Abatigayubuke Batwa cooperative dances its way to a brighter future
by Munyaneza A.B (May 2012)
None of the Tourist groups knew what to expect every morning of the Dancing pots tour. This is the first time that the Batwa community associated with the Abatigayubuke potter cooperative had ever received tourists, visitors and hosts were brimming with curiosity and excitement.
Despite the fact that the Batwa are the oldest recorded human inhabitants of Rwanda, few people are familiar with their rich cultural heritage and history. In ancient times, the Batwa, also known as the Twa, were famous for entertaining the king, a job they received on account of their artistic and musical abilities. However, since the fall of the monarchy, they have been negatively stereotyped as physically and intellectually inferior to other Rwandans, in part due to their pygmy ancestry. The Batwa suffered disproportionately during the 1994 genocide like any other Rwandan. Today, there are only about 33,000 Batwa remaining, representing only 0.4% of the Rwandan population. Most live in extreme poverty, and while the government has officially recognized them as a historically marginalized people, local authorities have done a lot to support their communities; there have representation site in the lower chamber of deputies where their voice can be had for the first time in Rwanda.
Due to their celebrated skills as dancers, drummers, singers and potters, the Batwa have contributed substantially to Rwandas cultural traditions. Several Batwa communities are currently working NDA Rwanda called Dancing Pots to market their unique crafts, but New Dawn Associates (NDA) saw an opportunity to do more. Together with the Abatigayubuke Batwa cooperative, which is located in Kanama, 12 km from Rubavu (Gisenyi), NDA created a unique tourism excursion, designed to provide a responsible cultural immersion experience for the visitor and generate revenue for the cooperative and community. In order to buy costumes for the dancers and drummers and benches for the guests, NDA granted the cooperative a loan of RWF 510,000 (around US $1,000). NDA then negotiated the terms of payment directly with the community and agreed that for every group of visitors, the village as a whole would receive RWF 35,000. An additional RWF 10,000 would go to an educational fund and RWF 5,000 to an agricultural fund while RWF 30,000 would cover the expenses associated with serving the visitors soft drinks, bananas and maize. Performers who are members of the community would be paid RWF 12,000 for their participation. Finally, the community would receive an extra RWF 5,000 per visitor, meaning that for a group of ten, the community would receive RWF 50,000 on top of the money allocated for specific funds.
So what did happen during that first Tourist visit ? Participants report that the experience was overwhelmingly warm, joyful and enthusiastic. The delegates were welcomed by energetic drumming and dancing and shown how traditional pottery is made. After sharing food, drinks and expressions of gratitude, the visitors were able to purchase traditional pottery. Before leaving the village, the hosts where dancing once again this time together with their guests and curious visitors from the neighboring communities.
New Dawn Associates has brought tourist groups, consisting of 1,092 visitors in total, to the Abatigayubuke cooperative. A few years, in an effort to gauge the impact of these visits, NDA asked the community to reflect on what has changed since visitors began arriving. The responses were quite remarkable, with cooperative members saying that they are suddenly more respected by neighbors and local authorities than before. They get invitations to district meetings as well as visitors from neighboring communities who want to get a glimpse of their foreign guests. Of this, the Batwa community is extremely proud.
As a direct result of the income generated through tourism, the cooperative was able to purchase new school uniforms and shoes for all 60 children, Health insurance for all members and their families,three pieces of farmland and a roof for an elderly woman in the community. They also state that for the first time community members can afford to buy new clothes and even iron them, which goes a long way towards dispelling the image of Batwa as poor. One unprecedented event made the community especially proud: they were able to afford a wedding ceremony for a one of younger woman marrying a man from a more affluent community. Finally, the community has been able to put money in the bank, a fact that will allow them to respond to unforeseen circumstances in the future and the banks can now offer them loans through UMUREGYE SACCO.
Overall, the cooperative reflected on the experience of receiving visitors with both excitement and gratitude. We dont mind receiving them every day, says Cloude, the President of the Abatigayubuke cooperative. They have given us a lot of pride and we now value ourselves and the pottery.