News / Africa

Uganda’s Batwa Reclaiming their Ancestral Forest as Tour Guides

A makeshift Batwa camp on the edge of Mgahinga National Park. December 11, 2012. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
A makeshift Batwa camp on the edge of Mgahinga National Park. December 11, 2012. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
20 years ago Uganda's Batwa, or pygmies, were evicted from the forest to make way for a national park. But now the impoverished Batwa are being allowed back as tour guides, showing hikers how they used to live, and making some money in the process.

Listen to:
Uganda’s Batwa Reclaiming Their Ancestral Forest as Tour Guides
Uganda’s Batwa Reclaiming Their Ancestral Forest as Tour Guidesi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Standing in the rain under the dripping forest canopy, Hagumimana Kanyabikingi offers up a traditional hunting prayer. May we kill an animal, he chants, and not be killed ourselves.

Hagumimana Kanyabikingi in the forest of Mgahinga National Park, where he and his ancestors once lived. December 11, 2012. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)Hagumimana Kanyabikingi in the forest of Mgahinga National Park, where he and his ancestors once lived. December 11, 2012. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
x
Hagumimana Kanyabikingi in the forest of Mgahinga National Park, where he and his ancestors once lived. December 11, 2012. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
Hagumimana Kanyabikingi in the forest of Mgahinga National Park, where he and his ancestors once lived. December 11, 2012. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
Kanyabikingi is a Batwa, or “pygmy”, and for centuries his ancestors lived here in the forested mountains of southwestern Uganda. They were evicted in 1991 with the creation of Mgahinga National Park, near the town of Kisoro.

But now, the Batwa are being allowed to walk their old forest paths once again, as tour guides on the newly created Batwa Trail.

Pointing to the dense undergrowth, Kanyabikingi explains how they used to use strong vines to trap duiker and bush bucks, or hunt them with poison-tipped arrows.

Half the proceeds from the trail go to the Batwa themselves. The rest goes to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, or UWA, which had been looking for a way to attract tourists to the park.

As spokesperson Lillian Ngubuga explains, the family of mountain gorillas in Mgahinga comes and goes, and until recently they were living in neighboring Rwanda. “Which meant that we could not do gorilla tracking in Mgahinga any more, and for some time there wasn’t really much tourism activity going on in Mgahinga. Which meant that we needed to think of other ways of getting tourists to come and be interested in visiting. We needed something new, and this was really kind of like a God-sent idea. We are able to improve people’s livelihoods, but also it is helping us to generate funds for conservation and biodiversity management in the park,” she said.

For the Batwa as well, the money is badly needed. Since they were evicted, several hundred have been living in poverty in makeshift camps at the forest’s edge. They are unaccustomed to the ways of the outside world, says Penninah Zaninka, of the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda.

“The forest was everything to them. It was a homeland, they used to have shelter inside the forest, have food inside the forest, and they would collect medicinal herbs, as well as fruits for survival,” Zaninka stated.

Batwa guide George Mpagazihe agrees. In the forest, he says, they could eat animals and wild honey, and clothe themselves in animal skins. Now, he says, they are little more than beggars.

According to Zaninka, the main problem is that the Batwa do not have their own land, making it difficult for them to earn a living. “They lacked educating their children, food security, they worked and they are still working [as] cheap labor [for] other people in order to keep them on their land as squatters. So all those factors cause them not to be happy, because they have nowhere they are based,” she explained.

They are also afraid, she adds, of being evicted yet again.

“They are scared. They are so fearful that these people may evict them a second time. They were evicted from their motherland, which is the forest, and now they are put here," she noted. "But because there is no ownership, they are not very sure.”

For years, the Batwa have been urging the UWA to grant them access to the forest. The new trail is, at least partly, a result of these negotiations.

Kanyabikingi says he is happy to be able to walk through the forest once again, and to collect the medicinal herbs his people once used.

But a national park is a delicate thing. Because it has to be protected from human encroachment, says Nsubuga, the Batwa will never again be allowed to live in the forest. “No, there’s no way the Batwa can move back into the park. Because, you see, we are trying to protect the resources that we have. And the reason why we had to remove the Batwa from the forest was because their activities were not in conformity with natural resource management practices. They were feeding on fruits, trees, burning in the forest, stuff like that,” Nsubuga said.

At the end of the trail lies the sacred Garama Cave, former home of the Batwa king. In it, Batwa musicians sing the old songs for visitors.

We would love to return to the forest, says Kanyabikingi, for the taste of wild honey, and for the sake of our spiritual beliefs. He explains that since they left, even their forest-based religion has been lost.

But for now, it seems the Batwa will have to be content with walking their forest trail with strangers, preserving their culture by sharing it.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Role in Fighting IS Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Enter Public Office in Record Numbers

A steady deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid