The Batwa, or ‘Twa people are one of the last groups of short-statured people also known as ‘pygmy’ people, and until Bwindi Rainforest was gazetted as a National Park they lived a hunter gather lifestyle in the forest. They are now some of the poorest people in the world with a high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy.
As the original dwellers of this ancient jungle, the Batwa were known as “The Keepers of the Forest.” The history of these small-statured people is long and rich. The Batwa survived by hunting small game using arrows or nets and gathering plants and fruit in the rain forest. They lived in huts constructed of leaves and branches, moving frequently in search of fresh supplies of food. The Batwa lived in harmony with the forest and its creatures, including the mountain gorillas, for millennia. Some anthropologists estimate that pygmy tribes such as the Batwa have existed in the equatorial forests of Africa for 60,000 years or more.
The social status of the Batwa
According to the 2002 population census, the Batwa population in Uganda is about 6000people, with the majority living in the Southwestern districts of Kabale, Kisoro, Kanungu, Bundibugyo and Rukungiri. The size of the Batwa is quite different from other tribes in Uganda, the men and women rise to an average of four feet or less in height, the tallest man among the Batwa would be the shortest among the neighboring community, the Bakiga. Traditionally, the Batwa lived as hunters and gatherers, residing in temporary huts and caves, deriving sustenance from forest resources like honey, wild fruits, mushrooms and vegetables. Each clan collectively owned an area of forest within which they derived food and herbal medicine for their sustenance.
According to a study undertaken in 1996, the Batwa reside in about 53 separate settlements falling within 41 villages. On average each settlement is composed of about 10 households. The household sizes range from single to 17 member households. Despite living in different settlements, the Batwa have strong social relations and recognize themselves as a community. They share close attachments to certain areas within concomitant social formations that appear to derive directly from the ancient past. Marriages normally take place within the clans though marriage among members of an individual settlement is rare because of the close relations amongst such persons. Batwa still practice social norms and customs normally associated with clanship similar to majority of other tribes in East and Central Africa. However, due to the resettlement Programme most Batwa are never sure of their clan leader and where he lives.
The Batwa Pygmies are believed to be the original inhabitants of the equatorial forests of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. The forest was their home. It provided them with sustenance and medicines, and contained their sacred sites. Their low-impact use of forest resources meant that their way of life was sustainable over thousands of years.
Traditional Economy of Bambuti
The Batwa-Bambuti‘s economy is just as simple as their general way of life. They are wanderers by nature with no fixed place of abode. Their chief means of subsistence is meat and the forests where they live abound with elephants, monkeys, lizards and some antelopes.
The Bambuti prey on these animals and several others which the forest contains; as one would expect, the Batwa-Bambuti have no home industries. Their mode of life is purely subsistence and they do not seem to be troubled by lack of home comfort
The Batwa trail
The dense forests at the foot of the Virunga Volcanoes were home to the Batwa people: hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine thanks to ancient knowledge passed down for generations.
When Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was established, the Batwa were suddenly evicted from the forest and forced to abandon their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. Now landless, they work when they can for local farmers, and the only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on The Batwa Trail, where they invite visitors to discover the magic of their old home.
During this moving tour, the Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques; gather honey; point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are finally invited to the sacred Ngarama Cave, once home to the Batwa King, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a striking and moving sense of the richness of this fading culture.
Bwindi forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offers some of the finest montane forest birding in Africa and is a key destination for any birder visiting Uganda plus its major attraction being the gorilla
Amongst the numerous possibilities are no fewer than 23 of Uganda’s 24 Albertine Rift endemics, including spectacular, globally threatened species such as African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimson wing.
Bwindi is one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age and it is home to roughly half of the world’s mountain gorillas.
Of Uganda’s forested reserves, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is best known for its superb gorilla tracking, but it also provides refuge to elephants, chimpanzee, monkeys and various small antelope and bird species. The national park can be visited at any time, but not advisable during rainy seasons especially April – May and September – November
Mgahinga National Park
This is Uganda’s smallest and probably most scenic National Park is situated in the extreme South-Western corner of the Country, forming part of a large conservation area that straddles political boundaries to include parades Volcano in Rwanda and Pac de Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three extinct Volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga range, lie within the boundaries of the Ugandan portion of this biologically rich area.
Mountain gorillas form the main attraction at Mgahinga National Park, which protects the Ugandan portion of the Virunga, an imposing string of nine freestanding extinct and active volcanoes that runs along the border with Rwanda and the Congo.
Gorilla tracking (Gorillas are at times cross border) limited to a maximum of 8 people per day – Permits must be pre-booked at the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala.
Nature Guided walks through a variety of wildlife, Volcano climbing at Muhabura, Sabyinyo and Gahinga, Bird watching and monkey viewing
Mountain Rwenzori national park
The fabled “Mountains of the Moon” lies in Western Uganda along the Congolese boarder with the Snow – covered equatorial peaks rise to a height of 5,109m and lower slopes are blanketed in moorland and rich montane forest. Most of the park is accessible only to hikers although the magnificent scenery and 19 Albertine Rift endemics would be ample reward for Birders.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the eastern slopes and glacial peaks of the 120km-long Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’, a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination; it covers the area of 996 sq. km
You will do activities like mountaineering trailhead, bird watching of over 195 species and Nature guided tours through all the vegetation zones at the glacial peaks and these activities can be accessed through the Nyakalengija trailhead a 22km from Kasese off Fort Portal road and also you can visit the park in January-February and July-August because they are considered dry months but rain is possible due to unavoidable season changes