Batwa people


Batwa / Twa

The Batwa (Batwa: group / Twa single) are a group of indigenous African Pygmy (Central African foragers) tribes.

Batwa people


The Batwa, also known as Twa, Abatwa or Ge-Sera people of the Great Lakes Region are ancient tribe once specialists in hunting and gathering, and are said to have been the first inhabitants of the mountainous forests of the Rift Valley and one of the first homo sapiens in the world with Kalahari San people.

They are part of a wider group of equatorial forest-dwelling peoples in Africa academically termed ‘Pygmies.’ Some people now refer to them as "the forgotten people of Great Lake Regions." Currently they live as a Bantu caste. The forest was their home they are the guardians of the for­est and its primary benefactors. It provided them with forest skills, sustenance and herbal medicines, and contained their sacred sites. The estimated population of the Batwa in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Eastern Congo is between 86,000 and 112,000,  making them a significant minority group in these countries.

Batwa  (plural) are people and a person of Batwa tribe is known as Mutwa (singular) and the nation of Batwa is called Butwa. The term -Twa is used in the Bantu languages of most of sub-Saharan Africa to refer to peoples who are in almost every case hunter-gatherers and former hunter-gatherers who are recognized as the original inhabitants of the area and as people who have very low status. It is applied to Pygmies in Central Africa, to Bushmen in southern Africa and to other hunter-gatherers in other parts of Africa. Geographical references are therefore necessary to distinguish between different groups.

The Batwa see themselves as a colonized people: first by agriculturalists, then by pastoralists in many areas, and finally by Europeans. In certain areas Batwa fiercely defended their ancestral forests against the encroachments of these invaders, but today nearly all have seen their forests disappear or their rights to live in them denied. Each colonizing group put increasing pressure on the original forest, turning most of it into farmland, pasture, commercial plantations and, more recently, protected areas for game parks and military exercises.



It is often supposed that the Pygmies were the aboriginal inhabitants of the forest before the advent of agriculture. Vansina argues that the original meaning of the (Proto-Bantu) word *twa was "hunter-gatherer, bushpeople", alongside yaka used for the western (Mbuti) pygmies (Bayaka). As the Twa developed into full-time hunter-gatherers, the words were conflated, and the ritual role of the absorbed aboriginal peoples was transferred to the Twa.Batwa and Abatwa are Bantu plural forms, translating to "Twa people".



Batwa speak several different languages today including Kinyarwandan;and in some areas pronounce their name ‘Barhwa’ rather than ‘Batwa’. In northern Kivu, DRC, some Batwa will refer to themselves as Batwa and Bambutiinterchangeably. Some researchers have claimed that the Ugandan Batwa prefer to call themselvesAbayanda. Despite different names, all recognize their shared Batwa identity and the majority only refer tothemselves as Batwa. The name Batwa carries a similar ambivalence to the term ‘Pygmy’. Only tone of voice and context determine whether it is being used insultingly or respectfully. For this reason, some Batwa in Burundi who feel they have ‘developed’ get insulted when called Batwa and prefer to be called ‘Abaterambere’ (people who are advancing).


Relation to the Bantu populations

All Pygmy and Twa populations live near or in agricultural villages. Agricultural Bantu peoples have settled a number of ecotones next to an area that has game but will not support agriculture, such as the edges of the rainforest, open swamp, and desert. The Twa spend part of the year in the otherwise uninhabited region hunting game, trading for agricultural products with the farmers while they do so.

Roger Blench has proposed that Twa (Pygmies) originated as a caste like they are today, much like the Numu blacksmith castes of West Africa, economically specialized groups which became endogamous and consequently developed into separate ethnic groups, sometimes, as with the Ligbi, also their own languages. A mismatch in language between patron and client could later occur from population displacements. The short stature of the "forest people" could have developed in the millennia since the Bantu expansion, as happened also with Bantu domestic animals in the rainforest Perhaps there was additional selective pressure from farmers taking the tallest women back to their villages as wives. However, that is incidental to the social identity of the Pygmy/Twa.


Trasmission of knowloedge by activity

The Batwa differ from non-Pygmies in the activities for which they are recognized as being specialists and fine connoisseurs, namely: collecting honey, spear hunting, hunting with nets and wild yams, ceremonial songs.
However, the differences that we observe are explained more by the age and sex of the informants than by belonging to an ethnic group or place of residence.
Gender differences are similar for Batwa and non-Pygmies, i.e. in these two groups, men and women are distinguished in the same sectors of activity. However, the activities of hunting, the collection of honey, the production of palm wine, the felling of trees for cultivation and the construction of houses are more clearly mastered by men than by women in the two groups. .
There are few differences between Batwa and non-Pygmies by age. The young people of two groups know how to do relatively the same things. Young Batwa, however, stand out in forest-related activities such as spear hunting, building shelters in the bush, making an auger, and collecting yams and mushrooms.



Hunting net activities are more familiar to Batwa men in general. They are also the ones who know best how to hunt with the assegai. The other activities are equally known to each other. In this group of activities, women do not know those related to hunting techniques, nor the propitiatory recipes. But they follow men on know-how concerning the preparation of meat (smoking and cutting).
The knowledge and know-how related to hunting are acquired since childhood, little boys quickly know how to build a crossbow and make traps to imitate their elders and to play. On the other hand, the activities related to the hunting net are almost no longer transmitted. Knowledge of the plants used as remedies to promote the capture of game is the fact of adults.
Twenty percent of the women learned about propitiatory medicines for hunting, and all of them through their spouses during hunting trips where they accompany their husbands.



In this area of activity, everyone in both groups and both backgrounds has knowledge. The differences that we note are those concerning the collection of honey, caterpillar mushrooms and wild yams.
Differences, by gender, relate to collecting leaves for the roof and climbing trees.
These are three male activities. While carrying a basket is more reserved for women.
For fruits, and mushrooms, everyone has similar knowledge and this, from an early age, all sexes combined. Collecting honey and leaves for the roof are two activities requiring elaborate techniques for which the youngest have little knowledge.



Fishing techniques, smokehouse construction and smoking are familiar to everyone, men and women of all ages.
However, scooping is almost exclusively practiced by women. While there is a clear dichotomy between men and women when it comes to hunting and its techniques, this is not the case for fishing. The recipes of the plants used to promote fishing catches are known by adults of all sexes. We can see that this know-how has been acquired since childhood. The little boys are fishing with their parents. With regard to the
preparation of the fish, while this activity is said to be "feminine", it is observed that many men take care of the smokehouse and smoke the fish while the women take care of gutting and cleaning the fish. at fishing camps.



Once again, as with fishing, everyone, men and women from an early age, practice the various activities related to agriculture. Some recognised as female activities are nevertheless also known to men. This is the case, for example, for planting, weeding and rusting cassava. As noted in the agriculture section of the first part of this thesis, men today plant or soak cassava when necessary when their wives cannot do so or when part of the sale is for fufu or ntuka (slices of cassava, dried/or not) and that it requires extra work.
The only activity that is the responsibility of men, and very few of women, is the felling of trees for the opening of new plantations. However, some women know how to fell trees but leave this work to the men of the family.



The distinction between men and women, whether Batwa or non-Pygmies, concerns wines. Palm wine is taken by men and corn wine is made by women. All informants of all ages and genders have knowledge of food preparation, be it game, fish, cassava and the sauces that accompany them. However, only the women reserve the preparation of chikwangue, by wrapping the pounded cassava in marantaceae
leaves (i.e. making the cassava sticks). Men only do them, again, if their wives can't.
Few of the youngest boys pound the cassava leaves, their sisters do it for them. The pounding of cassava leaves is a particular activity that men find “unsightly” and do not do in front of others out of “shame”. The rules of use in the village want this to be an exclusively female activity. It is also noted that with regard to the preparation of cassava, most of the time the men prepare cassava, but not pounded. The girls
unanimously devote themselves to cooking from an early age. They participate withtheir mothers in the preparation of food for the household. The little boys cook but independently, that is to say for themselves and not for the rest of the family.



In this category, the distinctions are made according to the sex and age of the informants, except for the use of the machete, to make the fire and the walls of the huts, activities that all the informants (of all ages and both sexes) know how to do.
It should be noted that the machete is used every day and for all kinds of actions:
cooking, fishing, hunting, bush clearing, cutting palm nuts, vines, felling, etc. Most often everyone, man and woman, has his own machete. Both little boys and little girls handle this tool very early.
Handling the axe, making the shelters in the forest, building the houses and their roofs as well as the manufacture of the carrying hood are the work of adult men and, to a lesser extent, of the youngest. The practice of these activities increases with age, especially when a man goes from celibacy to marriage. It was then that he built his own house and used the ax to fell the trees in his future plantation, although he also did so as a teenager to help his parents.
The technique of making the carrying basket, baskets, filtering baskets and mats (designated by enkala, entoko, enkolo in Lotomba) is better known to non-Pygmies than to Batwa in all villages. It is only practiced from adolescence, when the individual has acquired the technique but also the strength necessary to manipulate the vine that is used to make it. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that basketry and the manufacture of mortar are not activities known to all, but the work of a few specialists.


Child care

All activities in this category concerning early childhood are known to all. However, two of them which require specific knowledge which is acquired with experience and which women master more than men. This is the manufacture of protective amulets and medicinal plants for babies. Children have no knowledge about it. On the other hand, they know how to take care, just like men, of babies and the little ones. Men, both Batwa and non-Pygmies, often take care of the children by keeping them in the village while their wives have gone to the plantation or to fishing.



As expected, Batwa are more familiar with ceremonial songs than non-Pygmies. This corroborates their reputation as entertainers and good dancers. However, the songs of the requested ceremonies are little known to children. Since the advent of the so called revival churches, these ceremonies are no longer celebrated.

Prayer is practiced in different degrees. Fishing songs and tales seem to be transmitted to the youngest, even if the children are not yet able to recite the stories like the older ones.
We can therefore see that all the activities are generally transmitted to the younger generations, apart from those concerning the hunting net, the songs of traditional ceremonies, for the reasons given above, and basketry. The practice of basketryrequires specialized knowledge held only by certain people who generally pass it on to their children, as long as they are interested in it.

Transmission of knowledge according to transmitters

There are several types of transmitters. Mention was made of biological parents (father, mother, sometimes mentioned together as father/mother), other family members such as older brothers or sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts. But also the spouses and the parents-in-law, as well as the inhabitants of the village with whom the informants do not necessarily have any family ties (friends, the "people of the village", even "the Pygmies", or the pastor, the priest) were also mentioned. Sometimes the know-how is not transmitted by a third individual but to the individual himself by observing and imitating others. “Alone”, “myself”, “no one” are answers corresponding to this case.
There is no notable distinction between Batwa and non-Pygmies in the field of transmission. Skills are generally acquired by the same people. However, we note that the number of transmitters increases according to the age group. Adults cite more transmitters than children or adolescents. They are in contact with a greater number of individuals, in particular through marriage, which offers the spouse access to new relationships, those maintained with in-laws, for example.
In addition, we also find that Batwa and non-Pygmy boys, adolescents and adult men cited more transmitters than women and young girls. We also note that the maternal uncle is mentioned only by men or boys.
The preferred transmitters are the biological parents. Generally, fathers show their sons and mothers show their daughters. But it is more judicious to say that a mother transmits to her child, whether it is a boy or a girl, techniques corresponding to the activities related to her status as a woman. For example, all the little boys, Batwa and non-Pygmies, learned to plant cassava or cook with their mother. Likewise for fathers, they show their daughters activities of his own such as making the smokehouse and smoking meat.
The role of big brothers for hunting activities and big sisters for collecting and caring for children is not negligible. The same is true for the spouse. Husband and wife interact during an activity that falls to the man (hunting for example) or to the woman (planting). One of the spouses helping, assisting or accompanying the other and thus sharing recognised knowledge and know-how belonging to one or the other sex. The couple is thus a sphere of transmission of knowledge among the Batwa but also among non-Pygmies. The skills acquired by men in childhood and related to women's activities are transmitted mainly by their mothers. However, we note that the wives, being now the woman who shares the daily life of the married man, seem to take over from the mothers.
“Village people” or even “Batwa Pygmies” are cited for transmission during social activities, such as ceremonies that involve the whole village. With regard to religion, the priest or the pastor are the main vectors of transmission, this is particularly facilitated by the presence of churches within the village itself.
The Batwa have also transmitted know-how to non-Pygmies, particularly in the field of hunting and gathering. It is also sometimes the opposite case, non-Pygmies who teach the Batwa in particular the apprenticeship of agriculture and the manufacture of mortars.

Batwa Religion

Batwa religous belief centers around a supreme being called "a`an." This god is seen as the benevolent creator of all things and is assisted by a lesser deity named "a`an `e la tleni" (a`an the small).

Potgieter (1965) believe that certain Batwa attitudes toward the moon points to previous systemic worship of universal/heavenly bodies. Batwa,he says, believes that the moon is a source of good especially its impact on human fertility and that its waxing and waning influence the life of  the individual.

The Batwa also have serious belief in ancestral worship.


Batwa in Burundi

With a population of 80,000, the Batwa are the third largest ethnic community in Burundi. Even though they were one of the first communities in Burundi, the Batwa are still not recognized as indigenous people. A census conducted by UNIPROBA (Unissons-nous pour la Promotion des Batwa) in 2008 estimated the number of Batwa in Burundi to be 78,071 or approximately 1% of the population (Rapport sur la situation foncière des Batwa du Burundi, August 2006 - January 2008, Bujumbura, p16).

The Batwa live throughout the country’s provinces and speak the national language, Kirundi, with an accent that distinguishes them from other ethnic groups.

The Batwa have traditionally lived by hunting and gathering alongside the Tutsi and Hutu farmers and ranchers, who represent 15% and 84% of the population respectively. They also worked as potters or as musicians and entertainers. Some Twa in Burundi who feel they have ‘developed’ get insulted when called Twa and prefer to be called ‘Abaterambere’ (‘people who are advancing’). No longer able to live by hunting and gathering, the Batwa are now demanding land on which to live and farm.

A census conducted by UNIPROBA in 2008 showed that, of the 20,155 Batwa households in Burundi, 2,959 (14.7%) were landless. Of these landless households, 1,453 were working under a system of bonded labour, while the other 1,506 were living on borrowed land. moreover, Batwa landowning households usually only have very small plots, often no more than 200 m2.


Batwa in Uganda

The Batwa pygmies are indigenous people and  the most vulnerable, marginalized, voiceless and endangered group of people around Echuya Forest Reserve in Kisoro and Kabale Districts of South-Western Uganda. For thousands of years, the forest was also home to an indigenous people—the Batwa pygmies. As the original dwellers of this ancient jungle, the Batwa were known as “The Keepers of the Forest.”

The Echuya is located in the Albertine Rift region recognized as an important eco-region. The Batwa are believed to have migrated from the Ituri Forest of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in search of wild animals (game meat), hence the name Kisoro, literally meaning “the area occupied by wild animals”.

In recent years, the Batwa of this region in Uganda have been expelled from their traditional forest lands (Bwindi impenetrable forest), due to gazetting of their lands for conservation purpose, including the creation of the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks for Mountain Gorillas in 1991.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, a profusion of exotic plants and animals that includes the endangered mountain gorilla.

The current population of the Batwa in south western Uganda is estimated to be at 6,705 (Estimates from 2002 Uganda Bureau of Statistics Census) people living in 39 communities, but they have now reduced to about 4,000. They face severe segregation from other majority groups in the area and are looked at as a cheap source of labour. Since being banned from using the forest the community has limited alternate sources of income resorting to begging and providing occasional labour. Majority of the people in the communities do not have homes, or any belongings to speak of.


Batwa in Rwanda

In Rwanda, the Batwa are one of three ethnic groups. They make up only 0.4 % of the population whereas the Hutu and Tutsi comprise 85 % and 14 % respectively of the total population in Rwanda. The Twa people (or Batwa) can be considered the forgotten victims of the Rwandan war and genocide; their suffering has gone largely unrecognised.

According to CAURWA's 2004 national socio-economic survey carried out in conjunction with the Rwanda`s Ministry of Finance's statistics department and with FPP support, the population of Rwandan Batwa people was 33,000 in an estimated 600 households and none are thought to maintain a traditional existence as forest-dwellers.Twa are dispersed throughout the country in small groups. Most work as potters, though others earn a living as day labourers or porters. Almost none own land or cattle.

The Rwandese government still does not recognise the indigenous or minority identity of the Batwa and, in fact, all ethnic identification has been banned since the 1994 war and genocide, even though the government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Because of this unwillingness to identify people by ethnic group, there is no specific law in Rwanda to promote or protect Batwa rights.
Traditionally, the Twa were forest-dwellers. As farming and herding Hutu and Tutsi encroached on and cleared their ancestral forests, Twa were increasingly forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle and culture.

On the margins of the new society, some survived by making and selling pottery. By the 1970s agriculture and conservation schemes created ever-greater pressures on the Twa, rendering many landless-without consultation or compensation.  In the late 1980s, all remaining forest-dwelling Twa were evicted from Volcanoes National Park, the Nyungwe Forest Reserve, and the Gishwati Forest. As a result of this land confiscation, Twa have lost much of their traditional forest knowledge. Increasing poverty brought on by the loss of their livelihoods in turn led other Rwandans increasingly to stigmatize Twa as social outcasts.

Despite the limited numbers involved, there is a widespread Hutu perception that Twa are sympathetic to Tutsis, reinforced by the involvement of some Twa in Burundi with the overwhelmingly Tutsi army. Very many Twa were killed in the 1994 war and genocide. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) estimates that about 10,000 people, more than a third of the Twa population of Rwanda, were killed and that a similar number fled the country as refugees. The situation varied considerably from area to area. In some places Twa were killed as Tutsi sympathizers or allies; in others Twa participated in the massacres of Tutsis. UNPO reports discrimination against Twa in the distribution of food and other supplies in the refugee camps.

According to the legend in Rwanda Batwa people were born to dance: One evening, so the lore goes, God found himself in need of lively entertainment and called on the people of heaven to dance. The first to begin were the Batwa (commonly known as Pigmies), who danced and howled and laughed well into the night until God was finally satisfied. He thanked his entertainment, permitting them to go home and retired to his quarters.

But the Batwa didn’t stop. They continued to dance until the early hours of morning, and on multiple occasions God was forced from his slumber, calling them to put a stop to it. Finally God had enough. In a fit of fury he reached out, picked each one of them up and flung them straight down to the earth below. They landed in the Parc National Des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park) in Rwanda, started dancing and have never stopped.


Batwa in Congo

 Batwa live scattered throughout the Congo. In addition to the Great Lakes Twa of the dense forests under the Ruwenzoris, there are notable populations in the swamp forest around Lake Tumba in the west (about 14,000 Twa, more than the Great Lakes Twa in all countries), in the forest–savanna swamps of Kasai in the south-center, and in the savanna swamps scattered throughout Katanga in the south-east, as in the Upemba Depression with its floating islands, and around Kiambi on the Luvua River., Hoyo, Ituri, forest, Zaire, Congo

Arab and colonial accounts speak of  Twa on either side of the Lomami River southwest of Kisangani, and on the Tshuapa River and its tributary the "Bussera".

Among the Mongo, on the rare occasions of caste mixing, the child is raised as Twa. If this is a common pattern with Twa groups, it may explain why the Twa are less physically distinct from their patrons than the Mbenga and Mbuti, where village men take Pygmy women out of the forest as wives.
The Congolese variant of the name, at least in Mongo, Kasai, and Katanga, is Cwa.


Batwa in Angola and Namibia

Southern Angola through central Namibia had Twa populations when Europeans first arrived in the 16th century. Estermann writes,

The southern Twa today live in close economic symbiosis with the tribes among which they are scattered—Ngambwe, Havakona, Zimba and Himba. None of the individuals I have observed differs physically from the neighboring Bantu.

These peoples live in desert environments. Accounts are limited and tend to confuse the Twa with the San


Batwa in Zambia and Botswana

The Twa of these countries live is swampy areas, such as the Twa fishermen of the Bangweulu Swamps, Lukanga Swamp, and Kafue Flats of Zambia; only the Twa fish in Southern Province, where the swampy terrain means that large-scale crops cannot be planted near the best fishing grounds.

Cavalli-Sforza also shows Twa near Lake Mweru on the Zambia–Congo border. There are two obvious possibilities: the Luapula Swamps, and the swamps of Lake Mweru Wantipa. The latter is Taabwa territory, and the Twa are reported to live among the Taabwa. The former is reported to be the territory of Bemba-speaking Twa.