The Batwa lived in simple circular huts made from branches with grass for the roof and walls. Their economy was based on barter and they were self-sufficient until recent times. Land was communally controlled by each clan. Barter with outside groups was based on wild food, animal hides, baskets and pots for salt, cattle and farm products, iron weapons and alcohol.
Even before their removal from the forest in the early 1990s, the Batwa had long integrated into the Bakiga and Bafumbira societies. However, we can still look to existing hunter gatherer groups in neighbouring countries to understand more about the Batwa’s hunting and gathering past.
Originally forest hunter gatherers were egalitarian with no one person or band being more powerful than another. Traditionally they were divided into bands (smaller than clan but larger than a nuclear family) who were territorially separate. Bands did not own land but did have detailed land use practices that include areas which were taboo to enter and acted as conservation zones where the animals were left unhindered.
Elders are not politically dominant in central African hunter gatherer groups; they only give advice and knowledge based upon their experience. Decisions are instead taken by the younger generation as the future and the decisions they make are theirs to live.
Harmony and balance with their world is a key priority amongst most hunter gatherer groups. Amongst the Mbuti in Congo any changes in the balance are solved through processes that include arbitration, demand sharing and peer pressure which often amounts to public ridicule.
If, for example, a hunter came back to camp, proud of his catch, other community members might ridicule his pride. They do that so that he doesn’t feel superior or use his hunting skills to create a position of authority.
Photo by Robert Brierley
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