Batwa Pygmies of Uganda- Keepers of the Gorilla Forest

Batwa Pygmies – First tribe to See Mountain Gorillas

As the original dwellers of the ancient jungle the Batwa are known as “The Keepers of the Forest” and believed to be the first humans to have discovered and lived with Mountain Gorillas in harmony. Today we explore the rich history of these small- statured people who have since been displaced to facilitate the conservation of these then critically endangered gentle giants

Our human history now leaps forwards 40,000 years from the Semuliki valley’s mysterious harpon makers to its first identified group of modern humans around 40,000BC, interestingly given the course of hominin evolution these people chose to live in the Forests than grasslands.

Who are the Batwa?

In their communities men were known to be bush meat hunters while the women and young girls were famous for wild fruit gathering and taking care of children. Like many cultures in Africa rising children was is community responsibility.

Evicted from lands in 1991 by the government for the creational of National parks and forest reserves. Left with no prior consent, no compensation, scattered and landless but squatters on other people’s land they now leave In their makeshift home in the forests of Maghinga, Echuya,Bwindi forests for time of memorial.

In the past they survived by hunting using arrows, bows or nets and gathering plants, fruits in the forest. They lived in huts constructed of leaves and branches, moving frequently in search of fresh supplies of food lead them to stay in caves at times ,they used the fern leaves as cushions at night , the Batwa used deadwood shelter known as “Omugogo” in twa language. While in the forest the Batwa trapped animals with traps made of sisal strings, twigs and logs”okutega”, the also set fire after a kill to roast “Okusinga”. The Batwa lived in harmony with the forest creatures, including the mountain gorillas for millennia.

Batwa people worshipped, beloved in their ancestral gods- Nyabingi who was the medium of Batwa diety and Nyagasani if one wanted to live longer and more years. The Batwa used a big fig tree as a place for worship, according to their twa culture, oral traditions , animal sacrifices were laid at the foot of the fig tree which was home to the big snake- Nyabingi.

Before,the Batwa people lived in the tropical rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo. Where there was a primary goal to conserve the Mountain Gorillas as endangered species , during this time research began to follow up the Gorillas in the wilderness as they woke up and nest which was Carried on by the British people. As these people followed the gorillas they could come across the short-shy people locally known as the forest keepers “Batwa”.

Unfortunately as these forest keepers would see these British researchers they would immediately takeoff to hide themselves in short trees , shrubs known to be pygmodies ,the usual runs made by the Batwa people to hide themselves in the short trees. The British researchers concluded naming them Pygmies since they could hide themselves in short trees called pygmodies.

The Batwa people are distributed in the south western parts of the country around the tropical rainforests of Bwindi impenetrable National park, Maghinga , Echuya in districts of kanungu, Kabale,Rubanda and Kisoro having the largest population of 2099 batwa people with 1009 males and 1099 females , further to the extension of the ituri forest in semuliki one can trace the Batwa pygmies.

Reaction after finding Mountain Gorillas

The Batwa lived alongside with the gentle Giants in the forests for a time of the way of life , the Batwa ladies never cared about their babies until they learnt from the Gorillas-blackbacks that they should care  about their babies . This happened when the Batwa ladies had gone fruit gathering on their return they found the black back Gorilla carrying thier baby on its back, it’s from this experience they learnt from “Mrs. Priscah a 120 year old mutwa”says.

On a hike into the Bwindi impenetrable National park edges , the songs the Batwa sing are supposed to be celebratory , but they sound mournful. They are in praise of a good honey harvest but there is no harvest as they are nolonger allowed to gather honey or something else from the forest.

A rhythm is played on the metal keys of a thumb piano known as a”ichyembe”, as we reach a collection of huts the recent homes of the Batwa families 1hour into the community. This would have been a batwa homestead ,”where they could communicate with their great god farthers” explains pointing to a place behind the shrine.

The Batwa often used fallen trees as temporary shelter , ferns were used as cushions at night and fire was lit to warm and ward off wild animals.

Promoting Cultural Tourism

As a way of promoting tourism in these communities, Uganda Family tours includes this activity to all tours to Bwindi Impenatrable national park and Mgahinga as a way of giving back to the community and helping these people improve on their household income

Visitors are exposed to thrilling cultural experiences, antique fire, hunting, and traditional treatment practices for diseases such as cough, flu, malaria, and stomach troubles.

The Batwa used “thumb piano” and drums as musical instruments commonly wear  costumes made of bark-cloth and grass when performing traditional songs and dances. The Batwa dance , sing in jubilation after a successful hunt , in thanks giving to “Nyabingi”after a satisfying meal and during marriage.

Batwa cultural experience brings you to learn , participate in traditional  basket weaving.Weaving was the main activity for the Batwa women especially, when thier husbands were away hunting , they weave baskets and bags to carry and preserve food stuffs and mats to sit and lie on .So whether looking for a gift for a loved one or anew piece  created with nature , eco-friendly that would add a beauty effect to your home,every test and need is catered for on this Batwa cultural experiences.

Through story telling ,old people further explains the Batwa traditions , including courtships at what used to be a square where young men and women used to socialize.”A young man intending to marry would have to trap a flying squirrel”intenzi”

It’s fast on it’s feet, so he would only opt to time if when a sleep in a tree hallow,he would catch it as it’s a woke and tried flee . He had to bring it alive or otherwise there was no wife for him,” Mrs. Priscah says.

Pygmy life has actually been coming Increasingly deficient in joy and happiness for sometime now,thief care have increased exponentially. Problems started about 2500 years ago with the arrival of the Bantu farmers from west Africa who began to clear their forests with iron tools.clearance intensified 1500 years ago when banana arrived from Asia, conditions in Uganda proved perfect for this wonder  crop which left the Batwa ancestral homes at a stake when agro- industries and conservation agencies in 1991 ,the Batwa were made to experience systematic and pervasive discrimination in thief new homes as scattered in different communities on the forest edge.

Step back in time to see  how the Batwa lived in millennia in the forests of Maghinga ,Echuya and Bwindi one of the evergreen forests,with rolling hills home to the famous mountain gorillas.Enjoy and incredible day with batwa when to the gorilla highlands with the site guide ,see how the Batwa cultural experience is a living museum, participate in traditional dances, weaving ,join in on a hunt ,party  even you can test your skill with the Batwa bow and arrow.

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