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Written by: Carlos Diaz. UT EID: (cd29975)
The pre-colonial era of Rwanda was characterized by an interdependent relationship among the largest social groups: The Hutu and the Tutsi. The Hutu had a land worker social structure, they were mostly agrarian laborers who focused on strenuous work in the land. The Tutsi’s social structure consisted of cattle owners. The two groups shared the same cultural and ethnic identities. The Hutu and Tutsi co-existed with ease before the introduction of racist European ideology during the late 19th century and early 20th century. European colonialism brought racist ideologies and new political structures into Rwanda that contributed to Social Change in Rwanda.
One of the first interactions between Rwanda and Europe was with a British military explorer named John Hanning Speke. He wrote that the Hutu and Tutsi were not divided by social classes like in European political structure. Hanning Speke applied European theories of scientific racism to analyze the two cultural groups. He characterized the Tutu as superior because of their cattle owning social structure and “lighter skin tones.” In reality it was almost impossible to tell the difference between Hutu’s and Tutsi’s, for their social roles were often interchangeable, meaning Hutu’s could become cattle owners and vice-versa. But it was later in the second half of the 19th century when Belgian colonizers embedded scientific racism into Rwandan society. The Belgians created racial lines that divided Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutu and Tutsi were classified by different physical features such as: height, nose-shape, skin-color.The Belgian colonizers applied their ideological scientific racism to disrupt the Rwandan social structure. The Hutu began to see themselves as lower class and the Tutu were viewed as upper class, as an effect of colonization. In result the Belgians created a hierarchical political system in colonial Rwanda, through their use of racist ideologies. Furthermore in the new Rwandan hierarchy the Tutsi received major job appointments within government, church and economy, because Belgian colonialists had classified them as racially and socially superior. The pre-colonial social structure of Rwanda was used by the Europeans as another way of creating division. The former political structures of Rwanda contained high social mobility although the Tutsi minority held complex political organization by virtue of their cattle ownership. The Europeans capitalized on the Tutsi’s well-organized politics by giving the Tutsi a social-political advantage in the new colonial Rwanda. Hence the colonizers created anger in the minds of Hutu Rwandans, which were classified as not suited for sophisticated social roles. European colonialism perpetuated racial and political barriers in Rwandan life.
The introduction of racist ideology and hierarchical political structure from Europe created social change in Rwanda. The ramifications in Rwanda were social changes in political structure, many Tutsi held higher political power and the Hutu majority laid disenfranchised; a social change in culture because the Tutsi and Hutu adopted European notions of race and social class. These social changes permeated into the late 2Oth century and were factors in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Prejudice, Crisis and Genocide in Rwanda. Peter Urvin.
When Victims become killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Mahmood Mahdani