THE TWA COMMUNITY
The Great Lakes Twa, also known as Batwa, Abatwa, or Ge-Sera, are a Bantu ethnic group from the African Great Lakes region, which lies on the border between Central and East Africa. The Twa are thought to be the oldest surviving group in the Great Lakes region since they are indigenous pygmy people. The Great Lakes Twa people can currently be found in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They numbered around 80,000 persons in 2000, making them a sizable minority group in these countries. Apart from anthropological literature, the term “Twa” generally refers to the Twa of the Great Lakes region. There are a number of other Twa populations in the Congo forest, as well as southern Twa populations living in swamps and deserts where there has never been forest, but these are little known in the West
The Twa have traditionally been semi-nomadic mountain forest hunter-gatherers who live in close proximity to agricultural settlements, much like other pygmy peoples. When the Hutu, a Bantu-speaking people, arrived in the region, they subjugated ‘bush people’ (hunter-gatherers) they called Abatwa, who are generally assumed to be the Twa’s ancestors today, though it’s possible that the Twa arrived alongside the Hutu and were either a distinct people from the original inhabitants, or had mixed ancestry. The pastoralist Tutsi arrived in the 15th century AD and dominated both the Hutu and the Twa, resulting in a three-caste system with the Tutsi ruling, the Hutu making up the majority of the population, and the Twa at the bottom of the social scale, hated, admired, and feared. For hundreds of years, the Twa have been a small minority in the area, accounting for less than 1% of the population in Rwanda and Burundi, and have played little role in politics, though there have been Twa in the Tutsi king’s government at times, and some have even obtained privileged positions in the royal court as entertainers or even executioners.The Twa are potters, which is unusual for Pygmies who usually trade meat for agricultural products, iron, and pottery. The Twa are frequently left out of talks on the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, which peaked in 1994 with the Rwandan genocide. In Rwanda, over 30% of the Twa population died as a result of the conflict. Until 1992, when it was made a World Heritage Site for the endangered mountain gorilla. At that time they were expelled from the forest and placed in settlements.
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