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What You Don’t Know about the BATWA People of Africa

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With an estimated world population of about 392,000 people, the Batwa people of Africa, popularly known as the Twa, are located in Central Africa, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Cameroon,

Batwa is the third Rwandan ethnic group, making up 1% of the Rwandan population. Though they constitute only 1% of the Rwandan population, Rwanda is said to have the highest inhabitants of the Batwa people which is estimated at about 232,000.

They are generally very receptive and hospitable to their neighbours and foreigners. They speak Bantu and live interdependently with agricultural Bantu populations in Africa who integrate with them to provide their agricultural products in exchange for game.

The Twa forest dwellers originally made their living by hunting and gathering from the fruits of the forest. They no longer carry out these activities as their forests were first cut down for farming and grazing, and later turned into tourist sites such as the Batwa Trail located on the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes in South Western Uganda. The Batwa Trail is a destination where the magic of the old home of the Twas are discovered.

Due to economic activities which have hindered the tribe from accessing their ancestral lands and practicing their traditional economic and cultural activities, the Twas have mostly adapted to the changes in their environment, adopting new economic activities, traditions and identities as they seek to develop new means of sustaining their communities.

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Some of them are now tour guides to visitors of the Batwa Trail. When engaged as tour guides to tourists on the Batwa Trail, they demonstrate their hunting techniques, point out medicinal plants, gather honey, and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. The Batwa also invite the visitors to the sacred Ngarama Cave, which was once the home of the Batwa King. Their women entertain the visitors with a performance and their signature sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, leaving the guests with a moving sense of the richness of the Batwa fading culture.

Though they have significantly decreased in population, the Batwa people have not abandoned their culture. They are known to be famous musicians and dancers. They are often a majority in national dance and music circles, they also perceive their pottery as an expression of their identity.

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Their favorite pastimes include singing and dancing. They mostly live in round grass huts in farming areas scattered throughout the hills.  Their identity is easily spotted as the women dress in brightly colored wrap skirts and the men traditionally wear all white.

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By Boma Benjy-Iwuoha

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