Are Visits with the Batwa People in Uganda Authentic Cultural Encounters?
Are Batwa Tourist Visits-Sincere Cross-Cultural Encounters? Or is it a form of Pity-Poverty Tourism?
Are Batwa Tourist Visits-Sincere Cross-Cultural Encounters? Or are they a form of Pity-Poverty Tourism and mere demeaning Kodak Picture moments and a form of exploitation, another Tourist Trap? There is a thin line between the two, while some may be all for such Cultural Encounters others might be highly critical of them no matter how they are presented to Tourists
Are Batwa Tourist Visits-Sincere Cross-Cultural Encounters? We have been just that question more than once and it the reason that we wrote this page about Batwa Cultural Tourist Encounters.
Just maybe, one should ask, what is best for the Batwa People? Many of those that embark on the Batwa Cultural Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park, the Batwa Experience in the Buhoma Region of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, or the Buniga Forest Walk with the Batwa know very little about the Batwa. What they do know they found on the Internet as the researched Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Batwa Cultural Encounters were offered as an add-on to Gorilla Trekking Safaris.
The Batwa People were here in Southwest Uganda long before anyone else. They are the first People of the Forest and have lived in this area, neighboring Rwanda and DR Congo for thousands of years living in harmony with nature and leaving a very low ecological footprint behind them.
All others that came to the forests of Southwest Uganda were tribes migrating from various part of Africa. The Batwa had temporary homes made of leaves and things from the forest, they moved regularly, hunted only what they needed, took what else they needed to live from the forest including medicine. The newcomers to the area established permanent Villages, burned the forest to create farm and grazing land and did not live in harmony with their surroundings as the Batwa did.
The Batwa are Pygmy aboriginal people who like the Gorillas are endangered. The Batwas, unlike the Mountain Gorillas, had no Conservations organization that stood up for their right for existence, for land, for rights to gather from the Forest as they did for Centuries when they were evicted at the insistence of Conservation Group whose minds was influenced by Dian Fossey’s who saw Batwa as Gorilla Killers, something readily seen in the 1988 “Gorillas in the Mist Movie.
The Batwa were forcefully evicted from their Forests in the early 1990’s becoming Conservation Refugees without any compensation since they had no land-titles like Bantu People did, they became a people who lived out meaning a sense of purpose, squatters at the borders to the Gorilla National Parks, replaced so that others could collect 1,500 USD Gorilla Permit Fees in Rwanda and 600 USD Permit fees in Uganda while they lived as voiceless beggars on the edge of their former homes
Are Batwa Tourist Visits-Sincere Cross-Cultural Encounters?
Today, in the 21st Century – Gorilla Tourism has funded the miraculous restoration of Mountain Gorilla in record numbers. Gorilla Tourism also brought to light the hidden victims of that success, the Batwa who lost their forest and with it their identity.
Increasingly you will come across accounts on BBC, in the Guardian, blogs and website words, images that show the plight of the Batwa People. Ordinary people such as Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann, Praveen Moman, to name just a few, have done extraordinary things for the Batwa People, giving more than promises, more than lip service, but concrete help such as the Bwindi Community Hospital that has literally extended the lives of the Batwa people and others, there is the Mount Gahinga Village where the Batwa own the land, their own homes, have educational training, and make a living with dignity-preserving their culture, ways and history.
Batwa Tourists Cultural Encounter Visits are not there to evoke Pity from tourists but they one small step toward making right what was done wrong to the Batwa People and to raise awareness about their past and their present struggle to preserve who they are.
Batwa Cultural Visits are about People Conservation
When Gorilla Parks, Gorilla Conservation began there was little thought given to the people who had been the stewards of the Forest – the Batwa People. They, unlike Bantu landowners, were not compensated, they were not given alternate land, they were evicted from the land where they had dwelled in harmony with nature for Centuries.
They became squatters on other peoples land, day-laborers with an almost indentured servant status. Others saw them as drunkards, Ganja Smokers (Marijuana was used in a ritual before the hunt), as beggars, as uneducated (they were educated in the way of the forest but had no formal education). They were seen as useless by others, some of that was written in print in the media. They were like something disposable to many. The Batwa were a people who lot their purpose, their way of life, their culture and most of all their Dignity.
Batwa Cultural Heritage Tourist visits came about as one way for Batwa to keep their culture alive, visit their beloved forest and share with others who the Batwa are and were. Tourists who came for Gorilla Trekking could now also learn how for Centuries the Batwa People lived in harmony with the larger Gentle Giants of the Forest, the Mountain Gorillas. The first was the Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park, then Buniga Forest Walk with the Batwa near Kisoro and then the Batwa Experience in the Buhoma area of Bwindi. in 2018 the Batwa Village was completed for about 230 Batwa with decent houses, a meeting house, vocational school and the Batwa Heritage Trail for Guest of Mount Gahinga Lodge that was started by Praveen Momam who has built 4 lodges in Uganda and Rwanda, a man with a vision for Primate and People Conservation.
The Batwa Tourist Offerings in Southwest Uganda result in better lives, better living conditions, better medical care, and better education. A few Batwa have now graduated from University and some of them have become advocates and voices for the hereto voiceless Batwa.
A By-Product of the Batwa Cultural Encounters is indigenous People Conservation resulting in a restoration of Dignity Lost. Support for the struggle to restore comes from the Pride Batwa take presenting their past and monetary resources that provide better infrastructure resulting in better and healthier lives.
Our Recommendation to our Clients – include a Visit with the Batwa People while trekking Gorillas in Uganda:
Your visit with the Batwa empowers their community with funding. it keeps their Culture alive, and most of all restore their lost dignity. The Batwa are endangered indigenous people. Authenticity vs. Tourist Trap, there is no tourist trap at the present, the Batwa as they take you into the forest, show you through eyes of the first people of the Forest. It is a learning experience about another culture and their ways of living in the past and their present plight.
The Batwa Tourist Visits are not encounters meant to evoke pity in tourists, the encounters are a vehicle of restoration. If there is anything negative, it is tourist posing with the Batwa in what we call a demeaning picture pose, the tourist towering over the Batwa.
If you are visiting the Mountain Gorillas in Southwest Uganda, then a visit to the Batwa is only a natural extension of that.