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Regions with significant populations
Flag of Burundi.svg  Burundi 1.7 million (14% of the total population)
Flag of Rwanda.svg  Rwanda 1–2 million (9%–15% of the total population) [1]
Kinyarwanda, Kirundi
Christianity (80%), Islam (5%)
Related ethnic groups
Other Rwanda-Rundi peoples

The Tutsi ( /ˈtʊtsi/ [2] ), also called Watusi, Watutsi or Abatutsi ( Kinyarwanda pronunciation: [ɑ.βɑ.tuː.t͡si] ), are an ethnic group of the African Great Lakes region. [3] They are a Bantu-speaking [4] ethnic group and the second largest of three main ethnic groups in Rwanda and Burundi (the other two being the largest Bantu ethnic group Hutu and the Pygmy group of the Twa). [5]


Historically, the Tutsi were pastoralists and filled the ranks of the warriors' caste. Before 1962, they regulated and controlled Rwandan society, which was composed of Tutsi aristocracy and Hutu commoners, utilizing a clientship structure. They occupied the dominant positions in the sharply stratified society and constituted the ruling class. [5]

Origins and classification

The definition of "Tutsi" people has changed through time and location. Social structures were not stable throughout Rwanda, even during colonial times under the Belgian rule. The Tutsi aristocracy or elite was distinguished from Tutsi commoners.

When the Belgian colonists conducted censuses, they wanted to identify the people throughout Rwanda-Burundi according to a simple classification scheme. They defined "Tutsi" as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical features of a longer thin nose, high cheekbones, and being over six feet tall, all of which are common descriptions associated with the Tutsi.

In the colonial era, the Tutsi were hypothesized to have arrived in the Great Lakes region from the Horn of Africa. [6] [7]

Tutsis were considered by some to be of Cushitic origin, although they do not speak a Cushitic language, and have lived in the areas where they presently inhabit for at least 400 years, leading to considerable intermarriage with the Hutu in the area. Due to the history of intermingling and intermarrying of Hutus and Tutsis, some ethnographers and historians are of the view that Hutu and Tutsis cannot be called distinct ethnic groups. [8] [9] [ unreliable source? ]


Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda HE Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda (14985842184).jpg
Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda
Ange Kagame, daughter of Paul Kagame Ange Kagame 2014.jpg
Ange Kagame, daughter of Paul Kagame

Y-DNA (paternal lineages)

Modern-day genetic studies of the Y-chromosome generally indicate that the Tutsi, like the Hutu, are largely of Bantu extraction (60% E1b1a, 20% B, 4% E-P2(xE1b1a)).

Paternal genetic influences associated with the Horn of Africa and North Africa are few (under 3% E1b1b-M35), and are ascribed to much earlier inhabitants who were assimilated. However, the Tutsi have considerably more haplogroup B Y-DNA paternal lineages (14.9% B) than do the Hutu (4.3% B). [10]

Autosomal DNA (overall ancestry)

In general, the Tutsi appear to share a close genetic kinship with neighboring Bantu populations, particularly the Hutus. However, it is unclear whether this similarity is primarily due to extensive genetic exchanges between these communities through intermarriage or whether it ultimately stems from common origins:

[...] generations of gene flow obliterated whatever clear-cut physical distinctions may have once existed between these two Bantu peoples – renowned to be height, body build, and facial features. With a spectrum of physical variation in the peoples, Belgian authorities legally mandated ethnic affiliation in the 1920s, based on economic criteria. Formal and discrete social divisions were consequently imposed upon ambiguous biological distinctions. To some extent, the permeability of these categories in the intervening decades helped to reify the biological distinctions, generating a taller elite and a shorter underclass, but with little relation to the gene pools that had existed a few centuries ago. The social categories are thus real, but there is little if any detectable genetic differentiation between Hutu and Tutsi. [11]


Their average height is 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm), although individuals have been recorded as being taller than 7 feet (210 cm). [12]


King's palace in Nyanza.jpg
Chifu Kaware safarini (Kandt 1904 II, 97).png
The traditional Tutsi king's palace in Nyanza (top) and Rwanda c.1900, Tutsi Chief Kaware travelling (bottom)

Prior to the arrival of colonists, Rwanda had been ruled by a Tutsi-dominated monarchy since the 15th century. In 1897, Germany established a presence in Rwanda with the formation of an alliance with the king, beginning the colonial era. [13] Later, Belgium took control in 1916 during World War I. Both European nations ruled through the Rwandan king and perpetuated a pro-Tutsi policy.

In Burundi, meanwhile, a ruling faction known as the ganwa emerged and quickly assumed effective control of the country's administration. The ganwa who relied on support from both Hutu and Tutsi populations to rule, were sometimes perceived within Burundi as neither Hutu nor Tutsi but were predominantly of Tutsi origin. [14]

Rwanda was ruled as a colony by Germany (from 1897 to 1916) and by Belgium (from 1922 to 1961). Both the Tutsi and Hutu had been the traditional governing elite, but both colonial powers allowed only the Tutsi to be educated and to participate in the colonial government. Such discriminatory policies engendered resentment.

When the Belgians took over, they believed it could be better governed if they continued to identify the different populations. In the 1920s, they required people to identify with a particular ethnic group and classified them accordingly in censuses.

In 1959, Belgium reversed its stance and allowed the majority Hutu to assume control of the government through universal elections after independence. This partly reflected internal Belgian domestic politics, in which the discrimination against the Hutu majority came to be regarded as similar to oppression within Belgium stemming from the Flemish-Walloon conflict, and the democratization and empowerment of the Hutu was seen as a just response to the Tutsi domination. Belgian policies wavered and flip-flopped considerably during this period leading up to independence of Burundi and Rwanda.[ citation needed ]

Independence of Rwanda and Burundi (1962)

The Hutu majority in Rwanda had revolted against the Tutsi and was able to take power. Tutsis fled and created exile communities outside Rwanda in Uganda and Tanzania. [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] Their actions led to the deaths of up to 200,000 Hutus. [20] Overt discrimination from the colonial period was continued by different Rwandan and Burundian governments, including identity cards that distinguished Tutsi and Hutu.

Burundian genocide (1993)

In 1993, Burundi's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, was assassinated by Tutsi officers, as was the person entitled to succeed him under the constitution. [21] This sparked a genocide in Burundi between Hutu political structures and the Tutsi, in which "possibly as many as 25,000 Tutsi" – including military, civil servants and civilians [22] - were murdered by the former and "at least as many" Hutu were killed by the latter. [23] Since the 2000 Arusha Peace Process, today in Burundi the Tutsi minority shares power in a more or less equitable manner with the Hutu majority. Traditionally, the Tutsi had held more economic power and controlled the military. [24]

Rwandan genocide (1994)

Flag of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front Rwandan Patriotic Front Flag.svg
Flag of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front

A similar pattern of events took place in Rwanda, but there the Hutu came to power in 1962. They in turn often oppressed the Tutsi, who fled the country. After the anti-Tutsi violence around 1959–1961, Tutsis fled in large numbers.

These exile Tutsi communities gave rise to Tutsi rebel movements. The Rwandan Patriotic Front, mostly made up of exiled Tutsi living primarily in Uganda, attacked Rwanda in 1990 with the intention of taking back the power. The RPF had experience in organized irregular warfare from the Ugandan Bush War, and got much support from the government of Uganda. The initial RPF advance was halted by the lift of French arms to the Rwandan government. Attempts at peace culminated in the Arusha Accords.

The agreement broke down after the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents, triggering a resumption of hostilities and the start of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, in which the Hutu then in power killed an estimated 500,000–600,000 people, largely of Tutsi origin. [25] [26] [27] Victorious in the aftermath of the genocide, the Tutsi-ruled RPF came to power in July 1994.


A traditional Tutsi wrist guard (igitembe) Brooklyn Museum 22.1403 Wrist Guard Igitembe.jpg
A traditional Tutsi wrist guard (igitembe)

In the Rwanda territory, from the 15th century until 1961, the Tutsi were ruled by a king (the mwami). Belgium abolished the monarchy, following the national referendum that led to independence. By contrast, in the northwestern part of the country (predominantly Hutu), large regional landholders shared power, similar to Buganda society (in what is now Uganda).

Under their holy king, Tutsi culture traditionally revolved around administering justice and government. They were the only proprietors of cattle, and sustained themselves on their own products. Additionally, their lifestyle afforded them a lot of leisure time, which they spent cultivating the high arts of poetry, weaving and music. Due to the Tutsi's status as a dominant minority vis-a-vis the Hutu farmers and the other local inhabitants, this relationship has been likened to that between lords and serfs in feudal Europe. [28]

A traditional Tutsi basket Brooklyn Museum 1912a-b Basket and Lid.jpg
A traditional Tutsi basket

According to Fage (2013), the Tutsi are serologically related to Bantu and Nilotic populations. This in turn rules out a possible Cushitic origin for the founding Tutsi-Hima ruling class in the lacustrine kingdoms. However, the royal burial customs of the latter kingdoms are quite similar to those practiced by the former Cushitic Sidama states in the southern Gibe region of Ethiopia. By contrast, Bantu populations to the north of the Tutsi-Hima in the mount Kenya area such as the Agikuyu were until modern times essentially without a king (instead having a stateless age set system which they adopted from Cushitic peoples) while there were a number of Bantu kingdoms to the south of the Tutsi-Hima in Tanzania, all of which shared the Tutsi-Hima's chieftaincy pattern. Since the Cushitic Sidama kingdoms interacted with Nilotic groups, Fage thus proposes that the Tutsi may have descended from one such migrating Nilotic population. The Tutsis' Nilotic ancestors would thereby in earlier times have served as cultural intermediaries, adopting some monarchical traditions from adjacent Cushitic kingdoms and subsequently taking those borrowed customs south with them when they first settled amongst Bantu autochthones in the Great Lakes area. [28] However, little difference can be ascertained between the cultures today of the Tutsi and Hutu; both groups speak the same Bantu language. The rate of intermarriage between the two groups was traditionally very high, and relations were amicable until the 20th century. Many scholars have concluded that the determination of Tutsi was and is mainly an expression of class or caste, rather than ethnicity. Rwandans have their own language, Kinyarwanda. English, French and Swahili serve as additional official languages for different historic reasons, and are widely spoken by Rwandans as a second language. [29]

Tutsi in the Congo

There are essentially two groups of Tutsi in the Congo (DRC). There is the Banyamulenge, who live in the southern tip of South Kivu. They are descendants of migrating Rwandan, Burundian and Tanzanian pastoralists. And secondly there are Tutsi in North Kivu and Kalehe in South Kivu – being part of the Banyarwanda (Hutu and Tutsi) community. These are not Banyamulenge. Some of these Banyarwanda are descendants of people that lived long before colonial rule in Rutshuru and in Masisi – on what is currently Congolese territory but was part of the Kingdom of Rwanda before the Berlin Conference. Others migrated or were "transplanted" by the Belgian colonists from Rutshuru or from Rwanda and mostly settled in Masisi in North Kivu and Kalehe in South Kivu.

Notable people

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Burundi</span>

Burundi originated in the 16th century as a small kingdom in the African Great Lakes region. After European contact, it was united with the Kingdom of Rwanda, becoming the colony of Ruanda-Urundi - first colonised by Germany and then by Belgium. The colony gained independence in 1962, and split once again into Rwanda and Burundi. It is one of the few countries in Africa to be a direct territorial continuation of a pre-colonial era African state.

Human occupation of Rwanda is thought to have begun shortly after the last ice age. By the 11th century, the inhabitants had organized into a number of kingdoms. In the 19th century, Mwami (king) Rwabugiri of the Kingdom of Rwanda conducted a decades-long process of military conquest and administrative consolidation that resulted in the kingdom coming to control most of what is now Rwanda. The colonial powers, Germany and Belgium, allied with the Rwandan court.

The Hutu, also known as the Abahutu, are a Bantu ethnic or social group which is native to the African Great Lakes region. They mainly live in Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they form one of the principal ethnic groups alongside the Tutsi and the Great Lakes Twa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michel Micombero</span> 1st President of Burundi (1966–76)

Michel Micombero was a Burundian politician and army officer who ruled the country as de facto military dictator for the decade between 1966 and 1976. He was the last Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Burundi from July to November 1966, and the first President of the Republic from November 1966 until his overthrow in 1976.

Banyamulenge is a community from the Democratic Republic of the Congo's South Kivu province. The Banyamulenge are culturally and socially distinct from the Tutsi of North Kivu, with most speaking Kinyamulenge, a mix of Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Ha language, and Swahili. Banyamulenge are often discriminated against in the DRC due to their Tutsi phenotype, similar to that of people living in the Horn of Africa, their insubordination towards colonial rule, their role in Mobutu's war against and victory over the Simba Rebellion, which was supported by the majority of other tribes in South Kivu, their role during the First Congo War and subsequent regional conflicts (Rally for Congolese Democracy–Goma, Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, National Congress for the Defence of the People, and more importantly for the fact that two of the most influential presidents of their country declared them as enemy of the State both in 1996 and 1998.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First Congo War</span> 1996–1997 war in central Africa

The First Congo War, also nicknamed Africa's First World War, was a civil war and international military conflict which lasted from 24 October 1996 to 16 May 1997 and took place mostly in Zaire, with major spillovers into Sudan and Uganda. The conflict culminated in a foreign invasion that replaced Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko with the rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Kabila's unstable government subsequently came into conflict with his allies, setting the stage for the Second Congo War in 1998–2003.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kingdom of Burundi</span> Bantu state in southeast Africa from c. 1680 to 1966

The Kingdom of Burundi, also known as Kingdom of Urundi, was a Bantu kingdom in the modern-day Republic of Burundi. The Ganwa monarchs ruled over both Hutus and Tutsis. Created in the 16th century, the kingdom was preserved under German and Belgian colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th century and was an independent state between 1962 and 1966.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Lakes refugee crisis</span> 1990s refugee crisis in Central Africa

The Great Lakes refugee crisis is the common name for the situation beginning with the exodus in April 1994 of over two million Rwandans to neighboring countries of the Great Lakes region of Africa in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Many of the refugees were Hutu fleeing the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which had gained control of the country at the end of the genocide. However, the humanitarian relief effort was vastly compromised by the presence among the refugees of many of the Interahamwe and government officials who carried out the genocide, who used the refugee camps as bases to launch attacks against the new government led by Paul Kagame. The camps in Zaire became particularly politicized and militarized. The knowledge that humanitarian aid was being diverted to further the aims of the genocidaires led many humanitarian organizations to withdraw their assistance. The conflict escalated until the start of the First Congo War in 1996, when RPF-supported rebels invaded Zaire and sought to repatriate the refugees.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1993 ethnic violence in Burundi</span> 1993 killings of mostly Tutsis in Burundi

Mass killings of Tutsis were conducted by the majority-Hutu populace in Burundi from 21 October to December 1993, under an eruption of ethnic animosity and riots following the assassination of Burundian President Melchior Ndadaye in an attempted coup d'état. The massacres took place in all provinces apart from Makamba and Bururi, and were primarily undertaken by Hutu peasants. At many points throughout, Tutsis took vengeance and initiated massacres in response.

The Banyarwanda are a Bantu ethnolinguistic supraethnicity. The Banyarwanda are also minorities in neighboring DR Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania.

The origins of the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa people is a major issue of controversy in the histories of Rwanda and Burundi, as well as the Great Lakes region of Africa. The relationship among the three modern populations is thus, in many ways, derived from the perceived origins and claim to "Rwandan-ness". The largest conflicts related to this question were the Rwandan genocide, the Burundian genocide, and the First and Second Congo Wars.

Hutu Power is a racial supremacist ideology that asserts the ethnic superiority of Hutu, often in the context of being superior to Tutsi and Twa, and that therefore they are entitled to dominate and murder these two groups and other minorities. Espoused by Hutu extremists, widespread support for the ideology led to the 1994 Rwandan genocide against Tutsi and their family members, the moderate Hutu who opposed the killings, and Twa who were deemed traitors. Hutu Power political parties and movements included the Akazu, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic and its Impuzamugambi paramilitary militia, and the governing National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development and its Interahamwe paramilitary militia. The theory of Hutu people being superior is most common in Rwanda and Burundi, where they make up the majority of the population. Due to its sheer destructiveness, the ideology has been compared to historical Nazism in the Western world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Racism in Africa</span> Overview of racism in Africa

Racism in Africa has been a recurring part of the history of Africa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burundi</span> Country in Central Africa

Burundi, officially the Republic of Burundi, is a landlocked country in the Great Rift Valley at the junction between the African Great Lakes region and East Africa. It is bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and southeast, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west; Lake Tanganyika lies along its southwestern border. The capital cities are Gitega and Bujumbura, the latter being the country's largest city.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethnic groups in Burundi</span>

Ethnic groups in Burundi include the three main indigenous groups of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa that have largely been emphasized in the study of the country's history due to their role in shaping it through conflict and consolidation. Burundi's ethnic make-up is similar to that of neighboring Rwanda. Additionally, recent immigration has also contributed to Burundi's ethnic diversity. Throughout the country's history, the relation between the ethnic groups has varied, largely depending on internal political, economic and social factors and also external factors such as colonialism. The pre-colonial era, despite having divisions between the three groups, saw greater ethnic cohesion and fluidity dependent on socioeconomic factors. During the colonial period under German and then Belgian rule, ethnic groups in Burundi experienced greater stratifications and solidification through biological arguments separating the groups and indirect colonial rule that increased group tensions. The post-independence Burundi has experienced recurring inter-ethnic violence especially in the political arena that has, in turn, spilled over to society at large leading to many casualties throughout the decades. The Arusha Agreement served to end the decades-long ethnic tensions, and the Burundian government has stated commitment to creating ethnic cohesion in the country since, yet recent waves of violence and controversies under the Pierre Nkurunziza leadership have worried some experts of potential resurfacing of ethnic violence. Given the changing nature of ethnicity and ethnic relations in the country, many scholars have approached the topic theoretically to come up with primordial, constructivist and mixed arguments or explanations on ethnicity in Burundi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethnic groups in Rwanda</span>

The largest ethnic groups in Rwanda are the Hutus, which make up about 85% of Rwanda's population; the Tutsis, which are 14%; and the Twa, which are around 1%. Starting with the Tutsi feudal monarchy rule of the 10th century, the Hutus were a subjugated social group. Belgian colonization also contributed to the tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis. The Belgians and later the Hutus propagated the myth that Hutus were the superior ethnicity. The resulting tensions would eventually foster the slaughtering of Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide. Since then, policy has changed to recognize one main ethnicity: "Rwandan".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rwandan Revolution</span> 1959–61 period of ethnic violence in Rwanda

The Rwandan Revolution, also known as the Hutu Revolution, Social Revolution, or Wind of Destruction, was a period of ethnic violence in Rwanda from 1959 to 1961 between the Hutu and the Tutsi, two of the three ethnic groups in Rwanda. The revolution saw the country transition from a Tutsi monarchy under Belgian colonial authority to an independent Hutu-dominated republic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ikiza</span> 1972 mass killings of Hutus in Burundi

The Ikiza, or the Ubwicanyi (Killings), was a series of mass killings—often characterised as a genocide—which were committed in Burundi in 1972 by the Tutsi-dominated army and government, primarily against educated and elite Hutus who lived in the country. Conservative estimates place the death toll of the event between 100,000 and 150,000 killed, while some estimates of the death toll go as high as 300,000.

The Bugesera invasion, also known as the Bloody Christmas, was a military attack which was conducted against Rwanda by Inyenzi rebels who aimed to overthrow the government in December 1963. The Inyenzi were a collection of ethnically Tutsi exiles who were affiliated with the Rwandan political party Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR), which had supported Rwanda's deposed Tutsi monarchy. The Inyenzi opposed Rwanda's transformation upon independence from Belgium into a state run by the ethnic Hutu majority through the Parti du Mouvement de l'Emancipation Hutu (PARMEHUTU), an anti-Tutsi political party led by President Grégoire Kayibanda. In late 1963, Inyenzi leaders decided to launch an invasion of Rwanda from their bases in neighbouring countries to overthrow Kayibanda. While an attempted assault in November was stopped by the government of Burundi, early in the morning on 21 December 1963, several hundred Inyenzi crossed the Burundian border and captured the Rwandan military in camp in Gako, Bugesera. Bolstered with seized arms and recruited locals, the Iyenzi—numbering between 1,000 and 7,000—marched on the Rwandan capital, Kigali. They were stopped 12 miles south of the city at Kanzenze Bridge along the Nyabarongo River by multiple units of the Garde Nationale Rwandaise (GNR). The GNR routed the rebels with their superior firepower, and in subsequent days repelled further Inyenzi attacks launched from the Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burundi–Rwanda relations</span> Bilateral relations

Relations between Burundi and Rwanda have existed for at least as long as the states themselves. Before contact with Europeans, Rwanda and Burundi were kingdoms competing to gain control over nearby territory. In the 1880s, the two kingdoms were placed under colonial authority, first by Germany, and then by Belgium after 1919.


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    The death of 'more than a million' Tutsi became the foundation of the new Rwanda, where former exiles hold a monopoly on power. It also created the socio-political environment for the mass criminalisation of Hutu. Gacaca courts eventually tried more than a million (Nyseth Brehm, Uggen, and Gasanabo 2016), which led President Kagame to suggest that all Hutu bear responsibility and should apologise (Benda 2017, 13). Thus the new Rwanda is built not only on the death of 'more than a million" Tutsi but also on the collective guilt of Hutu. This state of affairs is in no one's interests except the regime's.

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