MEET THE BATWA/PYGMIES; ONCE UGANDA’S FOREST DWELLERS & NOW THE MOST POPULAR & UNWANTED SQUATTERS IN THE SOUTH WEST

Tetwagala Luganda, tetwagala Lukiga.”  Meaning “We do not want Luganda, we do not want Lukiga”  – A Mutwa man said to me about a week ago, somewhere in Nyanamo South western Uganda, in the Mufumbira mountain regions.

Naffe tetwagala Batwa!” meaning “We do not want the Batwa too!” –  Another man, who had been standing, watching my exchange with this particular Mutwa, chipped in unexpectedly.

The brief exchange was overwhelming. It occurred after about five minutes of the Mutwa man trying to speak to me in his Language, and me not understanding, asking him in Luganda, my mother tongue, if he spoke Luganda so we could interact more comfortably.

His response had been directed to me, and when this other man came in, the Mutwa, now a little bit unsure of himself, bounced away. He was wearing about eight cloths to the least, not the most unheard of in Kisoro, especially since the weather there is most times unbearably cold. He was also holding a walking stick, which I discovered is popular among the Batwa men. Each one of them walks with a stick.

The tribe and its people, have a few distinctively common characteristics among them. For one,

  • Most of them are way shorter than the average person. Thus the name Batwa/pygmies.
  • Wearing head socks is pretty common among them, but then this might be a culture in south western Uganda since it’s really cold. I was wearing my head sock throughout too. So maybe, that’s not necessarily just about them.
  • Their hygiene is astounding. Oh Oh, don’t you let me talk about this dear. Even with the few fine establishments Hope Ministries Uganda build for the Batwa after purchasing land for them, inside is pretty shocking. The Batwa have no sense of organisation, sanitation, basic hygiene or cleanliness. What would be a clean sitting room, still looks like out in the garden. With dry leaves and peelings from whatever they have eaten. Inside the house.

(However, we walked into this one Mutwa home and a mother was showering her baby, and applying oil on its skin. That was really touching. On the contrary, the mother was clad in her unclean cloths, and sitting on solid ground. I mean bear naked ground. She was unbothered. Her house was unbelievable on the inside.  Don’t get me wrong. She was really taking care of her baby.

Another Mutwa was a friend of our guide. He was a student, in his last year in Junior High school. He looked, organised, his English was impressive, and I just liked him!

The Batwa are good dancers. They have incredible foot work. You can watch a video of them dancing HERE on my INSTAGRAM.)

  • The Batwa believe they are unwanted. So they do not necessarily have an interest in other people as well. Thus, the statement that opened this article!
  • The Batwa barely wash. I repeat, – they do not wash. They show up anywhere, anyhow. Their cloths, in these houses, are still scattered about. Okay, just before you conclude they are plain ridiculous,
A Batwa Community.
Image source: Peril of Africa

NOTE A FEW FACTS

  • The Batwa is a tribe or group of people; previously forest dwellers, hunters, and food gatherers in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, some of Congo’s Ituri Forest, and others from Rwanda.  The Batwa people sustained a nomadic kind of lifestyle, even though they were not pastoralists. Unlike several Bantu tribes in East, Central or Southern Africa who were settlers and agriculturists, the Batwa lived in thick, dark and close to impenetrable forests, sleeping in caves, trees, and thickets
  • The Batwa people in Uganda were kicked out of what’s now one of Uganda’s major Tourist Attractions, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the early 1990s; The Forest is now Uganda’s major home of mountain Gorillas.
  • From the olden days, the Batwa were forest dwellers and when they were kicked out of their indigenous homes, the forest, they were not given any compensation or equipped with any skills for survival outside the forest, leading them to become conservational refugees. Basing on the fact that they were non-skilled and clueless about how other communities thrived, they turned out as un- employable, a factor that almost sent them to extinction since food and other resources were hard to come by.
  • Those that survived moved to the Bufumbira regions, and Kisoro, Kanungu, Kabale, Rubanda and Bundibugyo districts in Uganda as squatters on other people’s lands.
  •  Despite their hard work as heavy work doers, and their tough resilience to the hardships of nature, the Batwa people have continuously faced discrimination even amidst the societies they dwell in- up to date. This is arguably rooted to their history, where being forest dwellers and hunters, and having believed that forests belonged to them, the Batwa had attacked and eliminated any other local tribes that had tried to settle or encroach on forest areas. In return, these other tribes being many, had joined forces and started hunting down the Batwa, ensuring that none of them would have a smooth life.
  • In present day Uganda, the Batwa face discrimination in the places they go to seek work, medical attention, accommodation, among other negativities, thanks to the superstitions that have come up over the years that have made it very hard for the Batwa to believe that any other group of people would like them.
Batwa Children @ Hope Ministry Uganda
Image source: HopeMinistries.Org

The Organisation that I went to create content for, Hope Ministries Uganda (See previous blog NEW ARRIVALS), noticed the on-going oppression and discrimination and thus decided to reach out to the Batwa/pygmies through Spiritual transformation, Education, Women Empowerment, Agriculture, Child sponsorship, Health, Pregnancy care, Water and Sanitation programs with the Goal to break the cycle of poverty among the Batwa/pygmy tribe in southwestern Uganda.

Well, now you’ve met the Batwa/Pygmies. You know something about them. Have you come across any? These people face a lot of challenges but even engaging them into other communities and lifestyles is pretty hard. I am curious to know what you think.  Feel free to contact me any way you can. You can leave a comment below; ask a couple of questions, inbox me on Facebook, Instagram or even whatsapp. Or simply, drop me an email @ contact@lunkuse.com. Also, this is the part that happened next as I mentioned I would publish in my previous blog. Cheers!

Scalves and Headsocks in Kisoro

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