Read Time: 4 min.
The Batwa Tribe of Uganda
For centuries, the Batwa people of Uganda were known as “Keepers of the Forest”. Batwa families lived and foraged peacefully in their ancient homeland, enjoying the safety of natural shelters and the comfort of plentiful food. They stored and served foods like sweet potatoes, cassava, fried ground nuts, roasted maize, and other local delicacies in handwoven traditional Batwa baskets.
Both practical and beautiful, these baskets were also used as winnowing baskets to separate grains from the chaff. They were often given as gifts during celebrations and to welcome guests. Using local grasses, natural plant dyes, and weaving techniques passed down for generations, Batwa women handcrafted unique patterns and designs inspired by the landscapes of their ancient homeland.
Traditional Batwa Nesting Baskets
When their native rainforest was declared a wildlife conservation area, the Batwa tribe was forcefully driven from the land of their ancestors. Suddenly, a nation of peaceful forest dwellers was relocated to more modern villages and towns. Without homes, education, or understanding of how to survive outside of the forest, the Batwa people struggled to adapt to their new way of life by learning how to farm instead of forage.
Many of their fellow countrymen opposed the integration of Batwa refugees into their communities.
As a result, many Batwa men, women, and children died from violence and starvation.
As refugees, the Batwa people continue to endure discrimination, homelessness, violence, sickness, and starvation every day.
Batwa women and children are routinely denied access to jobs, healthcare, and education.
Many parents must make the heartbreaking choice to give up their children to orphanages to protect them from violence or save them from starvation.
In Uganda, “poverty orphanages” are often filled with Batwa children who are loved by parents who can’t afford to keep, protect, or provide for them.
Without the protection of these orphanages, homeless Batwa children are extremely vulnerable to physical and sexual violence from other local tribes who are hostile toward the Batwa people.
Hoping to earn enough income to keep and provide for their children, many Batwa mothers began selling their handwoven baskets. Sitting along local roadsides, they waited, hoping and praying someone would pass by and buy one of their baskets. But their income was often too sporadic to provide stability for their children, and tourists often took advantage of them by paying them far less than their craftsmanship would have earned in a fair market.
Nyiransabimaana’s eyes fill with tears as she remembers how selling one of her baskets by a roadside saved her family from starvation.
“I remember when famine hit really hard. It was evening, and we had nothing to eat.
So, I picked up my basket and stood by the roadside.
A tourist vehicle came.
My basket was bought.
It was like God coming down.
I got enough money to buy food for the month.”
– Nyiransabimaana, Batwa Artisan in Uganda
With ten children to feed, it’s hard to imagine what would have happened to her family if Nyiransabimaana had not sold her basket that day. Since that day, she and other Batwa mothers have partnered with Trades of Hope to create our Batwa Basket Set of traditional Batwa nesting baskets and Flora Basket. As Artisan partners, they have the opportunity to earn more consistent and sustainable wages while preserving the Artisan traditions of their ancient ancestors.
Heroes of Their Own Stories
As they gather together to mix their dyes and weave the same baskets their ancient ancestors used for generations, the Batwa women share their stories of hope. Amidst their singing and occasional dancing, it’s clear these mothers are not seeking pity or charity.