THE BATWA IN UGANDA
The Batwa people in Uganda, also known as the Twa or Pygmies, are indigenous hunter-gatherer communities that have historically inhabited the forests in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. They have a deep cultural and historical connection to the forests, including the mountain gorilla parks/forests. In Uganda, They used to stay in Bwindi National Park, Mgahinga National Park, around Semliki National Park, around lake Bunyonyi and Echuya forest. In the past, these people lived in harmony with the forests and wildlife, including the mountain gorillas.
However, with the establishment of national parks and protected areas, their traditional way of life and access to the forests have been significantly impacted. With the establishment of the parks, they couldn’t be left inside the forests.
In the 1990s, the creation of national parks, such as the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, led to the eviction of the Batwa. Most of them live near these protected areas around and they are mostly workers on peoples plantations and others do some other work around the area.
The primary reason for their eviction was the need to protect the endangered mountain gorillas and their habitats. The eviction of the pigymies people from the mountain gorilla parks/forests has had significant social, cultural, and economic consequences for them. Many of their communities faced displacement, loss of livelihoods, and challenges in adapting to new ways of life outside the forests.
Efforts have been made by governments, conservation organizations, and human rights groups to address the issues faced by these people and find ways to support their rights and well-being. Even though efforts have been made but still some of them are still facing challenges in life.
Some of them have faced isolated and discriminated by other tribes around the protected areas. But civilization and intermarriages have also done positive effects on their lives.
Conservation And Sustainability Between Batwa And The Forests
Batwa Outside The forest
Although the eviction of Batwa from their ancestral homes has caused many challenges to their lives as mentioned above like, living as squatters on the land neighboring the protected areas, discrimination, alcohol edicts, denying them their traditional worker of hunting, intermarriages, rape, and being laborers to people farms. But there are other positive effects brought by conservation and Tourism to this small community.
Sustainability of the Batwa
Where are the Batwa found in Uganda.
Bwindi National Park is found in the western Uganda. The forest is both montane and low land forest. The forest has diversity of species including great mammals like the Mountain gorillas. The forest was a home to the Batwa/ the pygmies before it was gazette into a national park. All the species and animals were living in the same forest with the Batwa. They were depending entirely on the forest, gathering fruits for food, hunting, using medicinal plants to treat diseases, and many more.
After Bwindi impenetrable forest was gazetted into a national park for the conservation purposes, the Batwa people were evicted from the park and now they live around the protected area mostly they are peasants and others are workers on people’s farms.
The Batwa of Semliki National Park live at Boma cultural ground near park’s headquarter. This is where Uganda wildlife authority gathered them to live in order to improve on their wellbeing. They do demonstrations here to visitors, they sing songs, they dance and many more. They also have kingship. They have started going to school to get education, all these are effects of civilization. The Batwa originated from the Ituri forest of DR Congo and naturally they are short people but currently with the effect of intermarriages, for some them their height has changed.
Mgahinga National Park is part of Virunga Forest shared between Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. The park is composed of 3 volcanoes, Muhabura, Sabyinyo and Gahinga where it derived its name. This park was a home to Batwa and they were the indigenous people in the forest, many sighs in the forest shows that the Batwa lived here in peace like Ngarama cave, which is the main highlight for activity of Batwa trail in the park. Batwa guides are trained to give visitors the information and demonstrations of how they used to survive in the forest. They show their hunting techniques, Garama cave which was a hiding place in case of war, how to start fire and etc.
Echuya forest reserve is located in Albertine Rift region where the Batwa live around it in the districts of Kabale and Kisoro. The Batwa live in small huts made from sticks and grass. Originally, they used to depend entirely on the forest and hunters but after being evicted from their ancestral homes, they became squatters living on the edges of protected areas. They face a lot of challenges like decimation and neither recognized in the society. The Batwa live around the Echuya forest along side with other tribes like the Bakiga, Hutu and Tusti
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Conservation effects to the Batwa community
Although the eviction of Batwa from their ancestral homes have caused many challenges to their lives as mentioned above like, living as squatters on the land neighboring the protected areas, discrimination, alcohol edicts, denying them their traditional worker of hunting, intermarriages, little access to healthy care and education, rape, and being laborers to people farms. But there are other positive effects brought by conservation and Tourism to this small community.
- The Batwa children can now go to school and access heathy services although there are others who live in fear of discrimination and fail to go school and healthy centers. Many tourism lodges and other conservation bodies have built heathy centers and schools around villages of Batwa.
- Efforts have been made to provide clean water to the Batwa communities, conservation bodies have constructed bore holes to make them access clean water easily.
- The Batwa do farming around the protected areas where they earn a living from, they plant tea which is bought directly from them. For instance, gorilla walking safari buy locally processed tea and rebrand it to be marketed to tourists coming to Uganda.
- In Mgahinga National Park Uganda wildlife authority introduced the Batwa trail which give the Batwa people a chance to demonstrate how life used to be in the forest, they even show the Ngarama cave where their king used to stay and hiding place in case of war.
- Some of the Batwa people who are educated have got jobs on many lodges and camps around the protected areas, this has increased on their life style due to salaries and tips given to them directly.
- The Batwa people also work as porters and guides in national parks like Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks. This has made them increase on their standard of living and exposer to modernity.
Uganda And Rwanda Safaris that have Batwa Activities
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