Batwa Cultural Experience

BATWA CULTURAL EXPERIENCE: MEET THE ANCIENT BATWA TRIBE

Batwa Cultural Experience : Enjoy Amazing Batwa Cultural Experience At Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park on a Uganda Gorilla Safari

Visiting the Batwa Tribe is one of the highlight of many Uganda safaris to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offering you the opportunity to get a deeper insight in the lifestyle of these forest dwelling people. The Batwa people once flourished in the forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga but now live on the fringes of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

batwa cultural group

Who Are The Batwa People?

Often referred to as pygmies, the Batwa are a hunter-gatherer tribe who lived peacefully and happily in the ancient rainforest jungles of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for thousands of years.

They are one of the oldest indigenous tribes in Africa that are still in existence, some anthropologists estimate that pygmy tribes such as the Batwa have existed in the equatorial forests of Africa for more than 60,000 years. These people have a unique relationship with Africa’s rainforests and believe in a legend passed down for generations that their god “Nagasan” entrusted them with the responsibility of being the “Keepers of the Forest”.

How Batwa Survived In The Jungles

Food and Clothes

The Batwa people/Tribe lived a typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the men used simple spears or bow and arrows to catch monkeys, birds, small antelopes and bush pigs, while women foraged for fruits, berries and wild honey.

The Batwa people relied entirely on the rainforest for their existence, living in grass huts and dressing in the skins of the animals they killed and sometimes from tree barks. During the hunt, it was prohibited to kill mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and other apes that resemble humankind as they believed that such animals were relatives of humankind.

batwa people

Sleeping

The Batwa used to sleep in caves, small huts, on bent tree trunks or tree branches. On cold nights and during family gatherings, they preferred to sleep in caves. This way they would light fire for light and warmth, the fire would also scare away dangerous animals.

Medicine and Crafts

Since the Batwa people depended on forests for survival, their habitat was their source of the medicines they need for the treatment of different illnesses. The Batwa had proper knowledge of which herb treated which illness.

Culturally, women were not allowed to participate in hard tasks. However, it was their duty to weave baskets and mats among other crafts for home use.

Courtship and Marriage

When a male Batwa fell in love with a female, the former would take honey as bride price to the – would – be wife’s family. Also, he would hunt for a rare species of bird and deliver it to the woman as special gift as a way of seeking for her hand in marriage. Once the couple agreed to marry, the two would move to another location to start a family.

Leadership and Faith

The eldest member in a Batwa Community, regardless of the gender would automatically qualify as their leader (Omugurusi). He or she would subsequently give counsel as well as solve disputes.

The Batwa worshiped a god when they referred to as “Nagasan”

Occasionally, the Batwa people would meet under a certain tree to worship their god which was perceived to be a quick connection between them and their god. This is why the tribe conserved trees.

Evicition of The Batwa From the Forest

As the rainforest jungles were cut down to create farmland by the surrounding local communities, the Batwa people in Uganda were pushed back into smaller and smaller areas. Eventually, in the 1930s, the remaining forests were declared protected reserves by the British colonial government.

Though this move prevented further deforestation and provided much – needed protection for the critically endangered mountain gorillas, it all but removed the Batwa legal claims to the land they had lived on for centuries.

The final blow to the Batwa Tribe arrived in 1991 when the reserves were turned into Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to protect mountain gorillas and the ecology.

The Batwa people were evicted from the now gorilla national parks and relocated to the nearby communities outside the forest.

The Life After Eviction

The Batwa are hunter-gatherers by tradition who utterly depended on the forests to survive, the Batwa people had no means and skills to adapt to modern life. In fact, the government of Uganda game some Batwa families farmland. Unfortunately, the did not know how to cultivate nor were taught how to. They terribly suffered and many of them died during the early years of exile and the tribe’s existence was severely threatened.

The Batwa Development Program

The marginalization, extreme poverty, hunger and particularly high mortality reduced the number of the Batwa to about 3,000 people. This caught the attention of several international and local organizations.

At the beginning of 2001, American medical missionaries Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann dedicated themselves to serving the Batwa for nearly a decade. The Kellermanns bought land and set up the Batwa Development Program (BDP) to improve conditions for the tribe – home – building, schools, a hospital and clinic, water and sanitation projects, income generation and the promotion of indigenous rights.

In 2002, another organization, the United Organization for Batwa Development (UOBDU) was established to help with supporting activities that help in income generation, land, housing, forest access, benefit sharing, education and adult literacy.

The Batwa Today

Though Batwa people have suffered terribly and fell prey to early exploitative tourism, this is changing. Tourism holds the key to the survival of these people and their fascinating ancient culture. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and NGOS like the Batwa Development Program have developed sensitive and conscious tourism encounters that allow the Batwa to introduce visitors to the forest as their guests.

The young Batwa are going to school and understand that the best way to move forward in this new reality is through education. Additionally, UNESCO has taken a more active role in promoting land rights for Batwa people as they understand that the Batwa cannot go back there, but they know their connection to the parks and their knowledge of these protected areas.

They are helping the Batwa become park rangers in both Bwindi and Mgahinga something that introduces them into the modern society and gives them more respect among Ugandans.

These are some of the short steps while the clock is ticking.

However, with more awareness of people living outside of Africa and more support from prominent organizations like UNESCO and UWA, hopefully, the Batwa can take control back and stop being seen as second-class humans in the own country.

Visiting The Batwa People

The Batwa Experience is an ecotourism and is a hands on adventure created by the displaced Batwa Pygmies to educate their children and also share their amazing heritage and traditions with the world.

There are small Batwa villages normally consisting of no more than half a dozen families, dotted around the edges of both Mgahinga and Bwindi and nearby Lake Bunyonyi. Most of the Batwa welcome visitors, so the details of your experience may vary depending on where you go.

Batwa Cultural Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

If you are already in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on a Uganda gorilla safari to see mountain gorillas, then a Batwa Cultural Experience is something you can do in the afternoon after the experience.

Spend time with the Batwa, enjoy their displays of traditional hunting and fire-making skills as well as music performed using wooden instruments and animal-skin drums.

Also, you will learn how they build their huts including the high up nests they build in trees to protect their small children from roaming predators.

Batwa Cultural Train in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park you can take the Batwa Cultural Trail, a gentle 4 to 5 nature walk through the forest accompanied by Twa guides. You will get an opportunity to learn some of their secrets such as making fire the local way (that is by rubbing sticks and trapping techniques), target practice with a bow and arrow, how to fetch water in a bamboo cup, food gathering – nutritious leaves, plants, berries that are found in the forest as well as plants, roots, herbs and bark from trees that they have used as medicine for centuries.

The trail ends at Garama Cave, a 200m-long lava tube where members of the tribe perform spine – tingling songs and music in the echoey darkness of the cave.

In conclusion, the life of the Batwa is still very uncertain. However with the NGOs lobbying the government for proper compensation for the diaplaced communities and working to restore their rights of access to the forests on which their livelihood depend. The progress is slow and but there is hope.

Also, spending time with the Batwa People is not only a fascinating opportunity to learn about centuries-old nomadic forest living but a rewarding introduction to a proud community that will leave you feeling inspired and moved.

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