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The Twa People – Rwanda's Indigenous Potters

Photographer: Dai Kurokawa


The Twa, also called Batwa, are an indigenous Rwandan pygmy people, who make up about one percent of the country's population of 8,000,000. They originally lived as hunter-gatherers in the high mountain forests around the Great Lakes of the Central Africa.


The Twa have been historically persecuted and marginalized by Hutu agriculturist and Tutsi pastoralist settlers who made the initial incursion into Twa territory sometime before the 16th century. They have also been the victims of the recent development in the country. In the course of the clearing of the forests for agriculture, development projects and the creation of national parks and protected areas, the Twa have been forced out of their forests, making them no longer able to live by their traditional activities such as foraging and hunting.


Being driven out of the forests, Twa have turned to one of very few remaining income-generating activities that they have: pottery, which they have been practicing for generations to trade with their agriculturist neighbors. However, as the government aims to exploit the country's marshland for agricultural use, the Twa are losing the land critical to collect clay for their pottery.


Although some Twa have started to farm on a small scale, most of them live in habitats unsuitable for agriculture and as a result, making and selling pottery remains their main income. Moreover, their pottery is devaluing as Rwandan people opt for more modern products. An average cooking pot sells for about 40 Rwandan francs (5 US cents).


Twa are often easily distinguishable from others by their short stature, and because of their pygmy origin, they have always been subject to the prejudice in the society. In the country sometimes labeled as 'Africa's miracle' for its fast and steady economic growth, the Twa live in extreme poverty with little to no health care or education.