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Rwanda -- Ethnic Groups

The original inhabitants of Rwanda were the Batwa. The Batwa continue to live as hunter/gathers in the north of the country, but constitute less than 1% of the total population. About the early 14th century the Bahutu farmers, who belong to the Bantu group, came to the country andimposed their language and customs on the indigenous inhabitants. Theyestablished a socio-economic system based on small-scale agriculture and pettykings called bahinza. Their connection with the soil is amply illustrated by the fact that bahinza means `those who cause things to grow,' illustrating strong connections between the political and the agricultural. The Batutsi, who are descendants of a herding people, arrived from the north in the 15th and 16th centuries and established traditional political domination based on monarchy in the area. Some scholars have drawn connections between the Tutsi and the Maasi, the Oromo of Ethiopia, the descendants of the Biblical Ham, and even the ancient Egyptians. Under Tutsi rule, ownership of land was the sole prerogative of the Tutsi king, the Mwami. The relationship between the Tutsi and Hutu developed into a patron-client contract known as ubuhake, an unequal agreement whereby the Hutu gained use of Tutsi cattle and their products in return for labor and military service. The power of the Mwami was reinforced by a myth of divine origin. In the late 19th century the Mwami Kigeri II expanded the borders of his kingdom, which survived until the Germans arrived in 1894. Tutsi control was strongest in the areas around Nyanza, though the Hutu continued to control some areas in the northwest. The structure of the Tutsi monarchical system was set up in the 1800s, consisting of a hierarchy of chiefs and sub-chiefs with the Mwami at the apex of the pyramid. The lowest unit was the umusozi or hill. The Hima, a small tribe of Nilotic nomads, continue to make their livelihood traveling through the northern and northeastern portions of Rwanda.

Source: Taylor, C.C. 1995. Rwandans. In Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life.

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