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Life of the Batwa and How they are Still Surviving

It was first published on ChimpReports

Just outside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Ruhinja in Mpungu Sub-county, Kanungu District are the Batwa, a struggling ethnic group yet very sociable.

The Batwa are famously known as the day to day Pygmies. They used to live in the forests harmoniously with the wild animals

They loved hunting, eating wild bee honey and wild fruits until they were displaced by the government to establish Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park in 1991.

Since then, the Batwa became squatters, living on edges of hosting communities, meters away from once their homeland- the forest.

At the moment they stay in grass-thatched houses built with wattle and reeds.

David Kakuru estimated to be in his late 70s narrates about how the tribe used to survive in forests for centuries.

Writer poses for a photo with the Batwa

Batwa homes and families

Kakuru says the Batwa used to sleep either in caves, well-bent tree trunks or above in tree branches.

The caves were mainly favorable for the cold nights and family gatherings. This way, they would light fire which provided both light and warmth, as well as scaring away dangerous animals.

It is for this reason that the Batwa could not cut down trees.

Batwa Cultural Centre

Food, clothes, medicine and crafts

The Batwa entirely survived on wild meat and fruits. Every dawn, men would equip selves with hunting gear and descend into deeper thickets in search for animals among other edibles.

Before going for the hunting, Batwa men would leave their wives and children residing in shelter which had been neatly and firmly built up in tree-branches, as one way of protecting them from attacks by wild animals.

After a successful hunt, men could carry the meat regardless of the longer distances, back to where they may have left their families.

Clothes were made from animal skins and sometimes from tree-barks.

The Batwa had not been successful in inventing shoes before they got evacuated from the forests.

Without strong tools of massive destruction, the forests remained intact during such years when trees acted as habitats for Batwa people.

Even during their hunting orgy, it was prohibited to kill gorillas, Chimpanzees and other apes that resemble mankind. For Batwa believed, such animals were relatives to mankind.

The Batwa people entirely depended on forests because they provided medicine to different illnesses, injuries and women were not allowed to participate in hard tasks so the women mostly weaved baskets, mats and made other crafts as well.

Drone shot of the Centre

Courtship, Marriage, Leadership and Faith

Once a male spotted the person he wanted to marry, he would take honey to the bride’s family as bride price or he would be allowed to come with a special bride price of a rare bird species which was to be hunted.

When the families would agree, the two would get married and move to another location so that they can start their own family. 

The eldest in one community would become leaders traditionally called Omugurusi their work was to give wise counsel as well as solving complex disputes.

The men would go to the male elder and the women would go to the women elders.

The Batwa believed and worshiped a god whom they referred to as Nyakashanyi and they would occasionally meet under a certain tree to worship their god.

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Ms Pamela Amia is a Multimedia Journalist, Conservationist and traveler.


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