The Batwa Trail
As a community initiative, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) supports Batwa cultural experience which is geared at conserving the forest which is the habitat for the mountain gorillas, as well as harnessing cultural values of the tribe which is threatened by extinction. It is also one way of empowering the surrounding communities through project initiatives for development.
The Batwa through their group Batwa Development Program (BDP) strive to pass on knowledge to the children and enlighten the world about their culture as they conserve the Batwa pygmies’ rich heritage. This association is entirely run by the Batwa pygmies of south western Uganda. It is charged with the responsibility of putting in place programs geared towards the education, health care, land acquisition and income generation of the Batwa pygmies. The initiative is primarily supported by donations made to the Kellermann Foundation of Dr. Scott.
Through BDP, the Batwa acquired a site outside the forest to reconstruct this wonderful experience. The experience whisks you back in time when the Batwa used to live in the forest and reconstitute a summary of ‘a day in the life of a Mutwa.’ This is what is dubbed the ‘Batwa Cultural experience.’ This effort therefore helps not only to conserve their culture but also generate some revenue to help the Batwa surmount the numerous challenges that have bedeviled them since their eviction from the forest.
The Batwa experience is seated on a 100 acre site densely forested area and adjacent to the Bwindi Impenetrable park frontiers. It is an hour’s trek through the thicket up the hills in Mukono village. The site is set in such a way that creates the environmental ambiance of the forest reminiscent of the old times when the Batwa still operated in the perimeters of the Bwindi national park now a gazette World Heritage Site.
According to Richard Magezi the program co-coordinator, the cultural experience is good for forest conservation as well as blending the cultural values of this indigenous group that was pulled out of their original habitat. It is a learning instrument for the Batwa descendants and those interested in knowing about their historical aspects that date centuries ago.
For a small fee, the Batwa elders who lived in the forest for decades with first class knowledge of life, will guide you through their rich cultural heritage as they re- create this entertaining life style they formerly led in the forest. It is eco tourism at its best.
It is this rich heritage and life they used to live in the olden days that this cultural experience with the Batwa has recreated. The experience will demonstrate how activities like collection of honey, wild yams and mushrooms gathering as well as use of medicinal plants were done.
The elderly Batwa guides take you through their traditional dwellings, traditional dance; tell stories and folklore of the pygmies’ culture. You can participate in shooting their bows and arrows and join the mock hunting party.
At the end of the approximately five hour experience, with you will be a very unforgettable story to carry with you about this tribe that is rich in history but little known or even documented about it.
The Batwa known to be the ‘keepers of the forest’ had lived in Bwindi impenetrable forest since time immemorial. These were famed as hunters and bush food gatherers and used herbal medicinal plants in the forest to treat any of their ailments.
When government gazetted BINP as a national park in 1991, the Batwa were removed from the forest as their continued occupancy of the gazetted forest would be contravening the principles for creating national parks. Efforts have been made to relocate them and find land and decent accommodation outside the forest. They originally did not own any piece land or know how to lead a life outside the forest.