Visiting the Batwa people is so exciting and these are the original people of the forest and have become conservation refugees evicted from their traditional hunting and gathering grounds. By visiting them, you are actually helping to keep their traditions and culture alive. These are the original people of the forest are called the pygmies who were the first inhabitants of the montane rain forest of Uganda, Rwanda as well as Burundi. These lived, gathered and hunted in the rain forest for over 500,000 years and there was no farming, these had no destruction of the forest, no charcoal making, and their shelters did not disturb the environment, they lived in harmony with their forests, wildlife including the mountain gorillas and left a low ecological foot print behind them.
These people led a simple and a very musical way of life with nature without farming, livestock keeping, these simply relied on the Rain forest for their existence only taking what was needed. Many Ugandans call these people as do conservationists and killers of the gorillas, they don’t and have not eaten gorillas, and instead they have lived with them for many centuries. Any of the gorilla hunting that was done was after the instigation of others after their eviction and where money was used as an incentive.
Presently, the Batwa are stigmatized as gorilla killers and poachers are readily blamed for any poaching that takes place in either Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These 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 own cattle on the fields that were once their precious forest. These people co-existed with gorillas, chimpanzees and every other animal, birds.
When Rwanda became the kingdom, these Batwa would pay tribe to the Tutsi king in many ways and they were even included in the court of the king as advisers, dancer as well as the warriors. These were allowed to extract payment from those that encroach on the forest, these were also able to tax the caravans, traders coming through their area. Life of the Batwa people has changed drastically in 1991 when Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Forest were established for the protection of the forests, wildlife, and the primates like the mountain gorillas.
In the year 1992, all those living on the park land in Mgahinga Gorilla National park as well as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and this included the first people of the rain forest, the Batwa also received no compensation in the form of land or money. The non Batwa farmers who for years had destroyed the present park lands received compensation and land rights while the Batwa who had lived for many years in the forests without destroying it received nothing completely. There was no recognition by the Ugandan Government about their historical claims to the land. The area near the park I heavily populated and the nearby communities would have moved deeper and deeper in to the parks in order to build house and farms that destroy the forests and the gorilla homes.
In the past, the original people lived in coexistence with the forests, gorillas, wildlife who took only what they needed were left with nothing. These are citizens of Uganda while on the other hand they were a people without rights, without compensations for their losses, now they live outside of their ancient homelands as squatter at the mercy of others. Without their land or skills, these people have become very relegated, existing in poverty on the parks. Prejudice against these people is deeply rooted and goes all the way to government and other parts of Uganda.
The non Batwa people refuse to marry the Batwa men or women yet the non Batwa men rape the Batwa women. These say that they would be cursed with AIDS if they had sex with them. These also refuse to share meals with them and are called random acts of violence and harassment committed against these people. The clinics also refuse to treat them. Their mortality rate was very high at a much younger and infant mortality was through the roof.
Things have changed recently with the Batwa, the ways of hunting, gathering of honey, traditional medicine, and traditional skills were no longer taught to the young Batwa people since there is no access to the ancient forests. These people have also got Batwa organizations in Uganda that are speaking out and making a very big difference on their own behalf. Their main dream is to go back into the forest and live within their environment and this includes the gorillas. There are also less than 3000 batwa people that are still living in the forest.
By visiting the Batwa, you will enjoy some of what they have to offer in the rain forest; the Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. This park is a great park with the scenery that you will meet as you venture with your Batwa Guides and it’s so amazing. This trail also allows you to view the forest through the eyes of the first people and this gives them an income that will make a difference in their lives. By taking this trail, learn the batwa ways and end with dancing in the Garama cave where a song of lament of not living in the forest is brought forth by the women. You will also learn the ancient ways of hunting and gathering which the batwa used to do.
There is also the Buniga Batwa forest walk with the batwa people just near Kisoro, its easily accessed from the southern area of Bwindi Forest like Nkuringo- Rushaga from around Lake Mutanda or Kisoro. This walk 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 the beehives and crafts being made. The activity is a community program that is sponsored by the international Gorilla Conservation programme.
Lastly, there is the real Batwa adventure at Buhoma, an adventure that is highly recommended to take while on a gorilla safari in Bwindi. This takes place outside of the Bwindi forest and includes hunting and gathering ways, but also about how these people used to live, prepare food, collect their medicine from the roots, plants and bark. It takes place in Buhoma and those who take part, its 5 hours adventure and has some great memories.