2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Peoples

Total population
Regions with significant populations Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Language Kirundi, Kinyarwanda
Religion Catholicism
Related ethnic groups Hutu, Twa

The Tutsi are one of three native peoples of the nations of Rwanda and Burundi in central Africa, the other two being the Twa and the Hutu. The Twa (or Batwa) are a pygmy people and the original inhabitants. The Hutu (or Bahutu) are a people of Bantu origin, and since they moved into the area they dominated the Twa. Large numbers of all three were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.


The ideas surrounding real and supposed ethnic groups in Rwanda have a long and complicated history. The meaning of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" have changed through time and from place to place. In one instance, one finds that Tutsis were associated with the ruling class and king of Rwanda, but in another instance a so-called Tutsi could be impoverished and indistinguishable from so-called Hutus. In another setting, one finds Belgian colonists conducting a census, and defining "Tutsi" as anyone with more than ten cows or a long nose, while a "Hutu" meant someone with less than ten cows and a blunt nose. In yet another context, German colonists amazed by the prominent "European-like" noses of some Rwandans; they wove fanciful historical and racial theories to explain how some Africans acquired such noses. In addition, they were amazed by the organized society existing in the Kingdom of Rwanda. According to these early twentieth-century Europeans such organization and such noses could only be explained by European descent, transmitted by way of Ethiopia.


Today there is considerable debate about the racial validity of the term Tutsi as distinct from Hutu. Some researchers believe there is no genetic difference between the two supposed groups, and that what difference did exist can be explained by social and procreative patterns within the Great Lakes region. At one time, there may have been economic and cultural differences in the Rwandan population, although this is also disputed. One such difference was occupational. Some people were farmers and ate a varied diet. Others were cattle keepers and had a diet that consisted of mainly dairy and meat products. The so-called "Hutus" were formerly associated with the former characteristics, and the so-called "Tutsis" with the latter characteristics. Since there weren't any blood or cultural differences between the two "groups", it was easy for them to change their supposed identity or to confuse the two. A Hutu could become a Tutsi simply by raising cattle, and a Tutsi could become a Hutu by working in agriculture. In most circumstances, a foreigner (and even native Rwandans and Burundians) cannot tell the difference simply by looking at a Tutsi or Hutu. This view has become popular since the genocide, with the current regime at pains to portray itself as being merely one group within a homogenous population, rather than an ethnic minority dominating an ethnic majority.

Other researchers (and local tradition) indicate that the ethnic divide was real, and that the Tutsi were a Nilotic warrior/cattle herder tribe that invaded several hundred years ago, conquering the more sedentary agricultural (Bantu) Hutu, and establishing a quasi-feudal system in the country, with the mwami (king) and landlord structure. Under this structure, it was possible for a favored Hutu or Twa to become an honorary Tutsi by decree of the mwami, which might account for the crossovers noted. It is also understood under this view that in the course of time the invaders' language was submerged in the majority Hutu language, somewhat modifying the latter (similar to the way in which Norman French became subsumed by the Germanic Anglo-Saxon in England, while modifying it also). Thus the commonality of language is not necessarily an argument for tribal identity. Local comment indicates that while it was not uncommon for a Tutsi woman to marry a Hutu man, it was very rare for a Tutsi man to marry a Hutu woman.

The stereotype is that Tutsis tend to be taller, with relatively thin or "lanky" frames, and have pointed noses and more " European" facial features and sometimes lighter skin; whereas, Hutus are more average in height and stocky in body frame. Another difference is supposed to be that Tutsis have dark oral mucosa (gums) while Hutu have lighter coloured oral mucosa. While many do fit the stereotype, there are Hutu who look like Tutsi, Tutsi who look like Hutu, and there are many Rwandans and Burundians don't really fit either description . In any case, Hutu and Tutsi commonly intermarry.

Tutsi is actually an indeterminate term. In the Kinyarwanda language, a single Tutsi is called umututsi, and more than one (the plural) are abatutsi.


There is little difference between the cultures of the Tutsi and Hutu; both groups speak the same language. Traditionally the rate of intermarriage has been very high, and relations between the groups were generally peaceful until the 20th century. Interracial marriages result in the race of their fathers. These significant similarities lead many to conclude that Tutsi is mainly an expression of class or caste rather than ethnicity. Experts dispute whether similarities between Hutus and Tutsis are from common ancestry, frequent intermarriage, or both. The separation of the groups are sufficiently profound that in any community in Rwanda, everyone knows who is Hutu and who is Tutsi; the genocide demonstrated a level of ethnically-based hatred that is hard to explain simply on colonial "definitions".

One cultural difference noted by school principals during the 1980s was that although secondary school intakes were governed by quotas mandated by the Habyarimana government (in line with the proportions of the tribes within the country), and by competition within tribes, the students of Tutsi origin (14% of intake) on average demonstrated a much stronger drive to succeed, with the result that by the end of secondary school, the Tutsi usually were nearer 50% of graduands. This tended to result in accusations of "favouring the Tutsis", and was a contributor to the animosity of some in the genocide.

The Tutsi were ruled by a king, the mwami, from the 15th century until 1961. The monarchy was abolished by the Belgians, in response to the desires of both Tutsi and Hutu.

Colonial influences

Both Germany (before World War I) and Belgium ruled the area in a colonial capacity. It was Belgian colonialists who created the notions of two different races rather than castes. When the Belgians took over the colony in 1916 from the Germans, they felt that the colony would be better governed if they classified the different races in a hierarchical form. They felt that the Hutu were children who needed to be guided, and saw the Tutsi as the superior race. In fact they couldn't believe that the Tutsi were part of the African race at all. They thought that they had immigrated from somewhere else, or were survivors of the lost continent of Atlantis. Interestingly in 1959 the Belgian established racial hierarchy was reversed with the Hutu being considered the superior group and taking the prime positions in society. This increased oppression of the Tutsi by the Hutu, and led to many cultural conflicts, including the Rwandan Genocide.


The Rwandan Genocide was the organized murder of up to one million Rwandans in 1994. Although Rwanda's bifurcated society was relatively stable until the 1970s, the following two decades saw many members of both tribes die in bloody fighting in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo. By early August 1994, an estimated 1/4 of the pre-war population of Rwanda had either died or fled the country. International relief efforts were mobilized to care for the refugees, but available supplies were inadequate and outbreaks of disease were widespread. More than 20,000 refugees died in a cholera epidemic in the camps set up to receive them. Today there remain approximately 130,000 people in prison waiting to be tried for their part in the genocide, and well over 300,000 children with no relatives to care for them.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established to convict those involved in the Rwandan genocide. The ICTR's landmark decision in Prosecutor v. Akayesu in 1998 made it the first tribunal ever to convict for genocide. The tribunal struggled with fitting the Hutu and Tutsi into distinct groups - a requisite element for a finding of genocide - but ultimately decided to classify the Hutu and Tutsi as distinct ethnic groups. This classification was not based on real ethnical differences between the two groups. The Chamber noted that the Tutsi population does not have its own language or a distinct culture from the rest of the Rwandan population. Instead, the Chamber found that because the Hutu and Tutsi were treated as distinct ethnic groups, that was enough to fulfill the requirement.

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