THE TRADITIONAL PRACTICES OF THE BATWA TRIBE OF UGANDA

The Batwa are a minority group of people commonly referred to as pygmies because of their short stature. Their livelihood depended on Bwindi Forest National Park – which is now famous for Gorilla Trekking Tours and Mgahinga National Park the only park in Uganda where visitors can track Golden Monkeys.

Before they became national parks in 1991. They currently live in a community dominated by Bakiga and Bafumbira in scenic Southwestern Uganda. The Batwa who originally spoke rutwa language hunted small game, collected herbs, firewood, and fetched water.

Tourists who book a Ugandan safari with Exclusive African Safaris to track mountain gorillas in the biodiverse, mountainous area and visit the Batwa are introduced to tales about the forest and the traditional practices that define their unique identity;

1. Batwa had three main types of houses i.e. caves, omurimbo and ichuro. The caves and omurimbo were the main houses where they lived. Ichiro was used for resting and storage of food including honey, beans, sorghum, and meat.

2. They were exceptional hunters, traditional healers, rainmakers and can make fire by rubbing small sticks together. They used to carry forest products in small bags called obukokyo which were made from animal skins.

3. They had a special way of worshipping and offering sacrifices especially for thanking the gods after a successful hunt. Worshipping was mainly done in sacred huts by elders who would be anointed by the grandparents.

Young people were neither allowed to go to the sacred places nor to ask about what the elders did and how they communicated with the gods. They would only see the elders reciting prayers before hunting and offering meat to the gods in the forest after hunting. In addition, when Batwa slaughtered an animal and found that it had a strange organ such as a tiny heart, they would worship the organ as their god.

4. Batwa men and women used leaves and skins of animals especially duikers and bushbucks for dressing/cloth. The children would dress in small skins of young animals strapping them on the shoulders. Women also used the skins for beautification and carrying their children in their back.

Batwa would weave cords from emise (Urera sp.) and use them to tie the skins around their waists. They would pound seeds of omuruguya (Carapa procera) to obtain an oily liquid which they would smear on the skins to make them soft.

5. After a successful hunt, a Mutwa (singular for Batwa) would celebrate the achievement by naming his children after the animal or location in the forest. Batwa names are derived from names of animals or locations in the forest include Kafumbiri for enfumbiri-the back –fronted duiker, Bikyezi for inkyezi-cane rats, Kagote for an area with emigote –trees of Syzgium sp. And Kanyeihamba for one born in eihamba-the forest.

6. Elderly Batwa would smear their skins with animal dung to prevent their bodies from sunburns.

7. It was a custom for a Mutwa not to marry someone of a different tribe. However, conceiving before marriage was forbidden and looked upon as a disgrace.

8. Their burial practice was special. When a Mutwa died, he or she would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in the grass. The burial ceremony involved cleansing the corpse with herbs e.g. omuhanga, enkyerere (Rubus sp.) and omufumba (Rhumex sp.) The elders would lead the ceremony and encourage all the members of the family to drink herbal extracts as a way of preventing death from claiming more people from that family. After the burial, they would migrate to a far off place and never come back to that place.

Visiting the Batwa communities around Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks presents a wonderful cultural experience for this small Ugandan tribe. You will marvel at the strides they have made since leaving the forest a few decades ago, into everyday civilization.

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