Batwa Trail, Pygmies cultural experience
It was during the late 90’s that major evictions of the Batwa, was carried out in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park. For thousands of years, the Batwa people lived peacefully in the dense forests found in these two national parks and survived by hunting and gathering fruit. The Government of Uganda considered the Batwa to be poachers and saw an urgent need to protect the forests in Bwindi and Mgahinga but - more importantly - the rare and endangered mountain gorillas living therein. The first of the Batwa were forced to abandon their cultural heritage, customs and way of life to live in selected camps and settlements outside the two forests/parks in the Districts of Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro.
The Batwa have never adapted 100% to their new way of life and settlements. They have failed to deal with new diseases, drunkenness and chronic poverty which is something they had never experienced considering that the forests provided for their every need. While in the forest, they could go hunting, harvest honey or gather fruits. Now they have to practice bee keeping and other farming methods which they find difficult considering the rudimentary methods still used.
Batwa Trail is an experience designed for tourists/visitors interesting in understanding the way of life and history of the Batwa people during their life in the forest. By the end of the activity, visitors will understand why the Batwa have still failed to adapt to life outside the forest. The Batwa trail is carried out in Mgahinga National Park. It is different from the Batwa cultural visit in Bwindi because it is a longer experience which takes place within the park/forests of Mgahinga. The Batwa cultural visit/experience in Bwindi is usually done with Batwa communities living outside Bwindi forest.
The 5 hour Batwa Trail is usually led by the Batwa themselves and begins after the guide (a Batwa) kneels down to beg the spirits to keep everyone safe during the journey through the forest. This ancient practice ensured that the hunting sessions where blessed and successful. After the spirit prayer, the Batwa guide leads visitors through the dense forest and around the slopes of the volcanoes like Gahinga and Muhavura as we learn more about every plant and weed in the forest and its importance. The guide will often stop to pluck off leaves from trees and demonstrate its medical importance. There are leaves to deal with pressure, fever, diabetes and even the common cold. These remedies are usually first crushed or chewed directly from the mouth. Beside the forest medicines, you will learn how the Batwa prepare their traditional dishes, build their huts, harvest honey and make fire. All the funds from this activity go to projects that help the development and welfare of the Batwa people.