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Batwa Experience In Uganda | Bwindi Uganda Batwa Pygmies

Batwa Experience In Uganda | The Uganda Batwa Pygmies (Twa Tribe) Of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park   

The Batwa Experience in Uganda takes you to see the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park a huntergatherer tribe that is also dubbed the “Keepers of the Forest”. Anthropologists believe that This Twa tribe had thrived in harmony with the Uganda wildlife of this ancient Bwindi impenetrable forest for about 60,000 years.

During your Uganda Gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi, undertaking a cultural tour of these Batwa Pygmies is a must-not-miss experience.

The endangered Batwa of Bwindi national park belongs to an ethnic group called Pygmies. You may be wondering exactly what are Pygmies.  Well, in anthropology, Pygmies belong to ethnic groups whose average height is remarkably short. ‘Pygmies’ is used to define the phenotype of endemic short stature for populations in which adult men are on average less than 150cm tall.

For a long time, the Batwa people were recognized as the owners of this high mountain forest. Unfortunately for them today, the tide has turned!

The gazetting of the then Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve into a national park in 1991 sealed their fate. The Batwa Pygmies were ruthlessly evicted from Bwindi to conserve the endangered Mountain Gorillas.

The colonial government launched the eviction of the Batwa Pygmies from Bwindi Forest in the early 1930s.  It materialized in the 1990s when Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was designated.

They were sent to the outskirts of Bwindi forest and into IDP camps in the districts of Kisoro, Kabale, and Kanungu. These Pygmies are now considered conservation refugees.

Generally, the Twa tribe of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and all over Uganda are a despised and marginalized group, largely on the fringes of society. And, the general public perceives them as “backward Bushmen”.

Sadly, Conservationists like Diane Fossey branded the Batwa Gorilla Killers. They blamed them for every poaching. This tarnished their reputation as a people. And this is partly responsible for their current plight.

These former hunter-gatherers lost their original way of life and their attachment to the forest. And it’s therefore not surprising that presently, the Batwa struggle to simply survive.  During Uganda safaris in Bwindi park, visitors can see the struggles of these Batwa Pygmies after undertaking Bwindi Gorilla trekking. 

Additionally, due to their low levels of education, the Batwa struggle to find jobs. They have for the most part failed to assimilate into the nonBatwa ways of life because of their forest orientation.

The Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi national park are now majorly in the Buhoma sector.

If you are planning a tour to Uganda, for a cultural experience, let’s explore this intriguing Batwa tribe together.

Who Are The Batwa Pygmies Of Bwindi Forest ?- Batwa Meaning

Batwa is plural. On the other hand, Mutwa is singular. The Batwa are an endangered Bantuspeaking Pygmy people of the Kasai region and elsewhere in Africa.

They are smallstatured people who live in the Equatorial forests of the Great Lakes Region in Central Africa.

Some people tend to wonder what is an example of cultural tourism and why cultural tourism is important.   Well, the Batwa cultural experience is the perfect example of cultural tourism in Uganda.   Additionally, These Batwa Pygmies through this Batwa experience contribute significantly to the culture and customs of Uganda.

History Of The Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park- Origins Of The Batwa Tribe That you See During Your Batwa Experience In Uganda

The history of the small-statured endangered Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi impenetrable forest is long and rich.  It’s widely believed that the Batwa migrated from the great Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo in pursuit of wild animals to hunt.

They settled in the mountainous forests of the Albertine Rift.  And mainly, the Batwa lived in small huts mainly made from sticks and grass.

As would be expected, the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi national park had a synergic relationship with the wild and didn’t live in a specific place.  But as fate would have it, the Batwa were kicked out of protected forests in Uganda in 1991 to preserve Mountain Gorillas.

There was forced deforestation of much of the land they live on.   And life as they knew it was altered! During Uganda trips, visitors can travel for cultural experiences of the Twa tribe in Bwindi Forest to witness this suffering.  Also, you can get this Batwa experience in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

The Batwa were expelled without community consultation, consent, and compensation. In some instances, the Batwa were forced out violently.

Consequently, their homes and property were destroyed and their livestock were killed.

The Batwa as a result of this flawed eviction has no economic standing. The majority of them have been reduced to begging for survival.

Both the Ugandan government and other tribes pervasively discriminate against these pygmies. In August 2021, the Batwa emerged victorious in a case against the government for illegal eviction from their ancestral land. However, the Ugandan government appealed this ruling.

As a result, their ancient traditions and customs, which form part of their rich culture are slowly dying away. Sadly, we risk losing one of the brilliant cultures of Uganda.  Nevertheless, as you undertake a cultural safari on your Uganda tour, you still have the opportunity to experience the culture of Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi while it lasts!

How The Twa Tribe Became “Keepers Of The Forest”

The elders of the Twa tribe tell an interesting legend about how the Batwa came into existence. And during the Batwa cultural experience after Uganda Gorilla trekking in Bwindi national park, you will have a front seat to hear this amazing story.  It goes that there lived a man called Kihanga.  He had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu, and Katwa respectively.

This father gave his sons the task of protecting milk gourds to see how responsible they all were. The boys kept the gourds all through the night. And in the morning, their father summoned them to check on their progress.

Katusi had his milk gourd still intact, Kahutu’s was half full and Katwa’s was sadly empty.

Consequently, the father rewarded them as they deserved.

First, the father blessed Katutsi with all his cows to help him and his children prosper.   Secondly, he gave Kahutu seeds and a hoe, to help him and the future generations to grow their food and prosper.

And finally, Katwa got the forest and whatever was in it.  He and the generations after him were to survive by gathering wild fruits and hunting. And ultimately, this is how the Batwa came to live in the forest.

Why Are The Batwa Pygmies Marginalized?

Several scholars have attempted to give a historical account of the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi forest and elsewhere in the Great Lakes region. But maybe the most radical account that seems to explain the obvious dominant damaging perceptions about these Pygmies is by Edward Tyson in his “The Anatomy of a Pygmy Compared with that of a Monkey, and Ape and a Man”.

In this book, Tyson makes a comparison between the anatomy of an infant Chimpanzee and the human anatomy and to the anatomy of monkeys and apes. He described the morphological differences between man and his specimen and between the specimen and other primates of his interest. His conclusion was that “his pygmy” was no man, nor yet the Common Ape; but a sort of animal between both.

This Tyson’s Anatomy of the Pygmy and the infamous Ota Benga story gives a clue about why the international community has often negatively perceived the Batwa and other forest-dwelling communities of Africa. It is this distortion that has had overwhelming effects on their populations.

The common perception that the Pygmies in general and the Batwa, in particular, are barbaric, wild, uncivilized, untidy, ignorant, and above all else, sub-human seems to be at the foundation of their constant rejection from the mainstream of society and their persistent relegation.

Where Are The Uganda Batwa (Twa Tribe) Found? Where is the Batwa Experience In Uganda Done?

The Batwa people live in the southwestern region of Uganda. And, they are particularly in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kisoro, Kanungu, Rukungiri, Kabale, and Rubanda.  Visitors on Uganda trips seeking the perfect cultural experience examples can find these Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi impenetrable forest here.

Originally, Bwindi Impenetrable forest was the ancestral home of the Batwa. These former hunter-gatherers have a popular saying that “A Mutwa loves the forest just as he loves his body”.

However, their eviction in 1991 left them at the mercy of the Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT).  These former forest dwellers are a victim of statesanctioned landlessness for conservation, and cultivation.

When Bwindi was gazetted to conserve the endangered Mountain Gorillas. And the other part of the land was claimed for cultivation by Bakiga. The Twa were just left hanging in the balance!

It is no wonder there is a shared sentiment among the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi Uganda that the government values Gorillas more than them.

Facts About The Batwa Pygmies Of Bwindi National Park

The endangered Batwa Pygmies are an interesting marginalized tribe in the country. And since cultural experience travel is one of the highlights among visitors on Uganda safaris, it’s only fair you learn more about the Batwa.

Here Are A Few Facts About This Twa Tribe;

  • The Batwa population estimates number around 6700 as of 2022, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. The loss of their ancestral forest home has had farreaching effects. For example, it prohibited the Batwa’s access to traditional herbal remedies in the forest.  All these factors continue to leave the Batwa Pygmy population at stake.
  • As a result of gazetting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Echuya Central Forest Reserve to conserve the Mountain Gorillas, the Batwa were evicted from their forest home.
  • On 8th February 2013, the Batwa filed a constitutional claim seeking compensation for their lands as well as restitution for long-term human rights violations.
  • On 19th August 2021, in a landmark judgment, the constitutional court ruled that between the 1930s and 1990s, Batwa were, without prior agreement, evicted by government authorities from their ancestral lands in Kabale, Kanungu, and Kisoro districts to free land for wildlife and forest conservation.
  • The unprecedented change to the Batwa culture after their eviction, along with their small number and despised status, has brought the Ugandan Batwa close to being wiped out! In 2006, the Uganda Land Alliance for Coalition of Pastoral Civil Society Organizations (COPACSO) alerted that the few thousand Batwa of Uganda were in danger of extinction. This organization’s report sounded an alarm about the starvation and loss of social cohesion among the Twa.

The Batwa Pygmies’ Population

As of 2022, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimates that there are approximately 6,700 Batwa people in UgandaThis makes up 0.2% of the country’s population.

These numbers are higher than that found in the 2002 National Population and Housing Census.     It estimated their population to be 3,500.

The Uganda Batwa Pygmy Height/How Tall Are The Batwa People

The Batwa are generally short people. The average height among Batwa men is 60.1 inches, 152.9 centimeters. To many visitors who encounter the Batwa in a cultural tour done after Bwindi Gorilla trekking, the Batwa height is very evident.

On the other hand, the average height of the Twa women is 57.4 inches, 145.7 centimeters.

Some of the Batwa of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, have an average adult height several inches shorter than that of nearby tribes.

For example, the tallest man among the Batwa would be the shortest among the neighboring community, the Bakiga.

The Batwa Language

The Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi and elsewhere speak Rutwa.   However, the Batwa speak various languages depending on the region they live in.   For example among the Bakiga, the Batwa speak Rukiga.

During your cultural safari in Bwindi national park, you will get an opportunity to hear the Batwa tribe speak these languages.  Furthermore, you will experience the local culture of these Batwa Pygmies to the fullest.

The Social And Economic Life Of The Uganda Batwa Pygmies

The Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi forest live in little congested houses that are always too small to accommodate all the family members under one roof.

For instance, over 8 people may occupy one single-roomed house. Most of these tiny houses rarely have mattresses or furniture. And, family members lie on their sisal-made beds at night and share them from the Father to the children.  During your Batwa cultural experience in Uganda, you will see this firsthand.

Although the Batwa Pygmies live in different settlements, they have strong social relations and recognize themselves as a community.

They share close a close connection to certain areas within related social formations that appear to derive directly from the ancient past.

Furthermore, marriages among the Batwa Pygmies normally take place within the clans. And, marriage among members of an individual settlement is rare because of the close relations among such persons.

Just like the majority of other tribes in East and Central Africa, the Batwa still practice social norms and customs normally linked with clanship.  Nevertheless, because of the resettlement program, most Batwa don’t actually know their clan leader and where he lives.

The Twa largely have early marriagesDuring your cultural safari tours in Uganda’s Bwindi, you will experience the culture of Batwa young families. Most of these young Twa tribe parents drop out of school to start families. On the other hand, others become local guides for the tourists who go for Bwindi Gorilla trekking.

Generally, the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and elsewhere in Uganda are decent people.   They are welcoming and hospitable to visitors. Mainly, they socialize largely through music and dancing. And, the elders pass the Batwa culture on to the younger generation by telling stories.

Sadly, it is extremely hard for the Batwa Pygmies to get decent jobs because of their limited education levels. Therefore, they end up doing poorly paying casual jobs.

It’s a vicious cycle of poverty and ignorance! Some Batwa children go to school but few can complete their studies because of the stinging poverty that they face. Without other options, they end up doing odd jobs to survive.

Unfortunately, some of the Twa children drop out because they are bullied and threatened by their teachers and fellow students.   On your cultural safari tours, you will see the Batwa children.

Additionally, the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi forest also make clay pots that they sell to the different people who visit the area. However, this is also not profitable. And sometimes they end up going hungry due to a lack of food.    On your Uganda tour in Bwindi, you can buy these some of these to remind you of the Batwa culture and cultural attractions in Uganda.

Making a living for themselves is hard since the government took away hunting, their source of livelihood.

The Batwa Culture And Traditional Practices You Will Witness During the Batwa Experience in Uganda

Experiencing the culture of the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi during Gorilla safaris in Uganda is something you should anticipate. It is one of the different cultural experiences that tours to Uganda give.

Similar to other African tribes, the Batwa culture before their eviction from the forest was rich and interesting.  Let’s examine how these former keepers of the forests lived before their eviction:

  1. First off, the endangered Batwa had 3 main types of shelter/houses. Namely; caves, Omurimbo and Ichuro. The caves and omurimbo were the main houses where the Twa On the other hand, they used the Ichiro for resting and storing food including honey, beans, sorghum, and meat.
  2. The Batwa were excellent hunters, traditional healers, and rainmakers.

Hunting was and is still simply part of their DNA!  And quite remarkably, the Batwa can make fire by rubbing small sticks together. These forest keepers used to carry forest products in small bags called Obukokyo which were made from animal skins.

These pygmies had a special way of worshipping and offering sacrifices to their god especially for thanking the gods after a successful hunt. The Batwa pygmies believed in a supreme being locally known as Nagaasan or Imaana.

And they believed that Nagaasan provides wealth, food, protection, and children to the Twa people. The Chameleon was sacred to the Batwa because it climbed to the highest point of the tree and so the Twa believed that it came closest to God.

  1. The grandparents anointed the elders who did the worship in sacred huts.

Young people were not allowed access to the sacred places nor were they permitted to ask about what the elders did and how they communicated with the gods.

The young Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi forest would only observe the elders reciting prayers before hunting and offering meat to the gods after hunting.  Interestingly, when the Batwa slaughtered an animal and found that it had a strange organ such as a tiny heart, they would worship the organ as their god.

  1. For their clothing, the Batwa women and men used leaves and skins of animals, especially Duikers and Bushbucks.

The children dressed in small skins of young animals strapping them on the shoulders. Additionally, the women also used the skins for beautification and carrying their children on their backs.

The Twa would weave cords from Emise (Urera sp.) and use them to tie the skins around their waists. And, these pygmies would pound seeds of Omuruguya (Carapa procera) to obtain an oily liquid which they would smear on the skins to make them soft.

The Other Interesting Part Of The Batwa History Includes The Following;

  1. Following a successful hunt, Batwa celebrated the achievement by naming their children after the animal or location in the forest where it was caught.

The Batwa derive their names from the animals or locations in the forest.

For example, Kafumbiri for enfumbiri-the Black–Fronted Duiker, Bikyezi for inkyezi-cane rats, and Kagote for an area with Emigote –trees of Syzgium sp. Likewise, Kanyeihamba for one born in Eihamba-the forest.

  1. Seeking protection from sunburns, the Elderly Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi national park would smear their skins with animal dung.
  2. The majority of the Twa marriages were arranged by their respective families. And, quite remarkably, the Twa were monogamous. However, at times they would exchange girls in what they called barter marriage.
  3. Marrying Non-Batwa Was Not Allowed. But sadly, the non-Batwa men who lived near them have always raped the Twa women with a belief that they will get cured of Aids. Similarly, premarital pregnancies were forbidden, and a girl that conceived before marriage was looked upon as a disgrace.
  4. The Batwa Had Unique Burial Practices. When one of them died, he or she would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in the grass. Also, this burial ceremony involved cleansing the corpse with herbs such as omuhanga, enkyerere (Rubus sp.), and omufumba (Rhumex sp.)

The elders would lead the ceremony and encourage all the members of the family to drink herbal extracts as a way of stopping death from claiming more people from that family.   After the burial, the Twa tribe of Bwindi would migrate to a far-off place in the forest, never to return to that place.

Problems Faced By The Batwa People

The aftermath of the eviction of Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi national park from their original home has been exceptionally cruel to them!  Unaware of how to navigate life outside the forest, the Batwa have been left to swim in a sea of unending problems.

Sadly, the majority of the rights of the Batwa people have been violated. These endangered Batwa are now some of the poorest people in the world with a high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy. The problems the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi Uganda and Uganda at large face include the following;

  • Severe Landlessness

First, the Batwa do not own land. Having been kicked out of the Bwindi forest without proper compensation, the overwhelming majority of the Batwa don’t own land.

To make matters worse, their sorry economic situation can’t enable them to buy land.  And the Batwa pleas to the Uganda government to compensate them have been in vain since they were living on Gazetted land.  Presently, the Batwa are largely squatters on other people’s land.

  • Poor Health Conditions

As if being landless was not enough, Batwa’s access to health centers and medical care generally is wanting. And unfortunately, the majority of them have to walk exhausting distances to seek medical attention.

It is no wonder they have a high HIV prevalence among their communities.  They are not sensitized enough about prevention and also access to the drugs is a challenge. Such poor health conditions continue to compound the misery of the Batwa.

  • Cultural Erosion

The Batwa culture as forest dwellers risks becoming extinct.    This is simply because it is hard for the Batwa to maintain the forest culture outside the forest. Although they still hold on to their precious Batwa cultural values, some of them are slowly and steadily fading away.

On your Uganda Gorilla tour in Bwindi National Park, you will be lucky to enjoy some of this intriguing Batwa culture firsthand.

The Other Problems Faced By The Batwa Include;

  • Lack Of Support From The Government Of Uganda

As far as the government’s concern for its people is concerned, it’s fair to say that the Batwa are pretty much the “forgotten people of Uganda”. The government promises to help the Batwa have largely remained in words only!

Essentially, the sour relations between the government and the Twa tribe can be traced back to 1991 when the former evicted the latter from their ancestral home.

And the government blamed the Twa for spoiling the impenetrable forest and yet it was the Bantu ethnic groups that cut down the rainforest trees to create land for themselves.   The Twa had lived in harmony with this ancient forest till the Bantu showed up.

Perhaps the peak of this conflict between the Batwa and the Ugandan government was the Batwa emerging victorious in court in 2021 after suing for unfair eviction. However, the government appealed against this court ruling, and their conflict continues.

  • Marginalization By Other Tribes

The Batwa are despised and looked at as second-class citizens by the rest of the tribes in the country. And these other tribes hold sad stereotypes about the Twa as barbaric cavemen unfit to live among them. This even contributes to their lack of decent job opportunities.

Although several organizations have come up to voice their concerns about the Batwa, their plight sadly/ continues.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi During the Batwa Experience in Uganda

  1. Where Are The Batwa Pygmies In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest?

The Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi are majorly in the Buhoma sector on the peripherals of the forest.

  1. What Is The Best Time To Visit The Batwa Pygmies In Bwindi?

The best time to visit the Batwa Pygmies is in the afternoon after Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Generally, it is part of a nice unwinding session.

  1. Where Do The Batwa Pygmies Come From?

The Batwa Pygmies are believed to have come from the Ituri forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They currently live in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.

  1. How Old Are The Batwa People?

Some evolutionary anthropologists believe the Batwa people are about 60,000 years old, similar to other African Pygmies.

  1. What Happened To The Batwa Pygmies?

The Ugandan government evicted the Batwa Pygmies from the Albertine Rift Montane forests to conserve Mountain Gorillas in 1991.  This massively eroded the Batwa Culture.

They now suffer acute poverty, and other tribes look at them as second-class citizens.  This Twa tribe lost their ancestral home and they now struggle to live a normal life.

  1. How Can You Help The Batwa Pygmies| Efforts To Help The Batwa Pygmies?

You can help the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi national park by donating to authentic organizations fighting to improve their lives.  For example, the Kellerman Foundation which was started by Scott and Carol Kellerman.

Alternatively, you can take part in the Batwa cultural experience (started in 2011) after your Uganda Gorilla safari tours in Bwindi impenetrable forest. This benefits them directly.

Here’s a quick recap, the Batwa Pygmies of Bwindi continue to grapple with poverty and disease following their eviction from the Bwindi forest.  They are sadly a marginalized group in Uganda.

Amidst all these challenges, the Batwa still represent the undiluted traditional African way of life.

You will definitely enjoy encountering them after Bwindi Gorilla trekking!

Would you love to encounter these hunter-gatherers?

Reach out to us now and we will joyfully make this happen!  

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