I still have yet to start working in person with WPIO, but I am anticipating contact from Fred (different from WPIO’s Executive Director, Freddy Wangabo) sometime this next week. Also, as I mentioned in my first blog, WPIO is changing their name, but it will be the East and Central African Association for Indigenous Rights (ECAAIR), rather than just the Central African Association for Indigenous Rights. Thus, from now on, I’ll be referring to them as ECAAIR.
I’ve been reading about the work that ECAAIR has been doing for the rights of indigenous communities, as well as more about the situation these communities face when they are evicted from their native lands. In school this last year, I learned about the World Bank’s two poverty lines, which are set at under US $2.00/day, and under US $1.25/day (the latter being severe poverty). Many pygmies, after forest eviction, live on less than US .30 CENTS per day. This is incomprehensible to me (granted, so are the other numbers).
As I mentioned in my last blog, when pygmies and other indigenous groups are evicted, they are not prepared for survival outside the forests. As I also touched on before, when stripped of their livelihoods, community members can become squatters, slaves, women may become sex workers, etc. ECAAIR works to address these issues by offering what they call “Sustainable Life Education” trainings to these communities. The focus varies, depending on what is needed. Included are: cultural education, human rights education, community life education, civic education, sustainable development, gender equality education, prevention and reporting of domestic violence training, and health education.
Of particular interest on that list is cultural education. In school, I have been studying the controversy between allowing for different cultural beliefs and practices, and intervening and/or working to change certain beliefs and practices when they seem particularly harmful. Clitoridectamies are perhaps one of the best known examples of a cultural practice that outsiders see as harmful enough to warrant stepping over the cultural boundary, and risk being seen as the “hegemonic” Westerner, to try and change the practice.
In the case of ECAAIR, it’s not quite the same because Freddy Wangabo is himself a pygmy who escaped the DRC. This likely lends him more credibility to his audience. The cultural beliefs that he is working to change include the notion that having sex with a pygmy woman will cure that person of diseases including HIV (this results in a lot of rapes of pygmy women), the notion that girls aged 12 and older are a burden to their families and should be married off, and the idea that a pygmy male should share everything with his guests, including his wife. There are also cultural beliefs outside the pygmy communities such as the idea that all pygmies are inherently inferior, mentally retarded, and subhuman.
An article I’m reading (provided to me courtesy of Chris Kidd who works for the Forest People’s Project and has studied pygmies for at least a decade), in discussing the BaTwa states, “Quite commonly the Batwa are seen as a subhuman, animal-like people whose sexuality is unrestrained by cultural prohibitions, who feed like insatiable animals on disgusting and taboo foods and, unable to feel shame or a sense of decency, are capable of anything. They are only good for dirty or tedious jobs and are identifiable by their attitude and diminutive physical appearance. These stereotypes, implying a physiological or innate inferiority, are characteristic of racist ideologies the world over” (Minority Rights International, “The Batwa Pygmies of the Great Lakes Region,” p. 13).
It is unclear to me why pygmies are viewed so negatively by outside communities, but this is another thing that ECAAIR is working to understand, and is something I plan to learn more about in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here are some more photos from other adventures I had recently around Fort Portal.
Posted By DINA BUCK
Posted Jul 5th, 2010