Fuliiru people


Fuliiru / Fuliro / Furiiru

The Fuliiru people or Fuliro are a Bantu ethnic group predominantly inhabiting the east-central highlands of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

They reside in the South Kivu Province, situated south of Lake Kivu and to the north and northwest of Uvira Territory, along the Ruzizi Plain near the border with Rwanda and Burundi, where a contingent of Fuliiru also resides.

The Fuliro of Congo (Kinshasa), numbering 593,000 (Peoplegroups.org, 2024)

In 1999 estimate of Kifuliiru-language speakers placed the number at 300,000. The Fuliiru are renowned for their skilled craftsmanship, particularly in the production of pottery and basketry. Their handcrafted baskets are highly coveted for their intricate designs and exceptional quality, and are frequently employed for storage, decoration, and even as musical instruments.

Fuliiru People

The Fuliiru, like many other communities in the eastern part of the DRC, face ongoing challenges related to access to basic needs such as clean water, healthcare, and education. Parenthetically, they face issues related to land disputes, political marginalization, and human rights abuses. The Fuliiru women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence amplified by the region's persistent armed conflicts, which have resulted in the prevalence of a pervasive culture of impunity.


Bafuliiru Chiefdom

At the onset of Belgian colonization, the establishment of chieftaincies was the primary method of governance, reflecting the decentralized nature of the colonial policy. These chieftaincies were established with due respect to the customs and traditions of each area, particularly based on three principal criteria defined and established by the Belgian colonial administration as essential conditions for the establishment of any chieftaincy. This was done to prevent lawlessness and to avoid violating the ancestral realities that had existed for millennia. Belgian colonial administration's criteria for establishing chieftaincies varied based on the region and the ethnic group in question. The establishment of chieftaincies was often accompanied by the appointment of a local chief (chefs de groupement) or a traditional ruler who was then tasked with maintaining law and order in the area, as well as ensuring the well-being of the local population. However, the establishment of chieftains was controversial, particularly in areas where multiple ethnic groups co-exist. There were instances where the colonial administration had to navigate complex power dynamics and determine which ethnic group or faction should hold the position of chief. This led to tensions between different ethnic groups and, in some cases, even armed conflict. Each ethnic group, however small, was assigned a chiefdom or a sector, if not, a grouping (groupement). The administrative territories were thus constituted within the limits of the chiefdom. The aim was to regroup "ethnic units" in their own geographical entities, but this led to such fragmentation that Orientale Province, which included the present-day Haut-Congo Province and the former Kivu, comprised up to 2,500 chiefdoms and groups. This approach by the Belgian colonial administration was based on the principle of indirect rule, which aimed to maintain control over the local population through traditional rulers. This system was viewed as a means of preserving the existing social and political structures of the colonized societies while ensuring their loyalty to the colonial authorities. However, this approach had some negative consequences. The proliferation of chiefdoms and groups created administrative difficulties for the colonial administration, making it challenging to maintain control over such a vast and diverse territory. Additionally, the creation of numerous chiefdoms and groups resulted in the fragmentation of ethnic groups, further exacerbating existing inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts.

The Bembe and Buyu were both grouped in the Fizi Territory, which was further subdivided into five sectors, including Itombwe, Lulenge, Mutambala, Ndandja, and Tangani'a. Conversely, the Bafuliru Chiefdom borders Rwanda and Burundi through the Ruzizi Plain in the Uvira Territory. The sandy soil of the plain is suitable for growing crops such as groundnuts and cotton, with Luvungi, Lubarika, and Luberizi being particularly noteworthy areas for such cultivation. The Fuliiru collectivity is situated in two distinct types of plateaus: the Middle Plateau and the High Plateau. The Middle Plateau spans between Luvungi and Mulenge, with the altitude gradually increasing from 100 m to 1800 meters. This plateau comprises several villages, including Namutiri, Ndolera, Bulaga, Langala, Bushokw, Bushuju, Butole, Lemera, Bwesho, Katala, Mulenge, and others. It is also a favorable environment for growing cassava, coffee, banana, beans and maize. The High Plateau, on the other hand, form a watershed between the tributaries of the Ulindi and the Elila rivers, as well as the torrents that flow into the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika. The High Plateaus are characterized by a rugged landscape with steep slopes and elevations ranging from 1800 to 2700 meters. The main villages located on the High Plateaus include Kagongo, Kishusha, Mulobela, and Kashekezi. These villages are known for their cool climate and are suitable for the cultivation of crops such as Irish potatoes and beans. This plateau is mostly used for grazing cattle and is less populated compared to the Middle Plateau.

Fuliiru People

Bafuliiru groupements (groupings)

Bafuliiru Chiefdom is subdivided in groupements (groupings) governed by customary chiefs (chefs de groupement) who are appointed by the paramount chief. Groupements are subdivided in localités (villages) which are also ruled by customary chiefs. The "chefferie" (chiefdom) of Bafuliru, the second and last chefferie in the Uvira Territory, is composed of five groupements:

Each groupements are composed of a certain number of villages.



Alternatively, Bafuliiru are not a homogeneous people; it is an amalgamation of people with diverse backgrounds, a kind of multicultural state, each with distinct origins. To be considered Mufuliiru one must be born into one of the thirty-seven progenitor families (clans) of the ethnic group.

The Fuliiru people are made up of about 37 clans:



The Fuliiru speak the Fuliiru language, a Bantu language. The Furiiru are connected to the Vira in a Furiiru-Vira culture cluster. Both groups are interlacustrine, living between the African Great Lakes. Kifuliiru is the most widely spoken language in Uvira. It is estimated that Fuliiru has 60% lexical similarity with Kinyarwanda; 63% with Kirundi, and 80% with Shi language. More than half of the Uvira population are able to understand it. Many Fuliiru people also speak French, English, Lingala, Portuguese, Tshiluba, and Swahili.



Music is part and parcel of the Bafuliiru culture. Bafuliiru music is characterized by a variety of traditional instruments such as the ngoma (drum), xylophone, and flute, which are used to create complex rhythms and melodies. The melodic strains of traditional instrument permeate the air, accompanied by the hypnotic rhythm of indigenous dance, which envelops the senses with its entrancing cadence. The ngoma, in particular, is an essential instrument in Bafuliru music, and it is often played during various social and religious events. Bafuliru music also incorporates a form of call-and-response singing, where one group of singers will lead with a phrase, and another group will respond with a harmonized phrase. This technique creates a rich and layered sound that is both engaging and captivating. The themes of Bafuliru music often center around daily life, social issues, and cultural practices, such as marriage and initiation ceremonies. They also have songs that praise their leaders and ancestors, and these are often performed during political rallies and other communal events.



The Bafuliiru economy is almost exclusively agriculturally based, although they also own and raise cattle for milk and meat; their homelands in the South Kivu Province are some of the most intensively farmed areas of the country. More than 90% of the population makes its livelihood by producing food crops or through industrial work involving the processing of crops. Agriculture contributes more than 19.04% of the nation’s GDP. The most fertile agricultural areas in the country are the mountain regions forming the Congo-Nile watershed and the central plateau, where two crops can normally be harvested each year. Principal food crops include cassava, corn, rice, plantains, and, to a lesser extent, bananas, beans, and peanuts. Principal export crops include coffee, cocoa, and palm oil. Many Bafuliiru people have ventured into business and politics. One of the notable figures in the Congolese government, Justin Bitakwira, is a member of the Bafuliiru community, having served as a former government Minister.



Traditional Fuliiru houses are huts made from wood, reeds, and straw and are shaped like beehives. High hedges serve as fences. In recent years, modern houses have been built with modern materials.


Commercial trade

Fuliiru crafts include pottery, woodwork, jewelry, metal work, and basket weaving.


Sexual division of production

The main priorities of women are childbearing, childcare, and housework. However, in many rural areas, women also work in agriculture through planting because their fertility is believed to be transferred to the seeds. Women are never seen holding high, respected positions, and men handle most of the production of goods.


Religious belief

Today, the preponderance of Bafuliiru living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo practice Christianity. Nonetheless, many traditional beliefs and customs continue to be an important part of their cultural identity. In their traditional beliefs, the Bafuliiru believe in a Supreme Being and a distant Creator God known as Rurema, who is considered to be the creator of everything on Earth. Rurema is seen as an invisible and elusive presence in the sky, and on earth, he is represented by priests who are considered to be mediators between the people and the divine. Among the Bafuliiru, the most important priests who represent Rurema are Mushabo, Budisi, and Mugajalugulu. These priests play a crucial role in the community, as they are believed to have the ability to communicate with Rurema and provide guidance to the people. They are consulted on various matters, including spiritual, social, and cultural issues, and their opinions are highly honoured. The Bafuliiru people also present offerings and sacrifices to the priests, which are believed to help them connect with Rurema and receive his blessings.



In the past, Fuliiru wore skirts of cloth made from tree bark, and cloaks made of animal hides. These have long been replaced by Western-style clothing. However, handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets are still worn. The woven fabrics, adorned with intricate patterns of vivid hues have honed their craft over generations.