May 11, 2006

Who cares about protecting human biodiversity when there is flora and fauna biodiversity to protect?

You might recall the movie "Gorillas in the Mist" with Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey, in which the villains were the local pygmies. Personally, while I like apes, I like my fellow human beings more, especially if they are only 4'6".

AFP reports:

Rwandan pygmies fight for survival in eco-sensitive times

BWEYEYE, Rwanda (AFP) - In this remote corner of southern Rwanda, Twa pygmies are fighting a losing battle against the modern realities of environmentalism that are robbing them of their traditions.

Sandwiched between the Burundian border and the edge of the dense Nyungwe rainforest, the village of Bweyeye is on the frontline of an increasingly divisive struggle between the diminutive Twa and the long arm of Rwandan law.

Forced to abandon their centuries-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle by a ban on such activity in the maze of giant tropical trees, towering ferns and tiny orchids, many Twa have descended into crushing poverty and alcoholism.

Nyungwe, home to chimpanzees and other monkey species, is a stretch of rainforest in this central African region and Rwandan officials are keen to exploit its eco-tourism potential by protecting it.

But the Twa say the restrictions are destroying their community... "This ban on setting foot in the forest is a problem because our ancestors lived from the forest, they even used to hunt elephants there," he said, adding that, once, the meat from an elephant could sustain a family for a month. "Now we will soon die of hunger," Hakizimana tells AFP.

In addition to providing food, the vast 970-square-kilometer (375-square-mile) Nyungwe forest used to provide the Twa with essential fuel and raw materials such as wood for building.

But no longer.

While the forest ban is not new -- it was first imposed by the 1973-1994 regime of president Juvenal Habyarimana that ended with Rwanda's infamous genocide -- it is now being enforced with vigor, they say....

"We used to be potters, but you can't get the clay any more now," Munyemanzi complains. "It's tempting to go out and steal." The Twa insist that if and when they do go into the forest it is simply to collect firewood, but privately some admit to catching monkeys, baboons and forest rats.

Bweyeye local administrator Octave Rukundo is well aware of the hardships the ban has caused but is adamant that the law be respected. "They say they go to get wood for fuel, but in fact they also take wood to sell," he told AFP.

"They hunt the animals," Rukundo says. "They make traps, they dig holes two meters (six feet) deep and place branches over the top so that animals fall in. "They make fires to get smoke to chase bees away and collect their honey, but those fires can then burn the forest," he said, noting there had been two forest fires so far this year...

Like other Rwandans, the Twa, who make up about one percent of the country's 8,000,000 population, used to own land, but as long as they had the forest it was of little importance and plots were sold off to their Hutu and Tutsi neighbors. It was only when the forest ban began to be enforced that they realized the importance of farming their own land and then it was too late.

When the Twa here can get work it is usually on their neighbors' land and the pay is a pittance.

"Sometimes I get work cleaning up my neighbor's plot," says Esperance Gashugi, a 50-year-old mother of five children who earns 200 francs (about 20 US cents, 16 euro cents) per day for the backbreaking labor.>>

In despair and frustration, some Twa have turned to drink.

"The real problem," one non-Twa inhabitant of Bweyeye says, "is that these people don't want farmland, they don't want development projects. What they want is to be able to go hunting in the forest again and that's not going to happen."


In more late-breaking hunter-gatherer news, 80 members of the Nukak Indian tribe have emerged from the jungle in Colombia and are living in a clearing outside a town, where they gnaw on such favorite dishes as boiled monkey heads.

The NYT reports:

What everyone agrees on is that the Nukak of Aguabonita must avoid the fate of the Nukak who came here in 2003 and now live in a clearing called Barrancón.

Now in their fourth year in the area, the Nukak in Barrancón lead listless lives, lolling in their hammocks awaiting food from the state. They do not work, nor have they learned Spanish. They also have no plans to return to the forest...

Are they sad? "No!" cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter. In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier. Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.

What do they like most? "Pots, pants, shoes, caps," said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors...

One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still. "When you walk in the jungle," she said, "your feet hurt a lot."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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