"Season of Blood" by Fergal Keane
This excerpt from Keane's book describes the history of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, which has a similar tribal makeup and background as Burundi.
It is instructive to consider Rwandan history and the precise definitions - in so much as there can be precision - of the words 'Hutu' and 'Tutsi'. For if I learned anything in Rwanda it is that a 'pure' ethnic divide is a myth. In southern Rwanda in particular there was extensive intermarrying between Tutsis and Hutus, and, as I shall detail later, there is a long history of people exchanging identities. The leader of the Interahamwe militia, Robert Kajuga, was a Tutsi whose father had succeeded in changing the family's identity to Hutu.
The historical records indicate that Rwanda's first inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, more commonly known as Twa, or pygmies. Successive migrations from north and east brought groups of farmers and cattle herders. Eventually one clan of cattle herders, members of what is now called the Tutsi tribe, appear to have succeeded in dominating much of the centre of what is now known as Rwanda. As the centuries advanced this clan consolidated its power, although in custom and tradition it absorbed much of the culture of the Hutu farmers it dominated. Today Tutsi and Hutu share a common language, diet and cultural heritage.
What separated Tutsi and Hutu in the past was primarily a matter of occupation and wealth. Thus the Tutsi clan owned large herds of cattle, while their Ilutu subjects farmed the land and the Twa subsisted on what they could gather in field and forest. As time progressed many Hutus bought cattle and were assimilated into the Tutsi aristocracy. Some Tutsis became poor and lost their privileged position. In pre-colonial Rwandan society - as in so many other parts of the world - cattle were identified with wealth. Ownership of large herds of cattle allowed the Tutsi nobility to raise armies and to draw vast numbers of Hutus into the web of clientelism (for example, a Hutu peasant would be given a cow, in return for which he would make himself available for work on the land of his patron). Not every Tutsi landowner exploited his Hutu vassals, but there evolved over time a dangerous sense of second-class citizenship among the Hutus. The Tutsi nobility that dominated the centre of Rwanda stressed the importance of physical stature, that is, they claimed their tallness and aquiline facial features were synonymous with superiority. Those who were short and stocky, who worked the land, and who had neither cattle nor ties to the nobility became a distinct second class in Rwandan society.
Journalists who have interviewed Hutu peasants have frequently been told that Tutsis look down on them as subhumans'. Any peasants who opposed the evolving order were treated with unmitigated harshness. Tutsi nobles showed no hesitation in massacring the occupants of rebellious villages and confiscating their property. A peasant farmer would be advised to bide his time, to save what he could in the hope of someday purchasing enough cattle to allow for his assimilation into the ruling class. He did not need to be tall or slim to gain entrance into the higher ranks of society: in that sense pre-colonial Rwandan society was solidly materialistic. But the economic realities tended to keep the majority of Hutus in a subject position, whatever their aspirations.