The Kingdom of Rwanda was a Bantu kingdom in the modern-day Republic of Rwanda, which grew to be ruled by a Tutsi monarchy.[1] It was one of the oldest and the most centralized kingdoms in the Central and East Africa region.[2] It was later annexed under German and Belgian colonial rule while retaining some of its autonomy. The Tutsi monarchy was abolished in 1961 after ethnic violence erupted between the Hutu and the Tutsi during the Rwandan Revolution which started in 1959.[3] After a 1961 referendum, Rwanda became a Hutu-dominated republic and received its independence from Belgium in 1962.[4]

Kingdom of Rwanda
Ubwami bw'u Rwanda (Kinyarwanda)
Koninkrijk Roeanda (Dutch)
Royaume du Rwanda (French)
Königreich Ruanda (German)
c. 15th century–1961
Location of Rwanda
StatusIndependent state (15th century–1897)
Part of German East Africa (1897–1916)
Part of Ruanda-Urundi (1922–1961)
Common languages
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
• Unknown
Gihanga (1st Dyn.) (first)
• 1959–1961
Kigeli V (3rd Dyn.) (last)
• Established
c. 15th century
1 July 1961
Succeeded by
Today part ofRwanda

After the revolution, the last ruling monarch, Kigeli V, was exiled and he eventually settled in the United States. A court in exile has been maintained outside Rwanda ever since the abolition of the monarchy. As of 9 January 2017, the current proclaimed King of Rwanda is Yuhi VI.[5]



In the 15th century, one kingdom, under King Gihanga, managed to incorporate several of its close neighbors (notably the abasangwabutaka, or 'original owners of the land', Singa, Gesera and Zigaba)[6] establishing the Kingdom of Rwanda. The Hutu majority, 82–85% of the population, were mostly free peasants while the kings, known as Mwami, were exclusively Tutsis of the Nyiginya clan. Certainly some Hutus were nobility and, equally, considerable intermingling took place.

Before the 19th century, it was believed that the Tutsis held military leadership power while the Hutus possessed agricultural skills.

The position of Queen Mother was an important one, managing the royal household and being heavily involved in court politics.[7] When their sons ascended to the throne, mothers would take a new name. This would be composed of nyira-, meaning "mother of", followed by, usually, the regal name of the new king; only kings named Mutara do not follow this convention, their mothers taking the name Nyiramavugo (mother of good counsel).[8]

As the kings centralized their power and authority, they distributed land among individuals rather than allowing it to be passed down through lineage groups, of which many hereditary chiefs had been Hutu. Most of the chiefs appointed by the Mwamis were Tutsi.[9] The redistribution of land, enacted between 1860 and 1895 by Kigeli IV Rwabugiri, resulted in an imposed patronage system, under which appointed Tutsi chiefs demanded manual labor in return for the right of Hutus to occupy their land. This system left Hutus in a serf-like status with Tutsi chiefs as their feudal masters.[10][11]

Under Mwami Rwabugiri, Rwanda became an expansionist state. Rwabugiri did not bother to assess the ethnic identities of conquered peoples and simply labeled all of them "Hutu". The title "Hutu", therefore, came to be a trans-ethnic identity associated with subjugation. While further disenfranchising Hutus socially and politically, this helped to solidify the idea that "Hutu" and "Tutsi" were socioeconomic, not ethnic, distinctions. In fact, one could kwihutura, or "shed Hutuness", by accumulating wealth and rising through the social hierarchy.[12]

The borders of the kingdom were rounded out in the late 19th century by Mwami Rwabugiri, who is regarded as Rwanda’s greatest king. By 1900, Rwanda was a unified state with a centralized military structure.[13]

Owing to its isolation, Rwanda's engagement with the Indian Ocean slave trade was extremely limited until the end of the 19th century. The first Europeans did not arrive in Rwanda until 1894, making Rwanda one of the last regions of Africa to have been explored by Europeans.[14] In 1897, Germany established a presence in Rwanda with the formation of an alliance with the king, beginning the colonial era.[15]

See also



  1. ^ "Rwanda - Cultural institutions | Britannica".
  2. ^ "Colonialism of Central Africa | Britannica".
  3. ^ "Rwanda genocide of 1994 | Britannica". 9 October 2023.
  4. ^ Van Schuylenbergh, Patricia (11 January 2016). "Rwanda, Kingdom of". The Encyclopedia of Empire. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: 1–3. doi:10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe047. ISBN 9781118455074.
  5. ^ "Rwanda's new king named – a father of two living on an estate near Manchester". the Guardian. 12 January 2017.
  6. ^ Ogot, Bethwell Allan (1984). "The Great Lakes region". General History of Africa: Volume 4 (PDF). UNESCO Publishing. p. 516.
  7. ^ Gérard Prunier (1995). The Rwanda Crisis, 1959-1994. C. Hurst & Co. p. 24. ISBN 9781850652434.
  8. ^ Leon Delmas (1950). Généalogies de la noblesse (les Batutsi) du Ruanda (in French). Vicariat Apostolique du Ruanda Kabgayi. p. 54. le nom dynastique de leur fils, comme: Nyira-Yuhi, la mère de Yuhi-Musinga, Nyira-Kigeri, la mère de Kigeri-Rwabugiri, etc . . . Les rois du nom de Mutara devaient être des rois pacifiques et sociologues; il leur fallait des conseillers experts pour bien gérer les intérêts du royaume, et le premier conseiller choisi fut la mère du roi, d'où le nom de Nyiramavugo qui signifie : mère du bon conseil, du bon langage.
  9. ^ "Bakiga People and their Culture". Archived from the original on 26 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  10. ^ Johan Pottier (2002). Re-imagining Rwanda (PDF). Cambridge University Press. p. 13.
  11. ^ "Neighbours who kill 'without hatred': Hutus and Tutsis deny the depth". The Independent. 11 April 1994. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  12. ^ Magnarella, Paul J. (January 2000). "Comprehending Genocide: The Case of Rwanda". Global Bioethics. 13 (1–2): 23–43. doi:10.1080/11287462.2000.10800754. ISSN 1128-7462. S2CID 141600246.
  13. ^ "Kingdom of Rwanda | Britannica".
  14. ^ De Haas, Michael (November 2019). "MOVING BEYOND COLONIAL CONTROL? ECONOMIC FORCES AND SHIFTING MIGRATION FROM RUANDA-URUNDI TO BUGANDA, 1920–60". Journal of African History. 60 (3): 379–406. doi:10.1017/S0021853719001038. S2CID 213049347. ProQuest 2321652697. Retrieved 26 March 2022.
  15. ^ Carney, J.J. (2013). Rwanda Before the Genocide: Catholic Politics and Ethnic Discourse in the Late Colonial Era. Oxford University Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780199982288.