Visited in July 2014.
Sometimes the best travel experiences are found when you least expect them. We were in Buhoma, a gateway village outside of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on the day after a successful gorilla tracking experience and were looking for one last activity before driving to Kigali. The idea to do this tour came from my Lonely Planet guidebook and this was another highlight in a three-week African trip already full of them.
The Batwa or Twa pygmies used to live in the forests of Uganda, Rwanda and other Central African countries, including Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, but when it became a National Park in 1992, they were evicted without compensation, as they held no title to the lands. This despite evidence of the tribe occupying the rainforest for an estimated 60,000 years, hunting small game and posing no threat to the mountain gorillas the Park was established to protect.
Evicted from the forest that was their home, the Batwa became exiles in their own country and had to adapt to their new life in nearby villages, while striving to preserve their history and unique culture. By taking part in the Batwa experience tours visitors to Buhoma can support this cause by giving the tribespeople both a source of income and a way of passing on their traditions as both young and old members on the tribe take part in showing their way of life to travelers. The Batwa remain some of the poorest people in Uganda and the world and taking part of this tour, is just one small thing we can do to support this fascinating people. You can read more about the plight of the Batwa here.
The tour starts with an explanation of how the Batwa lived in the forest as hunter gathers and the importance of trees to the people. The Batwa were cave dwellers, but also built temporary hut shelters in the forest using lumber, grass and leaves. We were also given a demonstration of how the buttresses of large trees, such as fig trees were used as a place to bury deceased relatives.
Next on our tour was a demonstration of the traditional honey gathering process, starting from making fire to light a smoking pipe (no cheating with matches, lighters or modern tools) climbing to the bees’ nest in the trees and a simulated effort to smoke out the bees, complete with the brushing off imaginary hive defenders.
Once the demonstration was complete, we were taken to the village and shown where the Batwa live today – in several huts, including one that was elevated off the ground – this comes from the tradition of leaving the children out of reach of dangerous animals, when the adults are out looking for food.
After looking around the dwellings we were treated to a simulated hunt and shown the sophisticated snares and traps that the Batwa used to capture animals in the forest. It was good to see kids and teenagers excitedly show both the hunting tools and the snares to us, as clearly efforts were made to keep the traditions of the ancestors alive.
Finally, our hosts gave us a wonderful demonstration of traditional tribal song and dance, and that was the end of a wonderful visit.
At the end of the tour you will be taken to a small improvised market and while many of the souvenirs on offer will be similar to what you see in other African markets, one thing unique to this tribe are the traditional hand-woven baskets. If you feel like getting a souvenir or just want to support your hosts, this might be the best way of doing it.
You can book your Batwa Experience tour in advance here, however, there are booking agents in Buhoma and your lodge or safari guide can also make all the arrangements for you. If you have some free time in the area after you’ve done your gorilla tour – take this tour.