Meet the Batwa and Bambuti Pygmies in Uganda

Bambuti People

Batwa and Bambuti are also referred to as pygmies who are believed to be the relatives of the old stone age of Uganda. The Bambuti are believed to have been the first people to settle in the regions of mountain Rwenzori, Bundibugyo, and Kasese districts when they came from the Ituri forest in the eastern Congo while Batwa who are close relatives to the Bambuti inhabit the areas of Bwindi Forest and Mgahinga National park in southwestern Uganda. The Batwa are also found in Rwanda and Burundi and related to the Ndorobo of Kenya and the KoiKoi and sans of South Africa. They are all pygmies that were evicted from their ancestral forests but their ways and culture are different from each other and inhabit different regions.

The Batwa tours

The Batwa are an indigenous kind of group that inhabits the tropical rain forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga National park in southwestern Uganda. They are believed to be hunters and gatherers as their culture since they are people of the forest.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National park were gazetted in the 1990s as National parks to protect and conserve the mountain gorillas, the Batwa people were evicted from the premises of the parks without being compensated and were left landless which led to their death hence reducing their numbers. Later an American organization came in to rescue the Batwa that had remained, they bought for the land where they settled, constructed hospitals, schools which improved their standards compared to how they were in the last years.

The Bantu people settled in the forests after the eviction of the Batwa which helped the Batwa to work on the farms and gardens of the Bantu to get food like bananas, sweet potatoes, beans, fruits among others since hunting was no longer the major source of income. They also act as local tour guides and potters for the tourists who come for the cultural experiences of the Batwa in Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Batwa Trail in Mgahinga National park.

The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga National park.

The Batwa trail was established in 2001 as a way of remembering and promoting the ancient Batwa culture which is considered to be a tourist activity today. Batwa trail is a walk through the thick forests of Mgahinga National park guided by the Batwa people and sharing about their previous lifestyle while in the forests. Batwa trail is only found in Mgahinga National park done alongside gorilla trekking and golden monkey trekking. The Batwa people are unique people that first lived in the forests before they were gazetted in National parks in 1991.

The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga National park is started by prayer normally led by the Batwa elders to the ancestors of the forest for guidance and protection as they pass through the forest. The trail goes up to the bottom of mount Gahinga, mount Muhavura and mount Sabinyo of the Virunga ranges where their ancestral cave known as Ngarama cave is found. The offices of the Batwa elders would sit in the Ngarama cave where they would plan for their people. The Batwa women during the trial sing some sorrowful songs about their ancient culture which would live all people in miserable states.

During the times of the trail, the visitors or tourists are taught different activities of the Batwa people like hunting, gathering, harvesting honey, handcraft making, making fire, making medicine from herbs among others.

Batwa cultural experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National park  

After gazetting Bwindi Impenetrable Forest into a National park in 1991, the Batwa cultural experience was introduced to teach their children the cultural traditions but instead, they ended up attracting tourists to Bwindi Impenetrable National park especially after gorilla trekking.

During the Batwa cultural experience, the visitors specifically meet the Batwa people and interact with them about their life in the forest and how they co-existed with the wild animals, they perform their traditional dances and sing the conservation songs and storytelling which lives the tourists happy and give them money or support them in one way or the other.

During the Batwa cultural experience, also the visitors visit the traditional homesteads of the Batwa people which they thatched with grass and tree leaves, they also visit the traditional healers who use plants and ancestors to heal the sick.

The Batwa trail and cultural experience in Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National parks are best done in the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December where it is little or no rainfall and the trails are less muddy and easy to penetrate through to visit the Batwa people.

The Bambuti tours in Uganda

The Bambuti are also an indigenous group that is said to have migrated from the Ituri forest of the Congo River basin. The Bambuti are nomads who moved from place to place hunting and gathering wild animals, so they moved from Congo and settled in western Uganda in the districts of Bundibugyo and Kasese

The Bambuti are also referred to as the pygmies and said to be the first inhabitants of the Rwenzori regions before the arrival of Bantu. Their original home is the Congo forest speaking the kumbuti language.

The Bambuti people live in villages that are organized as bands and every band consists of 6-60 people which are small and circular but usually temporary. The Bambuti move from one place to another as they look for food and in most cases their houses are temporary, they camp where they find what to eat or where they hunted.

The Bambuti are so much skilled in hunting which is their main source of food, meat is the main food for the Bambuti people which they supplement with bananas, sweet potatoes, beans which they get in exchange for meat with the farmers. They live by hunting and gathering and that’s why they don’t have permanent housings.

The Bambuti being referred to the people of the forest, their love for the forest is at a high percentage to the extent that they are not troubled by luck of a home. It is said that if the Bambuti eat and drink then the rest is history to them.

The pygmies in Semuliki National park are located on both sides of the Semuliki River and are also related to the Basu pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bambuti are smaller in numbers compared to the Batwa of Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National parks, this is because the Bambuti and Batwa are mistaken to be the same people but they are totally different people. Though they all live by hunting and were both evicted from the tropical forests, their ways are different from each other.

The Bambuti have limited hunting and gathering rights and are also allowed to grow and smoke marijuana in their areas. The Bambuti today are visited by the tourists that visit Semuliki National Park because they have their own local guides, but in the past years, they had non Bambuti guides that used to steal their money which annoyed the Bambuti and refused the tourists from visiting them.

The Batwa and Bambuti tours in Uganda are cultural experiences done by visitors alongside gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, birding, game drives, visiting Sempaya hot springs, among other activities in Bwindi Impenetrable, Mgahinga, Semuliki, and Rwenzori National parks in western Uganda, where visitors learn about the indigenous, minority and people of the forest that make Uganda the leading destination for cultural tours.

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