Among the Bakiga Hygiene Was Not a Major Issue


This article opens a series of texts on Bakiga traditions that we will be posting every Wednesday; they all come from our award-winning Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook. Today’s photography was done by Marcus Westberg with Festo Karwemera in his Bakiga museum.

Bakiga compound from the Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook; illustration by Martin Aijuka

Bakiga compound from the Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook; illustration by Martin Aijuka

The outer boundary of the Bakiga household compound was made up of a palisade of poles and sticks to protect against wild animals and raiders. Inside were the various residences of the family. Each wife had her own house and her property of fields and livestock that was under her control and not shared with other wives; her children lived with her until adulthood.


Lighting and maintaining fires took a lot of time. It was forbidden to bring fire into a house where there was already fire burning. In the house, there was no furniture except for stools and beds built either on the floor or built using forked sticks and a woven frame.


The inner rooms had woven papyrus partitions (sometimes plastered) and floors were covered with decorated mats made of swamp grass. The roof was thatched with dried grass in overlapping layers with a covering in the centre to avoid rain drip; a small stick set in the centre was only removed on the death of the householder.


Women made coiled (sewn) baskets while men made woven (checker and wickerwork) baskets, checker weave winnowing trays from bamboo and fish weirs from papyrus. Woodwork was men’s responsibility and the most common products were iron tool handles, stools, bowls, paddles and troughs.


Clothing was usually made from animal hides though among the poor woven grass skirts were common. While men could strip naked when working in the fields, women were more modest, particularly after adolescence.


Among the Bakiga hygiene was not a major issue and many had an abhorrence of water, they neither drank it (preferring sorghum based drinks) nor washed with it.


Beer was brewed from sorghum and was mostly reserved for chiefs, elders and heads of households. It was the social lubricant of all festivals and social occasions and was plentiful after the harvests. Women were not allowed to drink in public and a non-alcoholic sorghum drink was more common among them. Elders smoked pipes with unprocessed tobacco.


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