The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park -A Cultural Encounter
Seeing the Forest through the eyes of the First People – The Batwa People
Who are the Batwa People
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park introduces most tourists to the first people of the Forest “the Batwa People.” The more controversial term that is often used is Pygmy. The Batwa were keepers of the Rain Forests of Africa stretching from Cameroon into Southwest Uganda. They were the keepers of the Forests, the indigenous people. Living in southwest Uganda long before Bantu Tribes such as the Bakiga came here and established villages, farms. They Bantu cut down and burned the forest to create farmlands and grazing areas for their cattle.
The Batwa lived in harmony with the forest, leaving a shallow ecological footprint behind them. The established no villages, built no permanent structures lived as hunters and gatherers moving according to cultural customs and the seasons of the year.
As National Parks were established in Uganda, the original People of the forest, the first People in Southwest Uganda, the Batwa were evicted without compensation from the forests. Later arriving, Bantus, unlike the Batwa, were compensated since they had land titles.
Since that time, the Batwa have been conservation Refugees living as squatters, as serfs on other people’s land. They were portrayed like Romani People of Europe as thieves, lazy, drunkards as poachers. They were a people without a voice, losing their culture, and more importantly, their identity as a people.
The Least and the last of Uganda, a people without a voice, have managed in recent times to speak up and out. Their voices are being heard. The Batwa Trail is one small step into the Right Direction.
The Batwa Cultural Trail:
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park begins with a welcoming orientation by Batwa Elders, who lead you on the Trail. Every culture, every people group, including the Batwa, have a Genesis, an “in the beginning story.
Please note that the animal skins are goat skins, not wild animals.
The Batwa Trail takes place in the shadows of the Virunga Volcanoes, locally called the Mufumbiro Mountains, the Mountains that cook. In Mgahinga Gorilla Park there are three Volcanoes, Mount Muhavura(Muhabura) meaning “the Guide,” Mount Gahinga, meaning “Little Stones” referring to the stones that are abundant at the base of the Volcano and used for fencing, and Mount Sabinyo, meaning “Old Man’s Teeth,” a reference to the peaks that remind one of an old man’s teeth.
Shortly after the hike commences, you will see the Batwa Elders, kneel in a spot that has been traditionally used to pray for guidance and blessing as they enter the Forest. The Batwa practiced a form of traditional animist religion. Where entities such as animals, plants, trees possess a spiritual essence, they also were in tune with objects above them, such as the Moon whom they credited and turned to for fertility.
You will learn about nutritious leaves, plants, berries that are found in the forest that you might not even notice. The plants, roots, herbs, bark from trees that the Batwa have used for centuries. The black crust of ants nests used for applying to fungal infections of the skin. You see plants. The Batwa people see a pharmacy. Many of the treatments work as well as the modern medical ones.
The Batwa, like all of us, have a sweet tooth. Wild Honey, it is a much sought after treat. You will learn how to extract it, eat it in the Forest.
Today, you will learn how to transport water in bamboo, how to make a fire in an ancient way. How to hunt, build shelters and live in the forest
One thing you will notice as you see them demonstrating hunting and trapping techniques, starting a fire with a stick, gathering honey, the huts that they lived in, that they lived a lifestyle with a low impact on their environment and their surroundings’.
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park ends inside Ngarama Cave, a low-ceilinged lava tube that is beneath the mountain where the chief used to hold his councils, and where women and children hid during battle. It was also a self-contained hiding place for the community. Water was available. Fires were lit to keep warm and to illuminate the area. There was a shaft for the smoke to escape from
A group of Batwa women in the darkness sings and acts out a song of sadness about the loss of their beloved forest and their desire to return to what is now Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
The Batwa Cultural Trail – Our Take
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park is a partial answer to the desire of the Batwa People wanting to return to the Forest. It is a restoration of Batwa Dignity and keeping the Cultural Ways and Traditions of the Batwa alive. Like indigenous people around the world, they have lost their traditional land. Showing visitors what their life in the forest was like is positive.
We suggest that you refrain from taking the pictures one often sees on social media of a tall Western Tourist with the little people. The Batwa deserve more. The showing of respect and dignity is one of them.
The Batwa Trail is not poverty tourism. Pity is not needed, empowerment is. Your presence makes a small difference.
While you are taking in the Batwa Trail, we recommend staying at Mount Gahinga Lodge. Volcanoes Safaris own the lodge. Their foundation has built the Gahinga Batwa Village and designed for the Batwa, a place where the culture of the Batwa is kept alive. There is a school, a vocational training center, but also they have cultural encounters with the Batwa that take place for guests from the lodge.
Other activities that can be done here are Gorilla Treks, day hikes consisting of volcano climbs, birding, nature walks, Golden Monkey Tracking.
Enjoy the Batwa Trail and learn the ways of the first people of the forest, a one of a kind experience in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park is not to be missed by visitors to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
If you are interested in adding The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park to your Safari Itinerary with us – please let us know.