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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid