LOCATION: Rwanda; Burundi
POPULATION: Approximately 10 million
LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda; Kirundi; French; Swahili
RELIGION: Christianity combined with traditional beliefs
The word Hutu is the name for the majority of people who live in the countries of Rwanda and Burundi. The Hutu have much in common with the other peoples of these countries, the Tutsi and the Twa. All three groups speak the same Bantu language.
Social relations in Rwanda and Burundi were affected by European rule. Both countries were European colonies between 1890 and 1962. The Germans ruled from 1890 until the end of World War I (1914–18). They favored the upper-class Tutsi. The Belgians who followed the Germans also favored the Tutsi at first. In the 1950s, however, they supported Hutu leaders because the Tutsi were seeking independence.
Rwanda and Burundi took very different paths to independence in 1962. In Rwanda, Hutu leaders overthrew the mwami ( the Tutsi king) and seized power by force. In Burundi, the change to independence was more peaceful. The mwami helped the Tutsi and Hutu reach an agreement. However, the peace did not last. The Hutu tried to gain power by force, and they were defeated.
At the time of independence, opposite sides controlled the two countries. Burundi is controlled by a branch of the Tutsi. In Rwanda, the Hutu ruled until 1994. Then Tutsi refugees from Uganda invaded the country. The government was overthrown and thousands of Hutu fled to neighboring countries. Many have returned since 1996.
Rwanda and Burundi are mountainous countries in east-central Africa. They share a common border. Their total combined area is roughly 20,900 square miles (54,100 square kilometers)—about the combined size of the states of Maryland and New Jersey.
The combined Hutu population of Rwanda and Burundi was about 13 million in 1994. Many Hutu have left the two countries in recent decades. Thousands fled Burundi in 1972. Hundreds of thousands fled Rwanda in 1994. Many ended up living in refugee camps in neighboring countries. They started returning in 1996.
The Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa all speak the same Central Bantu language. It is called Kinyarwanda in Rwanda and Kirundi in Burundi. The two versions differ slightly in pronunciation. Some words are different, also.
Many Rwandans and Burundians speak French and have French first names. Swahili is also spoken, especially along the Tanzanian border and in the cities.
The Rwandans and Burundians have long names with clear meanings. For example, the name Mutarambirwa means "the one who never gets tired."
The Hutu tell proverbs, folktales, riddles, and myths. Samadari is a popular folk hero. He broke the rules everyone else had to follow. He could make fun of the rich and powerful and insult the wealthy cattle owners.
Today most people in Rwanda and Burundi are Christians. However, they have kept some of their ancient beliefs. The ancient Hutu god, Imaana , had many human qualities. Imaana meant well, but he was distant from the people.
The abazima were the spirits of the ancestors. They could become angry and bring bad luck to the living. Gifts were offered to the abazima for protection. People contacted them through fortune-tellers.
The Hutu observe the Rwandan and Burundian independence days, May Day (May 1), New Year's Day (January 1), and the major Christian holidays.
When a baby is born, the baby and mother stay alone in their house for seven days. A naming ceremony is held on the seventh day. Children who live nearby take part, and food is served.
Marriages are legal when the man's family pays the bride wealth to the woman's family. It is paid in cattle, goats, and beer. For the ceremony, the bride's body is covered with herbs and milk to make it pure.
Death is marked by prayers, speeches, and rituals. Close family members do not take part in certain activities. After a death, they do not work in the fields or have sexual relations during the period of mourning. When the family declares that the mourning period is over, they hold a ritual feast.
The Hutu have different greetings for morning, afternoon, and evening. The morning greeting— Warumutse ho?— is answered with Waaramutse. The afternoon greeting— Wiiriwe ho?— is answered with Wiiriwe.
Hutu young people meet each other through group activities such as dances and church events. Western-style dating is practiced by wealthier Hutu in the cities.
Almost all Rwandans and Burundians live in rural areas. Traditional Hutu houses are huts made from wood, reeds, and straw and are shaped like beehives. High hedges serve as fences. In recent years, modern houses have been built with modern materials.
Women take care of the home. They also plant, hoe, and weed the crops. Men and boys look after the livestock and clear the fields to prepare them for planting.
In the past, the families of the bride and groom decided all marriages. These days most young people choose the person they want to marry.
Marriages between Hutu and Tutsis have always been rare, although Hutu men were allowed to court Tutsi women. Such marriages occur more often today, but they are still uncommon.
In the past, Hutus wore skirts of cloth made from tree bark, and cloaks made of animal hides. These have long been replaced by Western-style clothing. However, handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets are still worn.
The staple foods of the Hutu include beans, corn, millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Milk and beef are important foods. Goat meat and goat milk are eaten by people of low social status. Meals are often planned around a family's work schedule.
An alcoholic drink made from bananas and sorghum grain is saved for special occasions.
Only about half the people in Rwanda and Burundi can read and write in their native language. Even fewer can read and write French. There are schools for teachers and at least one university in each country. Well-educated persons speak French. Rwanda's educational system was disrupted by the 1994 conflict.
Music, dancing, and drumming are important parts of rural life. Men and women have different dances. The dancers move their arms and bodies quickly. They also stomp their feet in time to the music. People sing alone (solo) or in a chorus. There are many different kinds of songs. They include hunting songs, lullabies, and songs in praise of cattle ( ibicuba ).
Hutu literature consists of myths, legends, and praise poetry.
Most Hutu have always been farmers. Raising and herding cattle are ranked more highly than raising crops.
Both young people and adults enjoy a game called igisoro (or called mancala in other parts of Africa). Beans are placed in holes in a wooden board. The players line up their own pieces in rows and try to capture those of their opponent.
The main spectator sport in Rwanda and Burundi is soccer.
Movie theaters in the capitals of Rwanda and Burundi show current European and American films.
Hutu crafts include pottery, woodwork, jewelry, metal work, and basket weaving.
Thousands of Hutu civilians fled from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1994. In 1996 they were caught up in a civil war in that country. Many returned to Rwanda.
Lemarchand, Rene. Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice . New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Malkki, Liisa H. Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Twagilimana, Aimable. Hutu and Tutsi. Heritage Library of African Peoples. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1998.
Weiner, Neil. Background Briefing: Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda and Burundi. [Online] Available , 1994.
World Travel Guide. Rwanda. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/rw/gen.html , 1998.