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Uganda

Supporting the Batwa

Story by WWF August 17th, 2017

Discover how WWF is working to help protect the future of the Batwa indigenous people who live in and around Uganda’s forests ‒ home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla.

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The Batwa people are traditional hunters and gatherers who have been living in the forested mountain regions of Central Africa for over 40,000 years.

There are about 7,000 Batwas in Uganda today, living in and around the country’s dense forests, including Bwindi National Park.

© Martin Harvey / WWF

Bwindi is home to about 400 of the world’s last mountain gorillas.

To protect this iconic species and ensure indigenous peoples like the Batwas continue to have access to the forest they have depended on and revered for centuries, WWF works with the government and its partners to engage local communities in the management of conservation areas.

We also aim to raise awareness about the sustainable use of natural resources and improve access to rights and services such as healthcare and education among indigenous communities.

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One such initiative is the agreement set up between the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda, and the WWF-supported International Gorilla Programme (IGCP).

Together, we aim to develop tourism-related activities and offer alternate livelihood opportunities to the Batwas, while reducing the pressure on national parks and their surrounding forests.

As part of this project, IGCP, with support from WWF, works with the Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation (NCCDF) on the Buniga Forest Walk.

Also called the Batwa trail, the 1.5km trek invites visitors to follow in the footsteps of the Batwa and discover their way of life, traditions and folklore.

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In the past, a typical Batwa village consisted of a bachelor hut, a family hut, and a bigger hut where the residents would gather at night to sing and tell each other stories.

Each village would have about 10 families, who lived in small clay huts on the ground and in tree tops.

The children were sent to the top of the tree to scout for animals like wild hogs and antelopes that could be hunted for food.

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Local Batwa guide Christof Kagundu explains about Batwa hunting traditions:

“We’d ask our goddess Kazobanyamyhanga – which means the creator of the sun – for permission to hunt in the forest. Then we’d have a gulp of honey liquor and answer ourselves in a deeper voice, pretending to be the goddess: ‘I give you my permission and wish you a successful hunt’!”
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Kagundu is one of the local guides working with the NCCDF, which receives 70 per cent of the income earned from the treks to recruit Batwa guides and support conservation and development projects in surrounding villages.

The remaining 30 per cent is handed to the local authorities who own the Buniga forest.

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In addition, to promote access to education among the wider Batwa community, NCCDF has set up 16 primary school and two secondary school scholarships for Batwa children.

“A positive side effect is that Batwa children mingle with other kids at school and hence become less marginalized. This means a lot, as the next generation will learn to understand and accept one another,” says Joseph from NCCDF.
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“The transition to this new existence outside the forest has not been an easy process for the Batwas. The Buniga Forest trail is giving pygmies the opportunity to preserve and earn an income on their legacy. It creates jobs for Batwa guides and women can sell artisanal crafts during visits to local villages,” explains Maj Manczak, senior advisor, Energy and Forests in Africa, WWF-Denmark.
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To discover more about WWF’s work with communities in Uganda and elsewhere, click here.

Footnote: Photos ©WWF-Denmark / Anne Burlund unless stated.