Batwa Tribe – Uganda Culture Safaris

Batwa tribe are known as the pygmies who are an endangered group of people around Echuya Forest Reserve in Kisoro and Kabale districts of south-western Uganda. The Echuya is positioned in the Albertine Rift region a renown eco-region and before their existence here were believed to have migrated from the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo and their movements was to search of wild animals to hunt and the name Kisoro means ‘’the area occupied by wild animals .There unique tribe on Uganda culture safaris can be found in small huts mainly made from sticks and grass and by 2014 they were in total population of 6,700 people estimated by the Uganda Bureau of statistics.

Historically, Batwa are forest dwelling hunter gatherers based in the Great lakes region of central Africa and are greatly accepted as the original inhabitants of the regions. And their traditional forest lands and regions went under the control of agro-industries and conservation agencies. They have become squatters living on the rim of the society. However, the creation of the Bwindi impenetrable Forest national park and Mgahinga Gorilla national park are both home for great mountain gorillas since 1991 which enabled the authorities of evict the Batwa from the forest. The Batwa in Uganda’s culture today have experienced systematic and pervasive discrimination from the government and other sectors. Accordingly, to their rights as indigenous peoples are neither recognized nor respected.

Batwa Tribe
Batwa Tribe

Geographically, the Batwa tribe live in the southwestern portion of Uganda, surrounded by several districts of Bundibugyo, Kisoro, Kanungu, Kabale and Rubanda.

According to the National population and housing census in 2002, Batwa population in Uganda had a record of 3500. Their settlement forest was surrounded by Bakiga, Hutu and Tutsi who consists a large percentage of the population. Bakiga are commonly referred to by Batwa as Bairu and are consisted of about 5% of the population. Their households are scattered in various settlements in villages positioned adjacent to the forest, Such as Murubindi, Kashasha categorized of Gitebe –Kanaba, Biizi Rugeshi –Murora, Mukasaayi that comprises two settlement, Karengyere-Rwamahano and Kinyarushen.

Furthermore, Batwa lived as hunter gatherer lifestyle who feed on small antelopes, bush pigs, wild honey and forest fruits. And they relied entirely in dense rainforest for their existence and used to live in grass huts and dressing in the skins of the animals they killed.

Later, the forests which used as their settle and for food used were cut down to create farmland and grazing for cattle and Batwa were pushed back into smaller areas. In the year 1930 the remaining forests were appointed to become protected reserves and upon want was made prevented further deforestation and provided protection for the endangered mountain gorillas.

Eventually, in 1991 the provided reserves were turned into Mgahinga Gorilla national park and Bwindi Impenetrable national park, Meaning the Batwa were evicted. They were forced out and threatened with imprisonment, moved onto the land on the fringes of the parks where they have come now illegal unlawful.

Currently, the Batwa estimates a population of around 3000 who are left, existing in extreme poverty in makeshift grass hut villages, but in fear of being removed. Sincerely, they have struggled to adapt to the changing times. Though they have become a tourist attraction to visitors who come for Gorilla trekking or Gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park. Tourists pay USD700 for gorilla trekking per day per person and USD1,500 Gorilla habituation experience. The Batwa have evicted from this land to make way for their conservation.

If we go back in 2000 members of the community formed the United Organization for Batwa Developments in Uganda, which is improving the support for the tribe in area like education, housing and income generation. So they had to set up cultural experience tours where visitors can visit them and spend time with them see how they live and learn about the tools and tricks they used to survive for centuries in Uganda’s tangled forests.

This is the first time the Batwa have been directly involved in running their own tourism projects. Years back were treated as tourist attractions by unscrupulous outsiders who got money through bring visitors in without giving anything back to the communities they were utilizing. Today, they are trying to take back control.

The Batwa the unique tribe to visit, they live in small villages normally consisting of not more than half dozens of families found on the edges of both Mgahinga Gorilla national park and Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park and near to lake Bunyonyi. They are hospitable people and loving.

In Mgahinga you can take the Batwa Cultural trail, which is a five hour nature walk through the forest guided by community guides who leads you through the trails showing you how Batwa forage food, trap animals with snares made from branches ,make tools and medicines from plants. The walking tour –trail leads you to the Garama cave which is a 200meter long lava tube where members of the tribe perform spine tingling songs.

Visiting Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park for Gorilla trekking which is a half day done activity, if gorilla trekking takes few hours then you can go for Batwa Cultural Experience. Because you will not take 3 to 4 hours finding your gorilla family and in the afternoon you can be free to join another activity, where you can go spend time with the Batwa and enjoy the displays of traditional hunting and fire making skills and music entertainment on wooden instruments and animals skin drums. You will also learn about their life style on how they build their huts and on how they build in trees to protect small children from predators.

Batwa Tribe
Batwa Tribe

Advice for your visit; Upon visitor’s arrival in the area you will be approached by independent guides offering to take you to a Batwa community, but it’s not the best way to do it. The great advice is to use Uganda Wildlife Authority or Batwa Development program. You can ask in your accommodation or check with Batwa craft shop near to the entrance to Bwindi for more details.

Future accepts of Batwa; Certain organizations have come out to support these Batwa people that is UOBDU and other NGOs joining the government in hand for proper compensation for the displaced communities and working in hand to restore their rights of access to the forests on which their livelihoods depend though still low. There is more hope; Batwa children are now can go to school and increase awareness of the Batwa’s plight has focused more attention on assisting to solve their problems.

However much, they live in slow area due to projects like cultural visit as played a great role for the Batwa to benefit directly from the tourists who arrive daily to tour Uganda’s famous gorillas. This helps the community learn more about what they can offer as well as visitors become more aware of the incredible experience available which is an opportunity for both sides to benefit.

Visit Batwa on your next visit for Uganda Gorilla Safaris and have a great chance to spend with the Batwa which is quite a rewarding opportunity to learn more about centuries of the old nomadic forest living but a remarkable introduction to a proud community that will leave you feel much pleased and inspired. Get started now!

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