Tutsi Rule

Colonial and Independent Rwanda




The Tutsi Kings

Ruanda Urundi

The Republic

Armed Forces

Rwanda Police





Tutsi Rule

Rwanda was from ancient times a highly centralized kingdom presided over by Tutsi kings who hailed from one ruling clan. The royal dynasties trace back their origins to the ascendance of King Ndahiro I (c.1350 – c.1386). Through the ages the Tutsi kings ruled through three categories of chiefs: the cattle chiefs, the land chiefs, and the military chiefs. The chiefs were predominantly, but not exclusively, Tutsi, especially the cattle and military chiefs. Although the relationship between the king and the rest of the population was unequal and parasitic, the relationship between the ordinary Hutu, Tutsi and Twa was one of mutual benefit mainly through the exchanges of their labor. The relationship between the ordinary people was symbiotic. By the time the Germans came as the first colonial conquerors, the social structures of present-day Rwanda were highly organized and pyramidal in nature.

Despite the fiercely independent spirit of its monarch Kigeli IV (Rwabugiri) (1853 - ‘95), Rwanda fell under the control of the German East Africa Company by an act of the Berlin International Conference of 1884-85.

In 1961 kingship was abolished by constitution but the last king, Kigeli V, still maintains his claim to the throne.


ð More about Tutsi rule


Colonial and Independent Rwanda

Rwanda, which became a part of German East Africa. in 1890, was first visited by European explorers in 1854. During World War I, it was occupied in 1916 by Belgian troops. In 1919, it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate, along with Burundi, under the name of Ruanda-Urundi. The mandate was made a UN trust territory in 1946. Until the Belgian Congo achieved independence in 1960, Ruanda-Urundi was administered as part of that colony. The Belgian mandate administration ended in October 1960 when a Rwandese government was founded. On 28 January 1961 a Hutu-administration proclaimed a republic  with the name “Republique Rwandaise”. This republic was recognized by resolution of the United Nations of 1 July 1962.

In Oct. 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Tutsi rebels in exile in Uganda, invaded in an attempt to overthrow the Hutu-led Rwandan government. Peace accords were signed in Aug. 1993, calling for a coalition government. But after the downing of a plane in April 1994 that killed the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi, deep-seated ethnic violence erupted.

In May 2003, 93% of Rwandans voted to approve a new constitution that instituted a balance of political power between Hutu and Tutsi. No party, for example, can hold more than half the seats in parliament. The constitution also outlawed the incitement of ethnic hatred.





1350 - 1961


The traditional symbols of Tutsi royalty consist of the drum kalinga, the shield and the royal headdress and staff. Recently, titulary King Kigali V has adopted an achievement in European heraldic style.


The Drum

The kingly power of the mwami was symbolized by the kalinga, a large ceremonial drum frequently decorated with the dried heads and dessicated testicles of vanquished opponents of the royal armies. Rwandan author and historian Benjamin Sehene writes that “an atmosphere of veneration and a grand ceremonial surrounded the kalinga (“token of hope”), which was kept in a palace, protected day and night by a special guard.” This important symbol was painted with the blood of bulls, which gave it a reddish-brown appearance, and was often escorted by three other royal drums, called “He possesses knowledge,” “the Country expands” and “the Nations are subject to me.” If ever the kalinga were lost or captured in battle, it was universally believed that this setback would certainly signal disaster for the entirety of the Rwandan nation.

The mwami was the supreme servant of the drum. Only noble Tutsi were permitted to beat the drum and the king could only ascend to the throne after he had mastered the drum.






Tutsi shield with umbo from Rwanda, made from wicker material. 33 Î 71 cm


The Shield

Basketry shields were another symbol of royalty, besides the royal drum. The  ruling court of Rwanda or Mwami used similar but much larger basketry shields as shown here, to cover their royal drums. The drums, never allowed to touch the ground, were transported everywhere by hammock and stood on stools. The large basketry  shields were, and maybe still are, used to protect these royal drums whenever they are on public display. [1]




The Headdress

The actual royal headdress dates from the reign of king Mutara III (1931-’59) (right). It consists of a cap or diadem of beadwork in a pattern of blue and white triangles, adorned with tufts of baboons’ manes. Pending from it are two chin straps.

The oldest royal headdress known is seen on a picture of King Kigeli IV (1853-’95) (left), the cap or diadem considerably narrower, and the tufts of baboons’ hair less lavishly than in the modern version. 


The Royal Achievement




The royal achievement, adopted by king Kigeli V is to be blasoned as follows:


Arms: The royal drum Kalinga Or.

Crown: The Royal headdress of Rwanda.

Order: The collar and cross of the Order of the Drum

Supporters: A lion and a crested crane proper

Motto: IMBAGA Y’INYABUTATU IJAMBERE (Three Peoples United Will Prosper)

Title: (above the achievement) INGOMA Y’U RWANDA (Kingdom of Rwanda)


The achievement is accompanied by three five-pointed and faceted stars Or, two in chief and one in base,  symbolizing the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa.


The Order of the Drum was founded by King Kigali V. The cross consists of a blue enameled Maltese cross, the locket charged with the royal drum Kalinga, between the four arms a crested crane and a lion alternately.

The collar consists of shackles of the royal cypher “KV” and the Rwandese Royal crown in gold.



1919 - 1962


Under Belgian rule the lesser Belgian royal seal was used with the legend “Ruanda  Urundi” and the name of the service. After WW. II, when the United Nations had replaced the League of Nations, a badge for the chiefs was introduced. This consisted of a diamond-shaped shield of 84 Î 47 mm [2]). It was gold with a red bordure and showed a royal drum with a red kettle, a black skin and golden guy ropes. In chief was the word “RWANDA” in black lettering. Above the shield, as a kind of crest, there was the traditional headdress of the Mwami (king) consisting of a bunch of white feathers and a red and white speckled diadem. On a white listel below the shield was the motto “IMBAGA Y’INYABUTATU IJAMBERE” (The Three Peoples United will Prosper). This motto refers to the three peoples of Rwanda : the Twa, the Tutsi and the Hutu.



1962 - present


The first coat of arms of the Republic was adopted after the proclamation of independence by Art. 4 of the republican constitution [3] This article, repeated in Art. 3 of the Constitution of  30 May 1991 reads:


Article 3 [Flag, Seal, Anthem]


(1) The national flag shall consist of bands of red, yellow, and green color, starting from the pole, and with the letter 'R' in black in the center of the yellow band. The Motto of the Republic shall be "Liberty, Cooperation, Progress."


(2) The Seal of the Republic shall be composed of ideograms of a dove and olive branch, a hoe and billhook, a bow and arrow, respectively symbolizing peace, work, and the defense of democratic liberties, in addition to the name and the motto of the Republic, all of it being framed by two National Flags placed opposite each other.


(3) The National Anthem shall be determined by law.


ð Billhooks are called mugishu. Larger examples were used for chopping and hacking for centuries regionally by the Hutu, Tutsi, Rundi, Hima, Havu, Hunde, Shi, Fuliru and Lega. Tutsi beaded miniature examples were status objects owned by higher ranked persons.


After the civil war a new state emblem was adopted by Art. 6 of the Constitution of 26 May 2003. The article reads:


Article 6 

The national symbols of Rwanda are the flag, the motto, the seal and the national anthem.  


The national flag is made up of three colours: green, yellow and blue. 

The flag comprises the following colours from the bottom to the top: a green strip, followed by a yellow strip both of which cover half the flag. The upper half is blue and bears on its right hand side the image of the sun with its rays of golden yellow. The sun and its rays are separated by a blue ring. 

The law determines the characteristics, significance, usage and ceremonials of the national flag.  


The motto of the Republic is: UNITY, WORK, PATRIOTISM.  


The Seal of the Republic is made up of a circular green rope with a green knot at the base, bearing on its upper part, the imprints « REPUBULIKA Y'U RWANDA ». At the bottom of the knot is the motto of the Republic: « UBUMWE, UMURIMO, GUKUNDA IGIHUGU ». All these inscriptions are in black against a yellow background. 

The Seal of the Republic also bears the following ideograms: the sun with its rays, a stem of sorghum and a branch of a coffee tree, a basket, a blue wheel with teeth and two shields one on the right and one on the left.  


ð see illustration in the head of this essay.


The central symbol of the emblem is a traditional basket which is still in use in Rwanda. Shown are four examples of such baskets, now in the National Museum of Rwanda.


Basket, cogwheel, sorghum and coffee are “protected” by two Tutsi shields.







The coat of arms of the Rwanda Defence Force is:


Arms: Per bend Azure and Vert, a natural lions’head affrontée, in chief a flying eagle and in base a Kalashnikov. automatic rifle and an air missile in saltire, all proper.

Garland: Branches of laurel Vert.


Title: R[wanda] D[efence] F[orce].



The coat of arms of the Rwanda Land Force is


Arms: Vert, a bayonet and a kalashnikov automatic rifle in saltire, in chief a natural lions’ head affrontée, all proper.

Garland: Branches of laurel Or.


Title: R[wanda] L[and] F[orce].


The coat of arms of the Rwanda Air Force is:


Arms: Azure, a flying eagle, in his claws a bundle of four arrows and an air missile, all proper in base two mountain ridges, Azure and Vert.

Garland: Branches of laurel Argent.


Title: R[wanda] A[ir] F[orce].





The coat of arms of the Rwanda National Police is:


Arms: Azure, a dove and an olive branch in yellow and green rendering, surrounded by the title “RWANDA POLICE” and the motto “Service Protection Integrity”  in white lettering.



© Hubert de Vries 2008.12.10


[1] ) Shields. Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania. Munich, London New York 2000. P. 112.

[2]) Harmignies, R.: 1. Les insignes des chefs indigènes du Ruanda et de l’Urundi. In: Archivum Heraldicum. 1956, pp. 42-43. 2. Les emblèmes de l’Afrique Belge. In: Belgique Outremer. Dec. 1958, p. 795.

[3]) Hesmer, K.-H.: Flaggen, Wappen, Daten. Gütersloh, 1975, p. 178.