Collection Description

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Culture Description

The Rwandans encompass groups presently known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. The differentiation is today much greater than in the past when they lived together as members of a single political community beginning with the founding of the Kingdom of Rwanda in the 16th century. The Rwandan monarchy expanded over years to extend control over neighboring kingdoms and chieftaincies through conquest and incorporation. The royal court encouraged hierarchical differentiation between Hutu, Tutsi and Twa as a means of helping organize its rule. This differentiation was further exaggerated during the colonial period, making the meaning of ethnic identity more contentious and the most important cause of cyclical political violence in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa.


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Africa --Central Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the Rwandans Collection (FO57) consists of fifteen documents, covering historical, cultural and economic information on the Rwandans, circa 1895 to 2004. The basic and most comprehensive sources in the collection were compiled by the Belgian ethnologist Jacques Maquet. Based on data collected in

1949-1957, Maquet (1961, no. 6; 1954, no. 2) discusses the processes and rules that structured Rwandan society into a caste like political system consisting of cattle owning ruling elites (Tusi), a farming majority (Hutu) and a forest dwelling hunting minority (Twa). Maquet's arguments are strongly challenged by the works of three scholars who view ethnicity not as a primordial identity. Catharine Newbury (1988:no. 7) shows how the growth of royal power in the nineteenth century led to the concentration of power over land, cattle and people in the hands of Tutsi elites. Mahmood Mamdani (2001, no. 8) provides a theoretically informed discussion of ethnic identity, highlighting the ways the meanings of both "Tutsi" and "Hutu" have been changing in the course of history. David Newbury discusses dynamic of clan membership in Rwanda which he found to draw families from different ethnic backgrounds.

The collection also included four documents which, together, provide the earliest available first hand information on the Rwandans. The first of these documents was compiled by a German ethnologist who, in 1907-1909, collected a wide variety of information relating to history, language and arts in the Mpororo region of Rwanda (Czekanowski 1917, no. 6). The second document consists of excerpts from a now classic work by John Roscoe, a European clergy who traveled extensively in central Africa. This document focuses on social and political organization of Rwandans, with particular reference to the Tutsi, as observed in 1919-1920 (Roscoe 1924, no. 5). The third one provides information on mythology, traditional history and the royal court as compiled by another European missionary who lived in Rwanda around 1925 (Pag├Ęs 1923, no. 3). The last document is an essay on the common law of Rwanda compiled by a Belgian colonial administrator and lawyer (van Hove 1941, no. 1).

Two documents in the collection were compiled by anthropologist Christopher Taylor. One deals with ethnomedicine, focusing on the central role of fluids, notably milk and blood, in the Rwandan concepts of pathology and therapy (Taylor 1992, no. 10). The other discusses diet and eating as important symbols reinforcing the division of Rwandan society into ethnic hierarchies consisting of the Tutsi at the top, Hutu in the middle and Twa at the bottom (Taylor 2005, no. 12).

The remaining three document in the collection deal with the nature of the violence that swept Rwanda in 1994. Together, they all show that the genocide is not reducible to a tribal meltdown rooted in atavistic hatreds or to a spontaneous outburst to blind fury set off by the shooting down of the presidential plane of April 6 as some claimed (Lemarchand 1995, no. 13). Instead, the documents show, the tragedy was clearly political in nature (Longman 1955, no. 15) rooted in sharply deteriorating economic conditions caused by externally imposed structural adjustment programs, militarization of the Hutu-led government and political developments in Uganda (Newbury 1995, no. 14) .

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

For additional information on the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa peoples, see the Barundi Collection (FO58).

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Abiiru - court ritualists -793/554 - use "PRIESTHOOD (793)", with "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Akazi - corvee labor - use "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)", with "LABOR RELATIONS (466)"

Gacaca - judicial bodies composed of notable community members elected to sit in judgment over disputes - use "SOCIAL CONTROL (626)", with "JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (692)"

Inzu - lineage - use "LINEAGES (613)"

Ibwami - Royal residence - use "PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)", with "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)"

Intore - traditional war dance organized by the court to train young Tutsi men in military skills, arts and history - use "PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)", with TECHNIQUES OF SOCIALIZATION (861)"

Ubuhake - link between an individual client and a patron involving inequality and arbitrary exploitation - use "SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)", with "EXPLOITATION (661)"

Umuheto - cattle clientship involving gift of cattle from client lineage to patrons in return for regular protection - use "LINEAGES (613)", with "INTER - COMMUNITY RELATIONS (628)" and/or "SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)"

Urugo - homestead - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)", with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)"

This culture summary is based on the article, "Rwandans" by Timothy Longman, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Supplement, Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, and Ian Skoggard, eds. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. 2002. The data on demography was updated on 5/27/2009 with information from the World Bank ( Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in May 2009.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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