The Hutu


The Hutu, also known as Abahutu, Bahutu, and Wakhutu, comprise the majority population of both Rwanda and Burundi, numbering over 6 million people or 85 percent of the population of both countries. The Hutu share the same Bantu languages with their Tutsi neighbors called Kinyarwanda or Kirundi. Hutu and Tutsi share a long history together, but with colonization, differences between them became more pronounced and developed into political identities. Scholars note that a strong economic distinction between Tutsi and Hutu developed in the later half of the 19th cen-tury, when a form of unequal contract between patrons and clients developed, called uburetwa, giving patrons even more control over clients including required days of labor for the patron under threat of having their lands taken from them. This sys-tem of exploitation helped solidify social and economic classes, making it even harder to cross class lines.

The Hutu moved into the highlands in the Lakes Region of Central Africa in the 10th century; part of the expansion by Bantu speakers into the AfricanGreat Lakes. The settled agriculturalists cleared much of the forest lands to make more areas available for agriculture, building materials, firewood, and charcoal for iron smelting. As a result, they also opened more lands for grazing, which encouraged cattle pastoralists—ancestors of the Tutsi—to begin moving into the same areas. From the 12th to the 14th centuries, much of what is known today as Uganda was ruled by the Kingdom of Kitara, while in the Lakes Region, numerous chiefdoms and small states ruled over rapidly growing populations.

These smaller political units remained until the formation of the first Tutsi kingdom in the 17th century. The first kingdom, that of Nyiginya, was relatively small, and the “conquest” of Hutu kingdoms progressed slowly as much through establishing client relationships as actual military conquest. The last Hutu chiefdom was brought under Tutsi control in the late 19th century.Cultural life changed with the arrival of cattle herders. Cattle herders imposed social categories based on cattle owner-ship, and marriage required an exchange of cattle as part of the bride price. The agriculturalists were placed in a socially inferior position as clients of their cattle-owning social superiors. Prior to European colonization, it was possible to move between categories of Hutu and Tutsi.

Tutsi kings owned large herds that were spread out among clients (the position of cattle herder was passed down through generations), and kings used gifts of cattle as reward for service. The patron/client relationship formed the basis of Tutsi/Hutu relationships. The patron or shebuja and client or garagu were bound together in a system called ubuhake, which comes from cattle terminology dealing with calv-ing. The client was given protection “as if he was a calf in the womb of his mother” in exchange for services including part of the crops (Vansina, 47). It was an unequal contract, though, stipulating that should the patron decide to end the contract, the client was forced not only to return the cattle of the patron, but to relinquish all of those the client had been able to obtain or produce as well. Later, other forms of unequal contracts were instituted by the cattle- and landowning Tutsi, which helped form class identities and thus the two “ethnicities” as observed by European colonial authorities.

In the past, Hutu were able to gain posi-tions of power, particularly in the military where by 1800, a number of the army commanders were Hutu. A Hutu could become a Tutsi through favor of a king and would go through a ceremony called guhutura, meaning “to shed Hutu status.” Intermarriage was common, especially between Hutu men and Tutsi women, though the children would take the iden-tity of their father. Marriages between TutsimenandHutuwomen were less common—it was easier for women to marrydownthantomarry up.Intermar-riage was more common in the southern districts of Rwanda than in the north. Pov-erty could cause a Tutsi to become a Hutu, and even those of high birth such as cous-ins of the king could lose their Tutsi status and become Hutu.The Germans incorporated both king-doms of Rwanda and Burundi in the late 19th century in their East African colony and held them until 1916, when they lost them to the Belgians. Belgian authority was recognized by the League of Nations in 1923.

The Europeans brought with them the European need to make sense and order out of local institutions, and they created ethnic categories. The eco-nomic basis for the Tutsi and Hutu as groups did not fit into colonial constructs of ethnic categories. The colonial author-ities were drawn to the romantic figures of the cattle-owning Tutsis, who were characterized as tall, lighter skinned (and therefore perhaps of Hamitic rather the African Bantu origins and it was fantasied they were descendants of Ancient Egyp-tians), with narrower noses and thinner lips—again, more “European.” Tutsi were warriors, while the Hutu were farmers. The Hutu were characterized as short, dark, and with broad noses and wide lips, thus clearly of African/Bantu origins. Colonial stereotypes became ingrained not only in the minds of the colonial authorities, but also among the local peo-ple as social classes hardened.

The Hutu of Rwanda, through Christian missionaries, became educated and, before independence, began demanding equal political rights. Their demand for democracy caused a change in who the colonial powers backed; from the Tutsi to the Hutu. In 1957, a group of Hutu intel-lectuals published the Bahutu Manifesto, calling for democracy and the end of Tutsi (who accounted for only 15 percent of the population) domination. The Tutsi elite responded by saying that the traditional patron-client relationship was the proper one, and that the Hutu should not expect to share power. The Rwandan Revolution erupted in 1959, and thousands of Tutsi diedandaround200,000fledtonearby countries. The last Tutsi king was among the dead, and, in 1961, the Hutu and Belgians officially ended the Kingdom of Rwanda. In 1962, the country became independent.

The Hutu of Burundi were not able to put an end to Tutsi domination. In 1961, the Kingdom of Burundi separated from the joint Rwanda-Burundi colonial author-ity and, in 1962, became the independent Kingdom of Burundi. The Tutsi domi-nated the military, but the king announced that the country would become a constitu-tional monarchy and give political repre-sentation to the Hutu. However, the king refused to install the elected Hutu prime minister, which provoked a Hutu uprising. The response was the mass killing of Hutu, especially intellectuals. The upris-ing failed, but caused a military coup that ousted the king.

In the 1970s, another Huturebellionresultedinthedeathof 200,000 Hutu, and another 100,000 fled to neighboring countries. Again in the 1990s, Hutu-Tutsi violence in Burundi caused some 700,000 people (both Tutsi and Hutu) to flee. Attempts at political set-tlement in Burundi began in 2003, and the past two elected presidents have been Hutus.In Rwanda the mass exodus of Tutsi in the Rwanda Revolution began a diaspora population living mainly in Uganda. Tutsi rebel forces launched several cross-border raids with minimal effect, but in 1963, they were able to overpower a Hutu mili-tary base, collect modern weapons, and speed on toward the capital before they were defeated. The invasion sparked a killing of approximately 10,000 Tutsis. The president was ousted and the Hutu general Juvenal Habyarimana became the new president in 1973.

Habyarimana formed the Mouvement revolutionnaire pour la developpement (MRND) in 1975 and imposed a strict quota of 9 percent on Tutsis in all jobs, both public and private sectors, as well as in schools for all ages. Tutsis were barred from becoming officers in the military, and Hutu soldiers could not marry Tutsi women. In 1991, the “Hutu Ten Com-mandments” set out a program of com-plete separation of the two peoples, and any Hutu who broke any of the command-ments would be considered a traitor. The MRND formed a youth wing called the Interahamwe, meaning “those who work together,” and a youth militia called Impu-zamugambi, meaning “those with a single purpose,” centered around Habyarimana’s powerful wife Agathe Kanzinga and her clique. Despite the open discrimination of the Rwandan government, Habyarimana was supported by France, as it saw its influence in Africa in danger with the growing power of the Anglophone Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF).

Habyarimana was forced to deal with the power presented to him by the Tutsi diaspora, but, at the same time in 1993, Habyarimana and the “Hutu Power” clique, including his politically powerful wife Agathe Kanzinga, prepared behind-the-scenes plans for the “cleansing” of Tutsis in Rwanda. Interahamwe were trained and organized to set about the killing of Tutsis; arms were stored, and lists of names and addresses of Tutsis and Hutu moderates were compiled. In 1994, when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down returning from signing the peace accords with the Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), the killings began, and in 100 days, between 500,000 and 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by the Rwandan army and the Interahamwe militias.

The RPF successfully defeated the Rwandan army and pushed the Hutu government into nearby Zaire (Congo). Habyarimana’s widow and her inner circle were given French assistance and were among those evacuated from Kigali by the French military during the United Nations–brokered evacuation of “White non combatants.” The Interahamwe spread fear of Tutsi reprisals to Hutu civil-ians, and nearly 1.7 million people fled to Zaire.

The new government in Rwanda is attempting to reconcile Hutus and Tutsis. About 130,000 Hutu have been arrested and are awaiting trial in Arusha, Tanzania, at the hands of an international tribunal. Many of the Hutu who fled to Zaire (Congo) have returned, only to find their houses occupied by returned Tutsis. The presence of over 1 million Hutu refugees in the eastern region of Zaire caused fur-ther problems and the eventual downfall of Zaire’s president Mobutu. Hutu power groups were able to establish a state in exile in Kivu province, including recruit-ing and training an army. Hutu were involved in the Congolese civil war from 1994 to 1998, and many Hutu remain refu-gees in eastern Congo.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Adekunle, Julius O. Culture and Customs of Rwanda. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Berkeley, Bill. TheGraves AreNotYetFull: Race, Tribe, and Power in the Heart of Africa. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Dallaire, Romeo. Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.Cam-bridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005

Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A His-tory of Fifty Years of Independence.New York: Public Affairs, 2005.

Twagilimana, Aimable. Hutu and Tutsi.New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. 1998.

Vansina, Jan. Antecedents to Modern Rwanda;the Nyiginya Kingdom. Madison: Univer-sity of Wisconsin Press, 2004.