Protecting the endangered music of Uganda’s Batwa tribe

A hunter-gatherer tribe that occupied the mountains of western Uganda for thousands of years, the Batwa were evicted in the 1990s to make way for the conservation of gorillas. Today they live in extreme poverty with little access to education, healthcare, or work, and their culture and traditions are diminishing. Yet music and dance are a way of life, energizing their daily activities and ceremonies. Building on her 2022 research through The Witness, Ugandan singer Suzan Kerunen dives deeper into understanding how the Batwa’s instruments and sounds reflect their ancient relationship with the forest, in part by exploring a trail developed for tourism that enlightens visitors to plant medicines, hut- and fire-making practices, wood-working skills, and other aspects of their former forest life. Kerunen also shares the Batwa’s music with a broader world through educational and entertainment platforms, and begins building a pathway to the repatriation of their culture. DJs, companies, and other external entities frequently extort indigenous music for their own purposes. Kerunen is passionate about protecting this music, properly crediting or compensating its originators, and respectfully sharing and using it in ways that benefit, not endanger, the Batwa.