The Twa, known as Batwa, are pygmy people who have lived in the Albertine Rift Valley region since immemorial time.
Batwa are storytellers and dancers, whose reputation reached up to the ancient Egyptian court. The legend says that their god, Nagasian, charged them with the responsibility of being the “caretakers of the forest”.
Their society’s origins in the forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga is dating back nearly 60,000 years, making them one of the oldest groups of people inhabiting the earth.
Traditionally, the Batwa have been a semi-nomadic hunter gatherer people of the mountain forests. Due to clearing of the forests for agriculture, logging, development projects, or creation of conservation areas, in recent decades the Batwa were removed from the forest and given no compensation, making them like refugees.
Batwa communities were found in the forests of Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern Congo, Burundi. They have relocated in areas far from the forests and many of them have found new sources of income as others became destitute. In 2000 the number of Batwa was about 80.000 people distributed in different countries.
Twa children have little access to education and their communities have limited representation in local and national government. Due to their pygmy ancestry, they continue to suffer ethnic prejudice, discrimination, violence, and general exclusion from society. It is also common to assist to the commercialization of the Batwa for tourist activities which have nothing of original or interesting.
The following Batwa cultural activities are true cultural experiences which link conservation and development as an eco-tourist projects.
The Batwa Cultural Experience in Bwindi Forest
The Batwa Cultural Experience is a 100 acre forested site next to Bwindi Forest in Uganda. This is an ecotourist site created by the Batwa Development Program (BDP), a registered organization founded primarily by donations of Kellermann Foundation. The project was created with the objective to educate the children and to sensitize the world to the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the Batwa. Moreover, it generates income through ecotourism activities.
The Cultural Experience is a very interesting journey through the forest, following the Batwa guides explaining about the typical life of the ancient Batwa, how they collected wild honey, how they were hunting. You will visit the traditional dwellings and participate in traditional dances. Learn about the medicinal plants.
The Batwa Trail of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The Batwa Trail of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwest Uganda is a “cultural tourism product” that ties a culture back to the forest that it depends on. The aim is to support the Batwa community to settle outside Mgahinga Gorilla National Park creating a better world for them,
This tourism product was officially launched in June 201 by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) and the Kisoro District local government, with the support from the African Wildlife Foundation / International Gorilla Conservation program and other partners by using the knowledge of the Batwa’s forest-base culture to support the community.
The Batwa Trail runs across the lower slopes of the two volcanoes Muhavura and Gahinga, a forest containing rich biodiversity including the mountain gorillas. Led by local Batwa guides, visitors experience the forest through the unique perspective of the Batwa. Moreover, this activity has relaunched the small and little known Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is only 33.7 square kilometers (and therefore the presence of gorillas cannot be stable in this small area).
During this moving cultural encounter tour, the Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques; gather honey; point out medicinal plants and demonstrate bamboo cups. Guests are finally invited to the sacred Ngarama Cave, a 200 meter-long lava tube beneath Mt. Gahinga that was 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. This is truly a unique experience for visitors to learn about the traditional culture of the indigenous people.
The price of the activity in 2012 is 80 USD per person, which is divided as 40 USD to Uganda Wildlife Authority and 40 USD to the Batwa.
Destination Jungle supports these activities, since they are genuine and authentic projects, not commercial ones, but aimed at the real development of Batwa communities, moreover offering to visitors an unforgettable experience.