhat lower elevations (c.4,500–6,000 ft/1,370–1,830 m), where most of the population lives.

The inhabitants of Burundi are divided among three ethnic groups: the Hutus (about 85% of the population), who are mostly agriculturalists; the Tutsis (about 14%), who despite their relatively small numbers have historically dominated the government and the army and are traditionally cattle raisers; and the Twa (Pygmies, about 1%), who historically engaged in hunting and gathering. There are also small minorities of Europeans and South Asians. The Tutsis and Hutus historically had a lord-serf relationship, with Hutus tending the farmlands and cattle owned by the Tutsis. Kirundi (a Bantu language) and French are both official languages; Swahili is also spoken. About two thirds of the people are Christian, mostly Roman Catholic; about 25% follow traditional beliefs and 10% are Muslim.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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