Batwa cultural group: The indigenous Batwa people are continuously being marginalized and silenced, which has rendered them one of Central Africa’s most vulnerable and endangered groups. Traditionally a hunter-gatherer society, some of the Batwa still practice ancient traditions and customs, which form part of their rich culture. However, in Uganda just as much as in Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern DRC, the community’s livelihood systems and their survival as a whole are in grave danger due to land grabbing committed by the respective governments.

Batwa cultural group

Batwa cultural group: History of the Batwa people

According to history, the Batwa came into existence, it was believed that there was a man called Kihanga who had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu, and Katwa. One day he called his three sons and gave each of them a gourd full of milk. On the next day, in the early morning, he asked them to give him back the gourds for him to place inside a shrine. Katutsi brought back his gourd and it was still full of milk, Kahutu’s container was only half full while Katwa’s container was completely empty. He had drunk all the milk in the night. Their father then blessed each of his three sons based on how responsible they had been with the gourds of milk. Katutsi was blessed with all his father’s cows which would help him and his children to prosper for generations. Kahutu was blessed with a hoe and seeds which would help him to grow food in his lifetime and for generations to come after him. Katwa was given the forest and all that was in it where he was to survive by hunting and gathering and this is how the Batwa came to inhabit in the forest

Batwa cultural group
Batwa dancers

Originally the Batwa were forest dwelling hunter-gatherers, living and practicing their cultural and economic way of life in the high mountainous forest areas around Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa; today, the Batwa way of life, their cultural, spiritual, and social traditions, are at risk.

The Batwa are believed to been one of the first inhabitants of the region, later joined by farmers and pastoralists. Currently, Batwa is still to be found living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with an estimated total population of 86,000 to 112,000. As their traditional forested territories were destroyed by agriculturalists and pastoralists or gazetted as nature conservation areas, the Batwa were forced to wildness their traditional lifestyle based on hunting and gathering. The Batwa, sometimes known as Pygmies, became residents living on the edges of society and some were able to develop new means of survival as potters, dancers, and entertainers.

The Batwa are seen as shy, and loyal to the traditional practices that define them as a forest people. Their Practices include hunting and gathering forest resources, eating uncooked food, worshipping gods in the forest, sleeping in caves, guiding forest researchers and tourists, dressing in leaves and animal skins, and making fire using dry sticks. Caves, hot springs, rivers, hills, plants and animals are of special meaning in their worldview. The forests are a source of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and before they were gazetted as national parks, the Batwa depended on forest resources for food, medicine, basketry, firewood, marketable items, house construction, tools, rituals, hunting and recreation.

Batwa cultural group: Traditionally, the Batwa had three main types of houses such as caves, omuririmbo and ichuro. The caves and omuririmbo were the main houses where Batwa lived. Ichuro was used for resting and storing food including meat, honey, beans, and sorghum, all of which were in makeshift grass thatched round huts that could accommodate about five people at a time. The Batwa are very good people as they are welcoming and hospitable to the visitors. They socialize through hunting, music, dancing, and different stories that are always told in the evening by the elders to the younger generation.

Batwa people believe in a supreme being locally known as Nagaasan or Imaana. And they believed that Nagaasan provided wealth, food, protection, and children to the Twa people. The chameleon was treated as sacred due to the fact it climbed to the highest point of the tree and the Twa believed that it came closest to God.

According to Batwa customs, a Mutwa cannot marry a non-Mutwa and getting pregnant before marriage was forbidden. Marriage was arranged by the parents. The parents of a Mutwa boy would admire qualities in a certain Mutwa girl and decide that she was the right partner for their son. They would then visit the girl’s family carrying gifts which included pots of honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey, and roast meat. During the visit, they would negotiate the dowry to be paid to the girl’s family and the date for the give-away ceremony. On the day of giving away the girl, the groom would bring many gifts for the bride and her family. Such gifts included beads, new and well-oiled animal skins, roast meat, elephant tusks, and honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and sometimes hunting dogs. At the time of giving birth, a girl would be helped by other women who would use pieces of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord. The baby would be wrapped in clean animal skins and brought near a fireplace for warmth.

The Batwa also had a special way of burying the dead. When a Mutwa died, he or she would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in grass. The burial ceremony involved cleansing the corpse with herbs such as omuhanga, enkyerere and omufumba. The Batwa elders would lead the burial ceremony and encourage all the family members to drink herbal extracts as a way of preventing death from claiming more people from that family. After burial, they would migrate to a far-off place and never return.

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