Generally, historians are divided on the origins of Rwanda ’s three ethnic groups, Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa. However, they are agreed that pre-colonial Rwanda was highly organized and had a centralized system of administration. The kingdom was presided over by Umwami (King) from, mainly the Nyiginya clan of the Tutsi sub-group.
- Umwami Musinga’s Royal Court
The Umwami nearly had absolute powers but was assisted by three main chiefs: a military chief, who was like the modern day army commander/or Joint Chief of General Staff. This chief was responsible for the army, ensuring territorial integrity and expansion. The second chief was cattle chief who over saw all matters pertaining to cattle keeping, grazing and settling related disputes. The third chief was the land chief who was responsible for agricultural land, produce and related affairs.
The chiefs were mainly Tutsi, but most often, the chief of land was Hutu.
Behind the scenes, the queen mother also played a significant role in the administration of the kingdom.
The relationship between the king and the rest of the population was, as elsewhere, unequal; sustained by the highly organized system of “ubuhake”; a clientilist kind of relationship between the landed gentry and the less landed and the ordinary subjects.
Unlike what some scholars have written, Ubuhake was mainly an economic system which enabled a symbiosis kind of relationship between the wealth and privileged and the less privileged. It was a system in which ordinary Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa participated and mutually benefited.
Ubuhake was voluntarily subscribed to and was entered into for many reasons; including protection and anticipation and getting favours from the most affluent and powerful.
With the exception of wars of conquest and expansion, pre-colonial Rwandan was largely peaceful. For over a period of 400 years, peaceful co-existence marked the Ubuhake relationship; although for about 20 generations, one Tutsi clan ‘the Nyiginya’ dominated the political scene.
Pre-colonial Rwanda ’s main economic activities were cattle keeping and farming. It’s on the basis of these economic activities that determined one’s status or family’s status in society. Because cows were considered very important in the pre-colonial economy, Rwandans with more cows were considered more affluent than farmers. Actually, and unlike colonial anthropological theorizing on the origins of the Rwandan people, Rwandans are agreed that the term Tutsi was used in pre-colonial Rwanda to mean a cattle keeper-and therefore affluent and Hutu to mean a farmer and therefore less affluent.
The other economic activity was hunting and gathering. This was mainly done by the less privileged members of the Banyarwanda community known as Abatwa.
Abatwa were marginalized and often discriminated against by both the Hutus and Tutsis. Hutu and Tutsi were less sharply distinct, and individuals could and did move from one category to the other on the basis of accumulated wealth.
A range of institutions mediated social relations, notably the clan system, which spanned the entire Rwandan society.
The institution of Ubuhake is credited for harmonizing and ensuring a strong interdependency between and among Rwanda ’s pre-colonial society-the personalized relationship between two individuals of unequal status. The patron was mostly Tutsi, but clients could be a Hutu of inferior social status or Tutsi. One person could be a client as well as a patron, even Tutsi patrons of Hutu could be a client yet of another Tutsi; only Umwami is the one who could not be a client. One could be a patron or a client depending on how many cows you have.
It seems that the people themselves identified each other rather according to clan affiliation rather than ethnicity. David Newbury has shown that while the term “Hutu and Tutsi” existed in pre-colonial time, they were not as entrenched (D. Newbury, 1979, 1980; c Newbury 1988).
In all, there were nineteen clans shared among all the members of the three ethnic groups. Some argue that up to about the middle of the 19th century, clan identities mattered more than Tutsi - Hutu and Twa categorization.
However, the description of Rwandan by ethnic groups- partly based on indigenous people on one hand, inferior and superior race anthropological theorization on the other, is believed to be a colonial concoction which gained currency in the later part of the 20th century.
By Gubi This Tuesday 3 April 2012 à 18 : 13 : 04
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