I had a very enlightening exchange with the minister friend I mentioned in Shmitah last night. So, my friend's name is Rev. Fulgence Ngadijimana, and he is a refugee from Burundi who now lives in Saskatoon and is part of the Unitarian congregation there. He has only been in Canada for a few years, so is a wealth of information. I will simply copy and paste our conversation below, I was so, so amazed by a lot of his comments...primarily because, as a Canadian who deeply cares about justice and disrupting the corruption in our system, I had no idea of any of his cultural context. Very eye-opening. I look forward to our discussion around what he brings to the table very much.
Me: Hi Rev Fulgence! Happy New Year! How are you keeping? I'm well; 2021 so far so good I've been deeply involved with one of the Reform Synagogues here in Edmonton for the past few years, and we have a discussion group going on Shmitah, which is a seven year cycle in which the on the seventh year the land rests and all debts are forgiven. We are looking at it from many perspectives, and this evening we were discussing some of the economic implications. In that conversation, the question of how economy in managed in other places arose, and the...hm...symbolic and meaningful associations with money. We discussed how here, in North America, we have a strange relationship in terms of we both worship money and consider it the root of all evil on some level, and we are curious whether it is similar or different in other places. I have a few friends in Columbia I'm going to ask as well, but I'm curious, what is the culture around money like in Burundi? Be well!
Rev. Fulgence: The Until very recently ( by that I mean 50- 60 years) few people in Burundi has ever touched or seen money. For centuries, literal trade was what went on. People from some parts of the country would bring salt and exchange it with beans or other food items and especially butter( I saw this with my eyes) but it was at the tail end of the practice. At that time people made their own clothes or they got them through the exchange or trading. people ate mostly what they grew. With colonialism and missionaries, money came in and now it became a thing. There was already trade on costal areas of Africa that touch Burundi but in an insignificant way. Now there were things to buy, people started to sell for money, to work for money. Those in administrative supporting roles with missionaries or colonialists got either stuff or some money and by independence time, in the cities, money usage was wide spread and one needed money to survival and to thrive too.
Today, there are really two groups of people those who need money on a daily basis and those who can spend a month or more without money. When they get money (from work or as a donation), they buy salt and oil and that's all you need to survive your local produce. Is it the root of all evil? If you look at the corruption and political violence, people are really killed and they kill for power that can help them access money and other ressources that money can buy. In that sense, it can be a double edged sword. Useful but also dangerous. My personal problem with money taken too far is that there is fear built into the fact of having it or not, because without it in modern era, you lose your housing and livelihood in general. There is some shame of not having enough of it. The relationship with money may be an indication of how free of fear a person is. My mother lived 7 decades in one village but she never worried about money. She never had money. My parents would sell part of the produce to people who would go sell things in the city. They would have money to buy sugar, salt and oil. Things they actually did not even need. Many people in my village do not use salt or oil and they are super healthy ( eat vegetables, fruits and walk long distances). How does the poverty comes in? When a person is sick and needs to go the hospital, they need money. When a child has to go to school, they need money and a lot of it. The circle of poverty continues until when there are jobs (teachers, nurses,...) or they produce to sell and get money. An economy based on money runs parallel to the one that does not need on a daily basis. My hope is that whenever possible, people can have some freedom from money not because they have too much of it but because they know they can do without many of the things that pretends to buy. There is a need for a collective entity that takes care of the collective needs school, health, insfrastrures,...). it sounds like the scary socialism that some politicians are afraid of but is a pathway to a life free free from fear and free from basic needs. that is my 1 cent
Me: This is hugely insightful, thank you so much for sharing all of this! It's hopeful to hear societies run with money as a less central concept, honestly. I look forward to the conversations that grow from this sharing, thank you! It is so central here we tend to thing "economy" means "anything to do with money", but there are so many other factors...so is that construct of money a purely colonial one? The notion of it being a central pillar of life? /as a means of control?
Rev. Fulgence: I think the construct of money is connected to control. And we can see how those who have it control everything ( they even attempt to control common ressources like water) and people who owe them money or simply who have to work for them for their survival.
I think colonialism used money as a tool to of control Today the rich countries ( not just the west) use money to control the rest of world and set up a system in which even local ressources ( minerals, coffee, ...) are controlled by rich countries and corporations. Money is a powerful tool of control
Me: yes, it definitely is...and it's very helpful to hear that as a full statement in the context of a place that only started using it within a few decades due to colonial impact. It very much helps frame colonialism as a current construct rather than one of the past...which I think some people are starting to be aware of on some level, but don't realize the extent of it and are still consumed by the framework we live in which upholds money as the greatest good in many ways. Hm. Much food for thought, much appreciated