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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs