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Batwa people and their Culture

Batwa People or Twa are believed to be one of the best known indigenous group of pygmies scattered across equatorial Africa. They are also referred to as people of mixed ancestry probably descendants of the originally inhabitants of equatorial rainforest. They live in high mountains and plains around lake kivu, in congo, Rwanda, Burundi and in Uganda they live in Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park thus regarded as the forest keepers. The batwa are short people who lived as hunters and believed to have lived many years in the forest with animals. They were considered as some of the poorest group of people in the whole world with alow life time as well as high infant mortality rate. They have lived in the equatorial forest for over 60,000years. The batwa were originally hunters who lived in small huts as fruit gatherers, using bows and arrows for hunting. There small huts were constructed with leaves and branches from the forest trees.

According to the population census 2002 in Uganda, it is believed that the batwa were around 6000 while in 2014 were 6200 in number. They are belived to be living in the south western Uganda in the districts of Kisoro, kabale, Kanungu, Bundibugyo and Rukungiri respectively. The batwa depended on hunting and gatherings from the rainforest and today, only few of them still live in Echuuya forest Reserve and semuliki national park. Most of them live on the edge of their ancestral forest lands. The batwa’s dispossession and landlessness is due to environmental conservation and ecological measures of Ugandan government and international agencies. In early 1990s, the ugandan government announced semiliki national park as a protected area and expelled all those who had entered and settled in the area and many of them were the batwa.

Ever Since the eviction in 1992 the batwa people were denied to live in the forest, their cultures had began to reduce till in 2011 where the Uganda wildlife in union with USAID and embassy of Netherlands started the batwa cultural trail which is located in mgahinga gorilla national park. On this trail, tourists who visit the park and also those who love cultural tourism are led by the batwa locals to the forest teaching them the ancient gatherings and hunting ways.

The extreme change over their lifestyles along with their small number and detest status brought the ugandan batwa close to being wiped out. However in 2006, the Uganda land Alliance for coalition of pastoral civil society organisations(COPACSO) announced that the few thousand Batwa (Twa) of uganda were in danger of extinction. The organisation’s report warned of starvation and loss of solidarity among desperate batwa who lost their homes in Bwindi impenetrable national park when it was allocated as a world heritage site for conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas in 1992.

Inspite of the fact that the loss of their ancestral forest as well as their home brought a destructive effect to them. It has also banned the access to traditional herbal remedies in the forest while their access to modern health services is less. The batwa have got positive spiritual and religious connection with forests. The specific sites are adored and considered central to their existence. Every geographical area, mainly those inside the forests, their names are related to history and the remote past-the world of mythical ancestors. Batwa are poorly defined politically, strengthening their marginalization as well as access to education and other social services are also weak.

Some civil society organiastions, international donors, and the united organization for batwa development in Uganda have been working hand in hand for the past few years to amend batwa inclusion in the society through purchasing land for their settlement.

However in 2013, the batwa arranged a constitutional claim seeking restitution of their lands as well as compensation for long term human rights violations. Thus they are still waiting for a full hearing and determination of the case. According to the forest people’s programme, the government of the republic of Uganda returned against the batwa by withdrawing an agreement on benefit sharing from tourist sites after the community filed suit.

Furthermore, in 1996 astudy was undertaken and it was discovered that the batwa inhabit in about 53 settlements and these fall within 41 villages and on average each settlement is composed of about 10 house holds. Though they live in different settlements, they also consider themselves as community. The batwa still practice social norms and customs normally associated with clanship similar to majority of their tribes in East and Central Africa. The forest was originally known as ahome to the batwa people as it provided them with food, medicines and survival.

Due to the resettlement program by the Uganda government, most of the batwa people donot know where their clan members and clan leaders live per now. The batwa’s low impact use of forest resources made their way of life sustainable over thousand of years. Bwindi impenetrable forest national park was ahome of the batwa before they were evicted and this caused them to be dependent on the mgahinga and Bwindi impenetrable forest conservation trust, giving tourists a chance to explore and enjoy the cultural and also traditional ways of the batwa people.

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