Sunday, April 04, 2010

Rwanda / Twa (Pygmies)

Rwandan Pygmies Facing Squalor and Exclusion
By Helen Vesperini
Sydney Morning Herald, April 4, 2010
"Rwanda's rapidly dwindling Twa pygmies, considered the original inhabitants of this central African nation, now live on the fringes, facing squalor, discrimination and general exclusion. A small community eking out a frugal living on the flank of an impossibly steep hill in Bwiza in the centre of the country embodies the problems they face in post-genocide Rwanda. Bwiza's residents came to look for a field, having lost the land their families owned decades back. They are plagued by alcoholism, lose up to two children for every one born and have little or no access to health care. 'A lot of children die. I used to have nine, now I have three,' said Jowas Gasinzigwa, leaning on a crude walking stick. There are
46 families and just 50 children in the hamlet, 15 of whom attend school. All this in a country where most women produce five or six children. 'I now have three and I used to have six,' said Celestin Uwimana, 38. 'Many die of malaria because they don't go to hospital when they have it. Others get meningitis.' The nearest health centre is a two-hour walk away. The pygmies live in leaf huts and respiratory diseases are a major scourge due to leaky roofs and damp. Zephirin Kalimba, the head of an organisation that helps Twa communities through development projects, says they make up between 33,000 and 35,000 of Rwanda's 10 million people. Whereas the overall population of Rwanda is on the rise, the number of pygmies is declining, a development likely linked to their displacement from their original forest lands and the end of their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Though Twa used to own land, more than 40 percent of Twa households in Rwanda are today landless. They were forced out of forests which were turned into natural parks. It was only after eviction from their ancestral land that they turned to farming in fits and starts. [...]"