Have you heard about the “people of the forest”? Have you had the chance to meet them during your visit to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park? When you meet them, you will clearly see the forest in their eyes and lives. With the cultural trail in Mgahinga National Park, you will be able to experience the ancient ways of the Batwa people who once lived within the forest and also explore their ancient cultures. The Batwa were the original inhabitants of the forests before Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were gazetted into National Parks in 1991. The dense forests on the foothills of Virunga Volcanoes used to be their comfortable homes where they lived as hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors depending on the forest for food, herbal medicine and food.
Highlights of the Batwa Trail
The Batwa Trail leads from the base of Muhuvura Cave. The walk is a living museum where you can learn about the Batwa People, a pygmoid tribe that used to live in the Mgahinga National Park. These people were hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. In creating the Mgahinga National Park, these people were forced out of the park and rehabilitated in the villages that surround the park.
Why the Batwa Trail
During the eviction, these people were not evicted and were forced into dropping their nomadic and bushmen lifestyle. Today these are some of the poorest Ugandans, many of them earning a living from working on local farms of other people. The Batwa Trail was developed to teach visitors about the lifestyle of these people – You will learn about how these people survived in the forest.
This walk is conducted by Batwa guides who provide insights into their traditional forest life and culture. The Batwa demonstrate their past hunting techniques; ways of gathering honey. The guides will point out the medicinal plants that were used and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are finally invited to the sacred Ngarama Cave, once home to the Batwa King. The women of the community perform a cultural dance and you can participate in their dance.
Important Things to Know
This interesting Batwa cultural trail was launched on 7th June 2011 as a way of preserving the Batwa culture and traditions and as a way of integrating conservation with cultural development. On top of tourists relishing this conventional cultural experience, it offers employment to those Batwa who are engaged in the day to day activities in the Batwa trail such as dancers and guides. After your thrilling gorilla trekking tour in Mgahinga or Bwindi National Park, you can engage in this splendid cultural trail and you will not regret every second of your time and is worth every penny spent. You would miss a lot of captivating things if you left Uganda without tasting the exhilarating feeling of the Batwa Cultural experience. During this invigorating trail, tourists are taken though the original Batwa grass-thatched huts, they will also demonstrate how those huts are constructed, will also showcase the traditional herbs that they used in the past and still use, hunting skills, demonstrations of how water is fetched using bamboo cups/mugs, skills of gathering honey and how to make fire by friction using sticks. Even when these people see or go to these forests, you can clearly see the pain in their eyes as they become strangers to their once cherished homes. The only chance they have to go back into the forest is as tour guides for the Batwa trail.
This incredible trail runs across the dense forest of Mgahinga National Park and pass by the foothills of Mount Gahinga and Mount Muhavura in Mgahinga National Park. The Batwa trail starts with the guide stopping and kneeling down at a certain hut to pray to the gods to bless the walk. This same spot is where the men in the ancient days used to kneel and pray to the gods before they venture into the forest to hunt.
As you continue with the walk, you will stop to pick some berries that the hunter of olden days used to consume as a meal before hunting. You will be taken to a natural Pharmacy (local herbs in the forest). Here you will learn about the different plants and roots that the Batwa used as medicine to stop bleeding after child delivery, herbs for malaria, blood pressure and other ailments/diseases. For example the black cover of ant nests were used for treating skin fungal infections. I cannot exhaust all the plants, but just so you know, you will see a real pharmacy. Just natural herbs for almost all illnesses. You will also be shown the leaves that are always ground into paste and used to get rid of evil spirits. Surprisingly no plant within the forest is a waste or not important. What seems as a wild yellow fruit or plant, the Batwa see it as a delicious vegetable sauce or even ingredients of a natural soap. These friendly people will also demonstrate how to make bamboo cups and you will be totally touched by how they exhibit their skillful tactics.
You will be totally mesmerized and surprised after seeing them demonstrate the ancient ways of making fire by friction using sticks. You can even light a cigarette with the fire. Isn’t it incredible? Another thing you will be amazed with is the hunting and trapping techniques they will demonstrate.
As earlier mentioned, the Batwa were evicted from what they considered home after these Parks were gazetted in 1991. They are nowadays not allowed to do the things they loved most including collecting honey, firewood, medicinal plants and even fruits from the forest. It is only during this trail that the Batwa people are allowed to return to the forest (as guides) to demonstrate to tourists how they used to live in the forests. The climax of this wonderful cultural trail is the descent to the sacred Ngarama Cave-an underground cave located beneath Mount Mgahinga and is about 200m long. Ngarama Cave was once a royal residence for the former Batwa King, the court of law, the food store, the consecrate heart of the forest, store for looted treasures, the meeting place and their shelter/hiding place during battles. The most exciting moment of visiting this Cave is listening to the Batwa women sing sorrowful songs and dance to songs relating to their ancient ways of living and how they cherished the Forest before they were evicted from it.
It should be noted that the Batwa cultural trail is a celebration of the former forest culture of the “first people”. It is however impossible to disregard the fact that the Batwa life has tremendously changed due to the development of this cultural initiative. Unlike in the Past, the Batwa now live in permanent houses, some of their children now go to school and others are even employed which in turn improves their standard of living. This tour always takes 4 hours and costs $80 per person per day. Part of the money that you pay is kept by Uganda Wildlife Authority to support Batwa Development projects like constructing schools while the other percentage is paid to the guides so that they can be able to support their families. You will get the real hand-on information because the Batwa themselves are the tour guides.
In conclusion, the Batwa cultural trail is an incredible experience that you can engage in during your gorilla trekking experience. Besides the interesting activities they showcase including hunting skills, honey harvesting skills, demonstration of making bamboo cups, visit to the pharmacy and the walk to the sacred Ngarama cave, you will be supporting a community and improving their standard of living.