Hutu Tribe

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The mention of the word “Hutu” immediately conjures up images of mass murder from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The recent film Hotel Rwanda brought the horrible atrocities of that genocide to the public eye. However, it is not only in Rwanda that the Hutu have been involved in ethnic war. The country of Burundi, a neighbor to Rwanda, was the site of the first violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi. The Hutu people of Burundi have a rich culture and history that has been largely overshadowed by ethnic conflict. The Hutu are a Bantu tribe numbering about thirteen million (Newbury 2001). Traditionally the Hutu organized themselves in clans and family groups through patrilineal decent (Ndarishikanye 1998). Within these groups they practiced polygyny and bridewealth as part of the institution of marriage (McDonald 1969). Like many African tribes the Hutu’s religious beliefs include the spirit world. The supreme God Imana is seen as the giver of all good while there are lesser spirits who do evil (book). The Hutu inhabit the high plateau of the central African Rift Valley and inhabited 85% of Rwanda and Burundi before the ethnic wars in those countries (CIA World Factbook). The Hutu inhabit diverse geographies. In the southeast region of the Rwanda and Burundi territory there are open grasslands which are ideal for pastoral people. In the western region of the countries there are mountains. The west is good land for agriculture because it reliably receives rainfall. In the northeast there are lowlands that are along Lake Tanganyika (Newbury, 2001). This vast array of ecologies provides different possibilities for food production or procurement. The Hutu are traditionally agriculturalist but they did get involved in herding cattle because of the closely related Tutsi tribe. The Hutu wanted cattle and the Tutsi wanted laborers. To appease both groups, agreements called ubuhake were made. These agreements exchanged the Tutsi cattle for the Hutu labor. In other words when a Hutu entered this agreement he received cattle but in return became submissive to a Tutsi owner (Louis 1963). This is one reason that the minority Tutsi rose to control economics and rule over the majority Hutu, this would later lead to ethnic conflict. The ethnic conflict between the Tutsi and the Hutu is most famous in Rwanda but the Hutu of Burundi have also been severely affected by ethnic tension throughout the years. Understanding the causes and effects of the violence is a part of understanding the history of the Hutu people. The causes of the ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi are not simply explained. In fact, in 1931 Bernard Zuure, a missionary with seventeen years of work in Burundi, noted that it was pointless to distinguish between the Hutu and Tutsi because their cultures were so similar (Zuure 1931). What then caused the separation between the two ethnicities? According to Alphonse Rugambarara the separation of identities came when there was a specific political agenda to create separate Tutsi and Hutu ideologies. These terms created animosity and dichotomist identities where there was actually little difference (Rugambarara 1990). The identities of Hutu and Tutsi were so significant that other ethnicities or social segregations became less important. The role of the Hutu as submissive to the Tutsi was engrained in society. An example of this is that in the Kirundi language (spoken by the Hutu) there is not a word equivalent to the English equality or liberty so Hutu’s could not even verbalize a desire for freedom (Lermarchand 1995). Given the strong identity associated with ethnicity in Burundi the complications behind the explanation of the 1972 genocide are understandable. To get to the root of the problem or causes of the genocide is difficult because the perceptions of the Hutu and Tutsi about the conflict are very different (Lermachand 1995). Liisa Malkki...
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