The Batwa hunted animals (pigs, duiker, buffalo and birds) with bows and arrows, often with dogs. The Virunga volcanoes were referred to as the Domain of Bells after the bells that dogs wore to alert their Batwa owners to their location.
It is reported that bush pigs often attacked the dogs when they heard the bells and hunters in ambush would promptly spear them. Poison for their arrows was made from tree bark and stinging ants. Another method was to wait on a branch overlooking a game trail and dropping a loaded spear onto an animal.
Hunting expeditions were a group activity; communication was by hand signals and bird-like whistles. Sometimes expeditions would last a week or more, when animals were skinned and dried before being brought home for ease of carrying. There were strict rules for sharing game among the hunters and their families. Meat was about 25% of their diet whilst the rest was made up of various roots, fruits and tubers largely collected by the women.
Hunting was seen as a joint activity between men and women, the latter would sing songs imagining that an animal would be at a certain place; the role of the man was to collect it.
In many hunter gatherer societies in Congo the men suggest that it is the women who catch the animals in their songs and the job of men is simply to collect the animals already caught by the women.
In Congo forest children are able to provide up to 75% of their nutritional needs making them highly independent from an early age. Roots, wild yam, fruit, mushrooms, wild plantain roots, grasshoppers and roots, stems and leaves of other nutritious plants would have been collected by the Batwa and would have formed a major part of their diet.
The Batwa’s favourite food was and still is honey, which they treated as a special gift from God. They collected honey from several types of bees who had either hives in trees or underground.
The latter were stingless and were subdivided by sweetness and ease of collection; some caused illness if eaten in large quantities. When found everything but the comb was eaten.
Photo: Marcus Westberg
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