Hutu people


Hutu people


The Hutu people, also known as the Abahutu, are agricultural Bantu-speaking  ethnic group in Central African countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where they form one of the principal population divisions alongside the Tutsi and the Twa.

The Hutu is the largest of the four main population divisions in Burundi and Rwanda and constitute over 12.5 million people. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, 84% of Rwandans and 85% of Burundians are Hutu, with Tutsis the next largest ethnic group at 15% and 14% of residents in Rwanda and Burundi, respectively. The Twa pygmies, the smallest of the two countries' principal populations, also share language and culture with the Hutu and Tutsi. It must be noted that for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, the Hutu and their Nilotic Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda and Burindi have spoken a common language, believed in the same religion and lived in unison, in the same areas. Through intermarriage, Hutus have been able to become hereditary Tutsis and Tutsis have been able to become hereditary Hutus. Prior to Rwanda’s colonization, the Tutsi and Hutu were characterized by an occupational distinction. Hutus were mainly cultivators and known as the “masses” in comparison to the Tutsis who were predominantly herdsmen and therefor considered the “elite” (Gourevitch, 1998; Human Rights Watch, 2006). The Europeans introduced ethnicity based Rwanda and Burundi amongst Hutu and Tutsi based on their physical appearance.

Hutu people

The Hutus are slightly shorter, stout and dark-skinned people as compared with the their neighbor`s, the Nilotic Tutsi. As a result of this physical appearance the early European explorers, settlers and later the imperialists perceived the dark-skinned Bantu Hutu people as inferior to the light-skinned, taller and cattle-owning minority Tutsi. This flawed, stereotyped and shameful ethnic classification was conceived by John Hanning Speke in his development of the “Hamitic Hypothesis”. In it, Speke declared “that all culture and civilization in central Africa had been introduced by the taller, sharper-featured people, he considered to be a caucasoid tribe of Ethiopian origin, descended from the biblical King David, and therefore a superior race to the native Negroids” (Gourevitch, 1998, 198).

 In Speke own words the Hutu were a typical specimen of a "primitive race," "the true curly- headed, flab- nosed, pouched- mouthed Negro" while the Tutsi were "descended from the best blood of Abyssinia" and therefore far superior (Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile). A Belgian doctor wrote: "The Tutsi] … have a distant, reserved, courteous and elegant manner…The rest of the population is [Hutu]. They are negroes with all the negroid characteristics…they are childish in nature both timid and lazy, and as often as not, extremely dirty.”

The Hamitic Hypotheses was strongly upheld by imperialists, who subsequently favored the Tutsi over the Hutu.“Because Europeans thought that the Tutsi looked more like themselves than did other Rwandans,they found it reasonable to suppose them closer to Europeans in the evolutionary hierarchy and hence closer to them in ability” (Des Forges, 1999, pp.34). Tutsi became favorites and allies of European colonizers (Germans and Belgians). They were catapulted to higher status and soon caused the Tutsi elite to regard themselves as superior, and the Hutu to see themselves as “an oppressed people” (Human Rights Watch, 2006, pp 3) Subsequently, the colonizer’s did not only establish the Tutsi and Hutu as separate ethnic groups but, by resting this distinction upon coincidence with social class, defined them as ranked ethnic groups (Horowitz, 1985, pp.25). Tutsi kings ruled over Hutu peasant farmers for three centuries. But in 1959, the Hutu finally overthrew the Tutsi monarchy. This racially divisive political game played by the imperialists was the origin of the Hutu-Tutsi ethnic genocide that occurred in Rwanda and Burundi.



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.


Mythology / Folklore

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.

There is a saying in Hutu that “Umuhusha tunga ahusha umugore,” that is, “A loser mischoses his wife,” which stresses the importance of a woman as a spouse. Another saying, “Ikigaba ca nyina,” tells us that “A mother watches the education of the children.” Without such careful watching, the saying implies, the bad child will always be an insult to her.

Hutu people


Hutu just like Tutsi and Twa people speak Rwanda-Rundi as their native tongue, which is a member of the Bantu subgroup of the Niger–Congo language family. Rwanda-Rundi is subdivided into the Kinyarwanda (in Rwanda) and Kirundi (in Burundi) dialects, which have been standardized as official languages of Burundi and Rwanda. Additionally, many Hutu speak French, the third official language of Rwanda and Burundi, as their lingua franca. Some moderate Hutu people that fled the genocide to settle in Uganda 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," “Inzoka” which means snake; “abantu” which stands for human beings: “abanyamahanga”, which means foreigners; “abakoloni”, meaning colonizers; “ba gashakabuhake”, which stands for imperialist; “inyangarwanda”, meaning enemy of Rwanda; and “Inyenzi”, means cockroaches.


Post-colonial History

The Belgian-sponsored Tutsi monarchy survived until 1959, when Kigeli V was exiled from the colony (then called Ruanda-Urundi). In Burundi, Tutsis, who are the minority, maintained control of the government and military. In Rwanda, the political power was transferred from the minority Tutsi to the majority Hutu.

In Rwanda, this led to the "Social revolution" and Hutu violence against Tutsis. Tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed and many others fled to neighboring countries, such as Burundi, Uganda and expanding the Banyamulenge Tutsi ethnic group in the South Kivu region of the Belgian Congo. Later, exiled Tutsis from Burundi invaded Rwanda, prompting Rwanda to close its border to Burundi.

In Burundi, a campaign of genocide was conducted against the Hutu population in 1972, and an estimated 100,000 Hutus died. In 1993, Burundi's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, who was Hutu, was believed to be assassinated by Tutsi officers, as was the person constitutionally entitled to succeed him. This sparked a genocide in Burundi between Hutu political structures and the Tutsi military, in which an estimated 500,000 Burundians died. There were many mass killings of Tutsis and moderate Hutus; these events were deemed to be a genocide by the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi.

While Tutsi remained in control of Burundi, the conflict resulted in genocide in Rwanda as well. A Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, invaded Rwanda from Uganda, which started a civil war against Rwanda's Hutu government in 1990. A peace agreement was signed, but violence erupted again, culminating in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when Hutu extremists killed. an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis.

About 30% of the Twa pygmy population of Rwanda were also killed by the Hutus. At the same time, the Rwandan Patriotic Front took control of the country and is still the ruling party as of 2020. Burundi is also currently governed by a former rebel group, the Hutu CNDD-FDD.

As of 2006, violence between the Hutu and Tutsi had subsided, but the situation in both Rwanda and Burundi was still tense, and tens of thousands of Rwandans were still living outside the country (see Great Lakes refugee crisis).


The Hutu economy is almost exclusively agriculturally based. More than 90% of the population makes its livelihood by producing food crops or through industrial work involving the processing of crops. Agriculture contributes more than 40% of the nation's GDP. The most fertile agricultural areas in the country are the mountain regions forming the Congo-Nile watershed and the central plateau, where two crops can normally be harvested each year. Principal food crops include bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, sorghum and beans. Principal export crops include coffee, tea, pyrethrum, cotton and cinchona.

Cattle have played an important political and social role in the country under the Tutsi, whose dominance was traditionally based on the ubuhake (a feudal patron-client relationship based on possession of cattle). Most farmers have some livestock, though animal husbandry is generally considered a supplemental source of income.

Hutu people


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.



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.


Commercial trade

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


Sexual division of production

The main priorities of women are childbearing, childcare, and housework. However, in many rural areas, women also work in agriculture through planting because “their fertility is believed to be transferred to the seeds.” Women are never seen holding high, respected positions, and men handle most of the production of goods


Land tenure

Originally the Hutu were the land owners before the Tutsi arrived with cattle from the Horn of Africa. However, in the fifteenth century, the Tutsi ethnic groups gradually became the owners of the land, and the Hutu worked for them. This is called “cattle clientage,” which means that the Hutu “cared for the land and the cattle but did not own it.” This caused the Hutu people to ultimately become possessions of the Tutsi, which was called ubugabire. When the country of Burundi gained independence in 1962, the ubugabire system gradually decreased by 1977. The majority of land is still owned by the Tutsi today , and the class division still exists in other sectors of the economy as well.



Because the rainy season in Burundi is quite long and there is no farming or harvesting during this time, the Hutu people find a cure to their boredom through art, including ceramics. These ceramics are the tan color of the earth or dyed black.


Clans as a social construction

It has been a long held belief that clans are natural social groups which are made up of people who are biologically related. The case of Rwanda shows this not to be the case. This is evidenced by two observations :First, endogamy is allowed within the same clan and second, the same clans and totems are interethnic.

Besides clans, Rwanda also has lineages called in Kinyarwanda imiryango whose singular form is umuryango. A lineage is a group of people related by descent from a common ancestry , igisekuru. The name of the lineage comes from the name of the common ancestor such as Abahidiro from Gahindiro, Abajiji from Bajiji, Abenebwimba from Bwimba, Abaganzu from Ruganzu, etc. Exogamy has to be practiced. Marrying somebody from the same lineage , however remoteit might be , would be considered as incest. Rwanda is a patriarchal and patrilineal society. Children take the ethnicity and the clan of their fathers. It is not the same with clans, however, endogamy is very common.

The other evidence that clans are not social groups which are genetically connected is the fact that although Rwanda has three distinct separate ethnic groups, namely Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, the three groups share the same clans and totems.


Clans and castes

Both clans and castes are social categories that people are born into. In many cases, one’s social status depends on which clan or caste one belongs to. It seems as if they are created to fulfill a societal need, especially in the area of work specialization and share of social responsibilities. Kings came from the Abanyiginya clan. Abatsobe clan provided royal ritualists, abiru, who memorized all rituals used in the new monarch’s coronation and were the keepers of all the royal secrets. The Abega and Abakono clans provided queens.

Abagesera, Abasinga and Abazigaba, which are referred as abasangwabutaka ‘primordial clans’ literally ‘the ones found on the land’, played the role of abase, ritualists for other clans.

They could perform all the rituals done by the head of the family of somebody from another clan if he was absent or do these rituals on the behalf of members of other clans because they were forbidden to do it themselves. Clans could also engage in the practice of guterana ubuse , which is about insulting each other for fun. In a sense, they are not different from the caste system of West Africa. Among the Fulani , for instance, an ethnic group found in many West African countries, clans are associated with castes. They have 12 castes which are not based on social hierarchy like the low and high castes in India and the Burachumins of Japan, but on work specialization instead. such as the caste of griots, the caste of wood carvers, the caste of blacksmiths, the caste of grave diggers, the caste of hunters, the caste of farmers, the cast of cattle herders, the caste of circumcizers, etc.
In some societies , clans have totemic features to distinguish themselves from other clans such as headwear, chestwear, armwear, tattoos, etc. Among the Pacific Northwest Indians such as Chinook, Haida, Nookta, Tlinkit or Hawaiians, clans have totem poless. For instance, the Haida have two clans with their respective totems the raven and the eagle. These two totems appear appear on their totem poles.

In Rwanda there is no physical symbol to designate the clan member. People know their clan membership and totem through oral tradition.


Totems and proper animal names

Totems don’t , in any way, differ from proper names. All are used for identification purposes. The only difference is that totems are a symbol for a group whereas proper names refer to individuals.


Religious Belief

Today most Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi are Christians. However, some traditional beliefs survive. Traditionally, WaTutsi  believe in Supreme being and a distant Creator God 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.


Culture and tradition

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.

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 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.

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.

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.
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.



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.


Death and afterlife beliefe

When someone dies, it is marked by a period of prayers and rituals, and close family members of the deceased do not partake in specific activities, including working in the fields or having sexual relations. The family then declares when the mourning period is over, and a ritual feast is held