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The potters themselves tell us: Our ancestors were the first to occupy the [Rwandan] territory when it was entirely covered with forest. Their happiness and pleasure to live their way of life and the plenty of the resources they found in their environment have been disrupted by the farmers who arrived as the second. They invaded the forest and our ancestors were periodically forced to move away from machetes and hoes. At the moment when the stock breeder arrived with their troops of cattle the forest had almost completely disappeared.  (An oral story, according to Chris Huggins: Les lois foncières historiques et contemporaines et leur incidence sur les droits fonciers des peoples autochtones au Rwanda, Moreton-Marsh 2009; p. 1).

For the longest time the community of potters has been living on the Rwandan territory. Their history shows that they had been living in the forests where they lived on the basis of hunting and gathering. But since the beginning of the 19th century they have been expelled of their nourishing mother “forest” by the successive deforestation and the creation of national parks and protected areas (until the 1990ies). As a result today no potter at all lives in the forest.   Unfortunately the potters were neither prepared nor compensated for their land.

Today the Rwandese community of Potters represents a minority of less than 1% of the Rwandese population. At the same time it is the poorest and most vulnerable group of Rwanda. Known under the different designations like “autochthon population”, “Batwa”, “Potters”, “Pygmies”, “former hunters and gatherers” and “historically marginalized population” the potters have been stigmatized by the other Rwandans because of their way of living and have been suffering from social, economic and cultural discrimination and marginalization. The majority of the potter’s community lives separate from the Rwandese society because of their extreme and chronic poverty which is proved by different inquiries:

Field of Health

In the field of health the survey on the living conditions of the potters (COPORWA 2004) observes that about the half of all potters fall ill every month. Only 21% of the ill persons get medical care. The main reason for this are missing financial means. Besides the increased infant mortality rate in the potter’s community follows from food insecurity and malnutrition.

Educational field

According to COPORWA’s survey of 2044 77% of all potters aren’t able to read nor to write nor to count. Less than 1% went to secondary school and a insignificant number has been studying at university. This lack of education is one reason for the pitiful socio-economic situation of COPORWA’s beneficiaries.

Socio-economic field

The vulnerable groups of Rwanda are the orphans of the genocide, widows, refugees and Batwa, who are known as potter’s community.  The vulnerability of this community finds expression in their low level of income, for example. The monthly income of the active occupied population among COPORWA’s beneficiaries is about 3.250 RWF (survey of 2004). But although the potter’s community is represented in the Senate, the potters don not profit from all governmental programs. Just to give an example, lots of potter families don’t benefit from the “one cow, one family”-program. After their expulsion out of the forests this community began to make pottery in search of new income. But in the course of time they have been refused to get access to lands and marshes and swamps, which would be necessary to find clay. Furthermore all marshes were set under control of the state in 2005. Up to now the access to marshes more and more is reserved for agricultural cooperatives that are specializing in the commercial production of rice or corn. Nowadays the potter’s income depends almost only on the pottery. Further to the lack of training and employment 95% of all beneficiaries of the COPORWA asbl exercise traditional pottery. But they have to sell their products cheaper than the costs of production. A minority of the potters works in the agricultural sector, which is really little in comparison to the percentage of 90% in the whole Rwanda. This can be explained easily: the potters don’t possess cultivable land or agricultural materials and their land has been confiscated.

And it is necessary to notice that the report of the commission which had been charged with social affairs by the Senate (2007) recommends that the potter’s problems must be treated in a special manner.


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