The historical background to the Bahutu people (also known as Hutu) is important. Burundi achieved independence from Belgium in 1962. It had a population estimated at about 3.5 million in the 1970's and a land area of slightly more than ten thousand square miles. .
The original inhabitants of the area of modern-day Burundi were probably the Batwa (Twa), a subgroup of the Twide pygmies. The Bahutus compose nearly 85 percent of the population in Burundi. Another group, the Watutsis (also called Tutsis) arrived in the area later but dominated both the Twa and the Bahutus. They composed about 14 percent of the population of Burundi. .
The Watutsis dominated the Bahutus for more than four hundred years. They came as invaders and quickly established themselves as the ruling class. The Watutsis were pastoralists (nomads with cattle as their chief commodity and status symbol) and warriors; in time they shaped and controlled a feudal society with the Bahutus at the bottom. The two groups share a common language, Kirundi. Educated members of the two groups, including literate peasants, speak French. The Watutsis regarded themselves as an elite minority, constantly on guard against real and imaginary plots by the Bahutu majority. The Watutsis established a rigidly stratified society to retain their prestige and privileges. .
Germany was the first colonial power in the Burundi area. The Germans established indirect rule over the central African territory by permitting the Watutsi aristocracy to retain its dominance over the feudal structure. Bahutus, consequently, remained at the bottom. Watutsis relished Germany colonialism and saw themselves as equals to the Germans; they revered the Germans for abetting their rule over the Bahutus while being unconscious of the subjugated people's plight. .
The Allied victory in World War I led to Belgian military rule in Burundi in 1916, known then as Ruanda-Urundi. The area was of little economic value to the Belgians.