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Peoples of Central Africa
Image of a woman from one of the ethnic groups in Rwanda.Ethnic Groups in Rwanda Rwanda has a population of approximately 7 million. The languages spoken in this country are French, Kinyarwanda, and Kiswahili; and the religions practiced are Christian, traditional African, and Muslim. The total population of this country comprises several peoples, the most predominant of which are the three ethnic groups: the Tutsi, the Hutu, and the Twa. Photo: Courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

The Twa, a subgroup of the African Pygmies, are slightly larger than most pygmies. Adult males average 1.5 m (5 ft) and 45 kg (100 lb). The Twa, the earliest settlers of this area, originally lived off the land as hunters and gatherers in the once extensive forests around the Virunga Mountains. But as the forests were cut down--first by the Hutu for farming and grazing, then by the Tutsi for grazing--the Twa population began to decrease. Today the Twa make up only 1% of the total population. Compared to the other ethnic groups within Rwandan society, the Twa hold an inferior position, due to their smaller size and their customs, which are considered primitive by the Tutsi and Hutu.

Image of a woman and her son from one of the ethnic groups in Rwanda.The Hutu are related to the Bantu tribes of Central and East Africa. They are typically larger than the Twa--adult males average 1.5 m, 13 cm (5 ft, 5 in.) and 59 kg (130 lb). They also, in general, have dark skin and stocky builds. The Hutu have lived in the area for approximately 2,000 years as farmers. Farm work is divided equally between both women and men, and a person's reputation for hard work is prized within this group. Farming along the edges of the Virunga forest, the Hutu converted large parts of this forest into fields and pastures. This group is the largest ethnic group in Rwanda, making up 85-90% of the total population. Photo: Courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Image of some women from one of the ethnic groups in Rwanda.The Tutsi differ from both the Twa and the Hutu in physical appearance: they are taller, thinner, and lighter-skinned. Adult males average 1.5 m, 23 cm (5 ft, 9 in.) and 54 kg (120 lb), and height over 1.8 m (6 ft) is admired. When the Tutsi migrated into the Virunga area about 500 years ago, they herded cattle. They also brought a strong warrior tradition. The Tutsi soon subjugated the Hutu and established small kingdoms. From almost the time they entered the area until independence from the Europeans, the Tutsi ruled the area as royalty. (Their influence was so strong that even the value they placed on cattle eventually made ownership a symbol of prestige that still exists.) Although the Tutsi dominated and controlled society, they constituted only a minority of the population. Today they make up about 9-14% of Rwanda's population. Photo: Courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

The centuries-old social tension between the Tutsi and the Hutu is the primary reason for the unrest and violence that began before Rwandan independence from Belgium in 1962. Before independence, the ruling colonial powers, first Germany and then Belgium, controlled Rwanda by continuing to use the existing Tutsi ruling caste. With independence and majority rule, the Hutu revolted, took control of the government, and violently drove the Tutsi from the country. Civil war has been bloody and ongoing. In 1994, the Tutsi again regained power in Rwanda and drove the Hutu out of the government and the country in a continuing, violent struggle.

Ethnic Groups in Congo (formerly Zaire) The Congolese population exceeds 46 million and comprises over 250 African tribal groups. Of these tribal groups, 80% are related to the Bantu tribes. The languages spoken in this country are French as well as about 700 ethnic languages and dialects. Four of these--Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo, and Tshiluba--serve as official languages. The religions practiced are Christian, traditional African, and Muslim.

Ethnic Groups in Uganda Uganda has a population of approximately 17 million. This country's native population includes the Bantu, Nilotic, and Nilo-Hamitic peoples. The Bantu population, which includes the Baganda people, numbers approximately 1 million, making it the largest group in the country. The languages spoken in this country are English, Luganda, and several other ethnic languages. The religions practiced are Christian, traditional African, and Muslim.

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