The premise of inequality in Ruanda:: a study of political relations in a central African kingdom

Oxford University Press for the International African InstituteLondon • Published In 1961 • Pages:

By: Maquet, Jacques Jérôme Pierre.

This study is primarily a reconstruction of Ruanda social structure as it existed in the first decade of this century just prior to significant modifications resulting from European influences. Maquet focuses upon the political system, but the first 4 chapters provide the necessary contextual information. Particularly good is the material on kinship, which includes a very thorough analysis of kinship terminology and kin behavior, a description of the patrilineal descent groups, and a discussion of marriage and family realtions. Subsistence patterns, habitat, and economic organization are treated more briefly. The pivotal factor in Ruanda social and political relations is the caste system composed of 3 groups: the pastoral Batutsi who constitute c. 10% of the population and are the dominant group; the agricultural Bahutu - c. 85% of the population; and the more or less outcaste hunting and gathering Batwa - c. 5% of the population. More strictly political structures consist of the central government headed by the king, and the territorial-administrative system which serves mainly as a channel by which tribute is collected and distributed. Significant political functions are also fulfilled by the military organization and the clientage structure (buhahe) which conforms to a type of interpersonal relationship which has been called 'feudo-vassalage.' The premise of the inequality of individuals and groups, particularly with reference to caste, underlies all of these structural arrangements which are designed to accomplish two major but antithetical functions - economic exploitation and the maintenance of social cohesion. Since this is a reconstruction based upon interviews rather than a description of observed behavior, Maquet's methods are of crucial importance to an evaluation of the reliability and validity of his structural analysis. He has had extensive field experience in Ruanda, and while the basic data for this book were obtained in the period 1949-1951, these were supplemented by materials derived from fieldwork in 1952-1955, and 1956-1957, as well as from the voluminous published literature. His informants were almost entirely Tutsi who were familiar with the pre-European political system, particularly from direct experience. Detailed questionnaires on major topics were developed and administered, and an unusual feature of the book is Maquet's careful specification of the extent of agreement by informants on given issues. (Cf. Appendices 1 and 2 for a reproduction of the questionnaire on political organization and a tabulation of the results obtained.) The picture which emerges from all of this of traditional Ruanda social structure is a generalized and formalistic one, but it is internally consistent and convincing. It is of value both in its own right and as a base line for the study of social change.
Historical reconstruction
Hunting and trapping
Pastoral activities
Form and rules of government
Chief executive
Standard of living
External relations
Exchange transactions
Normal garb
Cultural identity and pride
Settlement patterns
Magical and mental therapy
Medical therapy
Kinship terminology
Family relationships
Status of adolescents
Kin relationships
Regulation of marriage
Social relationships and groups
Military organization
Recruitment and training
Ground combat forces
Aftermath of combat
HRAF PubDate
Sub Region
Central Africa
Document Type
Creator Type
Document Rating
5: Excellent Primary Data
Robert O. Lagacé ; 1962
Field Date
Coverage Date
Coverage Place
Jacques J. Maquet
Includes bibliographical references (p. 186-194) and index
Ethnology Rwanda