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A Brief History of Burundi

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A Brief History of Burundi


Burundi -- History.


Oral history video clip featuring Henri Boyi, a Professor at University of Western Ontario. This video was originally produced by Media Entertainment, Inc., for the 2000 documentary The Genocide Factor.


Media Entertainment, Inc.


Genocide Factor Collection, Oral History Program, Tampa Library,
University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.


Tampa, Fla. : University of South Florida Tampa Library.




Boyi, Henri


Tape Number: 4047A


video / mp4




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Kennedy, Michael


Boyi, Henri


Burundi is a small country in Central Africa, which borders with Rwanda, Zaire, and Tanzania. In 1962, it got its independence from Belgium. I should say that Burundi was a German colony in 1885 up to around 1916, and then when the Belgians--when the Germans left, the Belgians came in as colonizers. This was under the League of Nations; the Belgians were sent by the League of Nations. Burundi has three major ethnic groups--actually, three ethnic groups, not major, but three ethnic groups: the Tutsis, the Hutus, and the Twa. These three ethnic groups lived together for more than a thousand years. Some historians, especially from the colonial school, will tell you that the Tutsis got to Burundi late, in the sixteenth century, and the Hutus were there forever, which is not true. More recent scholarship has established that for at least nine or ten centuries, the Hutus and Tutsis were living together in that country under a strong kingdom. The Kingdom of Burundi was known as one of the strongest in the region, and one of the oldest. So the king, who was not seen as a Tutsi or a Hutu, had a lot of Tutsis around him, and also a number of Hutus could emerge. This was a hierarchical system, like in any kingdoms, any traditional kingdoms. And you had that structure in the administration, where you had lots of people from the Tutsi ethnic group who were around the king, but you had also quite a number of Hutus, who could also rise to the royal court and be part of the administration. When the Hutus and the Tutsis lived together under the kingdom, there was no ethnic conflict at all, unlike what sometimes people in the media say, that this is a centuries-long ethnic conflict. It's not true. It's only in the 1930s, when the Belgians started creating tribal associations to divide people in order to reign more comfortably, that Hutus and Tutsis started being distinguished, as some have said, the farmers and others as the landlords. And all people who had big lands and lots of cattle were called Tutsis, and those who were poorer were called Hutus. Schools were created, some for Hutus and some for Tutsis: so here you see the part, the role that was played by colonization, which is a rather normal thing in terms of the colonial scheme of things. And then, Tutsis--some Tutsi children were sent to study in Europe, to Belgium. Those who were given scholarship were mainly Tutsis. So in other words, the Belgian colonial system supported Tutsis a lot, and they strengthened the hierarchy and divided that--really, that harmony that was there under the kingdom. And in the 1950s, when African intellectuals and people from other parts of the world started fighting against colonization, the Tutsis, who were more educated, are the ones who were really launching movements, rebellious movements, against the Belgians. Then the Belgians turned against the Tutsis and went more on the side of Hutus, and looked at the Tutsis as a very ungrateful race. I have to say that in the beginning we had supported them, thinking that they were more intelligent, more organized, all kinds of stereotypes.

Original Format

Beta tape




Media Entertainment, Inc., “A Brief History of Burundi ,” USF Library Special & Digital Collections Exhibits, accessed September 30, 2020,