Colonial era depiction of the Tutsi as a superior Hamitic race that invaded Rwanda laid the ground for severe ethnic polarisation. This myth resurfaced in the. Hamitic hypothesis: western Africa: Muslims in western Africa: thus evolved the so-called “Hamitic hypothesis,” by which it was generally supposed that any. The idea of the Hamite developed initially from the Hebrew biblical myth of the origins of humankind; what they called the Table of Nations. In it the sons of Noah .

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Colonial era depiction of the Tutsi as a superior Hamitic race that invaded Rwanda laid the ground for severe ethnic polarisation. This myth resurfaced in the period leading to and during the genocide of Formulating scientific hypotheses about colonial subjects was a concomitant objective of the European conquest of Africa Van den Bersselaar Although this semi-scientific hypothesis has long been refuted, its racist assumptions linger and play into the dynamics of contemporary conflicts.

First, explaining current political realities through colonial-era myths, without considering ruptures or diverging developments, is bound to deliver biased results. Second, reiterating ideology as the socio-psychological force behind the genocide trivialises the legal and ethical responsibilities of individual perpetrators.

To advance these arguments, the essay will proceed in the following manner. In a second step, these insights will benefit the discussion on the hypothesis as a recurrent propagandistic tool that shapes public opinion through the media and eventually influences the actions of perpetrators. Here, some alternative views on the impact of the myth will be discussed.


Last, the author will make some concluding remarks about the significance of the myth in preparing genocidal violence. Its underlying assumption — the dependency of African cultures on a more advanced deus ex machina – put Europeans in a good position to justify their mission civilisatrice and the colonial project at large. To properly capture this ideological genesis, a brief historical account is necessary.

Early expeditions to Africa were inspired by modernist and empiricist exploratory zeal, whereas indigenous people were categorised according to scientific racism Uvin95; see e.

Belgian colonialists and missionaries in Rwanda granted official status to this concept by institutionalising racial distinctions between and The introduction of identity cards, and the favourable treatment of Batutsi in education, politics and the economy, effectively cultivated social injustices Mamdani a, 87f.

Making race the master-signifier of belonging annulled those allegiances. Indigenous identities began to compete with an externally-imposed racial categorisation. In contrast, Mamdani a traces back the specific roots of Batutsi-Bahutu relations and puts the genesis of the above narrative into a local historical perspective. In the process of ethno-racial polarisation, that characterised the post-colonial period until the genocide, fact and fiction indistinguishably coalesced.

Decades of racist colonial policies had left their imprints on Rwanda society. Here, the hypothesis fulfilled two purposes. Others go even mgth and suggest that ethno-cultural Hutu-nationalist propaganda aimed at the systematic social exclusion or outright elimination of the Batutsi in order to create a pure Hutu nation see Appadurai53; Mamdani14; Hintjens41; Gourevitch Distinguishing between the two objectives is a matter of degree. Due to the brevity of this essay, and a thematic focus on the ideology of the genocide, other factors that have contributed to its unfolding, such as the RPF invasion, the economic downturn, regional security, the environment, and foreign state complicity, are deliberately omitted, but have been discussed in-depth elsewhere see Kamola ; Cameron ; Newbury ; ReedKuperman ; Magnarella jyth Uvin As outlined before, genocidal ideology necessarily rests upon a process of dichotomisation and dehumanisation to justify hamitc destruction of another group Moshman A discussion of the media is therefore a useful focus for analysis.


While most killings were conducted by the interahamwe Bahutu militias and units of the army FARan ever-growing propaganda machinery provided ideological guidance through radio broadcasts, newspapers and public speeches.

Although the RPF was responsible for spreading counter-propaganda, a detailed discussion thereof is precluded here by spacial constraints. To what extent this ideology directly spurred violence is debatable.

Hamitic myth that led to Genocide in Rwanda

Yanagizawa-Drott claims that over 51, victims can be attributed to radio propaganda alone5. Considering the strong case most authors make to establish a direct connection between racist myth-creation and the perpetration of crimes see Prunier ; Gourevitch ; Hintjens ; Des Forgesthis result seems surprising at first, but supports the view that other structural factors were pivotal.

Print media was similarly ambiguous. Distributing propagandistic newspapers, such as Kangura, proved difficult due to a relatively small readership concentrated in Kigali Chalk Kangura instigated anti-Tutsi hatred in various ways, featuring treatise that interpreted politics through a racial lens.

The same is true for public speeches. Measuring the precise effect of such rhetoric, and its translation into violence action, seems analytically desirable, though unrealistic. Attempts by Straus and Yanagizawa-Drott in this regard are ambitious and promising, yet more work needs to be done. The above examples arguably reflect the ideological tendencies prevalent in Rwandan public opinion during the genocide.

By socially normalising contempt towards another group, and lowering the inhibition threshold for denouncements, dehumanisation, and eventually murder, the ideology played a crucial role in enabling genocide Vollhardt et al ; Moshman On the contrary, its content was subject to substantial change and modification, depending on the social climate or the political objectives of its proponents Sanders Second, the insistence on establishing an immediate causal link between racist ideology and violent deed not only runs the risk of eclipsing the bulk of alternative factors that have contributed rendered genocide possible see Magnarellabut also trivialises the individual responsibility for participation in such crimes, an issue addressed in more detail by Straus and Franck Likewise, during colonialism the nomadic Maasai were constructed in a similar way, but the post-colonial Tanzanian state tried to eradicate such racist legacy at the root, sometimes even by force Mamdani a, 47f.


Once again, an in-depth analysis of local histories, cultures and social settings is inevitable for comprehending myth, reality and what lies in between. Colonial policies translated this scientific myth into laws and practices, thus establishing an order of racial favouritism that privileged the Batutsi minority in socio-political life. Seemingly irrefutable, the hypothesis and its inflammatory ideological assumptions survived in the catacombs of Rwandan politics, based on fragmentary evidence and ambiguous historiography.

Before this background, the Batutsi-led RPF rebel army and the oppressive minority regime in Burundi served as catalysts for a further polarisation and escalation of violence. Genocide propaganda thrived on the interstices of these both real and imaginary grievances and rationalised thousandfold murder. The Fear of Small Numbers: World Policy Journal, 21 2pp. Religion et politique, pp. Britain’s Hidden Role in the Rwandan Genocide: The Cat’s Paw, London: University of California Press.

Des Forges, Alison A Journal of Opinion, 23 2pp. Ethnicities, 1 1pp.

The Media and the Rwanda Genocide, pp. Third World Quarterly, 28 3pp. Journal of Genocide Research, 6 1pp. A Journal of Opinion, 18 1pp. Journal of International Criminal Justice, 3, pp. New Left Review,pp. When Victims become Killers, Princeton: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 7 2pp.

A Journal of Opinion, 23 2Rwanda, pp. Africa Today, 45 1pp. Niyonzima, Maximilien et al. Manifesto of the Bahutu: Annual Review of Anthropology, 26, pp. History of a Genocide, London: The Journal of Modern African Studies, 34 3pp Ethnology, 37 1pp. Paideuma, 42, Zur Geschichte Der Afrikaforschung, pp. The Journal of African History, 10 4pp. Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 26 2Italien im Dialectical Anthropology, 23 2pp. African Studies Review, 40 2pp. Van den Bersselaar, Dimitri History in Africa, 33, pp.

Hamitic hypothesis | African history |

Van der Meeren, Rachel Journal of Refugee Studies, 9 3pp. Journal of Hate Studies, 5 1pp. He also holds a B. Mtth also publishes on Think Africa Press. Skip to main content. To what extent did the Hamitic Myth prepare the ground for ?

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