POPULATION: Approximately 13 million
LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda; Kirundi; French, English
RELIGION: Christianity combined with traditional beliefs
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Tutsi are a people who live in Rwanda, Burundi, and the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have much in common with the other groups of this region, the Twa and the Hutu. Their cultures are similar, and they all speak the same language.
In the past, the Tutsi were cattle herders. They were a minority of the population. However, most of the upper-class rulers were Tutsi. A system of cattle trading helped keep peace among the different groups. The wealthier people (often Tutsi) lent cattle to the poorer ones (often Hutu). In return they gained their labor, loyalty, and political support.
Social relations in Rwanda and Burundi were changed by European rule. The Germans held power from the 1890s until World War I (1914–18). Then the Belgians ruled until 1962. For most of this period, the Europeans treated the Tutsi better than the Hutu. In the 1950s, however, the Belgians urged the Hutu to challenge Tutsi power. In 1959 Hutu leaders overthrew the Tutsi monarchy in Rwanda. Many Tutsi fled to nearby countries. In Burundi, the change to independence was more peaceful. The mwami (the Tutsi king) helped the Tutsi and Hutu sides reach an agreement. However, the peace did not last. The Hutu tried to gain power by force, and they were defeated.
When the colonial period ended, opposite sides controlled Rwanda and Burundi. The Hutu held power in Rwanda until 1994. The Tutsi still rule Burundi. Hutu power in Rwanda ended in 1994 when Tutsi rebels overthrew the government. However, this Tutsi victory occurred at a great cost in human lives. As many as one million people were killed.
2 • LOCATION
Rwanda and Burundi are mountainous countries in east-central Africa. Their combined total area is about 20,900 square miles (54,100 square kilometers). This is about the combined size of the states of Maryland and New Jersey.
Tutsi also live in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). They live near the city of Bukavu in the Mulenge region. Here they are known as the Banyamulenge.
The combined population of Rwanda and Burundi was about 13 million in 1994. However, many refugees fled Rwanda that year. In addition, many Rwandese Tutsi returned from Uganda after the Hutu army was defeated in 1994.
3 • LANGUAGE
The Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa all speak a Central Bantu language. It is called Kinyarwanda in Rwanda, and Kirundi in Burundi. Both are dialects of the same language. Like other Bantu languages, both use nouns with prefixes. For example, the word Banyamulenge ("Ba-nya-mulenge") can be divided into parts. The prefix "banya" means "people"; "Mulenge" is the name of a region. The whole word means "people of Mulenge."
Many Rwandese and Burundians speak French, the language of their former Belgian rulers. French is used in school. Also, many people in both countries have French first names. Tutsi who have been refugees in Uganda may also speak English.
Personal names may be based on events, poetry, or beliefs. The name Ndagijimana means "God is my herder." Hakizumwami means "only the king can save." Muvunanyambo means "the defender of noble cows."
4 • FOLKLORE
Tutsi folklore includes poetry, proverbs, folk tales, riddles, and myths. Some Tutsis used to know the names of their ancestors at least six generations back. Many believed they were descended from a mythical king named Gihanga.
One popular folk tale tells the story of Sebgugugu. He was a poor man who was helped by God. God performed miracles to provide food for him and his family. However, each time Sebgugugu wanted more. Through his greed, Sebgugugu lost everything in the end.
5 • RELIGION
Today most people in Rwanda and Burundi are Christians. However, some traditional beliefs survive. These include the belief in a distant creator called Imaana. This god has the power to grant wealth and fertility. The king shares in this power. It can be seen in his sacred fire, royal drums, and rituals. Spirits of dead relatives, called abazima, carry messages between Imaana and the human world. However, the abazima may bring bad luck to those who do not respect them. People offer gifts to protect themselves from the abazima. They also try to learn the spirits' wishes by seeing fortune-tellers.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
National holidays include Independence Day, May Day, New Year's Day, and the major Christian holidays. The Tutsis' traditional holidays were celebrated with dancing and sacred drumming. These holidays are no longer observed.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Hutu and Tutsi rites of passage are very similar. The first one, the naming ceremony, takes place seven days after a child's birth.
Marriage is made legal by payment of the bride wealth. It is paid by the groom's family to the bride's family because they are losing her labor. There is no ritual other than marriage to mark the beginning of adulthood.
Death is marked by prayers, speeches, and limits on many activities. Close family members are supposed to avoid physical labor and sex after a death. When the mourning period ends, the family holds a ritual feast.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Social status is very important in both Rwanda and Burundi. Signs of status include a person's posture, body movements, and way of speaking. Upper-class people are supposed to act with dignity and not show their emotions.
The Tutsi have different greetings for morning, afternoon, and evening.
In the past, most people had arranged marriages to someone of the same social class. Today, Tutsi may choose the person they will marry. Group activities are more common than dating in couples. However, some young Tutsis in the cities practice Western-style dating and go out to nightclubs.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Traditional Tutsi houses were huts of wood, reeds, and straw shaped like beehives. Around them were high hedges that served as fences. Modern Tutsi build rectangular houses with Western-style building materials. These houses have corrugated iron or tile roofs.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Tutsi and Hutu families are patrilineal (the family name is passed on by males).
In the past, marriage in Rwanda and Burundi was based on the relations between the two families. Today most Tutsis choose the person they will marry.
11 • CLOTHING
In the past, Tutsi men and women wore robes brought in from the African coast. A woman's costume included a white robe and white headbands. Today Western-style clothing is usually worn. Women wear dresses and scarves made from the printed cloth popular in East Africa. Men wear pants and shirts.
12 • FOOD
Milk, butter, and meat are the most highly valued foods. However, people will only kill a cow on a special occasion. Goat meat and goat milk are also eaten. However, they are eaten secretly because it is against Tutsi customs. Tutsi in rural areas consume milk products, bananas, and sorghum beer. Meals are arranged around work schedules.
Alcoholic beverages are made from bananas and sorghum. People drink them on special occasions.
13 • EDUCATION
No more than half of Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi can read and write their native language. A smaller number can read and write French. There are teacher training schools in Burundi. Both Rwanda and Burundi have at least one university.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Royal dancing and drumming groups performed for the kings of Rwanda and Burundi. For rituals, two dozen tall drums were placed around a central drum. The drummers moved around the drums in a circle. Each one took a turn beating the central drum. This style of drumming is still practiced, and it has been recorded.
Singing, dancing, and drumming are important in rural life. People compose many kinds of songs—hunting songs, lullabies, and ibicuba (songs praising cattle).
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Cattle herding has always carried a higher status among the Tutsi than farming. In the past there was a special class of herders, called abashumba, who took care of the king's prize cattle (inyambo ).
16 • SPORTS
The main spectator sport in Rwanda and Burundi is soccer.
A game called igisoro is popular with children and adults. It is played on a wooden board with holes for beads or stones. Players line up their pieces in rows and capture as many of their opponents' pieces as they can. In other parts of Africa the game is known as mancala.
17 • RECREATION
Movie theaters in the capitals of Rwanda and Burundi show current European and American films.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Traditional crafts of Rwanda and Burundi include basket weaving, pottery, woodworking, metal working, and jewelry making.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Since the early 1960s, the peoples of Rwanda and Burundi have lived through some of the worst violence in African history. The killings are usually called ethnic warfare between the Hutu and Tutsi. However, victims have often been killed for their political beliefs, not just their ethnic group.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Nyankanzi, Edward L. Genocide: Rwanda and Burundi. Rochester, Vt.: Schenkman Books, 1997.
Twagilimana, Aimable. Hutu and Tutsi. Heritage Library of African Peoples. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1998.
Internet Africa Ltd. [Online] Available http://www.africanet.com/africanet/countryb/urundi/, 1998.
World Travel Guide. Burundi. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/bi/gen.html, 1998.
World Travel Guide. Rwanda. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/rw/gen.html, 1998.
"Tutsi." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
"Tutsi." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved January 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
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Tutsi (tōōt´sē, tōō´–) or Watutsi (wä–), cattle-raising people of central Africa, particularly in Burundi and Rwanda; they are also known as Watusi or Batusi. The original Tutsi homeland was probably in Ethiopia, and c.400 years ago they migrated south to around Lake Kivu. Here they established the native kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi, ruled by a mwami (king). An aristocratic people, the Tutsi long held the peasant Bahutu, or Hutu, in feudal subjugation. In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, despite much integration of Tutsi and Hutu culture, many members of both tribes died in bloody fighting in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo. The Tutsi are spectacularly tall, often 7 ft (2.1 m) in height.
"Tutsi." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
"Tutsi." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
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"Tutsi." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tutsi
"Tutsi." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved January 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tutsi
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Since the late 1990s, a group of Tutsi, who have their origin in the Great Lakes area of Africa (Burundi and Rwanda), claim that this region was the home of a Hebraic community in ancient times, and claim a Jewish identity. Their homeland, supposedly extending far beyond the regions where the Tutsi now reside, is called Havila by them, according to the name applied in Genesis 2:11 to the legendary territory watered by the Pishon River. The Tutsi claim to perpetuate either the pharaonic monotheism of the 18th dynasty of Egypt or Moses' faith as transcribed in the Hebraic Torah. The Hamitic-Semitic myth of the origins of these Tutsi, which was largely inspired by missionaries and colonists of the 19th century, now appears to be strongly reinforced by the symbolic uses they make of Judaism. Following their terrible suffering during the genocide of 1994, these Tutsi have increasingly claimed a Jewish identity and describe their history as a microcosm of World Jewish history, evoking the common experience of persecution to give more weight to their Jewish identity claim. The group is based in Belgium, where its president, Professor Yochanan Bwejeri, and the Havila Institute call upon Israel and the international community to condemn and take measures against the "antisemitic" violence in Africa towards the Tutsi ethnic group.
L. Ndayongeje, "Mythe des origines, idéologie hamitique et violence en Afrique des Grands Lacs: comprendre et agir," in: Grands Lacs Confidentiel (Aug. 16, 2004); E. Kennes, "Judaïsation des Tutsi: identité ou stratégie de conquête," in: Grands Lacs Confidentiel (March 18, 2000).
[Tudor Parfitt (2nd ed.)]
"Tutsi." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
"Tutsi." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved January 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
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LOCATION: Rwanda, Burundi, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)
POPULATION: Approximately 3–4 million
LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, French, English
RELIGION: Christianity (with aspects of traditional belief)
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Burundians; Rwandans
Tutsi refers to the people who live in the densely populated African countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and in border areas of neighboring countries. In Uganda Tutsis are commonly known as Bafumbira; in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as Banyamulenge. The Tutsi share many cultural traditions with the Twa and the Hutu. In fact, Tutsi, Twa, and Hutu are not only culturally similar; they also share the same language and culture.
During the period of colonial rule in Rwanda and Burundi, Tutsi and Hutu labels became associated with rigid stereotypes, although it is quite difficult to say exactly what the labels mean today. Both Tutsi and Hutu have been victims of violence that can be accurately described as genocide.
The Tutsi are said to be people of Nilotic (region of the Nile River) origin who were traditionally cattle-herding pastoral-ists, living the life of herders. They are said to differ physically from the Bantu farmers and Twa hunters who inhabited the region before the Tutsi arrived.
The Tutsi label is also used to refer to members of a high-ranking social category, similar to a caste. This is because in Rwanda and Burundi Tutsi came to form the majority of an aristocratic elite, even though they were a minority of the population in both countries. To further complicate things, some believe that the Tutsi and Hutu were not always ethnically different, but that they became two separate groups as a reflection of their different ways of life. Whatever their origins, people known as Tutsi came to rule others called Hutu. Lowest in this status system were the Twa, who were descended from pygmy people.
There are important divisions within the Tutsi category that complicate this picture even more. For example, in Burundi the highest status Tutsi were the ganwa (princes) and the people of the Tutsi-Banyaruguru (royal family). Lower status Tutsi, the Tutsi-Hima, were looked down upon by the royals.
With such complexities, it has not been difficult to distort what is known of the past for crass political purposes. For example, some have overemphasized ethnic divisions in order to foster ethnic and racial hatred. On the other hand, some have downplayed Tutsi-Hutu distinctions in order to maintain that that there has been no systematic domination of one group over another. In reality, the true history of the Tutsi- Hutu divide is incompletely understood, although it certainly has had much to do with kingship, the changes brought by colonialism, and contemporary struggles for power.
Through many periods of history, the rule of the mwamis (Tutsi kings) was autocratic, but it was not always unpopular. Historically, the mwami was strongest in central Rwanda. In Burundi the Tutsi king relied more on Hutu support. Hutu leaders were able to rise to positions of power and influence within the court.
Social relations in Rwanda and Burundi were modified by European rule—Germans from the 1890s until World War I and Belgians from World War I until 1962. During most of this period, the Tutsi were treated with favor by the Europeans, but the Hutu were encouraged to attempt to end Tutsi domination by the Belgians toward the end of their rule.
The first major social upheaval began in Rwanda in the wake of a Hutu-led campaign for independence from Belgian rule in 1959. Hutu leaders seized power and abolished the monarchy, and some Tutsi fled to neighboring countries. During this period, and again in 1962 and 1963, thousands of Tutsi civilians were killed.
In Burundi, there was a more peaceful transition to independence in 1962. Initially, the king served as an intermediary between Tutsi and Hutu sides, but the monarchy was abolished by Tutsi leaders following a failed Hutu coup attempt in 1965. Law and order broke down altogether after Hutu forces invaded the country from Tanzania in 1972. This was followed by another coup that brought the Tutsi-Hima into power. After repulsing the Hutu invasion, they implemented widespread repression. All those identified as educated Hutu, even down to the level of elementary school students, were systematically hunted down. More than 100,000 people were killed in a campaign of what has been called “selective genocide.”
The Tutsi-Hutu divisions in Rwanda and Burundi thus became more rigid and violent as a result of colonial rule and the independence process. The end result of the colonial period was that opposite sides controlled each country. In Rwanda, the Hutu became associated with the power of the state. In Burundi, the state came to be controlled by a branch of the Tutsi. Efforts to end Tutsi domination in Burundi were crushed in 1988; five years later, in 1993, there was another period of genocidal violence. This was followed by a long period of conflict between the Tutsi dominated army and Hutu rebels that did not abate until a peace deal was reached in 2003. (Even then the conflict has not entirely been settled.) In Rwanda, Hutu domination ended only after the army of the RPF (Rwandan People's Front) succeeded in overthrowing the government in the wake of the genocide of 1994. Since then, thousands of Tutsi refugees have returned to the country.
Former RPF commander Paul Kagame has been the dominant leader in Rwanda since 1994. In 2003 he won election as president. In Burundi, a former Hutu rebel leader and college professor, Pierre Nkurunziza, was elected president in 2005.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Rwanda and Burundi are mountainous countries in east-central Africa. Burundi shares a northern border with Rwanda. Rwanda's northern border is with Uganda. Both countries are bounded by the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) to the west and Tanzania to the east, but much of western Burundi is bounded by Lake Tanganyika. The combined total area of Rwanda and Burundi together is approximately 20,900 sq mi (54,100 sq km). This is roughly comparable to the combined size of Maryland and New Jersey.
Tutsi also live in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the Mulenge region of the South Kivu province where they have lived for many generations. However, because of Congo's recent civil war, many have had to flee as refugees from the Mulenge region. Congolese Tutsi are commonly referred to as Banyamulenge.
Population densities in the region are among the highest in Africa. In 1994, there were an estimated 208 people per sq km (220 per sq mi) in Burundi. In 1993, there were an estimated 280 people per sq km in Rwanda. Today these figures are even higher. Despite the years of genocide and poor health care, the combined population of all groups in Rwanda and Burundi was approximately 19 million in 2008. Of these, more than one half are young adults and children.
The Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa of Rwanda and Burundi all speak a Central Bantu language. This language is called Kinyarwanda in Rwanda, and Kirundi in Burundi; the two are dialects rather than distinct languages. Banyamulenge may be most at home speaking Congolese languages as well as French and the East African trade language, Swahili.
As with Bantu languages in general, Kinyarwanda/Kirundi is characterized by a system of noun classes identified by prefixes. These prefixes differentiate singular from plural, and group nouns into like categories. Thus, a word such as Banyamulenge (“Ba-nya-mulenge”) can be broken down into parts. The prefixes “banya” refer to people; Mulenge is the name of a region. Altogether, the word means “people of Mulenge.” Bantu prefixes are often omitted in English. For example, Kinyarwanda may be referred to as Rwanda in English, or Kirundi as Rundi. Many Tutsi from the region also speak Swahili.
As a result of its colonial history, Rwandese and Burundians have long received their formal schooling in French. Another implication of this is that many people in the two countries have French first names. However, since the change in government in Rwanda in 1994, English has become increasingly important there.
African personal names have meanings that reflect important cultural values. They may be derived from events, borrowed from praise poetry, or reflect attitudes about religion, kingship, or cattle. For example, the name Ndagijimana means “God is my herder.” Hakizumwami is a name that means “only the king can save.” Muvunanyambo means “the defender of noble cows.” Greetings may also reflect the traditional value placed on cattle. For example, a common greeting is “amasho,” literally meaning “may you be rich in cattle.”
Traditionally, the ability to express oneself well orally was highly valued. Aristocrats were expected to maintain a dignified style in speaking, and demonstrated their high status by calculated use of silence. Cattle terms were used to refer to the best and most precious aspects of social life. For example, the king of Rwanda was referred to as “the bull of the herd.”
Verbal arts include praise poetry, proverbs, folktales, riddles, and myths. Traditionally, these were vibrant parts of everyday life. Tutsi elite typically knew the names of their ancestors to at least six generations, and many believed they were descendants of a mythical founding king named Gihanga.
Among the Tutsi, the most elaborate praises were reserved for the king, but cattle were named individuals worthy of praise and poetry as well. Herders commonly entertained themselves by singing the praises of their cattle during their daily rounds to the pastures.
One popular folktale tells the story of a greedy man named Sebgugugu. Sebgugugu is a poor man who is helped by God. God provides food for him and his family in a number of miraculous ways, but each time the greedy Sebgugugu wants more. Through his greed, Sebgugugu finally loses everything.
Most people in modern-day Rwanda and Burundi are Christians, particularly Catholics. In the wake of the 1994 genocide, many Tutsi have converted to Islam. In traditional thought, the Creator is somewhat remote, although his power is manifest in the king. The word for creator, Imaana, means both God and “God's power to ensure prosperity and fertility.” The king had special access to this power, and he demonstrated this to the people through his sacred fire, the royal drums, and the royal agricultural rites. For this reason, he was thought to be responsible for the nation's fate. Ancestral spirits, called abazima, also act as intermediaries between God and the human world. However, the abazima may also hold grudges against the living and bring misfortune to those who do not respect them. To protect against the abazima, offerings are made, and diviners are consulted to interpret their wishes. Special ceremonies are held to pay respect to the most powerful of the abazima.
National holidays include Independence Days, May Day, New Year's Day, and the major Christian holidays. Rwanda has several new holidays. These include February 1 (National Heroes Day); April 7 (Genocide Memorial Day); July 4 (National Liberation Day); and 1st of October (Patriotism Day). Other traditional holidays, such as the annual holidays connected with the mwami, are no longer observed. The elaborate royal rituals associated with these holidays included specially trained dancers and the use of giant sacred drums. Some of these practices have been preserved in the form of professional entertainment.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Rites of passage for Tutsi and Hutu are very similar. The first ritual of life passage, the naming ceremony, takes place seven days after a child's birth.
Marriage is legitimated by the transfer of bridewealth, a kind of compensation for the loss of the woman's labor. Bride-wealth is paid by the family of the groom to the family of the bride. For most Tutsi, bridewealth consisted traditionally of a cow and other gifts. In central Rwanda, however, the prestige of the Tutsi elite was such that they were often exempt from bridewealth payment. The traditional marriage ceremony itself is complex, and the details vary from region to region. These customs may or may not be practiced today by people most influenced by European culture. Except for marriage, there is no formal initiation process to celebrate the change 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 physical exertion during the period of mourning, at the end of which the family hosts a ritual feast.
Social life in traditional Rwanda and Burundi was dictated by status distinctions. Signs of social status are indicated by posture, body language, and style of speech. The ideal for a person of elite status is to act with dignity, emotional restraint, and decorum. This ideal was called kwitonda.
There are separate greetings for morning, afternoon, and evening. In the early decades of the twentieth century, people of the same age greeted each other in an elaborate ritual that included sung greetings, stylized embraces, and formalized gestures. Subordinates showed deference to their social superiors by kneeling in their presence.
A system of cattle exchange helped to keep harmony among the factions of society. In this system wealthy elites (often Tutsi) lent cattle to herdsmen (often Hutu) in exchange for their labor, loyalty, and political support. This was called buhake in Rwanda and bugabire in Burundi.
Traditionally, romantic relationships between young men and women were expected to occur within the caste group, and marriages were usually arranged. In the late twentieth century, socializing in group activities was more common than individual dating, although Western-style dating and socializing at nightclubs is practiced by some in urban areas.
The average life expectancy in Rwanda and Burundi is very low by world standards. However, in the past Rwanda and Burundi have been healthy and prosperous places, benefitting from the high elevation that offered protection from malarial mosquitoes. More recently, there are not only the problems of extreme political violence but also of inadequate nutrition, health care, and diseases such as bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. It is also estimated that about 5% of adults are suffering from AIDS. Infant mortality is also very high.
Despite a high population density, the majority of the population remains rural. Houses were traditionally bee-hived shaped huts of wood, reeds, and straw, surrounded by a high hedge that served as a fence. The hut interiors of wealthy Tutsi were often elaborately decorated with screens that functioned as room dividers. Modern Tutsi are using the money they make from the sale of agricultural products to buy Western-style housing material to build rectangular houses, with corrugated iron or tile roofing.
For rural people, the chief source of income comes through the sale of agricultural products such as coffee and tea.
Transportation infrastructure in the region is not well developed. Roads are often unpaved, and there is no railway. In Rwanda, an aggressive plan of economic development has been promoted by President Kagame.
The basic unit of society is the household. These were not organized in villages but remained distinct as separate homesteads built on hills spread across the landscape. The concept of house, or inzu, is so important that it refers not only to a physical home but also to one's family and ancestral line.
Tutsi and Hutu families are organized patrilineally (through the fathers) into lineages and clans. Polygyny (a man having more than one wife) was permitted but the goal was to have a large family. Although love matches were not unknown, and elopements occurred, marriage in Rwanda and Burundi was traditionally about maintaining power and relationships between families. In modern times, however, marriage is more often a matter of personal choice.
Legitimate marriages between Tutsi and Hutu did occur, but they were rare. Twa men and women were looked down upon by both Hutu and Tutsi and were not generally considered acceptable mates. People from mixed Tutsi-Hutu families were also targeted in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Tutsi men and women wore gowns and robes imported from the African coast before the arrival of the Europeans. A common form of dress was a wrap around skirt and top piece tied at the shoulder, not unlike a Roman toga. A woman's ceremonial dress included a plain white robe, with perhaps a few geometric designs, and a number of white headbands. On most occasions today, however, Western-style clothing is worn. Women wear dresses, headscarves, and the printed clothes that are popular throughout East Africa. Men wear pants and shirts.
In the past, Tutsi women wore numerous copper bracelets and anklets. These were often so heavy that the elite women were unable to do much work. In fact, this very inability to do agricultural labor helped distinguish them from the ordinary women who had to work in the fields.
Milk, butter, and meat are the most highly valued foods traditionally. Because of the social and religious value of cattle, however, people do not often butcher a cow without some ritual justification. While goat meat and goat milk may be consumed as well, these foods were taboo. The ideal for the elite Tutsi was a pure diet of milk products, supplemented by beer made from fermented plantains or sorghum grain. Meal times are flexible, often revolving around work obligations.
Today the most common foods are beans, corn, cassava, peas, plantains, and sweet potatoes. Tropical fruits are also popular.
Literacy rates have been at times lower than 50% in Rwanda and Burundi in the vernacular (native language), and lower in French, but seem to be improving. Rwanda currently reports a literacy rate of about 70%. In Burundi, literate Hutu were persecuted in 1972, but education began to be encouraged again in the 1980s. There are teacher-training schools and at least one university in both countries.
In Rwanda, educational structures were disrupted by the 1994 political violence. Prior to 1994, 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.
The kings of Rwanda and Burundi maintained elaborate dance and drum ensembles that were associated with royal power. On ritual occasions in Burundi two dozen tall, footed drums were arranged in a semicircle around a 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. Since the 1960s the Royal Drummers of Burundi have toured the world giving performances. They have also recorded albums and collaborated with Western musicians.
In Rwanda some young men, children of nobility, were singled out for special training. Known as intore, these students received the best education in rhetoric and warfare and served as the king's elite dance troupe. Their dances involved leaping and rhythmic stomping of the feet. Today they perform for tourists at the national museum.
Music, dancing, and drumming are all important in rural life. People compose many kinds of popular songs—hunting songs, lullabies, and ibicuba (songs praising cattle). In some areas, there were traveling minstrels who sang the news, accompanying themselves with a seven-string zither. A special dance was also part of the rituals of courtship. These days people also enjoy modern entertainment by way of television, movies, and recorded music. Some of today's musicians have developed new forms of music that combine elements of traditional and modern elements.
Many of the details of the cultural heritage of Rwanda were described in French by the renowned Rwandan scholar-priest Alexis Kagame. One example of his work is La poésie dynastique au Rwanda (The dynastic poetry of Rwanda), which was published in 1951. More recently, a number of individual Tutsi survivors of the genocide have published autobiographies and Rwandans who have gained experience working on such movies as Hotel Rwanda have begun to produce their own films.
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. On the other hand, an especially high status was reserved for the abashumba pastoralists. These were a special class of herders whose job it was to take care of the king's prize cattle (inyambo).
Today Tutsi as well as Hutu are farmers. In addition to growing food crops, they also produce cash crops, especially coffee and tea.
The main spectator sport in Burundi is soccer. Many people also enjoy playing the game informally.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
There are movie theaters that show contemporary European and American films in the capital cities. People also enjoy television, video, and a variety of modern musical forms. Contemporary musicians from Tutsi backgrounds who have developed international reputations include Jean-Paul Samputu and Cornelius Nyungura, popularly known as “Corneille” (Crow).
A popular game for young people and adults is igisoro, played with a wooden board that has rows of hollowed-out places for holding beads or stones that are used as counters. The object of the game is to line up one's pieces in rows in such a way as to capture as many counters as possible. This is very similar to the game is known as mancala played in other parts of Africa.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Both Rwanda and Burundi have traditions of basketwork, pottery, woodwork, metal work, and jewelry making. Items carved from wood included drums, quivers, shields, and stools, but wood carving was not highly developed. Metal objects included copper bracelets and rings, and iron spear points. Traditionally, Tutsi women were noted for their expertise in weaving, especially for their intricately woven screens with geometric designs used in the houses of the wealthy as room dividers and decorations. Recently, handicrafts are being produce for the international market. Most notable among them are the “peace baskets” woven by Rwandan women and marketed by a major American department store.
A national ballet was established to promote folk dance traditions in Rwanda during the rule of Juvénal Habyarimana (1973-1994). At its height it had more than 200 members. However, its reputation was tarnished when its founding director was implicated in the genocide.
Sporadically since the early 1960s, the peoples of Rwanda and Burundi have experienced some of the worst violence in the history of Africa. In Burundi, massive genocide was carried out against Hutu by Tutsi in 1972 and in 1993. Perhaps 100,000 died in the first case, and at least that many died in the latter case. In Rwanda, the roles of killer and victims have been reversed. In 1962, Hutu people massacred thousands of people they defined as Tutsi. Thirty-two years later, Hutu leaders directed the killing of an estimated 800,000 people, most of them Tutsi. Labeling this violence simply as Hutu versus Tutsi is an oversimplification, however. In practice the killings were not merely ethnic but also political. For example, in some regions, there was also major Hutu-on-Hutu violence that appears to have been related to local disputes. In addition, the United Nations and the major world powers have not acted effectively to stop the genocides.
The effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide spilled over into neighboring Congo after defeated Hutu soldiers fled there, while an influx of civilian refugees into Burundi contributed to that country's pre-existing instability. In 1996 a military conflict began in the DRC between Banyamulenge (ethnic Tutsi) and the remnants of the Hutu military who had fled to the refugee camps there in the wake of their defeat in Rwanda.
After the Hutu soldiers were routed, most the Hutu civilian refugee population was able to return to Rwanda. Nonetheless, the incursion of armed Rwandans into the DRC helped spark a violent civil war that ultimately led to the death of several million Congolese.
In Rwanda, the government has made some dramatic attempts at Hutu-Tutsi reconciliation. Most prominent among these was implementation of the gacaca court system under which low level actors in the 1994 genocide were offered the opportunity for amnesty. In this system local communities conducted public proceedings and the mass of perpetrators who acted under the auspices of higher authorities were given the opportunity to confess. Critics complain, however, that attempts at political reconciliation are hampered by practices in government that discourage open dissent.
Traditionally women were socialized to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers. They were expected to be subordinate to their husbands and did not have full rights of property and inheritance. Historically, a major exception to this occurred in central Rwanda under the administration of Mwami Rwabugiri (1865–1895). During this time some Tutsi women were able to acquire land. Some even could go to war or become war chiefs.
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 legislation to support women's economic rights. While once women were discouraged by many from obtaining education, today dropout rates for females have fallen and their rate of college attendance has increased dramatically. The gap between males and females in literacy rates appears also to be narrowing. Nearly 50%of the parliament is composed of women representatives; and half of national judges are women. For such accomplishments, President Kagame received the “African Gender Award” from the Pan-African Center for Gender, Peace, and Development in 2007.
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. As a consequence of the ongoing civil conflict in Burundi, women continue to be subjected to high rates of 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. Homosexual acts are illegal in Burundi. In 2007, the government of Rwanda began considering a provision to the penal code that that would also penalize homosexual behavior.
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—by R. Shanafelt
"Tutsi." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi
"Tutsi." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Retrieved January 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tutsi