ELSPETH HUXLEYFEB. 23, 1964
FROM the miniature Republic of Rwanda in central Africa comes word of the daily slaughter of a thousand people, the possible extermination of a quarter of a million men, women and children, in what has been called the bloodiest tragedy since Hitler turned on the Jews. The victims are those tall, proud and graceful warrioraristocrats, the Tutsi, sometimes known as the Watusi.* They are being killed
*According to the orthography of the Bantu language, “Tutsi” is the singular and “Watutsi” the plural form of the word. For the sake of simplicity. I prefer to follow the style used in United Nations reports and use “Tutsi” for both singular and plural.
Who are the Tutsi and why is such a ghastly fate overtaking them? Is it simply African tribalism run riot, or are outside influences at work ? Can nothing be done?
The king‐in‐exile of Rwanda, Mwamni (Monarch) Kigeri V, who has fled to the Congo, is the 41st in line of succession. Every Tutsi can recite the names of his 40 predecessors but the Tutsi cannot say how many centuries ago their ancestors settled in these tumbled hills, deep valleys and volcanic mountains separating the great
Nor is it known just where they came from—Ethiopia perhaps; before that, possibly Asia. They are cattle folk, allied in race to such nomadic peoples as the Somali, Gatlla, Fulani and Masai. Driving their cattle before them, they found this remote pocket of central Africa, 1,000 miles from the Indian Ocean. It was occupied by a race of Negro cultivators called the Hutu, who had themselves displaced the aboriginal pygmy hunters, the Twa (or Batwa). First the Tutsi conquered and then ruled the Hutu. much as a ??r‐man ruling class conquered and settled
In the latest census, the Tutsi constitute about 15 per cent of Rwanda’s population of between 2.5 and 3 million. Apart from a handful of Twa, the rest are Hutu. (The same figures are true of the tiny neighboring kingdom of Burundi.)
For at least four centuries the Tutsi have kept intact their racial type by inbreeding. Once seen, these elongated men are never forgotten. Their small, narrow heads perched on top of slim and spindly bodies remind one of some of Henry Moore’s sculptures. Their average height, though well above the general norm, is no more than 5 feet 9 inches, but individuals reach more than 7 feet. The former king, Charles III Rudahagwa, was 6 feet 9 inches, and a famous dancer and high jumper—so famous his portrait was printed on the banknotes—measured 7 feet 5 inches.
THIS height, prized as a badge of racial purity, the Tutsi accentuated by training upward tufts of fuzzy hair shaped like crescent moons. Their leaps, bounds and whirling dances delighted tourists, as their courtesy and polished manners impressed them.
Through the centuries, Tutsi feudalism survived with only minor changes. At its center was the Mwami, believed to be descended from the god of lightning, whose three children fell from heaven onto a hilltop and begat the two royal clans from which the Mwami and his queen were always chosen. Not only had the Mwami rights of life and death over his subjects but, in theory, he owned all the cattle. too — magnificent, long‐horned cattle far superior to the weedy native African bovines. Once a year, these were ceremonially presented to the Mwami in all their glory — horns sand‐polished, coats rubbed with butter, foreheads hung with beads, each beast attended by a youth in bark‐cloth robes who spoke to it softly and caught its dung on a woven straw mat.
“Rwanda has three pillars.” ran a Tutsi saying: “God, cows and soldiers.” The cows the Mwami distributed among his subchiefs, and they down the line to lesser fry, leaving no adult Tutsi male without cows.
Indeed, the Tutsi cannot live without cattle, for milk and salted butter are their staple food. (Milk is consumed in curds; the butter, hot and perfumed by the bark of a certain tree.) To eat foods grown in soil, though often done, is thought vaguely shameful, something to be carried out in private.
THE kingdom was divided into districts and each had not one governor, but two: a land chief (umunyabutaka) and a cattle chief (umuuyamukenke). The jealousy that nearly always held these two potentates apart prompted them to spy on each other to the Mwami, who was thus able to keep his barons from threatening his own authority.
Below these governors spread a network of hill chiefs, and under them again the heads of families. Tribute — milk and butter from the lordly Tutsi, and
Just as, in medieval Europe, every nobleman sent his son to the king’s court to learn the arts of war, love and civility, so in Rwanda and Burundi did every Tutsi father send his sons to the Mwami’s court for instruction in the use of weapons, in lore and tradition, in dancing and poetry and the art of conversation, in manly sports and in the practice of the most prized Tutsi virtue —self‐control. Ill‐temper and the least display of emotion are thought shameful and vulgar. The ideal Tutsi male is at all times polite, dignified, amiable, sparing of idle words and a trifle supercilious.
THESE youths, gathered in the royal compound, were formed into companies which, in turn, formed the army. Each youth owed to his company commander an allegiance which continued all his life. In turn, the commander took the youth, and subsequently the man, under his protection. Every Tutsi could appeal from his hill chief to his army commander, who was bound to support him in lawsuits or other troubles. (During battle, no commander could step backward, lest . his army retreat; at no time could the
The Hutu were both bound and protected by a system known as buhake, a form of vassalage. A Hutu wanting to enter into this relationship would present a jug of beer to a Tutsi and say: “I ask you for milk. Make me rich. Be my father, and I will be your child.” If the Tutsi agreed, he gave the applicant a cow, or several cows. This sealed the bargain
The Hutu then looked to his lord for protection and for such help as contributions toward the bride‐price he must proffer for a wife. In return, the Hutu helped from time to time in the work of his protector’s household, brought occasional jugs of beer and held himself available for service
The densely populated kingdoms of the Tutsi lay squarely in the path of Arab slavers who for centuries pillaged throughout the central African highlands, dispatching by the hundreds of thousands yoked and helpless human beings to the slave markets of Zanzibar and the Persian Gulf. Here the explorer Livingstone wrote despairingly in his diaries of coffles (caravans) of tormented captives, of burnt villages, slaughtered children, raped women and ruined crops. But these little kingdoms, each about the size of Maryland, escaped. The disciplined, courageous Tutsi spearmen kept the Arabs out, and the Hutu safe. Feudalism worked both ways.
Some Hutu grew rich, and even married their patrons’ daughters. Sexual morality was strict. A girl who became pregnant before marriage was either killed outright or abandoned on an island in the middle of Lake Kivu to perish, unless rescued by a man of a despised and primitive Congo tribe, to be kept as a beast of burden with no rights.
SINCE the Tutsi never tilled the soil, their demands for labor were light. Hutu duties included attendance on the lord during his travels; carrying messages; helping to repair the master’s compound; guarding his cows. The reiationsiiip could be ended at any time by either party. A patron had no right to hold an unwilling “client” in his service.
It has been said that serfdom in Europe was destroyed by the invention of the horse
UNTIL the First World War the kingdoms were part of German East Africa. Then Belgium took them over, under the name of Ruanda‐Urundi, as a trust territory, first for the League of Nations, then under the U. N. Although the Belgian educational system, based on Roman Catholic missions, was conservative in outlook, and Belgian administrators made no calculated attempt to undo Tutsi feudalism, Western ideas inevitably crept in. So did Western economic notions through the introduction of coffee cultivation, which opened to the Hutu a road to independence, bypassing the Tutsi cattle‐based economy. And Belgian authority over Tutsi notables, even over the sacred Mwami himself, inevitably damaged their prestige. The Belgians even deposed one obstructive Mwami. About ten years ago, the Belgians tried to persuade the Tutsi to let some of the Hutu into their complex structure of government. In Burundi, the Tutsi ruling caste realized its cuanger just in time and agreed to share some of its powers with the Hutu majority. But in Rwanda, until the day the system toppled, no Hutu was appointed by the Tatsi overlords to a chief’s position. A tight, rigid, exclusive Tutsi aristocracy continued to rule the land.
The Hutu grew increasingly
WHEN order was restored, there were reckoned to be 21,000 Tutsi refugees in Burundi, 14,000 in Tanganyika, 40,000 in Uganda and 60,000 in the Kivu province of the Congo. The Red Cross did its best to cope in camps improvised by local governments.
Back in Rwanda, municipal elections were held for the first time—and swept the Hutu into power. The Parmehutu —Parti d’Emancipation des Hutus—founded only in October 1959, emerged on top, formed a coalition government, and after some delays proclaimed a republic, to which the Belgians, unwilling to face a colonial war, gave recognition in terms of internal self‐government.
In 1962, the U.N. proclaimed Belgium’s trusteeship at an end, and, that same year, a general election held under U.N. supervision confirmed the Hutu triumph. With full independence, a new chapter began — the Hutu chapter.
Rwanda and Burundi split. Burundi has the only large city, Usumbura (population: 50,000), as its capital. With a mixed Tutsi‐Hutu government, it maintains an uneasy peace. It remains a kingdom, with a Tutsi monarch. Everyone knows and likes the jovial Mwami, Mwambutsa IV, whose height is normal, whose rule
As its President, Rwanda chose Grégoire Kayibanda, a 39‐year‐old Roman Catholic seminarist who, on the verge of ordination, chose politics instead. Locally educated by the Dominicans, he is a protégé of the Archbishop of Rwanda whose letter helped spark the first Hutu uprising. Faithful to his priestly training, he shuns the fleshpots, drives a Volkswagen instead of the Rolls or Mercedes generally favored by an African head of state and, suspicious of the lure of wicked cities, lives on a hilltop outside the town of Kigali, said to be the smallest capital city in the world, with some 7,000 inhabitants, a single paved street, no hotels, no telephone and a more or less permanent curfew.
Mr. Kayibanda’s Christian and political duties, as he sees them, have fused into an implacable resolve to destroy forever the last shreds of Tutsi power—if necessary by obliterating the entire Tutsi race. Last fall, Rwanda still held between 200,000 and 250,000 Tutsi, reinforced by refugees drifting back from the camps, full of bitterness and humiliation. In December, they were joined by bands of Tutsi spearmen from Burundi, who with the courage of despair, and outnumbered 10 to 1, attacked the Hutu. Many believe they were egged on by Mwami Kigeri V, who since 1959 had been fanning Tutsi racial prideand calling for revenue.
THE result of the attacks was to revive all the cumulative hatred of the Tutsi for past injustices. The winds of anti‐colonialism sweeping Africa do not distinguish between white and black colonialists. The Hutu launched a ruthless war of extermination that is still going on. Tutsi villages are stormed and their inhabitants clubbed or hacked to death, burned alive or herded into crocodile‐infested rivers.
What will become of the Tutsi? One urgent need is outside help for the Urundi Government in resettling the masses of refugees who have fled to its territory. Urundi’s mixed political set‐up is reasonably democratic, if not always peaceful (witness the assassination of the Crown Prince by a political opponent
In a sense the Tutsi have brought their tragic fate on themselves. They are paying now the bitter price of ostrichism, a stubborn refusal to move with the times. The Bourbons of Africa, they are meeting the Bourbon destiny—to be obliterated by the people they have ruled and patronized.
The old relationship could survive no longer in a world, as E. M. Forster has described it, of “telegrams and anger;” a world of bogus democracy turning into one‐party states, of overheated U.N. assemblies, of press reports and demagogues, a world where (as in the neighboring Congo) a former Minister of Education leads bands of tribesmen armed with arrows to mutilate women missionaries.
THE elegant and long‐legged Tutsi with their dances and their epic poetry, their lyrehorned cattle and superb basketwork and code of seemly behavior, had dwindled into tourist fodder. The fate of all species, institutions or individuais who will not, or cannot. adapt caught up with them. Those who will not bend must break.
For the essence of the situation in an Africa increasingly
NOW, not just the white men have gone, or are going; far more importantly, the elders and their authority, the whole chain of command from ancestral spirits, through the chief and his council to the obedient youth are being swept away. This hierarchy is being replaced by the “young men,” the untried, unsettled, uncertain, angry and confused generation who, with a thin veneer of ill‐digested Western education, for the first time in Africa’s long history have taken over power from their fathers.
It is a major revolution indeed, whose first results are only just beginning to show up and whose outcome cannot be seen. There is only one safe prediction: that it will be violent, unpredictable, bloody and cruel, as it is proving for the doomed Tutsi of Rwanda.