The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, a profusion of exotic plants and animals that includes the endangered mountain gorilla. For thousands of years, the forest was also home to an indigenous tribe—the Batwa pygmies who are believed to live in harmony with the Mountain gorillas in the forest.
They live in the South-West of Uganda in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kabale, Kisoro and Rukungiri. On my recent Gorilla tracking trip to Bwindi-Ruhija organized by Gorilla Encounters, I was happy to meet the Pygmies living outside this conservation area. They welcomed us with a dance and demonstrated their way of life, the huts they used to live in, hunting skills as well as where they used to hide in the forest in case of danger.
As the original dwellers of this ancient jungle, the Batwa survived by hunting small game using arrows with trained dogs or nets and gathering plants and fruit in the rain forest.
A successful hunt was celebrated by the whole family in song and dance to the fact that day they had a good meal to feast on.
They live in huts constructed of leaves and branches, moving frequently in search of fresh supplies of food.
In 1992, the lives of the Batwa pygmies changed forever. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a national park and World Heritage Site to protect the then 350 endangered mountain gorillas within its boundaries.
The Batwa were evicted from the park. Since they had no title to land, they were given no compensation. The Batwa became conservation refugees in an unfamiliar, un forested world and till now struggling to cope with life in the 21st Century.
Their population numbers have dwindled dramatically with an estimated population of about 6000-7000 remaining in Uganda because of harsh living conditions, HIV and Aids among others. “It was believed that if you slept with a Pygmy severe backache pains would be cured and thus a person used to pay little cash to sleep with them says Kenneth our guide”.
Batwa are poorly represented politically, re-enforcing their marginalization. They have limited access to education, with very high illiteracy level as well as poor social services
The future of the Batwa now lies in more sensitization programmes on the need for education, health and how they can participate in tourism to benefit in community tourism outside the conservation areas “Bwindi Impenetrable National Park”.
I would recommend this experience to all who plan to undertake gorilla trekking adventure in Uganda. Lets make a difference when we travel we are all in this world together!