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Total population:
Significant populations in: Rwanda, Burundi
Language: Kirundi, Kinyarwanda
Religion: Catholicism
Related ethnic groups:
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 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.

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Height differences
Colonial influences

Origins - Contents

The exact origin of the Tutsis is not certain. In the colonial era, Tutsis were regarded as 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, around 1400, to settle first around Lake Kivu. This was the beginning of the native kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi, under a Tutsi mwami or king.

Racial - Contents

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 - Contents

The Tutsi can be spectacularly tall, up to 7 ft (2.1 m) in height. This compares with the Twa, traditionally portrayed as short, and the Hutu of medium height. Nutritional factors could have some degree of contribution to the height differences. 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.

Culture - Contents

There is little difference between the cultures of the Tutsi and Hutu, and both groups speak the same language. 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. Traditionally the rate of intermarriage has been very high, and relations between the groups were generally peaceful until the 20th century.

Colonial influences - Contents

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 Tutsi Genocide.

Genocide - Contents

The Rwandan Genocide was the organized murder of up to 1 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.
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