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African ethnic group of the week: The Tutsi people of Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo

Tutsi, also called Batusi, Tussi, Watusi, or Watutsi are an  ethnic group of probable Nilotic origin (Nilotic peoples or Nilotes refers to related ethnic groups mainly inhabiting the Nile Valley, and parts of Central Africa and East Africa, who speak Nilotic languages, a large sub-group of the Nilo-Saharan family), whose members live within Rwanda and Burundi. The Tutsi formed the traditional aristocratic minority in both countries, constituting about 9 percent and 14 percent of the population, respectively. 

Conceptions of the supposed ethnic groups in Rwanda have a long history. The definitions of “Hutu” and “Tutsi” peoples may have changed through time and location. Social structures were not throughout Rwanda, even during colonial times under the Belgian rule. The Tutsi aristocracy or elite was distinguished from Tutsi commoners, and wealthy Hutu were often indistinguishable from upper-class Tutsi.

Prior to the arrival of colonists, Rwanda had been ruled as a Tutsi dominated monarchy since Bronze Age. Beginning in about 1880, Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in the Great Lakes region. Later, when German forces occupied the area during World War I, the conflict and efforts for Catholic conversion became more pronounced. As the Tutsi resisted conversion, the missionaries found success only among the Hutu. In an effort to reward conversion, the colonial government confiscated traditionally Tutsi land and reassigned it to Hutu ethnic groups

When the Belgian colonists conducted censuses, they wanted to identify the peoples throughout Rwanda-Burundi according to a simple classification scheme. They defined “Tutsi” as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical feature of a longer nose, commonly associated with the Tutsi. The Europeans noticed that some Rwandans had noses they thought characteristic of “their people”, so they created historical and racial theories to explain why some Africans inherited such features. Early 20th-century Europeans believed the physical feature meant that some of the Tutsi had Caucasian or European ancestry, perhaps by migrations from Ethiopia, what was called the Hamitic Theory. According to their racially based ideas, they thought the Tutui were a “superior” people of a primarily Horn African and/or North African ancestry; descent from Arabs of the Middle East was also suggested. In addition, some Tutsi believed they are descended from the ancient Israelites and have a mystical connection to Israel. The Europeans considered the majority Hutu to be characteristic Bantu people of Central African and sub-Saharan origin.

Modern-day genetic studies of the Y-chromosome suggest that the Tutsi, like the Hutu, are largely of Bantu extraction (80% E1b1a, 15% B, 4% E3). Paternal genetic influences associated with the Horn of Africa and North Africa are few (1% E1b1b), and are ascribed to much earlier inhabitants who were assimilated. However, the Tutsi have considerably more Nilo-Saharan paternal lineages (14.9% B) than the Hutu (4.3% B). Tishkoff et al. (2009) found their mixed Hutu and Tutsi samples from Rwanda to be predominately of Bantu origin, with minor gene flow from Afro-Asiatic communities (17.7% Afro-Asiatic genes found in the mixed Hutu/Tutsi population

In the Rwanda territory, from the 15th century until 1961, the Tutsi were ruled by a king (the mwami). Belgium abolished the monarchy in response to Hutu activism, following the national referendum that led to independence. By contrast, in the northwestern part of the country (predominantly Hutu), large regional landholders shared power, similar to Bugandan society (in what is now Uganda).

Little difference can be ascertained between the cultures of the Tutsi and Hutu; both groups speak the same Bantu language. The rate of intermarriage between the two groups were traditionally very high, and relations were amicable until the 20th century. Many scholars have concluded that the determination of Tutsi was and is mainly an expression of class or caste, rather than ethnicity.

The Banyamulenge are an ethnic group of the Tutsi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The term Banyamulenge, which means people of Mulenge in Kinyarwanda, is rather a collective denomination of descendants of Tutsi migrants from Rwanda most of whom are concentrated on the Itombwe Plateau of South Kivu, close to the Burundi-Congo-Rwanda border and were there for over 500 years.In 1924,more groups of Tutsi migrants added into the highlands of South Kivu, where they were later joined, from 1959 to 1962 by successive waves of Tutsi refugees fleeing persecution. Its use has been controversial, but since the late 1990s, following the Rwanda Genocide, it has been used by Congolese Tutsi, formally known as Banyarwanda (people of Rwanda) to avoid being seen as foreigners.

The Banyamulenge have an ambiguous political and social position in Congo, which has been an issue of contention with other ethnic groups. They played a key role in the run-up to the First Congo War in 1996-7 and Second Congo War of 1998-2003…

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i-D Beauty Editor Isamaya Ffrench talks us through the inspirations behind the make-up looks she created for Junya Watanabe spring/summer 15. READ.


i-D Beauty Editor Isamaya Ffrench talks us through the inspirations behind the make-up looks she created for Junya Watanabe spring/summer 15. READ.

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ongoing series

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Harry Clarke. Illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. 1919.

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giacomo by mustafa sabbagh..2014


giacomo by mustafa sabbagh..2014

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