LOCATION: Rwanda, Burundi, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

POPULATION: Approximately 13 million

LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda; Kirundi; French, English

RELIGION: Christianity combined with traditional beliefs


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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 ).


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.


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


Traditional crafts of Rwanda and Burundi include basket weaving, pottery, woodworking, metal working, and jewelry making.


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.


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

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.

User Contributions:

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Dec 6, 2006 @ 2:14 pm
I think it should mansion something about their ecomnomy and the Tutsi today....it is a quite good article actually^^
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Mar 26, 2007 @ 10:22 pm
THANK YOU SO MUCH!! you really helped me on my social studies project! god bless!
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Jul 19, 2007 @ 10:10 am
Martin Kinyanjui Ngugi
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Aug 7, 2007 @ 7:07 am
I am from Kenya and i like knowing much about the people of Africa. This site has helped me to know more about the people or Rwanda. They are beautiful people, and despite the 1994 genocide, they work hard and may God bless them. I hope to visit Rwanda one day soon. Thank you.
bobby joe
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Oct 19, 2007 @ 1:13 pm
like OMG this was like the most helpful thing ever!!! totally dude, GO TUTSI....
Kelsey Bagley
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Feb 7, 2008 @ 8:20 pm
I really apprecaite this, I knew nothing about these people until you enlightened me. Many thanks!
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Feb 18, 2008 @ 1:13 pm
regardless of the quantity, quality was amazing. only website where i found the info from. thanx alot. may god bless u and guide along the correct path. ameen
mackenzie quinton
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Feb 28, 2008 @ 2:14 pm
totally awsome

bestest information site i have ever seen in my life

like that stuff about foood...amazing

great job guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tusiime Esau
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Jul 17, 2008 @ 8:08 am
Yeah, thanks for every task you rendered; its actually as u said political beliefs rather than ethnic warfare! keep it up.
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Sep 24, 2008 @ 12:12 pm
For years my grandfather told us about hid grandfather who had been captured by the slave traders and brought to America. Since they were given new names we have no way of tracing them We do however, know that they were Watusi. I've been doing research trying to find information recently because my son wants to trace our tree back to our ancestor's entry to the US. Thank you for this article.
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Sep 24, 2008 @ 2:14 pm
I have come to learn alot about Rwanda I took interest in the genocide and concidentally met the love of my love from Rwanda and now i can relate because I have been enlightened of what went on and how it is. The people of Rwanda are beautiful people and am looking forward to visiting that country in December from the US I dont know what to expect but am excited.
katie marie
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Jan 14, 2009 @ 12:00 am
thanks so much!!! this website really helped me with my social studies report!!
Invader Tal
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Feb 3, 2009 @ 7:07 am
Thank you!
This page was very helpful in my English Research project!
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Mar 26, 2009 @ 11:11 am
Great article!!!!! Was really helpful with my World Geography project. THanks a ton!!!
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Mar 30, 2009 @ 11:11 am
This site is perfect for my Hutu- Tutsi project
Emani Norwood
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Aug 11, 2009 @ 11:11 am
this article gave a lot of info and i learned a lot from it.
Is there any information on the Hutus if so please e-mail it to me at my email address above
T-wana Stanley
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Oct 11, 2009 @ 10:10 am
Thank you for publishing
That enlightening article.
I have always wanted to get
a clear image who the tutsi
were and why they were being
Brutally killed. A few films
Are out giving you a reinactment
Of what they suffered such as
Hotel Rwanda and sometimes in
April.once more thank you for
Painting a clearer image for me.
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Jan 8, 2010 @ 4:16 pm
I was just wondering if anyone knows any good sites to get some good pictures I have a report due for english on monday and I haven't found any good pictures. This site is really great too, it's helped me with this project so much. Thank you

shunta kane
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Jan 25, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
I just discovered that these people are apart my blood line by doing a DNA test through ancestry.com. You really helped me to connect and get the information I needed. I really wish you had more photographs of the people, i like to compare bone structure and facial features to see a resemblance in me or my father and son with those of the tutsi. Knowing where my people began really fascinates me and gives me a sense of peace just knowing a little about my background. Thanks!
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Feb 7, 2010 @ 11:11 am
thanks guys you really helped me with my english project .xxx. p.s do you know any good picture website for hutu and tutsi ?

from megan.xx.xx.
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Apr 22, 2010 @ 5:17 pm
Thank you so much!! Very helpful information!! My teachers are using this to give us an Africa test!!
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Aug 29, 2010 @ 6:06 am
hi am a Tutsi from Burundi. I love my tribe so much .we have the most beautiful women and no offence. in Burundi the Tutsi have a more population that others. So tutsi We are the Abashumba Lte's be proud of our heritage .In Uganda we have the Banyankole who are Abashumba like us .Abashumba means HERDERS OR CATTLE REARERS
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May 2, 2011 @ 8:08 am
how did this help you with your project because i was hoping ypu can teach me
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May 30, 2011 @ 9:21 pm
Thanks, This website was extremely helpful in my World Cultures final on the Tutsi People and Culture, I hope that the rest of the people taking this class can find this website, great job!
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Sep 29, 2011 @ 9:09 am
Thanks for the article guys it helped us a lot here at LCI!
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Oct 24, 2011 @ 6:18 pm
Very informative. Our book club is reading "Our Lady of Kibeho" and the author is Tutsi. The story takes place in Rwanda so I wanted to know more about the area and its people. Thank you!
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Oct 24, 2011 @ 10:22 pm
You helped me get my history report done, so im happy. Good information.
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Oct 26, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
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Dec 7, 2011 @ 9:09 am
I need to know if there are any problems dealing with economy or anything eles thanks so much!
muwanguzi robert
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Dec 17, 2011 @ 1:01 am
thank u very much. this page has helped me to know my back ground iam actually of tutsi origin but living in uganda. but i would also want to know more about the banyarwanda living in uganda
muwanguzi robert
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Dec 17, 2011 @ 2:02 am
thank u very much. this page has helped me to know my back ground iam actually of tutsi origin but living in uganda. but i would also want to know more about the banyarwanda living in uganda
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Jan 18, 2012 @ 4:04 am
I am a Tanzanian and I know Tutsi people very good. From what I know Tutsi is not a tribe, is a social economical group like Hutu and Twa. All of these groups speak the same language which is Runyarwanda or Kirundi but they differ in physical appearance and their economical activities.Tutsi were nomadic pastoralistics,Hutu were peasant and Twa were hunters.
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May 2, 2012 @ 12:12 pm
hello everyone.

i am also a Tutsi from Burundi. i am so proud of my ethnicity. we are nice people and very hospitable. we love catle and it a major part of our culture. you people should come visit Burundi. we are a great nation.

we migrated from the highlands of southern Ethiopia/somalia. we are very close to somali people even in our look. there has been tones of people who have called me somali yet i havent even been in mogadishu. i guess genetics never lie.

#proudly Tutsi
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Aug 11, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
Sorry Mary ! No Watusi were captured and taken to america as slaves.
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Nov 30, 2012 @ 12:12 pm
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Oct 11, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
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Jan 20, 2014 @ 9:21 pm
I am currently aUgandan by birth but my origin is in Rwanda and atutsi am proud to know more about my true origin and am greatly honoured to get this info.
My late grand papa came into Uganda in his youthful stage he married and got kids here in Uganda and named them Kiganda names till 2011 we had been using kiganda names because we were naive ... Long story
Gaia McCune
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Apr 18, 2014 @ 11:11 am
Thank u sooo much. I really appreciate this work! I am happy to see such god writing.
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Apr 23, 2014 @ 9:09 am
gThank u very much for revealing the history of the People, I am Somali I am very interested in the history of Tutsi and bayankole and banyamulenga, not because of the features, but more than that the history of Ibimanuka Gakondo folklore dance and the way of leaving, culcure of herders and more similarities. The language is the barrier we dont understand and also clans named are unknown or translated to the local language, but what we know is Bachwezi, Ndahiro they are definatedly from our Qubays Clan of Dir.
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Apr 28, 2014 @ 2:14 pm
this really helps with my report and S.A's that I have to do at school.
Mary Ann Poole
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Oct 7, 2014 @ 5:17 pm
I saw a movie 50 or 60 years ago called King Salomen's Mines. There was a scene with the Tutsi (Watusi) in it, they scared me so that I remember it to this day. They were beautiful tall men dressed in white doing a celebrating dance. Would like to see more of these Kingly men in their dances.
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Oct 9, 2014 @ 3:03 am
thank you for this information,it has helped me learn more about my culture.
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Oct 13, 2014 @ 6:06 am
I am intersted in marrying a Tutsi girl but I have been surprised by information from a close friend who was married to one that the community doesn't recognise any children born with a non Tutsi and that my wife will bear children with a Tutsi, even if I marry her to keep their bloodline pure. Is this true?
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Jan 9, 2015 @ 1:01 am
hello all,am burundian,i searched more about ethinical source in our regions. i saw in comments whoever want to know more about tutsi and hutu tribes but they are other hides not published on here.both of what published are true but they are others unpublished for example other relative family or tribe called ABAGANWA (princes).

whoever want knowing lot of things about may search me i have right on.

meet me on:

NOTE: using french may be good to have best comprehension.
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Jan 16, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
need more info for this site but it is great. add a lot more in
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Feb 26, 2015 @ 7:19 pm
Most of the info was about Burundi and not about the Tutsi Tribe u might wanna fix that.
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Feb 26, 2015 @ 9:21 pm
Thanks a lot. Had to do a group presentation and I was the only one that did the work. This helped A LOT.
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Mar 4, 2015 @ 9:09 am
great website. tons of info


i love this site it helps me get info for my global studies assignment

thanks for all you do.
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Mar 7, 2015 @ 9:21 pm
So much info ! You gave me so much info on a school project
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Mar 13, 2015 @ 2:14 pm
very informative and enlightening. I just recently watched Hotel Rwanda and was angered by what the Hutu did to the Tutsi. I hope the men that committed genocide were caltured and punished for it. Being a christian i know they will suffer God's wrath when being judged come judgement day.
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Jun 20, 2015 @ 2:14 pm
Thank you for the excellent information. The 1950s film 'King Solomon's Mines' starring Stewart Granger, was filmed in the former Belgian Congo and has fabulous dance scenes featuring the Royal Watutsi dancers in traditional costume. The film is a masterpiece of cinematography too.

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