Why the Batwa?

The Batwa is the oldest known indigenous tribe in Uganda dating back to about 6000 years ago. They were originally forest dwellers, hunters, and food gatherers in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, some parts of Congo’s Ituri Forest, and areas Rwanda and the Central African Republic. The Batwa people sustained a nomadic lifestyle, even though they were not pastoralists. Unlike several Bantu tribes in East, Central or Southern Africa who were cattle keepers and agriculturists, the Batwa lived in thick, dark impenetrable forests sleeping in caves, trees, and thickets, They believe that the forest was officially given to them by their traditional God who also gave the other tribes (Bakiga and Bahima) hoes and cattle respectively. The friction between the Batwa and other tribes is historical. Because the Batwa derived their survival from the forest, they looked at themselves as the keepers or owners of the forest who then could not look on as pastoralists and agriculturalists cut down the forest for farmland. This is believed to have caused many fights between the Batwa and the other tribes which resulted in a great loss of life. Fortunately, the friction has reduced as time has gone by. In the early 1990’s, the Batwa people of Uganda were kicked out of what is now Uganda’s major Tourist destination, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The Forest is home to more than half of the world’s wild mountain gorillas with over 500 members in about 21 habituated groups. The Batwa were evicted from the forest due to conservation and tourism. When this happened, they were not given any form of compensation or equipped with any skills for survival in the new and competitive environment thus leaving them as helpless, vulnerable refugees. Due to the fact that they had no skills and were clueless about how other communities thrived, they live a compromised life and many of them have mysteriously died or have been killed. Those that survived are scattered in 41 locations where they live in small villages of up to 50 families of 8 to 10 people per household in the areas of the Virunga Mountains, Kisoro, Kanungu, Kabale, Rubanda and Bundibugyo districts in Uganda. They are usually squatters on other people’s lands and sometimes on land purchased by different donor groups. Despite their hard work and tough resilience to the hardships of nature, the Batwa population has shrunk to about 6000 individuals according to the most recent population census. This is due to acute discrimination by the societies they dwell in and denial to free access to health care, clean water, education and even places of worship. This is arguably rooted to their history, when being forest dwellers and hunters was regarded to be barbaric and subhuman. This, together with the myth that having sex with Batwa women cures backaches and HIV/Aids has landed the already vulnerable Batwa females into the hands of those who have constantly taken advantage of them. Many are lured into sex for food or raped hence either making them pregnant or infecting them with HIV or both. This has resulted in the Batwa having many children that they can’t afford.