In Rwanda, Tutsi, Hutu and Twa, independent of the region they lived in, reckoned their descent patrilineally. The four named groups based on the principle of agnatic descent are the clan (ubwoko), the sub-clan, (shanga) and the lineage (umuryango) while the shallower lineage group is called (inzu) The shanga group is found only in the North and North West.

Here, I propose to consider the relative importance and different functions of these groups and the variations as between Tutsi and Hutu and as between Central Rwanda and the peripheral areas. In later chapters I propose to demonstrate how these differences can be correlated with other factors of variation within the wider framework of the political and economic system of Rwanda. In this chapter I shall a1so explore the composition, organization and activities of the various descent groups and of the family as the smallest social unit based on kinship, and indicate correlations between certain patterns in kinship organization and other elements of the social system within the framework of variables of a demographic, geographic and ecological nature as already outlined in the previous chapters.

Although these internal variables have to be stressed, it should be noted here that the overall unity of Rwanda society is also expressed in the form of quasi-kinship relationships. All Rwanda recognize a genealogical link with a mythical common ancestor, Kanyarwanda. His three sons, Gatutsi, Gahutu and Gatwa, who were full brothers, were the founding ancestors of the three groups Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. In accordance with this myth, all Rwanda recognise a common mutual loyalty expressed in the terms ubumwe (literally – togetherness). The same word ubumwe is used to express kin solidarity at all levels of the kinship system from brothers in the nuclear family through lineage and clan up to this level of all members of Rwandan society whose solidarity is thus expressed in terms of kinship following the genealogical charter of common origin. while the actual obligations based on ubumwe differ at each level of kin organisation, the expression of ubumwe defines the boundaries of Rwandan society in that it implies an obligation of solidarity in the context of warfare with external groups. In this contexte it is important to note that despite the fact that peripheral areas were brought under effective control of Central Rwanda only recently, they were evidently afforded protection from external threat since Arab slave traders were never able to gain access to these areas (Ref. G. van Overschelde 1957 p.114, who quotes the slave trader Ahmed, Ibrahim admitting to Stanley in 1875 – “During my stay in Karagwe I have tried for the last twelve years to enter Rwanda and have even sent important presents to the King’s mother in order to obtain permission to trade in Rwanda. Khamis ben Abdullah, Tippo Tip and Said ben Habib have more than once tried to cross the border but never succeeded.” (Translation from Dutch).

The clan
In Rwanda we find fifteen named clans or patrilineal descent groups each claiming an apical ancestor and each having a common totem animal which must be protected by all members of the clan. Contrary to other sources, (Kagame 1957 p.272 and Bourgeois 1953 p.112), Maquet writes that the clans were not exogamous and moreover states that according to his Tutsi informants, not all the members of the same clan were descended from the same ancestor (Maquet 1961 p.46). However here Maquet, in the case of exogamy, must be interpreted as referring only to the special case of the royal clans in Central Rwanda who alone had a special prerogative of endogamy. Maquet’s data further pose the problem that if we are to refer to groups as clans this should imply adherence to at least the minimal definition which demands acceptance of putative descent from a common ancestor. We need not be concerned to argue here on the validity of the translation of the kinyarwanda word ubwoko as clan, as used by all authors on Rwanda. But the statements of Maquet’s Tutsi informants justifies us in stressing the point that we haveto interpret the relevance of clan or othergroup membership according to the actual or verbal behaviour of the members themselves. We have here a situation in which Tutsi, Hutu and Twa recognise their common membership of a named groupe e.g. abanyiginya or Abega.
Such groups are categorized by Banyarwanda as ubwoko normally translated as ‘clan’. According to Maquet, who is referring to the situation in Central Rwanda, Hutu members of a clan accept the implication of common ancestry with Tutsi co-members, but Tutsi in some contexts choose to refute the implication of common ancestry with Hutu. This would seem to imply that while in some reference situations common membership of an ubwoko provides a context for cross-cutting ties of allegiance as between Tutsi, Hutu and Twa in other situations the value of clan membership for Tutsi, which implies common ties with Hutu, may be overruled by the desire to express internal hierarchical distinctions between Tutsi and Hutu belonging to the same ubwoko.

The clans were permanentdescentgroups in that there was no recognition of clan fission over time or through growth in membership. All clans, including the royal clan (Abanyiginya) included Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. Although no exact data are available concerning the distribution of these groups among the clans, authors refer to the fact that Tutsi comprised ninety per cent of the Abanyiginya and Abega clans while Hutu comprised ninety per cent of the Gesera, Zigaba and Singa clans. The presence of Hutu in predominantly Tutsi clans has been explained through adoption and clan identification of Hutu servants and clients with their Tutsi masters. (Pauwels-1965 p.262, and-Maquet 1961 p.46). But this suggestion cannot explain the presence of Tutsi in predominantly Hutu clans. Kagame (1954), being himself on the oral traditions of the court historians, states that all clans are of Tutsi origin and that Hutu adopted the clan of their masters. (Fauwels 1965 p.260).It would seem however that this suggestion cannot be accepted without further evidence since it leaves us with the unsolved problem of how to account for the fact that Tutsi clients did not apparently adopt the clan of their masters.Furthermore, (ref. p.37 whole areas of Rwanda existed where Tutsi influence was only minimal and royal domination only nominal. While it is possible that certain lineages should have adopted the clan and totem of their chiefs, the fact that whole clans should have abandoned their clan allegiance and adopted another clan and totem without retaining any trace of their original clans would, it seems, demand further proof, especially if seen against the back-ground of large autonomous areas and the fact that the clans are everywhere dispersed rather than localised. Anyone attempting to define who are the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa must
at least recognise that this problem of recruitment into the same clan must be taken into consideration.

Although the clans were not corporate groups, and had no internal organization nor clan heads nor councils, the members recognised and expressed a vague kinship bond. Czekanowski (1917 p.233) especially was very much impressed by what he called the “clangemeinde”. The early missionary reports also mention the obligation of members of the same clan to help one another in times of famine and disease although no specific mention is made that clan ties were operative as between Tutsi and Hutu. Une important role of the clans was in providing a context for cross-cutting ties of affiliation between Tutsi, Hutu and Twa.

While the above characteristics held for all clans throughout Rwanda, there were certain regional variations which should benoted. In Central Rwanda there was a concentration of those clans whose membership was predominantly Tutsi. Clan membership was here important in relation to the power structure of Central Rwanda, especially in the case of the royal clan and the Bega clan which had provided the Queen Mother for the last six reigns. Other clans who were tosome extent also directly involved in the Central Rwanda power structure were the Baha, Bakono and Bagesera who could possibly provide the Queen Mother and were known to have done so on previous occasions. Only the Bagesera could perform the duties connected with the ritual required for the building of a house which was necessary even for the King’s palace or for houses required by his wives. The Bazigaba performed the ritual of purificationnecessary after a death had occurred in the house.

In Central Rwanda, clan affiliation was mainly important in relation to the manipulation of ties in the context of the central political power structure, either when participating directly in the strugglefor power or, for those who were excluded from participation, when seeking protection.
Inthe peripheral areas of the North and North-West, we find evidence of the existence of clans dually linked byjoking relationships. This is indicative of a difference in the role of clans which is correlated with the presence of localised clan groups and evidence of widespread feuding in the northern areas. In this contexte the clan joking relationships may have been linked with a framework for preferential marriages and the containment of feuding with neighbouring clans. Such an interpretation is supported by d’Hertefelt’s reference (1962 p.451) to institutionalised joking relationships between affines of the same generation and also to a predominance of neighbourhood marriages among the Abarera of northern Rwanda. ‘d’Hertefelt 1954)

The sub-clan (shanga)is,like the clan, a permanent group with no internal organization, noauthority structure and no collective activities but is unlike the clan, only found in the North and North-west. Here again, paired sub-clans were dually linked in joking relationships and
were also paired for ritual services and games. This indicates that sub-clans were clearly localised and further acted as a framework for the operation of specific social ties between sub-clan and clan members despite the absence of internal organization and authority structure. These institutionalised relationships may also be interpreted as a containment of potential clan fission and as serving to prevent the outbreak of feuding.

Correlatively, the notable absence of sub-clans in Central Rwanda must be seen against the background of the different political and social organization which gave primacy to the centralised political authority and hence to the possibility of individual vertical mobility. In the centre, in contrast to other areas, security lay in establishing relationships with powerful chiefs and not, as in the peripheral areas, in affiliation to relatively large autonomous descents groups which were not hierarchically ranked.

Umuryango and Inzu
It is among the patrilineages of varying depth that we find the most significant differences as between the different areas and as between the social groups. The umuryango was larger in membership than the inzu. An umuryango contained two or more constituent amazu whose members were able to trace direct agnatic descent from the founder-ancestor of the umuryango.

Before disaussing the differences with reference to the various areas and social groups, certain general characteristics should be noted. The lineage, (umuryango and inzu), was everywhere a non-permanent descent group of varying depth formed through the process of segmentation which in turn is related to factors of a socio-economic nature. Pauwels (1965 p.137) gives several examples of how this segmentation occurred. The hiving off of three inzu heads and their dependants who were formerly members of one umuryangois cited: Rugaga, who had distinguished himself as a warrior, was rewarded by the king with an appointment as hill chief
in some-other part of the country. Gahenda was given charge of a herd of cattle by the king because of his successes as a rain maker. Karuranga, owing to land shortage, migrated to another part of the country and established himself there. People refer to descendants of these three men as Abagaga, Abahenda and Abaruganga, indicating membership of the separate amazu. However, the members of these amazu continued to refer to themselves in addition as members of their original umuryango.“Les descendants de ces personages continueront à se dire appartenir à leur umuryango”.

From this it is evident that it is the social context which determines whether members refer to themselves as either belonging to the inzu or to the umuryango. It is for this reason that I would like to draw critical attention to Maquet’s remark that:
“There was some uncertainty in terminology: the same group, say the Abahindiro, has been referred to by our informants sometimes as inzu and sometimes as umuryango. (Maquet 1961 p.33)

The lineages were invariably exogamous groups which, in contrast to the clans and sub-clans, include only either Tutsi or Hutu or Twa. On the other hand certain differences of a general nature emerge in relation to the different areas and social groups. The degree of internal organisation, the authority structure and the extent to which they have some of the characteristics of corporate groups is related to patterns of political authority which differs as between the Centre and the peripheral areas. The variations in lineage depth, which were also correlated with the degree to which the lineages had corporate group characteristics and the variations in the extent to which lineages tended to be localised or not, also differs as between the Tutsi and Hutu groups.

I shall now first discuss the umuryango and inzu as found in the central area of Rwanda.


The umuryango varied in depth between three and seven generations. However that Tutsi imiryango tended to be of greater depth than among the Hutu, and this fact is correlated with differenees in authority structure within the lineage. The lineage was a non-localised group but here again the Tutsi lineages tended to be more dispersed than the Hutu lineages and this was related to the need for greater mobility among Tutsi in connection with administration and political manoeuvering. On the other hand the dispersal of Hutu lineages was related to the availability of land since in the centre there had been a greater fragmentation of landholding. The Hutu imiryango had no head, while the Tutsi lineages in contrast had heads who were at the same time political chiefs. Internal organization and authority depended on the existence of a lineage head. Moreover the degree and extent of his authority within the lineage was related to his importance in the wider political structure.(e.g. as a court for appeal cf. Maquet 1961 p.146)

There was no collective ownership of property by the umuryango and we do not find any trace of an ancestor cult at this level. Members of the lineage recognised a general obligation of mutual assistance but the nature of the assistance differed widely as between Tutsi and Hutu. In the case of the Tutsi, the larger size of the lineage and the existence of a head, who was at the same time a political chief, lent itself to the possibility of greater manipulation of lineage ties in political affairs. These could be operated both directly through the political chief and indirectly with other members, particularly in view of the importance to the political chief of rallying support. In the case of the Hutu, mutual obligations of support between lineage members was primarily in the context of agricultural activities such as harvesting and planting and in house-building. In both Tutsi and Hutu lineages members recognised a mutual obligation of assistance in feuding which was, howevere subject to interference in the case of both groups by the superior political chief, especially in the case of the politically headed Tutsi lineages.


For the same reason as applied to the umulyang, the Tutsi inzu was on the whole of greater depth than the Hutu inzu and varied from three to seven generations. Theamazu among Tutsi tended not to be local groups and this was again related to the greater need for mobility and the control of circumstances conducive to successful political activity.

Among the Hutu, the amazu tended te be localised. Segmentation and geographical hiving off occurredmore frequently, thereby giving rise to a shallow depth umulyango composed of the separate inzu sections. segmentation was primarily related to the availability of land and to political pressures. In the case of both Tutsi and Hutu lineages there was a recognised inzu head. In both cases he was chosen by his predecessor, subject however to the approval of the political chief. Failing the chief’ s approval, the inzu members would have to propose another candidate. If the inzu members themselves did not agree, appeal could be made to the umulyango head where he existed or to the political authorities. The inzu head was the representative of the group vis à vis the central authority and was also responsible to the various chiefs for the collection of levies and the recruitment of army personnel. The inzu was the administrative unit in the context of the central administration as for instance in collective assessment for the inzu dues and services.

The inzu head had internal judicial authority over the members. Among Hutu he represented members in all cases of dispute with persons external to the inzu. Among the Tutsi however, he only represented members in cases of dispute with members belonging to a different umuryango. In cases of intra-umurango dispute between members of different amazu, authority rested with the umuryango head. Inzu heads, among both Tutsi and Hutu, controlled the arrangements for marriage alliances of members. There were no patterns of preferential marriages and patrilateral cross-cousin marriages were permissible. All amazu had councils whose members were elected by the adult male members of the inzu and who assisted the head. Only those disputes which the inzu head could not or did not want to settle himself were referred to the council. For certain decisions the council and the inzu head would invite all adult male members of the inzu to participate in the discussions. These facts suggest that there was no clear out division between the powers of the head and of the council, since the council had no recognised specific function save as a forum. However, the political chief, especially in the case of the Tutsi amazu could exert great influence.

The inzu held regular collective rituals in connection with mourning, harvest celebrations and the Ryangombe cult. These ceremonies were attended by all adult male members who had to bring their share of contributions for the collective feast which was held at the family shrine of the inzu head, who performed the ceremonies. Whereas the Tutsi amazu had no collective property rights in land or livestock, the Hutu amazu had a collective estate in land, which was
controlled and distributed by the inzu head. This was of particular importance in the context of finding and clearing new land and of its distribution among members. The inzu head also allocated a plot of land to each male member on marriage .The types of collective action and support were the same as at the umuryango level, but the obligations were stronger and more frequently activated. The responsibility of organising the collective services required by the political chiefs and patrons lay with the inzu head.

In summary we may say that in Central Rwanda the role of the umuryango was more important among Tutsi than among Hutu. For both Tutsi and Hutu the significance of the umuryango and the inzu was related tocentralised political government in that the autonomy of the lineages was subject to the control of political chiefs. The umuryango was a corporate group only amongst Tutsi and only in the limited sense of having a head and some collective activities and obligations, but with no common property. The inzu however was a fully corporate group among Hutu. It was of equal importance among the Tutsi in its political role although it lacked the characteristic of collective property. In terms of social groups based on kinship, the inzu was the most important unit and had a considerable degree of autonomy vis a vis the umuryango. Moreover it was more important than the umuryango because of its role as a unit of administration in relation to central government, although it thereby lacked political autonomy.

I shall now compare and contrast the umulyango and inzu in the peripheral areas as distinct from CentralRwanda.

The umuryango

In the peripheral areas the umulyango was of much greater importance than in central Rwanda in the case of both Tutsi and Hutu. Evidence for this is to be found in certain differences of organization and activities. The umuryango in the North and North-West tended to be shallower even among Tutsi and was always a localised lineage group exercising collective ownership over land and cattlee the latter especially referring to Tutsi. It was a politically autonomous unit whose heade nominated by his predecessor was not subject to the approval of the political chief. Members of the umuryango council were elected by the heads of the constituent amazu. The umuryango head controlled the estate and allocated new land to the separate inzu heads. The umuryamo head had supreme judicial authority in that he not only settled disputes between members of different amazu but also between disputing members belonging to the same inzu if an appeal was made to him. He was also the representative of all members of the umuryango in disputes or relationships with members of other imiryango. He had very strong influence in the arrangements for new marriage alliances.

In the peripheral areas the umuryango head performed the same ritual activities as were found in central Rwanda at the level of the inzu. Correlated with its greater degree of internal organization, obligations of mutual assistance between umulyango members were more frequently activated than at the umuryango level in central Rwanda.

The Inzu
The main differences in the organization and role of the inzu in the peripheral areas as compared with the centre were related firstly to its integration into the wider kinship framework of the umuryango, and secondly to the fact that it did not occupy any special position as an administrative unit within the wider political framework.

The inzu head was normally nominated by his predecessor, but in case he had failed to do so before his death, it was the umuryango head assisted by his council who made the new appointment rather than the members of the inzu. Moreover his appointment was, in contrast with central Rwanda, not subject to the approval of the political chief. Once usufruct rights in land had been granted to the inzu by the umuryango head, it was the inzu head who controlled its redistribution among members. Land vacated by any member of the inzu or lacking an heir, reverted to the umuryangohead and could be redistributed to other amazu. Another aspect of the integration of the inzu into the wider kinship structure has been referred to in the context of the inzu head’s limited judicial powers. For instance, in case of dispute over property, members of the inzu could appeal to the umuryango head.

Collective activities of inzu members in ritual and mutual assistance were the same as in central Rwanda with the exception of additional emphasis on the obligation of support in feuding. From the early missionary reports there is strong evidence that feuding occurred on a very wide scale. Pages (1930 p.647) gives a list of thirty- seven familles who, in the area of Bugoyi alone, had in the one year 1910 a member killed in feuding. In the peripheral areas patrilateral cross-cousin-marriages were forbidden while on the other hand matrilateral cross-cousin marriages were preferential.

Summarising this outline of the kinship structure in the peripheral areas we can say that the much greater importance of the larger lineage group – the umuryango – is related to the security sought by large autonomous land holding groups in mutual competition over access to and exploitation of land outside the context of central political control. The influence of the umuryango head in establishing marriage alliances should be seen in the same light. In contrast, the relatively greater importance of the smaller lineage group -the inzu – in central Rwanda, is related to the pattern of vertical manipulation of the centralised political system in which security is sought through political affiliation and economic clientage. Equally the importance of the inzu group was strengthened by the fact that it was the largest kingroup recognised as a unit of administration by the political authorities.

In the context of these differences of a socio-economic nature as between central Rwanda and the peripheral areas, the different patterns of preferential cross-cousin marriages in the two areas receive added importance. Leach (1951) has pointed out how preferelltial matrilateral cross-cousin marriages establish wife giving and wife taking relationships between a number of lineages even if these marnages do not materialise. This divides the range of people with whom through kinship, one is more likely to come into contact, into lineage mates and potential affines of two kinds:- those whom he may marry and those whom his sisters and daughters may marry. In the context of Rwanda the emphasis on preferential marriage of matrilateral cross-cousins and the exclusion of patrilateral cross-cousin marriages in the North is related to the need for multiple marriage alliances with potentially hostile or competing neighbouring lineages of a different clan. In contrast, in central Rwanda, the absence of preferential marriage on the one hand and the permissibility of patrilateral cross-cousin mariage on the other, indicate the importance of a wide ranging freedom of choice in marriage alliances and the subordination of the exploitation of kinship ties to achievement within the political context.

Against the background of these differences in size, organization and roles of the lineage groups as found in different areas and social groups in Rwanda, it seems pertinent to reconsider the usefulness of Maquet’s terminology for the kin groups. He writes:

“We would suggest calling the inzu a primary and the umuryango a secondary patrilineage in order to convey the idea that the umuryango originated from the inzu and that the inzu’s functions were more important for the individul and society at large than those of the umuryango,” and that the latter is ” rather the surviving shadow of the first.” (Maquet 1961 p.34)

This description of “descent groups in Rwanda” (Maquet 1961 P.34) can be seen to apply only to the central areasince in fact, as has been shown, the umuryango was of considerable importance outside central Rwanda, and was moreover not in any sense a “surviving shadow”. The evident lack of regularised lineage segmentation and the absence of an internal authority system at the level of the umuryango in central Rwanda must have prompted Maquet to dissociate himself from the kin terminology as used by Evans-Pritchard (see Maquet 1961 p.34) and to refer to the inzu and umuryango as primary and secondary patrilineages respectively.
However this introduces confusion into the interpretation of what seems to be a not abnormal process of segmentation
which was, however, operating under widely differing political and economic conditions in the different areas. An umuryango is a group of living persons who are able to trace their relationship to a common ancestor, but who, as a result of segmentation, are divided into constituent amazu i.e. patrilineages of shallower depth. Examples of quite normal patterns of segmentation occurring in Rwanda have already been given. Moreover, as we have seen, outside central Rwanda the umuryango had the characteristics of a corporate group whereas in the centre many of these characteristics were absent and were only present at the inzu level. From this it seems evident that Maquet is not as he states, speaking about “descent groups in Rwanda but is limiting his description to the special conditions characteristic of central Rwanda. (Maquet’sdata were based entirely on information received from three hundred Tutsi informants. Maquet 1961 p.3)

The rugo
The smallest social group based on kinship is the rugo or household which normally coincides with the nuclear or polygynous family and may include dependent members. There is no evidence of significant differences in organization and activities of the rugo as between the different areas nor as between Tutsi and Hutu, except in terms of the occupation of members. Before his death the father indicated who was to be his successor and often this was not done on his deathbed. His successor did not need to be his eldest son. The one who succeeded had a larger share of the inheritance while other sons received equal shares. However, the father’s choice could be reversed by the lineage head, by the political chief or even by the patron. The successor took over responsibility for members of the rugowhere necessary, especially in the case of any unmarried younger brothers and sisters. The widow of the deceased family head retained usufruct rights in the land which was left to her and which was, at her death, divided among the children of her husband. Because of the absence of fixed rules for succession, brothers competed for their father’s favour and there was often considerable rivalry and distrust between them. Wherever possible the father’s choice was publicised in advance by the gift of a cow called inka y’indabukirano. This cow was a recognition or a public registration of the new relationship. of kingsIn Rwanda, Tutsi, Hutu and Twa, independent of the region they lived in, reckoned their descent patrilineally. The four named groups based on the principle of agnatic descent are the clan (ubwoko), the sub-clan, (shanga) and the lineage (umuryango) while the shallower lineage group is called (inzu) The shanga...AMATEKA