See the Ancient Forest through the Eyes of its First People
Can Gorillas – Forest Conservation – Tourism and the Batwa People Coexist?
Visiting the Batwa People – the Original People of the Rainforests have become Conservation Refugees evicted from their Traditional Hunting and Gathering Grounds – the Rainforests.
Can Gorillas – Forest Conservation – Tourism and the Batwa People Coexist? The answer is a resounding yes, they did so for 500,000 years.
The Batwa People have their own creation story, in it there creator gave some people height, others prosperous land, but when he got to the Batwa, there were no more such gifts, so he gave them the Rainforest. When they were evicted by the Government in the 1990’s, they felt God had rejected them.
By Visiting the Batwa People – the People of the Rainforest in Uganda you help to keep the Batwa – Traditions and Culture alive.
The Batwa People Batwa People – the original People of the Rainforest are Pygmies who were the first inhabitants of the montane Rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi. They lived, gathered and hunted in the Rainforests for 0ver 500,000 years there was no farming, there was no destruction of the forest, no charcoal making, their shelters did not disturb the environment, they lived in harmony with their beloved forests, wildlife including the Mountain Gorillas and left a low ecological footprint.
The Batwa Pygmies (Twa in Rwanda) led a simple and harmonious way of life without farming, livestock keeping, they simply relied on the Rainforest for their existence only taking what was needed. There is a Batwa saying “A Mutwa (Singular Batwa) loves the forest as much as he loves his own body.”
Many Ugandans call Batwas, as do conservationists Killers of Gorillas, the Batwa do not and have not eaten Gorillas, instead, they coexisted with them for centuries. Any Gorilla Hunting that the Batwa did was done so at the instigation of others after their eviction and where money was used as an incentive.
Today the Batwa are stigmatized as Gorilla Killers and Poachers and are readily blamed for any poaching that takes place in either Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
Here is the reality, the Batwa people were keepers and protectors of the forest until the Bantu People came to the area, the Bantu tribes were the ones who cut down the forests, cultivated and grazed their cattle on fields that were once their precious Rainforests. The Batwas coexisted with Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and every other animal, bird, in the now parks.
When Rwanda became a Kingdom (the kingdom’s northern border was in present day Uganda), the Batwa would pay tribute to the Tutsi King in various ways. They were even included in the court of the King as advisers, dancers, and warriors. They were allowed to extract payment from those encroaching on the forest, they were also able to tax caravans, traders coming through their area.
Life for the Batwa People changed drastically in 1991 when Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest were established for the protection of the Forests, Wildlife, and Primates such as the Mountain Gorillas.
In 1992 all those living on Park Land in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and that included the “First People of the Rainforest” – the Batwa received no compensation in the form of land or money.
The non-Batwa Farmers who for years had destroyed the now Park-lands received compensation and land-rights, while the Batwa who had lived for centuries in forests without destroying the Ecosystem received nothing. There was no recognition by the Ugandan Government about their historical claims to the land.
The need protect the forests in the parks was great, today in the 21st Century the forest would no longer exist, without gorilla conservation which protects the habitats of Gorillas, without Gorilla Tourism being a source of money for that conservation work.
The area around both parks is heavily populated and the surrounding communities would have moved deeper and deeper in the parks to build houses and farms destroying forests and the Gorilla habitats.
Since 1992, the original people who lived in coexistence with the forests, wildlife, gorillas, who took only what they needed were left with nothing. he Batwa, without land – without a way of life which had been one of hunting and gathering.
On the one hand they were citizens of Uganda, while on the other hand, they were a people without rights, without compensations for their losses, now living outside of their ancient homelands as squatters at the mercy of others, as outcasts, the Batwa Pygmies were now a people without an identity reduced to begging, poaching, stealing and working for others who paid them a mere pittance and not a fair wage for their work.
Without land of their own or the skills to compete in the modern marketplace, the Batwa have become marginalized, existing in extreme poverty on the parks’ boundaries, looking in where they used to live. The other tribal communities are for the most part – non-supportive.
Prejudice against the Batwa is deeply rooted and goes all the way to government and other parts of Uganda where Batwa’s have no respect at all and seen as lazy, thieves, Pot Smoking (traditionally done before a hunt), drunkards.
Non-Batwa refuse to marry Batwas, yet non-Batwa rape Batwa women (over 50% of Batwa women claim to have been raped – non-Batwa falsely believe they would be cured of AIDS having sex with a Batwa woman (this has resulted in non-pygmy children being born into the community).
Non-Batwa refuse to even have a meal with them. There are random acts of violence and harassment committed against the Batwa.
Even clinics refused treatment of Batwa People. The mortality rate of Batwa people was very high at a much younger and infant mortality was simply through the roof.
After some years, the Batwa cultural ways, the ways of gathering and hunting were in danger of being lost, the young people began to grow up in a world where they would hear the stories of old but never experienced the ways of the forest for themselves, all they saw was the squalor and abject poverty in which they grew up in.
The ways of hunting, gathering- even of honey, traditional medicine, traditional skills all were no longer taught to the young Batwa people because there is no access to the ancient forests.
The Batwa people have gotten a voice, there are Batwa organizations within Uganda that are speaking out and making a difference on their own behalf. The Dream still is to go back into the forest and live in Coexistence with their environment and that includes the Mountain Gorillas where they hope is once again peacefully exist with the Mountain Gorillas.
The Batwa Dream is to go back into their Forest and once again live in harmonious existence with the Forest, Wildlife, and Gorillas.
The Dream still is to go back into the forest and live in Coexistence with their environment and that includes the Mountain Gorillas where they hope is once again peacefully exist with the Mountain Gorillas. Something that will most likely never happen. The Forests have shrunk too much to sustain both people and gorillas. There is also the possibility in a smaller forest environment where the Batwa could transmit diseases to the gorillas, especially the habituated ones. Gathering in the forest in certain locations might be something else to look at but not hunting.
There are less than 3,000 Batwa People today, yes People can also become extinct some concerned people and agencies are doing their best to revive the Batwa Spirit of old that lived in a harmonious coexistence with the Forest, the animals, including the endangered Mountain Gorillas.
Foreign Nonprofit Agencies such as the one started by the American medical missionaries Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann, who have dedicated themselves to serving the Batwa People in southwest Uganda since 2002. The Kellermanns purchased land and established programs to improve conditions for the tribe—home-building, schools, a hospital and clinics, water and sanitation projects, income generation, and the promotion of indigenous rights.
These activities are now being assumed by the Batwa people and other local staff through the Batwa Development Program (BDP). It is supported by the Kellermann Foundation, a US-based nonprofit organization.
A Ray of Hope for the Batwa People – Visiting the Batwa People – the People of the Rainforest in Uganda keeps the ways of old alive:
Though the Batwa people are not allowed to live in the Forests that make up the parks, though the Batwa cultural ways are rapidly diminishing since their eviction. However things are changing, in 2011 Uganda Wildlife Authority assisted by money from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Netherland’s Embassy in Kampala began the now famous Batwa Cultural Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Where members of the Batwa Community lead tourists through the forest in the shadows of the Virunga Volcanoes and teach the visitors about their ancient ways of hunting and gathering and the Batwa Guides get to return to the Rainforest and keep their traditions alive, at least in spirit. The Batwa communities also receive half of the Batwa Trail Fees. Tips are accepted…
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme worked with the Batwa Community and began the Buniga Batwa Forest Walk and village visit program. This is in the south end of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Buniga Forest is not part of Bwindi National Park, however the vegetation, wildlife, and primates are similar and one just see a few chimpanzees while on the Forest Walk with Batwa Guides keeping the tradition and cultural ways of the Batwa People alive.
There is also the Batwa Experience which was set up by the Kellerman Foundation outside of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the half day Batwa Experience has benefited the Batwa Community and also those what made the Batwa Experience a part of their time in the ancient Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Today there are Batwa Communities benefiting from tourism and making a living that keeps them from poaching and turns them toward conservation of the forest and of the wildlife and Primates.
Below you will find 3 activities in South West Uganda where you can learn the ancient Batwa ways and traditions in their beloved Forest. Enjoy your time with the Batwa people and the Mountain Gorillas…
Visiting the Batwa People – the People of the Rainforest in Uganda
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a great park – the scenery that you encounter as you venture with your Batwa Guides is simply amazing.
The Batwa Trail allows you to see the forest through the eyes of the first people of – the Batwa Pygmy people and allows them some meaningful income that will make a difference in their lives.
Take the Batwa Trail, learn the Batwa Ways, end with dancing in the Garama Caves where a song of lament, of not living in the forest is brought forth by the women.
You, in turn, learn the ancient ways of hunting and gathering that the Batwa People used and how they lived in the ancient forest.
The Buniga Forest Walk with the Batwa people is near Kisoro – easily accessed from the southern area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest such as Nkuringo – Rushaga – from around Lake Mutanda or Kisoro.
The forest walk here once again is very informative about the Batwa People and their ways and this includes a visit to the village from which they come from and where you see beehives and crafts made.
Another enriching experience with the first people of the forest. This activity is a community program sponsored by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.
The Batwa Experience takes place just outside of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and includes hunting and gathering ways, but also as to how the Batwa People used to live, prepare food, collect their medicine from plants, roots, and bark.
The Batwa experience takes place in Buhoma – and those who participate in this 5 hour plus experience simply love it and take with them some great memories
Any of the above Batwa Walks with the original people of the forest can easily be added on to any safari around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla Park – we would be glad to do so.
If you are interested in a visit with the Batwa People – please contact us