The Great Lakes Batwa

The Great Lakes Batwa are also known as the Twa or the Ge-sera. Batwa are a group of pygmy people who are assumed to be the oldest group of people surviving in the great lakes region of Central Africa. They are also thought to be the original inhabitants before the rest of other ethnic groups like the Bantu and the Luo. The batwa have a striking resemblance and share traits with Numu blacksmith castes of western Africa. They originally habituated in the mountainous forests of Lake Kivu and Lake Edward of central Africa.

The Great Lakes batwa are believed to have migrated from the itusi forests of Democratic Republic of Congo, in search for animals for hunting and they ended up settling in South Western Uganda (batwa in Bwindi impenetrable national park and batwa in mgahinga gorilla national park), mountainous plains around Lake Kivu in Kinshasa, forests along mountains Muhabura, Sabinyo and Gahinga volcanoes.

The great lakes batwa are pygmy people of average height of 5ft (1.5 m), also known as people of the forest lived their lives as hunters and gathers. They depended on wild animal meat and berries as food and they lived in huts made from sticks and grass before being forcefully evicted from their lands during the gazetting of Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in 1991.

The Great Lakes Batwa
The Batwa

They are the most marginalized people with an estimated population of 86,000-112,000 who still live in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo with 6,700 batwa in Uganda in districts of Kabale, Lwengo, Ntungamo, Mbarara. The batwa still live low standards of life as squatters in many part of central Africa.

Regardless of the efforts of the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda formed in 2001 to conserve their culture which is at risk, the batwa are still the only minority group which is not represented in the parliament. They are still discriminated by bafumbira and bakiga who portray them shy and prisoners to their ancient forest lives of worshiping gods and living as hunters and gatherers. 2015 data collected by housing and population shows that percentage of landless batwa are 50.4% in Kisoro, 61.4% in Kabale & 20.9% in Kanungu. 

The eviction resulted into loss of land by the batwa who had lived in these forests for over 4000 years. They lost a place they once called beautiful home and became homeless and squatters since no compensation or resettlement was offered to them. This was so harsh to the batwa who were angered as expressed by Kanyabichingi a 42 years old guide who states that “forced evictions were not good for us but we had no matter in the say in the matter”, “the bafumbira landlords offered to settle us in the infertile land & in return we offer labor on their farm” he continued to say.

A 40 year Old Nyarabatariya says she is happy to be living out of the forest, “in the forest we only lived as-isolated tribe but now we can communicate with other tribes” she adds on “growing up in the forest we only ate food from which served as plates, now we have real plates, we now eat potatoes, beans, maize and local porridge from millet and wheat, some of us would not return to the forest but we want land to settle here” she expressed her views.

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