Tourism and the Ancient Forest People
Who are the Batwa in Uganda?
They are generally a group of indigenous forest pygmy people. And therefore believed to be Uganda’s cardinal and oldest inhabitants. Having lived in the land before the migration of the Bantu and other ethnic groups. The Batwa were unquestionably evicted out of the rainforests of both Rwanda and Uganda. And of course, those were their traditional hunting and gathering grounds.
Sadly today, they live as conservation refugees on the outskirts of their rainforests. Their once so-called homes. However, as faithful stewards, the Batwa now guard these lost homes against lumbermen and poachers. After all, they co-existed with the gorilla in Bwindi and other rainforests for a long period of 500,000 – history recalls.
What beliefs are there among the Batwa in Uganda?
A rare version of the creation story is especially told among these people. They say; “the creator gave people certain gifts” at the time of creation. To some, He gave the gift of fertile land, and indeed to others height. And to others cattle etc.
However, when He came to the Batwa, he gave the rainforests. Today’s visit to Batwa land is one of the best ways to keep their culture alive. So let’s visit the Batwa in large numbers.
How was Batwa’s life in the rainforests like in recent times?
The Batwa once tread the rainforests with a simple life. Depending on the forest for all basic needs of life. They surely never cut down trees to get timber of construction. Additionally, there’s no evidence indicating that when they reared cattle or practiced farming or burnt charcoal in the forest.
We can say that they lived such a simple life. And surely left a very low key ecological footprint. Trouble was, without doubt, instigated at the migration of the Bantu tribes to East Africa. These not only displaced the Batwa but definitely, did most of the environmental degradation. Of course, the case surely is today.
History of their forest life and Bantu migration.
When Rwanda was still a kingdom, it surprisingly had its northern edge in ‘present-day Uganda. The Batwa significantly paid tribute to the Tutsi King in differing ways. History without a doubt tells that they were recruited in the king’s cabinet as advisors, dances, and warriors. Often they ripped payment from encroachers. And indeed from the tax caravans and traders who walked through the forest.
Their undoubtedly smiling life drastically faded away. This happened when Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks were declared as protected areas. Certainly for conservation of wildlife and plant life in the forest.
On a good note, several settlers vacated the park-lands. And 20 years later were surely compensated with land. However, on a very sad note, the government of the Republic of Uganda did not recognize the Batwa minority group. And surprisingly to date, they have not received equitable compensation although they lived in peaceful co-existence with forests.
Status & current Development of the Batwa in Uganda
Do you know that even people get extinct by the day just like animals do? On another sad note, the Batwa are barely 10000 in Uganda today. And the reasons are markedly clear; lack of a place to call home. And further, lack of other basic needs that come along with living a settled life.
Tour operators, however, help tourists access Batwa shelters and villages. Besides, other small organizations also seek to elevate awareness of the Batwa across the land. These contributions have significantly helped to better their sorry lives! And indeed this is what we should all do as a collective responsibility.
Thankfully in 2011; the Uganda Wildlife Authority received donations from USAID and Netherlands Embassy in Kampala. This was chiefly to start the famous Batwa Cultural trail in Mgahinga National Park. Besides, several other efforts have been engaged in other places. For instance the Buniga Batwa Forest Walk and Village visit program – which was funded by the International Gorilla Conservation Program.
The activity runs in Buniga Forest which seats at the southern end of Bwindi. Of course, it has kept their culture full of breath otherwise it would have dissolved away. Conclusively, the Batwa dream is to return to the rain forests to resume their peaceful co-existence with nature. For one thing, as a fact; conservationists are who they are!