• PROOF:
  • April 5, 2014

Revisiting the Rwandan Genocide: Hutu or Tutsi?

Author
Peter Gwin
Photographs
David Guttenfelder

If you’ve never been to Rwanda, the only thing you might know about the country is that there are two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. That’s really what the country boils down to, right? The Tutsis were the victims of genocide, and the Hutus were the perpetrators. So you get off the plane and immediately start trying to figure out who is who.

Am I talking to someone who lost his family, or someone who wiped one out? Tutsis are tall and thin (you’ve read that somewhere), except when they aren’t. Hutus have broad noses (someone told you that), except when they have narrow noses. The real giveaway, however, is that traditionally Tutsis are herders, and Hutus are farmers, except for the Tutsis who grow crops and the Hutus who keep cattle. And then there are the ones who live in the city and do neither.

From left to right: Donald Bizimana, 72, a genocide survivor from Kamonyi district. Hyacinthe Mukandayisenga, 17, an orphan who lost both of her parents. Delphine Ishimwe, 7, from the town of Rwamagana.
From left to right: Donald Bizimana, 72, a genocide survivor from Kamonyi district. Hyacinthe Mukandayisenga, 17, an orphan who lost both of her parents. Delphine Ishimwe, 7, from the town of Rwamagana.

In fact, they speak the same language, Kinyarwanda, eat the same food, go to the same schools, root for the same football teams, and in many cases, marry and raise children together.

It’s so difficult to tell them apart that even the Tutsis and Hutus can struggle. There is a famous story that Hutu militiamen attacked a group of school children and ordered them to divide themselves by ethnicity—Hutus on one side, Tutsis on the other. The children refused. So the militia killed them all.

From left to right: Assouma Uwineza 30, a student of finance at the Independent University of Kigali. Charles Nkuliyinka, 62. Patricia Mukazitoni, 54, a farmer.
From left to right: Assouma Uwineza 30, a student of finance at the Independent University of Kigali. Charles Nkuliyinka, 62. Patricia Mukazitoni, 54, a farmer.

One of the first things the post-genocide government did was to eliminate the ethnic designation on national identity cards, which were manipulated by the Belgians after World War I to divide the population and keep it subjugated.  And the national census no longer tracks ethnicity, so at least officially, no one knows how many of one or the other there are. The government has implemented a campaign encouraging people to discard these labels on their own, and it’s widely considered impolite to ask someone about their ethnic background. We are all one nation is the idea. If you ask one of these people what are you, he or she is likely to answer Rwandan.

An identification card lies near the altar inside the genocide memorial at Ntarama Church. Today, Rwandan national identity cards no longer note an individual's ethnicity.
An identification card lies near the altar inside the genocide memorial at Ntarama Church. Today, Rwandan national identity cards no longer note an individual’s ethnicity.

David Guttenfelder and National Geographic staff writer Peter Gwin are currently in Kigali documenting the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide for National Geographic. This week, they share their words and images from Proof. Guttenfelder is posting these and other iPhone photographs in real time on Instagram at @dguttenfelder and @natgeo.

There are 9 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. mutava peter
    April 21, 2014

    am following the story of reconciliation of rwanda 20 years down the line

  2. anne-catherine stroh
    April 15, 2014

    after reading the recent book about Rwanda called”"silence turquoise”, it seemed that the rwanda genocide was against tutsis .the blindedminded europeans brains believed pretext like, in france, the”massacre de la ST Barthelemy(murder of duc de guise =catholic pretext of civilgenocid)

  3. Paula
    April 6, 2014

    What is this and how did my email address collect a bounce back…

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    Received: from smtp2.dfw.wordpress.com (localhost.localdomain [127.0.0.1])
    by smtp2.dfw.wordpress.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id BB35E740F38 for
    ; Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:15:35 +0000 (UTC)
    DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha1; c=relaxed; d=wordpress.com; h=date:to
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    content-transfer-encoding; s=my5; bh=8TQxIr50qzyuDXGjotyelpqUCQY =….”

    • Alexa Keefe
      April 7, 2014

      @Paula,

      Good question! I will pass this along to our tech team. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  4. Rita Hanneman
    April 5, 2014

    Many of us are proud of our ethnicity which makes it somewhat sad that these people have to deny it. But, if it was just a political device by a conqueror than it is wonderful that they are now denying it.

  5. Kamuzi John William
    April 5, 2014

    Quite interesting. This is a good proof that many non-Rwandans still ignore what happened in Rwanda in the 1990s. Ask the ICTR (the victors’ court); ask people like Peter Erlinder, Robin Philpot, Pierre Péan, etc. and try to get a bit of the truth.

  6. susan price
    April 5, 2014

    I agree. The colonial powers set up many African nations to fail. Once they pulled out of actual occupation, they have done all they can to extract mineral wealth from the people.

  7. Raul Manuel Cancela
    April 5, 2014

    I like his article. Brief, precise and expressive. In my opinion, the pains of Africa come for the most part from the colonial powers of the past or from the present. They can act at sight or secretly.

  8. Paula
    April 5, 2014

    And what does the American gov require of the people who are not yet citizens of United States of America – but to carry a “Green Card”?

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