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LOCATION: Rwanda, Burundi
POPULATION: Approximately 16–17 million
LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, French, English Christianity with aspects of traditional belief, spirit cults
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Burundians; Rwandans


The term Hutu refers to the majority of people who live in the African countries of Rwanda and Burundi. The Hutu people share cultural traditions with the other inhabitants of these countries, the Tutsi and the Twa, and all three groups speak the same Bantu language. The contemporary social situation in Rwanda and Burundi is the result of a complex history that brought these diverse peoples together.

Scholars, as well as the people of the two countries themselves, disagree over the precise meaning of the label Hutu. In practice, there are two senses of the name. First, Hutu may be used to refer to ethnic origins. In this sense, it refers to people of Bantu origins who share a common history as farmers. In its second sense, it indicates social status, referring to the fact that the Hutu traditionally belonged to a low-ranking social category, similar to a caste, and were subordinate to the higher-ranking Tutsi, who formed an aristocracy. Lowest in the status system were the Twa, a group of hunters and foragers known more commonly as “pygmies.”

Like the two different meanings of the name Hutu, there are two prevalent interpretations of the group's history, both of which have assumed mythic proportions and are often used for political purposes.

The first myth of history has the effect of justifying Hutu hatred of the Tutsi. It overemphasizes the ethnic divisions of the past. It suggests that the Tutsi are a distinct race of conquerors who have enslaved the Hutu and Twa for hundreds of years, making use of the widely accepted belief that the Hutu and the Twa were the first settlers of the region, only later to be followed by the Tutsi in the 15th or 16th century.

The second mythical version of history has been used to deny the legitimacy of Hutu claims to political representation. It depicts the inhabitants of Rwanda and Burundi as a single ethnic group whose divisions have arisen solely as a result of economics and colonialism. This version de-emphasizes the physical differences among these groups, claiming they are too ambiguous to matter. The peaceful and cooperative quality of Hutu-Tutsi relations are overemphasized, and any contemporary ethnic problems are blamed on foreigners. This myth, at its most extreme, rules out any mention whatsoever of ethnicity.

Both these versions of history are oversimplifications, but they are made believable because they have some evidence in their support. For example, the first version's emphasis on ethnic divisions is supported by studies that have found the Tutsi to be on average four to five inches taller than the Hutu. This ethnic emphasis is also supported by the fact that many Tutsi can also drink large quantities of milk without suffering the indigestion associated with the genetic condition called lactose intolerance, a finding in accord with the view that the Tutsi were at one time nomadic cattle herders related to other tall and lean people of East Africa such as the Maasai and the Nuer.

In spite of such support, the mythical features of these contrasting historical accounts can be countered by considering the historical record, whose details are much more complex and ambiguous than the myths allow. For example, the mwami, the Tutsi king who ruled over Rwanda-Burundi, enjoyed some popular support from both the Hutu and the Twa. Furthermore, even in central Rwanda, where the king was strongest and most identified with Tutsi control, royal power was only solidified in the 19th century. In fact, Hutu regions of northern Rwanda remained free of his rule until the 20th century. As for the situation in Burundi, Hutu leaders were able to rise to positions of power and influence within the king's court while some whose roots were Tutsi were quite poor.

The history of the Hutu and the Tutsi is complicated still further by the fact that social relations in Rwanda and Burundi were modified by European rule. Both countries were occupied by foreign powers in the period from 1890 to 1962. Germany clearly favored the Tutsi elites during their period of military occupation, from 1890 until the end of World War I. The Belgian administrators who followed the Germans also favored the Tutsi initially, but their position became more ambiguous over time. By the 1950s, Belgian administrators and missionaries were actively encouraging Hutu leaders in their attempts to gain political control.

Rwanda and Burundi took dramatically different paths to independence in 1962. During the local run-off elections in Rwanda in 1959, open rebellion against the Tutsi broke out. Ultimately, this led Hutu leaders to abolish the kingship and take power by force. In Burundi, there was a more peaceful transition to independence, with the mwami initially acting as an intermediary between Tutsi and Hutu sides. This peace, however, was fragile, and Hutu efforts to gain power by force were crushed, culminating in a ruthless campaign of repression against them in 1972.

The end result of the independence process was that opposite sides controlled the two countries. In Rwanda, the Hutu established a period of rule that was to last until 1994. In Burundi, the state came to be controlled by a branch of the Tutsi. More recently, there have been attempts to reconcile the two groups, but conflicts over political power continue.


Rwanda and Burundi are mountainous countries in east-central Africa. They share a common border, with Rwanda located to the north. Rwanda's northern border is with Uganda. Both countries are bounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) to the west and Tanzania to the east. Rwanda and Burundi are both quite small. Their total area combined is approximately 54,100 sq km (20,900 sq mi), or roughly the combined size of Maryland and New Jersey.

Population densities in the region are among the highest in Africa and have been high for many years. Burundi had an estimated 312 people per square kilometer of land in 2008, and Rwanda an estimated 407 people per square kilometer of land. The combined total population of Rwanda and Burundi was approximately 19 million in 2008. Crises in Burundi and Rwanda have produced large numbers of refugees, including thousands of Tutsis fleeing Rwanda in the early 1960s and thousands of Hutu fleeing Burundi in 1972, as well as the refugees generated in Rwanda in 1994. Many people of both groups have lived in refugee camps in neighboring countries, although many Tutsi have returned to Rwanda since 1994. The traditional ethnic distribution figures are usually given as 85% Hutu, 14% Tutsi, and 1% Twa. However, given the history of conflict in the region, ethnic census data should be treated with caution.


The Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa speak variants of a language called Kinyarwanda in Rwanda and Kirundi in Burundi These are best thought of as two dialects of a single language that falls into the Central Bantu family. They are mutually intelligible but vary in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.

Because of the long association of Rwanda and Burundi with Belgium, and the use of French in schools, many Rwandese and Burundians speak French and have French first names. Swahili is also spoken in the region, especially along the border with Tanzania and among those who have been refugees there. English is increasingly important in Rwanda.

Personal names seem lengthy, but their meanings make them simple to native speakers. For example, the name Mutarambirwa means “the one who never gets tired.” Individual names can also be derived from well-known events or borrowed from praise poetry.

Traditionally, the ability to express oneself well orally was highly valued. Metaphorical references to cattle and crop cultivation were commonly used in everyday speech. In regions where social relations were most caste-like, with farmers expected to act deferentially toward aristocrats, status was marked in language by polite forms of address. For example, murakoze is the respectful form for “thank you” while urakoze is the informal form.


Verbal arts of the region include praise poetry, proverbs, folk-tales, riddles, and myths. Traditionally, these were vibrant parts of everyday life. For example, riddle-like descriptions could be worked into everyday speech: a poor person wearing a pair of ragged shoes held roughly together with a safety pin might evoke empathy by describing his shoes as a “poor broken-down old man with a spear stuck in his body.” Similarly, proverbs were used in defense of an opinion or to provide a moral lesson.

Tales of the legendary figure Samadari were popular among Hutu and lower-ranking Tutsi. Samadari is a kind of trickster who was free to violate the ordinary rules of social conduct. He could openly mock the rich and the powerful and heap scorn upon wealthy cattle owners.


Today most Hutu are Christians, particularly Catholics, with a small percentage of Muslims. Nonetheless, African religion continues to be important for the majority as well. In the Hutus' traditional religion, the creator is envisioned as having many human characteristics. The word for creator, Imaana, signifies both God and God's power to create and ensure prosperity and fertility. Imaana was essentially benevolent but somewhat removed from the affairs of ordinary people. Perhaps because of his remoteness, elaborate tales of the creation of the universe are lacking.

Non-Christian religious expression is not uniform but one unifying factor is belief in the power of the abazima. These are the spirits of the dead, particularly ancestral spirits. They may bring misfortune to those who do not respect them but they may also provide spiritual aid. Offerings are made to abazima, and diviners may be consulted to interpret their wishes. Two of the most important spirits among the Hutu are Ryan-gombe and Nyabingi. In northern Rwanda, Nyabingi is associated with fertility. During ritual occasions individuals may feel they are possessed by the spirit of Ryangombe.

One mythical account of the origin of the Burundians and Rwandans—promoted by the Tutsi elites and rejected by most contemporary Hutu—legitimizes the rule of the Tutsi over the Hutu and Twa by cloaking it in the authority of religious tradition. According to this account, the first inhabitants of the region were said to be the three sons of a king: Little Twa, Little Hutu, and Little Tutsi. The story tells how the king appointed Little Tutsi (“Gatutsi”) to rule over the other two as a result of their personal failings.

A variety of distinct spirit cults exist, with separate forms of worship, some including elaborate initiation procedures.


Holidays observed by the Hutu include the Rwandan and Burundian independence days, May Day, New Year's Day, and the major Christian holidays. Royal rituals—now no longer observed—were elaborate national affairs that included specially trained dancers and the use of giant sacred drums. Rwanda has several new holidays. These include February 1 (National Heroes Day); April 7 (Genocide Memorial Day); July 4 (National Liberation Day); and October 1 (Patriotism Day).


An individual's first rite of passage is the naming ceremony, which takes place seven days after a child's birth. For the first week, both the baby and the mother are secluded inside the house, but on the seventh day the child is brought out for the first time. Food and drink are prepared, and children from the area are invited to participate in the ceremony.

Marriages are legitimated by the transfer of bridewealth, a kind of compensation for the loss of the woman's labor paid by the family of the groom to the family of the bride. BridewealThis paid in cattle, goats, and homebrewed beer. The traditional marriage ceremony itself is complex, and the details vary from region to region. Commonly, the bride's body is purified by being smeared with herbs and milk.

Upon marriage, the bride may be secluded at the father-in-law's house for several days. Her transition to full marital status is signified by the end of this seclusion. Except for marriage, there is no formal initiation process to mark the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Death is marked by prayers, speeches, purification rituals, and restrictions on many everyday activities. Close family members are expected to refrain from sexual relations and to avoid working in the fields during the period of mourning. At the end of the mourning period, the family hosts a ritual feast.


Differences in social status, traditionally conveyed by posture, body language, and speaking style, figured prominently in social relations among the Hutu. Individuals of lower status were expected to show deference to those superior in rank by kneeling. However, a certain casualness of bearing and emotional expression was permissible among lower-status Hutu when they were among equals. Women were expected to defer to men, and idle conversation was frowned upon.

Customarily, relationships in Rwanda and Burundi were regulated by the movement of cattle. In a system similar to sharecropping, patrons (bashebuja), who were frequently Tutsi, lent cattle to clients, who were often Hutu. In exchange, the client (bagerewa or bagaragu) owed allegiance to the patron. Such relationships were called buhake in Rwanda and bugabire in Burundi.

The Hutu have separate greetings for morning, afternoon, and evening. The morning greeting—“Warumutse ho?”— is answered “Waaramutse.” The afternoon greeting—“Wiiriwe ho?”— is met by the return, “Wiiriwe.” Men take leave at the end of a visit by directly offering thanks for the hospitality provided them. Women are often expected to be less direct in ending a visit, perhaps making excuses about household obligations.

Traditionally, romantic relationships between young men and women were expected to occur within the same caste group. Socializing through such group activities as dances and church events was common, as opposed to individual dating. Today, Western-style dating is practiced in urban areas among some of the elite.


Despite the high population density in Rwanda and Burundi, the population remains rural. Society is organized not in villages, but as family housing units spread across the terrain. Houses were traditionally beehive-shaped huts of wood, reeds, and straw, surrounded by a high hedge that served as a fence. More recently, modern building materials and styles have been introduced.

High rates of disease and malnutrition make life difficult for the Hutu. Even before the political violence of the l990s, the average life expectancy of a person in Rwanda and Burundi was only about 40 to 50 years. In 2008, roughly 5% of Hutu and Tutsi adults were said to be living with AIDS, with the percentage of those living with HIV much higher. Rwanda and Burundi have in the past been healthy and prosperous places, benefitting from the high elevation that offered protection from tropical maladies. Life expectancy is low not only because of extreme levels of political violence but also because of inadequate nutrition, health care, and the spread of diseases of crowding. Particularly problematic diseases include bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever.

Although Rwanda in particular has experienced economic growth since 1994, the infrastructure in the region is not well developed. Roads are often unpaved or poorly maintained. There is no railway service.


Historically, the women of the family are responsible for the maintenance of the home and for planting, hoeing, and weeding the crops. Men and boys are responsible for pasturing the livestock and for clearing the fields; women of reproductive age are forbidden to take care of cattle.

Although love matches were not unknown, and elopements occurred, marriage in Rwanda and Burundi was often about power and relationships between families. These days, however, marriage is more often a matter of personal choice. The goal for both Hutu and Tutsi men was to have a large family with many children. Men, therefore, frequently sought to have more than one wife. Although the majority of men could not afford to be polygynous, a substantial minority did succeed in marrying more than once. Because the society was patrilineal, a woman's children belonged to the father's lineage. Hutu men were not forbidden to court Tutsi women, but marriages were rare. More common in the modern period, but still rare, are marriages between urban Tutsi and Hutu. Twa men and women were traditionally looked down upon by both Hutu and Tutsi and not generally considered acceptable mates.


Among Hutu in rural areas of Rwanda and Burundi, modesty was traditionally not considered an issue until late childhood, so children were permitted to go about without clothing until sometime between the ages of eight and eleven years. For adults, the handmade bark-cloth skirts and hide cloaks of the past have long since given way to Western-style clothing. Handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets continue to be worn, however.


The staple foods of the Hutu include beans, corn, millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Milk is highly valued as a food source, as is cattle meat. Because of the social and religious value of cattle, however, people do not often butcher a cow without some ritual justification. Goat meat and goat milk are consumed as well, but they are considered proper food only for persons of low social status. Meal times are flexible, often revolving around work obligations.

Bananas and sorghum grain are fermented to make alcoholic drinks, which are consumed on social occasions and during ritual events such as ceremonies in honor of the dead.


Literacy rates have been at times lower than 50% in Rwanda and Burundi in the vernacular (native language), and still lower in French, but seem to be improving. Rwanda currently reports a literacy rate of about 70%. In Burundi, literate Hutu were targeted for death in 1972, but education began to be encouraged again in the 1980s. There are teacher-training schools and at least one university in both Rwanda and Burundi. However, Rwanda's educational structures were disrupted by the 1994 genocide. Prior to that time, the Rwandese school system was moving toward an emphasis on education in French, but there is now a new emphasis on English, with a goal of trilingual education. The government also has the goal of providing free primary and secondary school education for all.

Quality education continues to be associated with the ability to speak a European language.

Perhaps because it is so difficult to attain, education is highly valued among the Hutu. Education, especially quality education, is considered a matter of central importance.


The kings of Rwanda and Burundi maintained elaborate dance and drum ensembles, which were associated with royal power. On ritual occasions in Burundi two dozen drums were arranged in a semicircle around a large central drum. The musicians moved in a circle around the drums, each taking a turn beating the central drum. This style of drumming has survived the demise of the kingship, and the music has been recorded commercially.

Music, dancing, and drumming are still important in rural life. There are separate men's and women's dances, and both groups' styles are highly expressive. Dance movements often include rapid movements of the upper arms and body, leaping, and rhythmic foot stomping. Vocal music may be performed solo or in choral groups. Many different types of popular song are composed, including hunting songs, lullabies, and songs in praise of cattle (ibicuba). In some areas, in the past, a minstrel traveled from area to area singing the news and accompanying himself with a seven-stringed zither.

Rural literature takes the form of legendary tales, myths, and praise-poetry. At one time the Hutu composed poetry for the king and nobility, but praises were also sung to honor the everyday aspects of agricultural life.


Agricultural labor was traditionally predominant among the Hutu, with work related to cattle raising and herding more highly valued than cultivation of the soil. People of Tutsi background who cultivated the soil were often considered poor and could lose their status as nobles. In this way some Tutsi “became” Hutu. Today, a majority of Hutu are still farmers. Coffee and tea are the primary cash crops. People also seek opportunities for cash employment. In major cities industrial development has been hampered by the years of political conflict.


One of the most popular traditional forms of entertainment for both young people and adults is a variant of the game known as mancala in other parts of Africa and played with a wooden board that has rows of hollowed-out holes for holding beans. The beans are moved rapidly from hole to hole; the object of the game is to line up one's pieces in rows in such a way as to systematically eliminate the pieces of one's opponent. The main spectator sport in Burundi is soccer.


The capital cities of Rwanda and Burundi have movie theaters that show European and American films. The television industry itself is still under development. Television in Rwanda fosters multilingualism by broadcasting in many languages. This is in stark contrast to the genocide period during which one radio and television station used locally produced music and entertainment to broadcast hateful anti-Tutsi messages.

Music similar in style to that of the Congo and other neighboring countries is popular. Communities may also form neo-traditional drum and dance troupes for local people. Today a number of musicians from Rwanda and Burundi have achieved international recognition. Burundian musician Khadja Nin is particularly well-known for her multicultural style.


The Hutu have traditions of basketwork, pottery, woodwork, metal work, and jewelry making. Traditionally, wood carving was not highly developed, consisting mainly of drums, quivers, shields, and stools. Metal work included such objects as copper bracelets and rings, and iron spear points. The Gisaka region of Rwanda was also known for its elaborately painted house interiors. Today, many handicrafts are being produced for the international market. In Rwanda, reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi women has been facilitated by groups who work together to weave “peace baskets.” These have been offered for sale in the United States by a major department store.


An estimated 100,000 educated Hutu in Burundi were hunted down and killed in 1972, following an invasion by rebel Tutsis. In 1993, violence at that level was once again reported. This was followed by more than a decade of intermittent conflict between the Tutsi dominated army and Hutu rebels. There was no major progress toward peace until an agreement was made in 2003. Areas of conflict and dispute continue, although a democratically elected government with a Hutu president was established in 2005.

In Rwanda, the opposite situation has occurred: the Tutsi have suffered at the hands of the Hutu. In 1962, Hutus massacred thousands of people they defined as Tutsi. Victimization of Tutsis began again in the l990s after Tutsi rebels launched an invasion from neighboring Uganda. More than 800,000 people labeled Tutsi or Tutsi supporters were killed in the 1994 genocide. Many Hutu opposition leaders were also victims.

It cannot be stressed enough that labeling political violence in Rwanda and Burundi simply as Hutu versus Tutsi is an over-simplification. In practice the killings are not so well defined. Victims have frequently been targeted because of their political beliefs regardless of their purported ethnic classification.

In 1996 thousands of Hutu civilians who had fled to the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the wake of the 1994 genocide were caught up in a civil war. This was mainly due to the fact that the civilians had fled Rwanda together with a mass of armed Hutu soldiers. The fleeing Hutu military forces from Rwanda in turn got involved in clashes with the ethnic Tutsi of Zaire (Banyamulenge). Subsequently, the Banyamulenge allied with the rebel leader Laurent Kabila and helped depose Zaire's infamous dictator Mobuto Sese Seko.


According to custom, women were expected to be subordinate to their husbands; those who disobeyed could be punished severely. The use of violence was considered an acceptable way for a man to discipline his wife. However, a woman might also find support from her kin to prevent the severest of abuses. While the Hutu woman might suffer indignities from an abusive husband, her status was even lower in relationship to elite Tutsi men. A Tutsi man could take a Hutu woman as a concubine, for example, and refuse her the status of a wife, depriving her and her children of legitimacy in the kinship system. The man's wives also had authority over the concubine.

More recently, moves toward gender equality have been promoted. Both Burundi and Rwanda now require that a significant percentage of its elected representatives be women. In Rwanda, the government has enacted other legislation to support women's economic and political rights as well.

Violence against women remains a problem in the area. In the lead up to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, propaganda was particularly directed against Tutsi women, and they were frequently raped before being killed. One harmful stereotype was that Tutsi women were dangerous because they beguiled Hutu men with their beauty and seductive charms. Particularly as a consequence of the ongoing civil conflict in Burundi, women continue to be subjected to high rates of sexual violence there.

Homosexuality is rarely openly acknowledged by Tutsi or Hutu. This is also something that many people find sinful according to the doctrines of the Catholic church. In 2007 the government of Rwanda began considering a provision to the penal code that that would penalize homosexual behavior. It is already illegal in Burundi.


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Albert, Ethel M. “Rhetoric, Logic, and Poetics in Burundi.” American Anthropologist 66(6): (1964): 35–54.

“Anthology of World Music: Africa—Music From Rwanda.” Audio CD. Rounder Select, 1999.

Carlisle, R., ed. “The Hutu.” The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1990.

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Gansemans, J. “Rwanda.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. Washington, DC: Macmillan, 1980.

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Lemarchand, Rene. Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Malkki, Liisa H. Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

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—by R. Shanafelt


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LOCATION: Rwanda; Burundi

POPULATION: Approximately 10 million

LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda; Kirundi; French; Swahili

RELIGION: Christianity combined with traditional beliefs


The word Hutu is the name for the majority of people who live in the countries of Rwanda and Burundi. The Hutu have much in common with the other peoples of these countries, the Tutsi and the Twa. All three groups speak the same Bantu language.

Social relations in Rwanda and Burundi were affected by European rule. Both countries were European colonies between 1890 and 1962. The Germans ruled from 1890 until the end of World War I (191418). They favored the upper-class Tutsi. The Belgians who followed the Germans also favored the Tutsi at first. In the 1950s, however, they supported Hutu leaders because the Tutsi were seeking independence.

Rwanda and Burundi took very different paths to independence in 1962. In Rwanda, Hutu leaders overthrew the mwami ( the Tutsi king) and seized power by force. In Burundi, the change to independence was more peaceful. The mwami helped the Tutsi and Hutu reach an agreement. However, the peace did not last. The Hutu tried to gain power by force, and they were defeated.

At the time of independence, opposite sides controlled the two countries. Burundi is controlled by a branch of the Tutsi. In Rwanda, the Hutu ruled until 1994. Then Tutsi refugees from Uganda invaded the country. The government was overthrown and thousands of Hutu fled to neighboring countries. Many have returned since 1996.


Rwanda and Burundi are mountainous countries in east-central Africa. They share a common border. Their total combined area is roughly 20,900 square miles (54,100 square kilometers)about the combined size of the states of Maryland and New Jersey.

The combined Hutu population of Rwanda and Burundi was about 13 million in 1994. Many Hutu have left the two countries in recent decades. Thousands fled Burundi in 1972. Hundreds of thousands fled Rwanda in 1994. Many ended up living in refugee camps in neighboring countries. They started returning in 1996.


The Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa all speak the same Central Bantu language. It is called Kinyarwanda in Rwanda and Kirundi in Burundi. The two versions differ slightly in pronunciation. Some words are different, also.

Many Rwandans and Burundians speak French and have French first names. Swahili is also spoken, especially along the Tanzanian border and in the cities.

The Rwandans and Burundians have long names with clear meanings. For example, the name Mutarambirwa means "the one who never gets tired."


The Hutu tell proverbs, folktales, riddles, and myths. Samadari is a popular folk hero. He broke the rules everyone else had to follow. He could make fun of the rich and powerful and insult the wealthy cattle owners.


Today most people in Rwanda and Burundi are Christians. However, they have kept some of their ancient beliefs. The ancient Hutu god, Imaana, had many human qualities. Imaana meant well, but he was distant from the people.

The abazima were the spirits of the ancestors. They could become angry and bring bad luck to the living. Gifts were offered to the abazima for protection. People contacted them through fortune-tellers.


The Hutu observe the Rwandan and Burundian independence days, May Day (May 1), New Year's Day (January 1), and the major Christian holidays.


When a baby is born, the baby and mother stay alone in their house for seven days. A naming ceremony is held on the seventh day. Children who live nearby take part, and food is served.

Marriages are legal when the man's family pays the bride wealth to the woman's family. It is paid in cattle, goats, and beer. For the ceremony, the bride's body is covered with herbs and milk to make it pure.

Death is marked by prayers, speeches, and rituals. Close family members do not take part in certain activities. After a death, they do not work in the fields or have sexual relations during the period of mourning. When the family declares that the mourning period is over, they hold a ritual feast.


The Hutu have different greetings for morning, afternoon, and evening. The morning greetingWarumutse ho? is answered with Waaramutse. The afternoon greetingWiiriwe ho? is answered with Wiiriwe.

Hutu young people meet each other through group activities such as dances and church events. Western-style dating is practiced by wealthier Hutu in the cities.


Almost all Rwandans and Burundians live in rural areas. Traditional Hutu houses are huts made from wood, reeds, and straw and are shaped like beehives. High hedges serve as fences. In recent years, modern houses have been built with modern materials.


Women take care of the home. They also plant, hoe, and weed the crops. Men and boys look after the livestock and clear the fields to prepare them for planting.

In the past, the families of the bride and groom decided all marriages. These days most young people choose the person they want to marry.

Marriages between Hutu and Tutsis have always been rare, although Hutu men were allowed to court Tutsi women. Such marriages occur more often today, but they are still uncommon.


In the past, Hutus wore skirts of cloth made from tree bark, and cloaks made of animal hides. These have long been replaced by Western-style clothing. However, handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets are still worn.


The staple foods of the Hutu include beans, corn, millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Milk and beef are important foods. Goat meat and goat milk are eaten by people of low social status. Meals are often planned around a family's work schedule.

An alcoholic drink made from bananas and sorghum grain is saved for special occasions.


Only about half the people in Rwanda and Burundi can read and write in their native language. Even fewer can read and write French. There are schools for teachers and at least one university in each country. Well-educated persons speak French. Rwanda's educational system was disrupted by the 1994 conflict.


Music, dancing, and drumming are important parts of rural life. Men and women have different dances. The dancers move their arms and bodies quickly. They also stomp their feet in time to the music. People sing alone (solo) or in a chorus. There are many different kinds of songs. They include hunting songs, lullabies, and songs in praise of cattle (ibicuba ).

Hutu literature consists of myths, legends, and praise poetry.


Most Hutu have always been farmers. Raising and herding cattle are ranked more highly than raising crops.


Both young people and adults enjoy a game called igisoro (or called mancala in other parts of Africa). Beans are placed in holes in a wooden board. The players line up their own pieces in rows and try to capture those of their opponent.

The main spectator sport in Rwanda and Burundi is soccer.


Movie theaters in the capitals of Rwanda and Burundi show current European and American films.


Hutu crafts include pottery, woodwork, jewelry, metal work, and basket weaving.


Thousands of Hutu civilians fled from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1994. In 1996 they were caught up in a civil war in that country. Many returned to Rwanda.


Lemarchand, Rene. Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Malkki, Liisa H. Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Twagilimana, Aimable. Hutu and Tutsi. Heritage Library of African Peoples. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1998.


Weiner, Neil. Background Briefing: Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda and Burundi. [Online] Available htttp://, 1994.

World Travel Guide. Rwanda. [Online] Available, 1998.