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Regions with significant populations
 Rwanda1-2 million (9%-15% of the total population)[1]
 Burundi1.7 million (14% of the total population)
 DR Congo411,000 (0.4% of the total population)
Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, French, English
Christianity, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Hutu, Twa, Other Rwanda-Rundi speakers and Nilotic peoples

The Tutsi (/ˈtʊtsi/;[2] Kinyarwanda pronunciation: [ɑ.βɑ.tuː.t͡si]), or Abatutsi, are an ethnic group of the African Great Lakes region. Tutsi are a Bantu-speaking[3] ethnic group of probable Nilotic origin,[4] 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. Prior to 1962 they regulated and controlled Rwandan society, which was composed of Tutsi aristocracy and Hutu commoners, by means of a clientship structure. They occupied the dominant positions in the sharply stratified society and constituted the ruling class.[5]

Origins and classification[edit]

The definitions of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" people have 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, and wealthy Hutu were often indistinguishable from upper-class Tutsi.

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 feature of a longer nose, or longer neck, commonly associated with the Tutsi.

Tutsis usually were said to have arrived in the Great Lakes region from the Horn of Africa.[6][7]

Tutsis were considered to be of Cushitic origin[8] by some researchers[who?], although they do not speak a Cushitic language, and have lived in the areas where they are 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, ethnographers and historians have lately come to agree that Hutu and Tutsis cannot be called distinct ethnic groups. This has further been corroborated by genetic studies which have also exposed the false classifications and consequent genocides of the two groups. [9][10]

Many analysts as well as inhabitants of the Great Lakes Region, carrying on the western tradition, distinguish the Tutsi – as "Cushitics" – from Bantu people like the Hutu and several ethnic groups in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda. However, Bantu is a linguistic classification (see the Bantu lemma as well as the lemma on Bantu people – the latter says: "Bantu people are the speakers of Bantu languages"). As the Tutsi speak the same Bantu language as the Hutu, they are Bantu (speaking) people.


Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and the President of Rwanda

Y-DNA (paternal lineages)[edit]

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 paternal lineages (14.9% B) than do the Hutu (4.3% B).[11]

mtDNA (maternal lineages)[edit]

Ange Kagame, daughter of Paul Kagame.

There are no peer-reviewed genetic studies of the Tutsi's mtDNA or maternal lineages. However, Fornarino et al. (2009) report that unpublished data indicates that one Tutsi individual from Rwanda carries the India-associated mtDNA haplogroup R7.[12] Further individual 23andme DNA tests suggest that Tutsi mtDNA lineages are associated with local East African Hunter-gatherer maternal haplogroups, particularly haplogroup L0,[13] with very few associated with West African mtDNA lineages.[13] A good number also carry West-Eurasian mtDNA lineages, particularly M1a, K1a; but also J1 and R0[13][14]

Autosomal DNA (overall ancestry)[edit]

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.[15]

Tishkoff et al. (2009) found their mixed Hutu and Tutsi samples from Rwanda to be predominantly of Bantu origin, with minor gene flow from Afro-Asiatic communities (17.7% Afro-Asiatic genes found in the mixed Hutu/Tutsi population).[16]


Their average height is 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm), although individuals have been recorded as being taller than 7 feet (213 cm).[17]


The traditional Tutsi king's palace in Nyanza (top) and Rwanda ca 1900, Tutsi Chief Kaware travelling (bottom).

Prior to the arrival of colonists, Rwanda had been ruled by a Tutsi-dominated monarchy after the mid-1600s. Beginning in about 1880, Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in the Great Lakes region. Later, when Belgian forces occupied the area during World War I, the conflict and efforts for Catholic conversion became more pronounced. As the Tutsi resisted conversion, missionaries found success only among the Hutu. In an effort to reward conversion, the colonial government confiscated traditionally Tutsi land and reassigned it to Hutu tribes.[18]

In Burundi, meanwhile, Tutsi domination was even more entrenched. A ruling faction, the Ganwa, soon emerged from amongst the Tutsi and assumed effective control of the country's administration.

The area was ruled as a colony by Germany (prior to World War I) and Belgium. 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.

Independence of Rwanda and Burundi (1962)[edit]

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. Since Burundi's independence, more extremist Tutsi came to power and oppressed the Hutus, especially those who were educated.[19][20][21][22][23] Their actions led to the deaths of up to 200,000 Hutus.[24] Overt discrimination from the colonial period was continued by different Rwandan and Burundian governments, including identity cards that distinguished Tutsi and Hutu.

Burundi genocide (1993)[edit]

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.[25] This sparked a genocide in Burundi between Hutu political structures and the Tutsi military, in which "possibly as many as 25,000 Tutsi" were murdered by the former and "at least as many" were killed by the latter.[26] 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.[27]

Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi (1994)[edit]

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 liberating Rwanda. 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 Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, in which the Hutu then in power killed an estimated 500,000-600,000 people, largely of Tutsi origin.[28][29][30] Victorious in the aftermath of the genocide, the Tutsi-ruled RPF came to power in July 1994.


Tutsis speak Rwanda-Rundi as their native language. Rwanda-Rundi is subdivided into the Kinyarwanda and Kirundi dialects, which have been standardized as official languages of Burundi and Rwanda.


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.[31]

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.[31]

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.

As noted above, DNA studies show clearly that the peoples are more closely related to each other than to faraway groups.

Tutsi in the Congo[edit]

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 Masisi 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. 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[edit]


  1. ^ After the Rwandan Genocide there was no more ethnic census; an estimated 9 to 15 percent of the population is Tutsi
  2. ^ "Tutsi". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ "Rwanda | Language & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  4. ^ "Tutsi | people". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  5. ^ a b Brenneman, Richard (1969). Rwanda, a Country Study. United States: US Government. p. 46. LCCN 2007492448. OCLC 22675245. 9910001051459703686.
  6. ^ International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, Africa, Volume 76, (Oxford University Press., 2006), pg 135.
  7. ^ Josh Kron, "Shooting star of the continent", Haaretz, 14 September 2010, accessed 14 September 2010
  8. ^ "Tutsi | people". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  9. ^ Philip Gourevitch,We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. 1998.
  10. ^ "'Indangamuntu 1994: Ten years ago in Rwanda this ID Card cost a woman her life' by Jim Fussell". www.preventgenocide.org.
  11. ^ Luis, J. R.; et al. (2004). "The Levant versus the Horn of Africa: Evidence for Bidirectional Corridors of Human Migrations". American Journal of Human Genetics. 74 (3): 532–544. doi:10.1086/382286. PMC 1182266. PMID 14973781.
  12. ^ Fornarino, Simona; Pala, Maria; Battaglia, Vincenza; et al. (2009). "Mitochondrial and Y-chromosome diversity of the Tharus (Nepal): a reservoir of genetic variation". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 2009 (9): 154. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-154. PMC 2720951. PMID 19573232.
  13. ^ a b c "Tutsi Haplogroups".
  14. ^ "M1a1f1 MTree".
  15. ^ Joseph C. Miller (ed.), New Encyclopedia of Africa, Volume 2, Dakar-Hydrology, Charles Scribner's Sons (publisher).
  16. ^ Campbell, Michael C.; Tishkoff, Sarah A. (September 2008). "African Genetic Diversity: Implications for Human Demographic History, Modern Human Origins, and Complex Disease Mapping". Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. 9: 403–433. doi:10.1146/annurev.genom.9.081307.164258. PMC 2953791. PMID 18593304. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/suppl/2009/04/30/1172257.DC1/Tishkoff.SOM.pdf
  17. ^ "The Rise and Fall Of the Watusi". The New York Times. 23 February 1964.
  18. ^ Berg, Irwin M. "Jews in Central Africa". Kulanu Highlights. Archived from the original on 30 May 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  19. ^ Michael Bowen, Passing by;: The United States and genocide in Burundi, 1972, (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1973), p. 49
  20. ^ René Lemarchand, Selective genocide in Burundi (Report – Minority Rights Group; no. 20, 1974)
  21. ^ Rene Lemarchand, Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide (New York: Woodrow Wilson Center and Cambridge University Press, 1996)
    • Edward L. Nyankanzi, Genocide: Rwanda and Burundi (Schenkman Books, 1998)
  22. ^ Christian P. Scherrer, Genocide and crisis in Central Africa: conflict roots, mass violence, and regional war; foreword by Robert Melson. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002
  23. ^ Weissman, Stephen R."Preventing Genocide in Burundi Lessons from International Diplomacy Archived 11 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine", United States Institute of Peace
  24. ^ "Google Sites" (PDF). allan.stam.googlepages.com.
  25. ^ International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi: Final Report, Part III: Investigation of the Assassination. Conclusions at USIP.org Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Totten, p. 331
  27. ^ International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi (2002)
  28. ^ Guichaoua, André (2020). "Counting the Rwandan Victims of War and Genocide: Concluding Reflections". Journal of Genocide Research. 22 (1): 125–141. doi:10.1080/14623528.2019.1703329. S2CID 213471539. 500,000–800,000 is the range of scholarly estimates listed on the third page of the paper.
  29. ^ Meierhenrich, Jens (2020). "How Many Victims Were There in the Rwandan Genocide? A Statistical Debate". Journal of Genocide Research. 22 (1): 72–82. doi:10.1080/14623528.2019.1709611. S2CID 213046710. Despite the various methodological disagreements among them, none of the scholars who participated in this forum gives credence to the official figure of 1,074,107 victims... Given the rigour of the various quantitative methodologies involved, this forum’s overarching finding that the death toll of 1994 is nowhere near the one-million-mark is – scientifically speaking – incontrovertible.
  30. ^ Reydams, Luc (2020). "'More than a million': the politics of accounting for the dead of the Rwandan genocide". Review of African Political Economy. 48 (168): 235–256. doi:10.1080/03056244.2020.1796320. S2CID 225356374. The government eventually settled on ‘more than a million’, a claim which few outside Rwanda have taken seriously.
    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.10 This state of affairs is in no one’s interests except the regime’s.
  31. ^ a b Fage, John (23 October 2013). A History of Africa. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 978-1317797272. Retrieved 8 January 2015.

External links[edit]