Difference Between Hutu and Tutsi

Hutu vs Tutsi

The difference between Hutu and Tutsi arises from their place of origin. For many of us, who have been watching the disturbing news about genocide in Rwanda and Burundi since the last decade of 20th century, the most worrying part is how and why would two ethnic groups become so hostile, so as to kill and try to annihilate each other? Yes, we are talking about Hutus and Tutsis, two ethnic groups living together for centuries in central Africa. Millions of people have lost their lives in this war of hatred and supremacy between Hutu and Tutsi in the last two decades. This article attempts to get to the genesis of this ethnic cleansing by differentiating between Hutu and Tutsi people.

More about Hutu

Hutus, also known as Bahutu and Wahutu, dominate the population, in number, in Rwanda and Burundi among the Bantu speaking people. They are considered to be the original inhabitants of the area.The Hutu lifestyle was built around small-scale agriculture. When it comes to social organization of Hutus, it was based on clans. They had petty kings who were known as bahinza. These kings ruled over a limited area.

When you consider their physical appearances, as people have observed normally, Hutus are shorter and stronger with broader features. They have low-pitched voices. They also seem to have big noses.

Difference Between Hutu and Tutsi

More about Tutsi

Tutsis, also known as Batusi, Tussi, Watusi and Watutsi, live in countries like Rwanda and Burundi in Africa. Tutsis are the people who came later into the territory of the Hutus and got the power. They have been the minority, but always the powerful kind. In other words, unlike Hutus who were large in number, Tutsis were always the minority. Yet they were always the minority with power in both Rwanda and Burundi.

When it comes to physical features, people have observed that Tutsis are taller and thinner. They have high-pitched voices. They also seem to have long noses.

Now that we know some distinguishing factors between the two groups, let us see more into their history. Hutu and Tutsi are two ethnic groups that have come to the limelight because of the genocide that has taken place in Rwanda since 1994, and if one were to look at the two tribes superficially, there hardly seems to be any difference as both speak the same Bantu language and mostly practice Christianity. This seems more of a class war with Tutsis being perceived as richer and having a better social status than Hutus. Tutsis have control over cattle, whereas Hutus control the lowly farming practices. If we look back at history, it seems that Hutus and Tutsis have coexisted peacefully for nearly 600 years in Central Africa. Tutsis arrived from Ethiopia and conquered Hutus and their homeland. Hutus accepted their supremacy and agreed to raise crops in lieu for protection. In the colonial phase, when Belgium took over the controlling power of the area from Germany, there was a system of a Tutsi king with the two groups living and marrying in each other’s clans.

Hutu vs Tutsi

During German rule, Tutsis were given prominence because of their taller stature. They were also ones with a long nose, one facial feature that is hard to find in African tribes. Tutsis, thus got recognition from colonial rulers and received patronage, which got them education and government jobs. Hutus, who were in majority, resented the special status of Tutsis, and this resulted in sparks between the two tribes. The situation changed when Belgium took over the power of control of the area. Belgians recognized the supremacy of Hutus and allowed them to make the government. This reversal of policy made Tutsis jealous.

It was when Belgian troops withdrew and pressurized dissolution of monarchy that the problem surfaced. With no king to rule, there was a power vacuum and both groups tried to fill this vacuum. The newly gained independence that was a result of the absence of foreign rulers meant birth of two new countries, Rwanda ruled by Tutsis, and Burundi dominated by Hutus. This bifurcation caused a lot of hatred and ill will that spread across both countries with ethnic fighting between the two groups flaring up every now and then for decades to come. This ethnic rivalry reached its flash point in 1994, when a civil war raged in Rwanda. Tutsi rebels won this war that sent fearful Hutus, nearly a million, into nearby Zaire and Congo. In Burundi though, Hutus won elections in 1993, but the elected Hutu President got killed in a coup a few months later. Even his successor, a Hutu, got killed in a plane crash a few months later in which the opposition Hutu leader of Rwanda also got killed in suspicious circumstances.

What is the difference between Hutu and Tutsi?

• Historical Details:

• Hutus dominate the population in Ruwanda and Burundi, and are considered to be the original inhabitants of the area.

• Tutsis came over from Ethiopia and conquered Hutus.

• It was after the independence from colonial rulers that a power vacuum was created and led to ethnic conflicts between the two groups.

• Language:

• Both Hutu and Tutsi speak Bantu languages.

• Social Status:

• Hutus are the middle and lower class people.

• Tutsi are the aristocratic minority.

• Physical Differences:

• General Physique:

• Hutus are shorter and stronger. They also have relatively broader features.

• Tutsis are taller and thinner.

• Noses:

• Hutus have big noses.

• Tutsis have long noses.

• Voice:

• Hutus have low pitch voices.

• Tutsis have high pitch voices.

These are general observations. There can be exceptions.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Children by Julien Harneis (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  2. Tutsi man by Soupforone (CC BY 2.0)