Rwandan Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Michael Gott

Mike is a veteran of the New Hampshire public school system and has worked in grades 1-12. His role has varied from primary instructor to special needs support.

Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the North East of Africa home to three distinct ethnic groups. These are the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. In this lesson, we will learn about these three groups and the long history of strife among them.

Rwanda's History with Ethnic Tension

Rwanda has a bitter, violent History with violence among ethnic groups. The 100 days of genocide in 1994 of Tutsi and Twa peoples at the hands of the Hutu government. The country has yet to recover fully or comes to terms with this violence decades later. The Hutu population in Rwanda is roughly 85% of the people. The Tutsi comprise approximately 14% and the Twa 1%.

Despite sharing many cultural similarities such as a common language, similar clan systems, and common religion which is a mix of supernatural beliefs about the environment mixed with Christianity the Hutu and Tutsi have a long, violent history together.

The Hutu

Also known as Bahutu and Wahutu, Hutu groups primarily speak Bantu and, aside from living in Rwanda, can also be easily found in Burundi. When the Hutu first arrived in Rwanda, they found the Twa people and forced them from the land. Hutu peoples then used this land for small-scale agriculture. Social stratification in Hutu culture is based around the concept of the clan. The Bahinza in Hutu cultures would rule as a king over small groups within the Hutu populations. There were many Bahinza within each area. The multiple Bahinza created a community that was very separated and allowed the Tutsi to subjugate the Hutu throughout the 13th and 14th centuries. This subjugation would take the form of the Hutu working as vassals for Tutsi lords. This arrangement would last until 1959 when Hutu groups rose up and expelled the Tutsi from Rwanda. Hutu groups would soon see infighting that allowed the Tutsi to regain power in 1965 forming a military government. From this period on violence between Hutu and Tutsi would remain common, and the genocide of 1994 would be the most violent point in the group's History. For 100 days Hutu groups would kill roughly a million Tutsi, Twa and Hutus who would not join in the killing.

The Tutsi

Also known as Batusi, Tussi, Watusi, and Watutsi, the Tutsi have roots in the Nile Basin and a shared cultural heritage. Today most Tutsi reside in Rwanda and Burundi where they are an ethnic minority. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Tutsi began to move into the areas now known as Rwanda and Burundi. Despite being skilled as warriors, the Tutsi began to dominate these populations through slow infiltration. The Tutsi in Rwanda became dominant in a feudal relationship with the Hutu through the acquisition of cattle herds. They did while ensuring the Hutu understood the advanced warfare techniques of the Tutsi people. The Tutsi hierarchy has a Mwami or king as absolute ruler. It is believed this king acquired his mandate to rule directly from God.

Despite Tutsi dominance, the relationship between Hutu and Tutsi was relatively peaceful until 1916, when Belgian government's control of the area placed the Tutsi into a further elevated position over the Hutu. Animosity between the groups continued and in 1961 the Mwami was overthrown, and a Hutu government took power. It was this government that would be responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Culturally Tutsi found farm work beneath them and an insult. This belief further escalated tension when the Tutsi were no longer in power.

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