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Burundi -- Ethnic Groups

In Burundi the ethnic groups are the Hutu (Bantu) 85%, Tutsi (Hamitic) 14%, Twa (Pygmy) 1% (other Africans include about 70,000 refugees, mostly Rwandans and Zairians) Non-Africans include Europeans 3,000 and South Asians 2,000 The original inhabitants of Burundi are believed to have been a people called the Batwa. In the early 14th century, Bahutu farmers, belonging to the Bantu language group, arrived in the area and established their language and customs. The Batutsi, descendants of a herding people, arrived from the north during the 15th and 16th centuries. They achieved political domination through their feudal system, and founded Burundi's first kingdom early in the 16th century. They dominated the area almost entirely. Although the Bahutu, Batutsi, and Batwa preserved their own customs and traditions, a common Burundi culture emerged, with a common language, Kirundi.

Little reliable information exists about the ethnic composition of Burundi. The statistics most often quoted -83% Hutu, 16% Tutsi, 1% Twa- are based on a Belgian census from the 1920s whose value is disputed. By all estimates, the Bahutu greatly outnumber the Batutsi, and the Batwa number only a few thousand. Burundi hosts a small international expatriate community that consists mainly of Greeks, Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis. Hundreds of expatriate church and aid workers work in the country, but in recent years have often been forced to leave on account of the nation's violent conflicts. Burundi had a feudal social system until recently. Even though the Hutu (or Bahutu) had a numerical superiority, they were like serfs to the Tutsi (or Batutsi) who functioned as the overlords in this system. For several centuries there was a patron-client system in place called ubugabire in which the Hutu became indentured labor in exchange for cattle and land. This system began to collapse in the 1960s as ethnic violence erupted. In 1965, some Hutu tried to seize power through force. They were defeated and at least 5,000 Hutu were killed in retaliation and in the repression that followed the coup attempt.

Source: Groeslsema, R. 1995. Burundians. In Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life.


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