Why Batwa “Pygmies”?

Crazy Legs, Chairman, Tiny Moses and Federo, a Batwa band from Kisoro; photo by Robert Brierley

Crazy Legs, Chairman, Tiny Moses and Federo, a Batwa band from Kisoro; photo by Robert Brierley

As we kick off a weekly series of articles about Batwa, the original masters of the Gorilla Highlands forests, an explanation may be called for. Why do we use the strange Batwa “Pygmies” term?

Let us first see what Dr. Christopher Kidd wrote in the Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook:

The word Pygmy is originally derived from a Greek term – allegedly for the distance between the wrist and the elbow – and when early Greek writers were talking about a mythical race of small people they called them Pygmies.

It wasn’t until mid 19th century that Europeans discovered hunter-gatherers in central Africa and they named them after this mythical race. So Pygmies came to be used by early colonials and certainly has a colonial background to it.

Later on it was used within eugenics, racial hierarchical theories of humanity and civilisation, so it tends to have in some usage a racist or historically discriminatory term behind it.

At a local level Pygmy can also be a word used to discriminate against ethnic groups like the Batwa, so for many communities and for many situations the term Pygmy is not one which should be used.

However, particularly in French-speaking central Africa, where it has been used much more, many Pygmy communities use the term as a collective definition.

That said, the organisation Chris Kidd used to support, the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda, painted the tricky Pygmy word on its signposts in Kisoro Town. The reason is simple: tourists only know that term.

Our chosen approach is to put Pygmy in quotation marks after Batwa, hoping that it will become redundant over time.

Follow by Email

Gorilla Highlands blog essentials:

Why Gorilla Highlands?

20 Best Stories from the Gorilla Highlands Blog

“Responsible Tourism” – Right Term, Right Way