Monday, October 6, 2008

Aug 5 '08 - from Rwanda - The Twa (Pygmies)

From: David Zarembka
Sent: Tuesday, August 05, 2008 4:10 AM
Subject: AGLI--Report from Rwanda--The Twa--August 5, 2008

Dear All,

Identical twins can look the same on the outside, but be very different on the inside. This is the case of Rwanda and Burundi. In this report I am going to focus on one aspect of this sameness / difference -- the Twa. The Twa are short in stature, despised, severely discriminated against people that make up less than one percentage of the population in Rwanda and Burundi. While they speak the same local language as everyone else (although sometimes with an accent), they live separately in their own villages. The discrimination is based on their occupations:

1. Hunting: Twa traditionally hunted wild animals and ate them. But "real men," according to local tradition, herd cows and eat beef. I doubt that there are many wild animals left to hunt in Rwanda and Burundi.
2. Burying the dead: While this is a very necessary occupation and society ought to be grateful for those who perform it, instead it is despised work not only in Rwanda and Burundi, but in many (most?) places in the world.
3. Entertainment: The Twa are the jesters, fools (as in Shakespeare), buffoons, and dancers that make people laugh. Any decent wedding will have some Twa to entertain the guests, frequently with off-color jokes and other comments that some may think but are too polite to say.
4. Pot making: For some reason that I don't understand, in this region getting your hands dirty making clay pots is a despised occupation. In the advance HROC workshops in Burundi where they use clay, people will comment that they are now "Twa." I particularly like this in Rwanda and Burundi because it attacks this stereotype. With the rise of metal and now plastic pots, this occupation probably is also declining.

The conventional interpretation, thought up by the racist Nineteenth Century European "explorers" of Africa and taught until recently in schools in Rwanda and Burundi, is that the Twa, as hunters, were the original inhabitants of the region. They later were overwhelmed by the agricultural Bantu-speaking Hutu farmers. Later again the Tutsi arrived, from Ethiopia, as the superior herders (the ruling class in Europe are the descendants of those who rode horses). Since the Ethiopians were the southern most branch of the white race, and if the Tutsi came from Ethiopia, then clearly they were the ruling class. This became the rationale for the Tutsi domination of Rwanda and Burundi introduced by the German and then Belgian colonial rulers. During the genocide the hate radio stations told people to toss the Tutsi into the rivers so that they could return to Ethiopia--that is, float down the rivers to Lake Victoria, down the White Nile to Khartoum and then float back up the Blue Nile to Ethiopia. While this is not physically possible, it resulted in the Tanzanians pulling 20,000 dead bodies out of the mouth of the Kagera River where it flows into Lake Victoria--they were afraid the dead bodies would pollute the whole lake!

This interpretation is totally psuedo-scientific, racist nonsense which, unfortunately, has led to violence, death, and destructions in these two countries. Race theories have profound implications! Recent DNA testing has shown that the Twa, Hutu, and Tutsi are genetically closely related and therefore could not have had separate origins. The Twa are short because of a genetic difference in one of the genes that produces growth hormones. Perhaps a long time ago in the past, they were segregated because of this and in order to survive adopted occupations others did not want to do.

The HROC program in Rwanda has begun doing specific workshops for the Twa. They have found that when a Twa is in a workshop with Hutu and Tutsi, they don't participate much and are sometimes laughed at. While they have endured the trauma that everyone else has gone through in the society, they also have the trauma of being isolated and despised for
generations. In former days no Hutu or Tutsi would eat with the Twa and I am told there are still some people who will not eat with the Twa (one of the reconciliation activities of the HROC workshops). The HROC staff in Rwanda has found that they need to do separate workshops for the Twa. In these workshops the Twa are very lively and active. But there are so many layers of trauma that more than one workshop will be needed just to cover the basics.

Solange Maniraguha, one of the HROC staff in Rwanda, had just come back from a workshop with the Twa the previous week. She has hopes that the program can develop Twa Healing Companions to work with the Twa in their villages. One comment she made to me is that only three or four of the HROC facilitators can facilitate with the Twa because the others look down on them in the typical stereotyped fashion--it is always difficult to overcome the stereotypes that one has grown up with. This program is in Ruhengeri, in the northwest, where the Friends Church has two churches for the Twa.

When I had suggested to Adrien that they might also have a special HROC program for the Twa, I got a very negative reaction. Adrien thinks that the Twa should be incorporated into the normal HROC workshops. This is what they are doing in the Burundi program. He has not seen any overt discrimination against them as the other participants are polite and interact normally with them. The goal is to integrate the Twa into Burundian society like everyone else. The Mennonite Central Committee is supporting a primary school which is half Twa and half Hutu. (But I was told that someone in their infinite wisdom decided to give free uniforms to the Twa, but not the Hutu so some of the Hutu are transferring their children to other schools). Adrien related to me that in the last few months three Twa had married Hutu wives. So integration of the Twa seems to be well established in Burundi and Adrien felt that this was working well.

So should Twa be integrated into the usual HROC workshops as is done in Burundi or should they have workshops of their own as is done in Rwanda? If one is into a foolish need for consistency, then one would need to decide between these two options. But, as I began, these twins are the same on the outside, but inside there may be profound differences. What works in Burundi may not be the answer in Rwanda. The world is never a simple place.


David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams

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