The BatwaTrail in Mgahinga National Park

  • Gazelle Safari Africa

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  • Feb 24, 2022
Batwa Pygmies in Bwindi

About three centuries ago, Mgahinga National Park was home to the Batwa tribe who relied on it for their day to day survival. The forest was not only their home but it was a divine ground with prayer points. It was also a source of food, medicine, shelter and clothing thanks to its abundance of fig trees from which they got back-cloth.

However in the early 1990s, the government of Uganda gazzeted Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi impenetrable forest for Gorilla tourism evicting the Batwa from the forest.

They were resettled in nearby communities near the edge of the forest but they continued practicing their unique ancient ways of life. All this can be witnessed in a half-day Batwa Trail tour that is guided by the Batwa elder

A Visit to the Batwa Residence

It’s important to note that this forest chiefdom is now considered endangered due to their population below 350 people. There is a real fear that they may get extinct soon due to intermarriages.

During the tour, you will spend only half a day with the Batwa, but you will feel like you have known them for years.

Nothing compares to the depth of insight provided by their love for their ancestral home. They not only guide you through the sights on the trail, but bring the sites alive with their knowledge and ability to make you fall in love with the surroundings.

The Batwa Trail experience starts from the base of Muhuvura Cave. The trail is an active museum where you can learn about the Batwa People that used to live in the forest before it was gazzeted by the government in the early 1990s and renamed Mgahinga National Park

While with them you will learn more about their life style and how they used to survive during the days they lived in the forest.

They will demonstrate for you their hunting skills; ways of gathering honey and the most interesting part is lighting fire with two dry sticks!  The guides will point out the medicinal plants that were used, how to use them and their significant roles and also demonstrate how to make bamboo cups.

Batwa Traditional Dance

Quick facts about the Batwa of Uganda.

It was a custom for a Batwa not to marry someone of a different tribe because they always wanted to preserve their norms and culture.

They were exceptional hunters, traditional healers, rainmakers who can make fire by rubbing small sticks together.

Batwa had three main types of houses that is the caves, omurimbo and ichuro. The caves and omurimbo were the main houses where they lived. Ichiro was primarily for food storage including honey, fruits and wild meat.

They had their own ways of worshipping and offering sacrifices especially for thanking the gods after a successful hunt.

Worshipping was mainly done in sacred huts led by elders who were anointed by the grandparents.

Young people were never forbidden from accessing these sacred places. They were also not allowed to ask about what the elders did and how they communicated with the gods. They would only watch the elders reciting prayers before hunting and offering meat to the gods in the forest after hunting.

Batwa men and women used skins of animals like duikers and bushbucks for clothing. Children would dress in small skins of young animals while women used the skins for beautification and carrying their children on their backs.

In case of a successful hunt, the hunter would celebrate the achievement by naming his children after the animal or name the child after the location in the forest where he got the animal from thus Batwa names were derived from names of animals or locations in the forest.

Elderly Batwa would smear their skins with animal dung to prevent their bodies from sunburns.

The tour climaxes with a visit of Ngarama caves, which was once the palace of their kings. This legendary national treasure was formed as a result of volcanic eruptions 5,000 years back. The underground caves are spacious with lots of chambers no wonder it was reserved for the Batwa Royal family.

Located approximately 3km from the park headquarters at Ntebeko visitor’s center, Garama cave is roughly 200 meters long and 14 meters deep. Many years ago this cave was inhabited by bats. Some parts of the cave are wet due to the constant dripping of water, so make sure you bring suitable hiking shoes and waterproof jackets.

The Batwa trail ends with traditional performances displaying their dancing strokes accompanied by music, drumming troupes thunder through the jungles playing the tribe’s signature traditional wedding music. It has a rousing fusion of energizing reggae, and an ancient dance-hall that is easy to confuse for salsa.

Make it a point to join in and dance with these wonderful people. Book a Tour

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