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Tutsi ( ; ) are one of three native peoples of the nations of Rwandamarker and Burundimarker in central Africa, the other two being the Twa and the Hutu.


The ideas surrounding real and supposed ethnic groups in Rwanda have a very long and complicated history. The definitions of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" may have changed through time and location. Social structures were not identical throughout Rwanda. There was clearly a Tutsi aristocracy that was distinguished from Tutsi commoners, and wealthy Hutu were often indistinguishable from upper class Tutsi. When the Belgian colonists conducted their censuses, they desired to classify the people throughout Rwanda-Burundi with a single classification scheme. They merely defined "Tutsi" as anyone with more than ten cows or a long nose. The "European-like" noses of some Rwandans invoked historical and racial theories to explain how some Africans acquired such noses. According to these early twentieth-century Europeans such organization and such noses could only be explained by European descent, transmitted by way of Ethiopiamarker. Modern day genetic studies on the y-chromosome show the Tutsi to be at least 99% of African origin (80% E1b1a, 15% B, 4% E3, 1% E1b1b) with little to no East African genetic influence. In fact, the Tutsis are most genetically similar to the Hutu. There is currently no mtDNA data available for the Hutu.

Beginning about 1880, Catholic missionaries arrived in the African Great Lakesmarker region. Later, when German forces occupied the area, the conflict and efforts for Catholic conversion became more pronounced. The Tutsi resisted conversion, and the missionaries found success only among the Hutu. In an effort to reward conversion to the Catholic faith, traditionally Tutsi land was confiscated and given to the Hutu tribes, beginning a conflict that has lasted into the 21st century.


In Rwanda, a centralized system of monarchy based on the Tutsi monarch, the Mwami, existed. In the northwestern part of the country (a predominantly Hutu-inhabited area), the society more resembled that of Bugandan society, with large regional landholders instead of a central monarch.

Today, there is little difference between the cultures of the Tutsi and Hutu; both groups speak the same Bantu language. The rate of intermarriage between the two groups has traditionally been very high, and relations between the two were considered peaceful up until the 20th century. Tutsi men rarely took Hutu wives, while Hutu men often took Tutsi wives. The ethnicity of the father determined the ethnicity of the children, however, which partially contributes to the continued larger proportion of Hutu in the region. Many have concluded 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. Nonetheless, the late-20th century genocide demonstrated a level of ethnically-based hatred that cannot be explained simply by colonial "definitions".

One 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 were almost 50% of graduands. This tended to result in accusations of tribal favoritism.

The Tutsi were ruled by a king (the mwami) from the 15th century until 1961. The monarchy was abolished by the Belgiansmarker, in response to the desires of Hutu, following a national referendum leading up to independence.

Colonial influences

Both Germanymarker (before World War I) and Belgiummarker ruled the area in a colonial capacity. The Germans theorized that the Tutsi were not originally from sub-Saharan Africa at all. They thought that they had migrated from somewhere else . The German colonial government gave special status to the Tutsi, in part because they believed them to possess racial superiority . The Germans considered the Tutsi more 'presentable' compared to the Hutu, whom they viewed as short and homely. As a result, it became colonial policy that only Tutsis could be educated, and only Tutsis could participate in the colonial government. Since the Hutus were in the majority such policies engendered some intense hostility between the groups, who had been peaceful enough with each other before colonization . The situation was exacerbated when the Belgians assumed control following World War I. Recognizing their ignorance of this part of Africa, they sought advice from the Germans, who told them to continue promoting the Tutsis, which they did .

When the Belgians took over the colony in 1916, they felt that the colony would be better governed if they continued to classify the different races in a hierarchical form. Belgian colonists viewed Africans in general as children who needed to be guided, but noted the Tutsi to be the ruling culture in Rwanda-Burundi. In 1959 Belgium reversed its stance and allowed the majority Hutu to assume control of the government through universal elections.

Post-colonial history of Tutsi - Hutu conflict

In Rwanda, a backlash of oppression against the Tutsi by the Hutu led to many cultural conflicts, including the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, in which Hutus killed an estimated 500,000 - 1,000,000 people, mostly of Tutsi origin.

In Burundi, a campaign of genocide was conducted against Hutu population in 1972, and up to 200,000 Hutus died. In 1993, Burundi's first democratically elected president and also a Hutu, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by Tutsi officers, as was the person constitutionally entitled to succeed him. This sparked a period of civil strife between Hutu political structures and the Tutsi military, in which an estimated 800,000 Burundians have died. There were indiscriminate mass killings first of Tutsis, then of Hutus; of these, the former have been described as genocide by the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi.International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi (2002)

See also


  1. [1]
  3. Michael Bowen, Passing by;: The United States and genocide in Burundi, 1972, (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1973), 49 pp
  4. René Lemarchand, Selective genocide in Burundi (Report - Minority Rights Group; no. 20, 1974), 36 pp.
  5. Rene Lemarchand, Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide (New York: Woodrow Wilson Center and Cambridge University Press, 1996), 232 pp. *Edward L. Nyankanzi, Genocide: Rwanda and Burundi (Schenkman Books, 1998), 198 pp.
  6. Christian P. Scherrer, Genocide and crisis in Central Africa: conflict roots, mass violence, and regional war; foreword by Robert Melson. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002.
  7. Weissman, Stephen R. " Preventing Genocide in Burundi Lessons from International Diplomacy", United States Institute of Peace
  8. Rwanda 1994: Genocide + Politicide, Christian Davenport and Allan Stam
  9. International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi: Final Report. Part III: Investigation of the Assassination. Conclusions [2]

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