See the Ancient Forest through the Eyes of its First People – the Batwa People
Can Gorillas – Forest Conservation – Tourism and the Batwa People Coexist?
Visiting the Batwa People in Uganda-The First People of the Forest: The Batwa people, an indigenous group in Uganda, have faced marginalization and challenges due to their traditional forest-dwelling lifestyle and reliance on hunting and gathering for survival.
Historically, the Batwa inhabited the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Echuya Forest Reserve. However, establishing protected areas and conservation efforts led to their forced eviction from their ancestral lands, resulting in the loss of their traditional way of life.
The Batwa are considered conservation refugees, living in poverty and experiencing discrimination and marginalization within mainstream society. However, there are ongoing efforts to preserve their unique culture and way of life. Visitors to Uganda can visit Batwa communities and gain insights into their customs, traditions, and livelihoods.
Visiting the Batwa people offers a chance to engage in a distinctive and enlightening cultural experience. Visitors can learn about the Batwa’s traditional hunting and gathering techniques and their spiritual and medicinal beliefs and participate in artistic performances featuring traditional dances and music. Additionally, supporting Batwa artisans by purchasing handicrafts contributes to their economic empowerment.
It’s crucial to approach visits to Batwa communities responsibly and respectfully, under the guidance of trained and knowledgeable guides. Visitors should also be mindful of the potential impact of their stay and strive to support sustainable tourism initiatives that directly benefit the local communities.
Overall, visiting the Batwa people in Uganda provides a meaningful opportunity to appreciate their cultural heritage, promote cultural preservation, and contribute to the well-being of the local communities.
Visiting the Batwa People in Uganda-The First People of the Forest
The Batwa-once the Keepers of the Forest-Today they are Conservation Refugees banned from the Forest.
Visiting the Batwa People in Uganda-The First People of the Forest: Before you see the Batwa people in Uganda, it would be good to know more about them and their present struggle where, with a few exceptions, they are indigenous people without a voice.
The Batwa and Twa in Rwanda were the Original People of the Rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. Today, they have become Conservation Refugees evicted from their Traditional Hunting and Gathering Grounds, the Rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. Much of the eviction was done at the behest of Conservationists who convinced governments that the Batwa could not coexist harmoniously with the Mountain Gorillas.
The Batwa were the Original People of the Rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. Today, they have become Conservation Refugees evicted from their Traditional Hunting and Gathering Grounds, the Rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. Much of the eviction was done at the behest of Conservationists who convinced governments that the Batwa could not coexist harmoniously with the Mountain Gorillas.
The movie “Gorillas in the Mist” painted the Batwa as Gorilla Killers, a label that has stuck until now. The question that needs to be asked is, “Can Gorillas – Forest Conservation – Tourism, and the Batwa People Coexist? The answer is a resounding yes. The Batwa and Gorillas coexisted for thousands of years before Bantu ethnic groups came to southwest Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and DR Congo.
The Batwa People have their own creation story. In it, their Creator gave some people height and others prosperous land, but when the Creator got to the Batwa, there were no more such gifts, so he gave them the Rainforest. When the Government evicted them in the 1990s, they felt God had rejected them again.
By visiting the Batwa People – the People of the Rainforest in Uganda, you are helping to keep the ancient Batwa Traditions and Culture alive. You provide a little income, infrastructure, and support to the neglected and maligned First People of the Forest. We suggest you tip the guides and buy souvenirs from them at the end of your time with them. Be sure to visit where they are staying to see what living outside their traditional dwelling places means. The Poorest tourist is much better off than the wealthiest Mutwa. No Mutwa could afford what tourists pay for a gorilla permit, much less a safari.
The Batwa People – the original People of the Rainforest- are often called Pygmies by locals. They, not Bantu ethnic groups, were the first inhabitants of the Afromontane Rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, and Burundi.
They lived, gathered, and hunted in the Rainforests for thousands of years. They lived harmoniously with their beloved forests and wildlife, including the Mountain Gorillas. They left a low ecological footprint behind them, only taking what they needed to exist. They did not build permanent structures or villages except for the natural Garama Cave, which provided a protective shelter during strife and war.
The Batwa (Twa in Rwanda) led a simple and harmonious way of life with nature without farming and livestock keeping. They relied on the Rainforest, only taking what was needed. A Batwa says, “A Mutwa (Singular Batwa) loves the forest as much as he loves his own body.”
Visiting the Batwa People in Uganda-The First People of the Forest
How many in Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo see the Batwa People?
Many Ugandans, Rwandans, and Congolese see the Batwa, 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 at the instigation of Westerners. After their eviction from the Forest, such things happened before, and money was used as an incentive. Today, the Batwa are stigmatized as Gorilla Killers and Poachers and are readily blamed for poaching in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla Park. Other, taller ethnic groups see them as lesser than others, inferior, lazy, squatters, and thieves.
In 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 and cultivated and grazed their cattle on fields that were once their precious Rainforests—the Batwa coexisted with Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and every other animal and bird in the new 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, and they were also able to tax caravans and traders coming through their area.
The Eviction of the Batwa from the Forests
Life for the Batwa People changed drastically in 1991. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest were established to protect the Forests, Wildlife, and Primates such as Mountain Gorillas.
In 1992, all those living on Park Land in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, including the “First People of the Rainforest,” were evicted. The Batwa received no compensation in the form of land or money, and it was done at the insistence of conservationists.
The non-Batwa Farmers who had destroyed the now Parklands for years received compensation and land rights. In contrast, the Batwa, who had lived for centuries in forests without destroying the Ecosystem, received nothing. There was no recognition by the Ugandan Government for their historical claims to the land.
The need to protect the forests in the parks was great. Today, in the 21st Century, the Forest would no longer exist without gorilla conservation, which covers the habitats of Gorillas, without Gorilla Tourism being a source of money for that conservation work.
The area around both parks is densely populated. The surrounding communities would have moved deeper and deeper into the gardens to build houses and farms, destroying forests and Gorilla habitats.
Since 1991, the original people who lived in Coexistence with the forests, wildlife, and gorillas, who took what they needed, were left with nothing—the Batwa, without land – without a way of life that had been hunting and gathering.
On the one hand, they are citizens of Uganda. On the other hand, they are people without rights or compensation for their losses. Today, they live outside their ancient homelands as squatters at the mercy of others. As outcasts, the Batwa were now a people without an identity, reduced to begging, poaching, stealing, and working for others as indentured Servants.
Without land or the skills to compete in the modern marketplace, the Batwa have become marginalized, existing in extreme poverty on the parks’ boundaries, looking at where they used to live. The other tribal communities are, for the most part – non-supportive.
Prejudice against the Batwa is profoundly rooted in the surrounding communities. Batwa receives no respect and is seen as lazy, thieves, Pot Smoking (traditionally done before a hunt), and drunkards.
Non-Batwa refuses to marry the Batwa men or women. Yet, Batwa women have been by other Ethnic groups falsely believing they would be cured of AIDS.
Non-Batwa refuses even to have a meal with them. There are random acts of violence and harassment committed against the Batwa.
Even clinics refused treatment of the Batwa People. The mortality rate of Batwa people was very high at a much younger age, and infant mortality was through the roof. Thanks to the Kellerman Foundation, Bwindi Community Hospital is changing that. It serves all the Batwa tribes.
After some years, the Batwa cultural ways, 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 misery and abject poverty in which they grew.
The ways of hunting, gathering, honey, traditional medicine, and traditional skills were no longer taught to the young Batwa people because there was no access to the ancient forests.
The Batwa people have a small voice and no representation in governing bodies. Some Batwa organizations within Uganda speak out and make a difference on their behalf. The Dream is still to go back into the Forest and live in Coexistence with their environment, including the Mountain Gorillas, where they hope to coexist with the Mountain Gorillas peacefully. The Batwa Dream is to go back into their Forest. The Batwa people want to live harmoniously with the Forest and Primates.
The Dream is still to go back into the Forest and live in Coexistence with their environment, including the Mountain Gorillas, where they hope to coexist with the Mountain Gorillas peacefully. Something that will most likely never happen. The Forests have shrunk too much to sustain both people and gorillas. In a smaller forest environment, the Batwa could also transmit diseases to the gorillas, especially the habituated ones. In particular, locations gathering in the Forest might be something else to look at, but not hunting.
There are less than 3,000 Batwa People in Uganda 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 harmonious Coexistence with the Forest, the animals, and endangered Mountain Gorillas.
Foreign Nonprofit Agencies, such as the one started by the American medical missionaries Dr. Scott and Carol Kellerman, have dedicated themselves to serving the Batwa People in southwest Uganda since 2002. The Kellermans purchased land and established programs to improve conditions for the tribe—home-building, schools, a hospital (Bwindi Community 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). The Kellermann Foundation, a US-based nonprofit organization, supports it.
The Batwa have long been accused – T=Read the story of Ota Benga
Ota Benga – a Pygmy on display at the Bronx Zoo in a cage with an Orangutan
Below is the story of Ota Benga, a Mbuti from the Ituri8 forest that spills into Uganda. It is a disgusting account but reflects how the Pygmies, including the Batwa, have been seen by others.
- Ota Benga was captured in March 1904 by US trader Samuel Verner from Belgian Congo, Ituri Forest. His age is not known. He may have been 12 or 13
- Taken by ship to New Orleans to be shown later that year at World’s Fair in St Louis with eight other young males
- The fair continued into the winter when the group was kept without adequate clothing or shelter.
- In September 1906, Ota Benga was exhibited for 20 days in New York’s Bronx Zoo, attracting huge crowds.
- Outrage from Christian ministers ended his incarceration, and he was moved to New York’s Howard Colored Orphan Asylum, run by African-American Reverend James H. Gordon.
- In January 1910, he went to live at the Lynchburg Theological Seminary and College for black students in Virginia.
- He taught neighborhood boys how to hunt and fish and told stories of his adventures back home.
- He later reportedly became depressed with his longing for home and, in March 1916, shot himself with a gun he had hidden. He was thought to be around 25 years old.
Source: Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga
This month, the Bambuti people near the Ituri Forest were raided, raided, butchered, and body parts were taken for Witchcraft purposes. This is by people who want to wipe out ethnic communities like the Batwa.
Visiting the Batwa People – the People of the Rainforest in Uganda keeping the ways of old alive:
A Ray of Hope for the Batwa People of Uganda!
The Batwa people cannot live in the Forests. Their cultural ways have been rapidly diminishing since their eviction. However, things are changing a bit.
In 2011, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, assisted by money from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Netherlands 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 and teach the visitors about their ancient ways of hunting and gathering. The Batwa Guides get to return to the Rainforest and keep their traditions alive, at least in spirit. The Batwa communities receive half of the Batwa Trail Fees, and tips are accepted.
The International Gorilla Conservation Program worked with the Batwa Community and began the Buniga Batwa Forest Walk and village visit program. It is at the south end of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Buniga Forest is not part of Bwindi National Park. However, the vegetation, wildlife, and primates are similar, and one sees a few chimpanzees. At the same time, the Forest Walk with Batwa Guides keeps the traditions and cultural ways of the Batwa People alive.
There is also the Batwa Experience, which the Kellerman Foundation set up outside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The half-day Batwa Experience has benefited the Batwa Community and those who made the Batwa Experience a part of their time in the ancient Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Today, Batwa communities benefit in a small way from tourism and make a living that keeps them from poaching and turns them toward conservation of the Forest and the wildlife and Primates.
2021 – Batwa People win their case in Uganda’s Constitutional Court – 2nd highest court in the country:
The court ruled that the Batwa people had been wrongfully evicted without compensation of any kind
The Batwa community lawyer Onyango Owor r says he expects the Batwa will ultimately receive some financial compensation and access to the forest lands for cultural practices like religion, medicine, artifact use, and animal tracking. Still, it may take several more years, depending on the outcome of an appeal filed to the Supreme Court by Uganda’s attorney general, Wildlife Authority, and National Forestry Authority.
Bashir Hangi, communications manager of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the government agency managing Ugandan wildlife, doesn’t see anything changing. “We believe the evidence is sufficient to maintain the status quo,” he says in a written response. “We have no compensation plan for them.”
Upon hearing the court outcome, Batwa communities around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla Park, and elsewhere rejoiced and celebrated the victory. Let us hope that some restoration and compensation will be made.
Visiting the Batwa People – the First People of the Rainforest in Uganda
Authentic Cultural Encounters with the Batwa People as you visit Uganda on a Safari
The Batwa Trail – Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:
is a great park – the scenery you encounter as you venture with your Batwa Guides is incredible.
The Batwa Trail allows you to see the Forest through the eyes of the first people – the Batwa Pygmy people. It will give them some meaningful income to make a difference.
Take the Batwa Trail, learn the Batwa Ways, and end with dancing in the Garama Cave, where the women bring forth a song of the lament of not living in the Forest.
You, in turn, learn the ancient hunting and gathering methods used by the Batwa People and how they lived in the old Forest.
This is usually a 5-hour Trail, and its reviews are excellent. The intent has been for authenticity as the Batwa People demonstrate how they used to live here. Be sure to tip guides and buy some souvenirs being sold. Read more about the Batwa Trail.
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.
Once again, the forest walk here is very informative about the Batwa People and their ways. This includes visiting the village where they come from and where you see beehives and crafts made.
The African Wildlife Fund began this activity to assist the Batwa Community in this area and keep them from poaching antelopes in the parks. One must remember that the Batwa knows visitors’ fees for Gorilla Trekking. At the same time, they are excluded from the Forest. However, a small percentage of funds are shared with them, often never reaching every community member.
Another enriching experience with the first people of the Forest. This activity is a community program sponsored by the International Gorilla Conservation Program. Read more here.
The Batwa Experience in Buhoma- Bwindi Forest Buffer Zone:
The Batwa Experience takes place just outside of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It includes hunting and gathering ways and how the Batwa People lived, prepared food, and collected medicine from plants, roots, and bark.
The Batwa experience takes place in Buhoma – and those who take part in this 5-hour-plus experience 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 to any safari around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla Park – we would be glad to do so.
It is an excellent interactive Cultural Experience in the Buhoma Area of the Forest. The Kellerman Foundation helped to create this one-of-a-kind experience. The experience will give you unique insights into the lives of this community. Read more here.
Are Batwa Cultural Visits Authentic?
This is a question that we are asked from time to time. They are undoubtedly different from the proverbial Masai Village Visit many Visitors have done in Kenya or Tanzania. It is a reenactment of how Batwa lived in the Forest for thousands of years until they were evicted without compensation in 1991 and 1992. They became Conservation Refugees watching Gorilla Trekkers spend thousands of dollars while the Batwa were outside looking at what was once theirs.
The Batwa Visits allow Tourists to see the Forest through the eyes of the first people of the Forest. It is meaningful to tourists and the Batwa since it will enable them to keep their culture alive in the 21st Century. It certainly is not poverty tourism meant to evoke pity from Visitors. Most are glad they met the Batwa people during Gorilla Trekking in Uganda.
We think that it is a way that partial Dignity is restored to the maligned Batwa People. Read more here.
Simple Question: Why not train some of the Batwa as Park Rangers?
Over the years, since the Batwa Trail began, some of our clients and guests on Safari have asked, “Why are there no Batwa Rangers? That is not just the case in Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. If you ask, you might get such answers as lack of education and English. All things that can be done.
Walter Baumgärtel, we have referred to as the father of Gorilla Tourism in Uganda. He was the proprietor of Travellers Rest Hotel in Kisoro. The early Travellers Rest Hotel became a base frequented by George Schaller, Bernhard Grzimek, Raymond Dart, and now the famous Dian Fossey, among many others.
Dian Fossey went as far as to call Walter Baumgärtel’s Travellers Rest Hotel “her second home.” She further wrote, “His Travellers Rest Hotel had been an oasis to many scientists preceding me … I had met Walter on my first safari in 1963, and during the six-and-a-half-month study in 1967 had grown to think of him as one of the kindest and most endearing friends I had made in Africa.”
Walter Baumgärtel wanted to see the Mountain Gorillas and eventually received permission from the British Colonial Government. Reuben Rwazangire, a Mutwa, became his beloved guide and tracker. Others followed suit. If that was possible, then why not in the 21st Century? Read more here.
If you are interested in a visit with the Batwa People while Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla Park – don’t hesitate to get in touch with us