Batwa People and their Culture : The Batwa people also known as the Twa are an indigenous group of people who originally lived in the ancient forests of Bwindi forests in Uganda, their stay was until the forest was gazette as a National park in 1991 by The Uganda wildlife Authority purposely to protect Mountain gorillas and the forest itself.
The Batwa people lived harmoniously in the jungle with all its creatures including the mountain gorillas and they were regarded as the keepers of the forest.
The Batwa people are forcefully evicted from the forests to the communities along the borders of the forest where they still maintain a life which is somehow similar to the life they had in the forests of Bwindi.
Today the Batwa, are some of the poorest people in the world with a low life expectancy and a high infant mortality rate. According to some of the anthropologists, most of the pygmy tribes including the Batwa/Twa have existed for more than 60,000 years in the equatorial forests.
The Batwa people live a lifestyle of gathering fruits and plants and hunting animals in the forests for meat, the Batwa poses some of high skills of hunting and they hunt using bows and arrows. The Batwa hunt mainly for food and medical purposes, they use several plants and herbs and cure a range of diseases including malaria, cough among others.
While in the forests of Bwindi, the Batwa led a harmonious life and they never practiced farming, no charcoal making or deforestation not even the shelters could destroy the environment.
The Batwa have a saying “A mutwa (a singular) loves the forest just as he loves his body”, however most people and wildlife authorities look at Batwa as Gorilla poachers, eaters and killers. But these people have co-existed with the mighty giants and other creatures in the forest for many years.
The Batwa are greatly stigmatized with all the names they are being called and are blamed for the poaching of gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi impenetrable national park. In reality, the Batwa have protected and kept the forest until the Batwa tribal groups migrated into the area.
The Batwa tribes are responsible for grazing their cattle, cultivating and cutting down the rainforests, they are also the reason to why the forest was established as a national park in 1992 with an aim of protecting the rare mountain gorillas. The Batwa were evicted from the forests, an act which totally changed their way of living forever, as a result they became conservation refugees in a world they were totally not used to. Their tools and skills were no longer useful in the modern environment they were now living in hence they started to suffer as they had no compensation in form of money or land, they could not compete in the modern marked place with their skills. So they resorted to stealing, poaching, begging and working for other people who did not even give them a fair wage for the work done.
In most parts of Uganda where the Batwa people live, they are seen as drunkards, lazy, pot smokers and thieves.
The Batwa also face marriage challenges as Non – Batwa cannot Marry Batwa Women or Men, they cannot even have a meal with them yet 50% of the Batwa women have been raped by non- Batwa men as they have a false believe that having sex with then cures AIDS. As a result of rape, a number of non – pygmy children have been born in their community.
The good news today is that the Batwa have gotten a voice from different organizations which have spoken out for them and are making a huge difference in their lives, the Batwa people still have hope of living again in the forests with various wildlife which is very impossible as the forest can no longer accommodate both the mountain gorillas and people, Batwa People and their Culture
However different agencies are doing their best to revive the original Batwa spirit of living in harmony, also several programs have been established for the Batwa such as hospital, clinics, schools, home building, sanitation and water projects, promotion of the indigenous rights and how the Batwa can generate income.
Since the Batwa are no longer allowed in the forests, their culture has started to diminish since 1992 following their eviction. However the conjunction between the Uganda Wildlife with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) amd the Embassy of Netherlands in Kampala resulting into a change as they started the Batwa Cultural Trail found in Mgahinga Gorilla national park.
On the Batwa trail, tourists that are interested in culture they are led by the Batwa locals through the jungle, they basically teach the tourists their ancient gathering and hunting ways. After a visit Batwa Guides head back to their community, the Batwa receive a percentage of the Batwa Trail fees. Tourists should also remember that tipping the Batwa guides is accepted.
The Kellerman Foundation also set up the Batwa Experience just outside Bwindi Impenetrable national park, in this place, visitors can experience the local lifestyle of the Batwa after trekking gorillas. This experience has greatly benefited the Batwa communities and it is also beneficial to the visitors as they are introduced to the Batwa Culture including traditional dances, clothing and food among others.
In the South – end of Bwindi Forest, there is a village visit program and the Buninga Batwa Forest Walk started when the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) work hand in hand with the Batwa Community. This programme gives tourists a chance to explore the cultural and traditional ways of the Batwa.
It is very possible to enjoy an encounter with mountain gorillas and the same time visit the Batwa communities on a village walk with the Batwa guides.
The Batwa people are an amazing indigenous group of people you shouldn’t miss while visit Uganda.