The Batwa believe in a Supreme Being and Creator called Imaana (Nagaasan) who gives children, food and protection. The chameleon was treated as sacred as it climbed the highest trees and came closest to God. Sacrifices of meat, drink and blood were offered in special huts to animal spirits. Many hunters were infused with this spirit when they killed a particular species, especially if it was accompanied with some strange sign in the animal when it was being dissected.
A new born baby often had a miniature bow and arrows placed in its hand for protection. Infants were breast-fed for a long time, which also acted as form of birth control. The education of children was the collective responsibility of the band; boys and girls learnt from adult activities of hunting, gathering and homemaking.
They were primarily monogamous, except when a woman was barren, and sometimes practised barter marriage whereby families exchanged girls, though informal love marriages were the most common. On marriage day the two families celebrated with the two women facing one another in recognition of their shared kinship and destiny. The father introduced the bride to the family spirits.
Bride purchase was not practised as it was believed to promote discord between families, though gifts of honey and wild animal meat was expected (nowadays goats are common). The most popular wild animal was the flying squirrel that lives in tree holes and could only be captured with tree fronds when emerging; a very difficult task. The meat was highly prized and often reserved for elders, and on marriage it was given to the future mother-in-law. Adultery was forbidden.
Cremation or burial of the deceased in huts was the norm: thereafter the place was avoided. Other traditional places of burial included caves and rock crevices. Afterwards a medicine man would anoint the hearth and distribute medicine to the bereaved to prevent the deceased from causing disturbance.
Inheritance rules were practically non-existent since they had very few possessions that were usually given to members of the family.
Recently burial of family members has become a problem since they do not have access to burial grounds and are forced to bury their dead within their very small plots and continue living there. Anti-pollution rituals that they have learnt from the Bakiga are not always acceptable.
Suicide was a major taboo because it disturbed the balance.
Photo: Marcus Westberg
This Travel Guide is based on the the Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook, an award-winning labour of love that gives you a comprehensive insight into the cultures, languages, people and nature that make our area so special. By purchasing the ebook you will contribute to an ambitious initiative that aims to transform southwestern Uganda.