Family Size: 18
Silverback: Makara, Rwansigazi
Blackback: Maraya, Mizano
Adult Female: Kisho, Nyabukye, Binyonko, Rugyendo, Nyamuhango
Juvenile: Elsa, Hamusini
Infant: Hakato, Gacyaro, Bagenyi
The original Habinyanja group was habituated in 1997 and by 1999 tourists were already visiting the group. The name Habinyanja comes from the root of the Rukiga word for ‘body of water’ (nyanja). The original group was first sighted near a two pond swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. In the past one decade of interaction with this group it has provided enough intrigue, drama, power struggles, secret trysts and back-stabbings to rival the best (or worst) Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood family dramas. The saga begins during habituation in the reign of the dominant but aging silverback patriarch, Mukurusi. He was the undisputed leader of a peaceful family of about 30 individuals – a large number even by gorilla family standards. Mukurusi means ‘old man’ in Rukiga, whose days were numbered and sure enough, he soon passed away, leaving several sons.
In most families – on and off-screen – the death of the patriarch unleashes smouldering sibling rivalries. Mukurusi’s brood was no exception. The first cause of friction was family leadership. This thorny issue was brought about by the fact that there were four silverbacks in the group. These being: Rwansigazi – A silverback at father’s death he was next-in-line to lead the family, but his dominance was not guaranteed because of his half-brothers. Mwirima – Also a silverback at father’s death and a contender for supremacy; initially, both brothers shared power but it was only a matter of time before the situation came to a head.
Further fueling the struggles for dominance were Mukurusi’s other sons; The young and restless, Makara; The black-sheep (or is it gorilla) of the family, Binyindo and Maraya, he of elastic morals and equally elastic loyalties. The unfolding family chronicle is further embellished by the adult females of the group, led by the shrewd, self-styled, alpha female, one-eyed Kisho. After the death of Mukurusi the original Habinyanja group remained as a family unit under the leadership of the two eldest silverbacks, Rwansigazi and Mwirima for a number of years. The two brothers would have continued living as one family unit except for one irreconcilable difference. Rwansigazi favoured a large home-range and would lead the family in difficult marches far away from the much smaller home range which Mukurusi had favoured. Perhaps Rwansigazi was satisfying a need to explore the world that he felt was denied him by his father who, at his advanced age, didn’t have the ability to travel long distances.
Whatever the reason, his brother and co-leader, Mwirima preferred to keep the family within a narrower area. On Valentine’s Day 2002, what could have potentially been a cause of conflict that may have ended in the death of one of the leading silverbacks, resolved itself peacefully. Rwansigazi may have communicated to the group that they were in for a long trek that day. To which Mwirima may have replied: “Well, I don’t fancy a long walk in the woods today bro, how about you just mozzey along without me and (turning to the group) whichever of you gals wants to hang around with me just feel free to do so.” That settled matters in an easy, friendly manner and the family divided with a cheerful “Cheerio” from both sides. The group that stayed with Rwansigazi maintained the name Habinyanja. This is it.