Nilotic people of central Africa, living mainly in Burundi and Rwanda.
The cattle-herding Tutsis came to their present lands in the late 14th or early 15th century, from Ethiopia, establishing dominance over the local Bantu peoples (mainly Hutus). The Tutsi established themselves as a quasi-feudal élite in a social system (ubuhake) where the Hutus were subordinate. Below the Hutus were the pygmy people, the Twa. "Hutu" became not only an ethnic but also a social descriptive, so that Tutsis of low social status might be termed "Hutus". Likewise, ethnic Hutus might rise in status to be considered honorary "Tutsis".
European colonisation reinforced the sociopolitical gap between the tribal groups; the Tutsi élite were used to buttress European colonial power in Rwanda and Burundi.
After the independence of both countries in 1962, this social mobility vanished, and ethnic and social status as "Hutu" became fixed, a significant factor in touching off the ethnic violence that has flared at intervals between Hutus and Tutsis, culminating in the massacre by Hutus of around 800,000 Tutsis in 1994.