The Batwa Indigenous people
The original inhabitants of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, the Batwa were semi-nomadic forest-dwelling expert hunter-gatherers. Currently, they speak many different languages and live in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with an estimated total population of 86,000 to 112,000. The Batwa identify as Indigenous People and share many of the cultural traits indicated in Article 1 of the ILO Convention no. 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. And even though some still practice the ancient traditions that are part of their rich culture, their traditional way of life is disappearing. Their rights are systematically violated, and they suffer grave prejudice and discrimination.
In 1991, following conservation projects by the Ugandan government and Western international agencies primarily to create national parks to protect endangered mountain gorillas, the Batwa were removed from their ancestral forests. This was done without their free, prior and informed consent, any public hearing or compensation. Consequently, this ancestral forest-dwelling people, who lived in harmony with other species and their surrounding environment and were not responsible for the dwindling numbers of mountain gorillas, suffered a sudden and profound change in their way of life. Now, fortunately, mountain gorillas are no longer considered endangered. But the Batwa people and their culture are.
Land. For many, if not all, Indigenous Peoples, land means home, the source of physical and spiritual sustenance, the source of medicine and health practices, and the source of culture and identity. Such is the case for the Batwa, who now live in a harsh and precarious situation, with limited access to food, shelter, clothing and healthcare. Dispossession of land meant being unable to hunt or gather, leading to extreme poverty and a breakdown of social relations. Without being able to practice their ancestral traditions and organize according to their traditional social structure, many felt they had lost their identity. This exacerbated the negative stereotyping: uncivilized, lazy, depraved and physiologically inferior because of their height.