Historically, the Batwa were forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers, maintaining livelihoods within the high altitude forests around Lake Kivu and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central and East Africa. The Batwa are widely regarded by their neighbors, and historians, as the first inhabitants of the region, who were later joined by incoming farmers and pastoralists approximately 1000 years ago. Today, the Batwa are still living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In each of these countries the Batwa exist as a minority ethnic group living amongst the largely Bahutu and Batutsi populations. In Uganda their dominant neighbors are the Bafumbira and Bakiga People.
While accurate figures are difficult to determine, as estimates vary between different sources, it is believed that approximately 6,700 Batwa now live within the present State boundaries of Uganda, with approximately half living in the south-west region of Uganda. The Batwa in this region are former inhabitants of the Bwindi, Mgahinga and Echuya forests, where they lived since time immemorial in coexistence with the environment and in full reliance on the forest for their physical, economic, spiritual, and social sustenance. Recently, however, they have suffered evictions and exclusions from their forests primarily for the creation of protected areas that were established without their participation or their free, prior and informed consent.
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park
The Batwa Trail in Mghahinga Gorilla Park allows you to experience the ways of the ancient Batwa people who once lived in these forests and now show the way of their ancient culture. You will experience the lives of the Batwa people on the interactive Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. “The Batwa Forest Trail” is part of a project to restore dignity and hope by keeping the Batwa culture and traditions alive to the Batwa people, give employment to those who are in involved in the day-to-day project of the “Batwa Trail,” from the dancers to the guides, pay for school fees for the children, books and above that buy land for the community. Your participation in The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park is a half day activity that will not only be an informing and interesting time for you but aid the Batwa/Pygmy community.
The Batwa Forest Trail (Seeing the forest through the eyes of the “First People”)
Every single culture on earth has the beginning of their story, and so do the Batwa people. During the trail, the walk starts out with a Batwa elder, actually a middle aged person dressed in skins telling the story of the Batwa creation and how they became a people of the forest. The Batwa were the original people in this area of Uganda, long before other people migrated here. Walk along in the shadows of Mount Muhavura (also called Muhabura – meaning the guide) and Gahinga Volcano as your guide stops and kneels down. Has he spotted an animal but he asks his God to bless the walk as the hunter of old did as they went hunting in the forest of old. Further down you may stop for a few berries that the hunter used to use for a meal prior to hunting. Learn the value of plants used for medicine such as blood pressure and other medical needs. The black crust of ants nests used for applying to fungal infections of the skin. As you walk along in the forest, you will see plants, but the Batwa will see a pharmacy.
One thing you will notice as you see them demonstrating hunting and trapping techniques, starting a fire with a stick, gathering honey, the huts that they lived in, that they lived a lifestyle with a low impact on their environment and their surroundings. The most interesting thing is that the Batwa Trail allows them to return to the beloved forest and show others about how they lived and potentially keep some of their ways and crafts such as making bamboo cups, clothing beyond this generation of the Batwa people. You will visit the Garama Cave; the former residence of the King of the Batwa people. No outsider was allowed to enter there, but now you have special permission. The cave was also used for the Batwa people to hide from their enemies. You will enter the sacred Garama Cave going down, and if you are a bit claustrophobic, just relax it will be fine. As you enter down the cave, darkness embraces you and you begin to hear mournful chants of the Batwa women, mourning the loss of the beloved forest. A dim light illuminates the cave and you see them dancing with the words like tears pouring forth a most meaningful time. Outside there is celebratory dance and music. You will enjoy your day with the first people of the forest; the Batwa people.
The Batwa Trail in the Mgahinga Gorilla Park can easily be added to your safari, especially if you are tracking Gorillas in the Nkuringo, Rushaga area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Gorilla Trekking can be done in Mgahinga Gorilla Park with the Nyakagezi Gorilla Family that is habituated for Gorilla Tracking. Other activities that can be done there are day hikes consisting of volcano climbing, birding, nature walks, Golden Monkey Tracking…Enjoy the Batwa Trail and learn the ways of the first people of the forest.. If you are interested in adding The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park to your Safari itinerary with us, please let us know.