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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 Watwa) are a pygmy people and the original inhabitants. The Hutu (or Wahutu) are a Bantu-derived people, since they moved into the area they dominated the Twa. Large numbers of all three were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.



The exact origin of the Tutsis is not certain. Tutsis were traditionally considered a Hamitic people, however such notions are not generally accepted by the academic community today. Colonial scholars believed that the Tutsi came from East Africa, possibly Sudan, Uganda or Ethiopia, in c1400, to settle at first round Lake Kivu. This was the beginning of the native kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi, under a Tutsi mwami or king.


Today there is considerable debate about the racial validity of the term Tutsi as distinct from Hutu. Some researchers believe there is next to no genetic difference between the two groups, and that what difference does exist can be explained by social patterns within the Great Lakes region. Most differences between the groups are economic and cultural. One major difference is their occupations. The Hutu people are mainly farmers, and eat a varied diet. The Tutsi on the other hand are cattle keepers, and have a diet that consists of mainly dairy and meat products. Although a smaller portion of society, the Tutsi are seen as the upper class because of the higher value that their culture puts on cattle. Since there aren't any blood differences between the two groups, it is easy for them to change ethnicities. A Hutu can become a Tutsi, simply by raising cattle, and a Tutsi can become a Hutu by working in agriculture. Nonetheless, most Rwandans today identify themselves as either Tutsi or Hutu.

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

Height differences

The Tutsi can be spectacularly tall, often 7 ft (2.1 m) in height. This compares with the Twa, traditionally portrayed as short, and the Hutu of medium height. Such differences may well be attributed to nutritional factors (this is not the generally accepted view, though, but is most common among Marxists and post-modernists). Physical differences are almost as stratified within the Tutsi group as between the Tutsis and the Hutus; although some Tutsi are much taller and have sharper noses than most Hutus, most of the former are indistinguishable from the average Hutu.


There is little difference between the cultures of the Tutsi and Hutu, and 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.

These significant similarities lead many to conclude that Tutsi is an expression of class or caste rather than ethnicity. Experts still dispute over whether these similarities between Hutus and Tutsis came from a common ancestry or a high rate of intermarriage.

The Tutsi were ruled by their king, the mwami, from the 15th century until 1961, when the monarchy was abolished by the Belgians, under impulse from both Tutsi and Hutu.

Colonial influences

Both Germany (before WWI) 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. This "invented" superiority by the Belgians sparked and increased hatred of the Tutsi by the Hutu, and led to many cultural conflicts, including the Tutsi Genocide.


The Rwandan Genocide was the organized murder of up to 1 million of Rwandans in 1994. Although Rwanda's bifurcated society was relatively stable until the 1970's, 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 one-quarter 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 are about 130,000 people in prison waiting to be tried for their part in the genocide, and there are well over 300,000 children with no relatives to care for them. The government has reinstated moderate political parties and is attempting to rebuild the country.

And many of the Rwandans, nowadays, see that sooner or later, a Tutsi King, Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, will be called by Rwandans and turn his country into monarchy.

External links

fr:Tutsi nl:Tutsi


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