Batwa Pygmies: Forgetting the Bwindi Forest, Uganda

Penetrating the Impenetrable Forest took us deep into what was once home to the Batwa pymies, a forest-dwelling people who were displaced when Bwindi became a national park to protect the last remaining mountain gorillas.

Much of the ancient culture of the Batwa has been lost since they were removed from their forest home

We got a taste of life among the trees at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp where we stayed in a safari tent overlooking the vine-covered forest canopy. We were taken to see how the Batwa used to live by visiting The Batwa Experience, a hands-on historical and cultural encounter during which the Batwa demonstrate and describe their traditional way of life as hunter-gatherers.

The Batwa are keeping their culture alive through these displays of hunting, honey gathering, basket weaving, cave dwelling and traditional dancing. The demonstrations are not only for visitors but are also used to teach their own children how to flourish in the forest, in the hope that one day they will be able to return to their ancestral home. The rich Batwa culture that has lasted for thousands of years is now in danger of dying out.

Tree houses made from leaves and branches provided shelter and safety above the forest floor

Fire made from sticks was used to cook small game that was hunted using arrows, nets and snares

Living away from the forest and struggling to survive in small settlements led to many Batwa dying from malaria, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. A health clinic for the Batwa that began under the shade of a tree has now grown into a large community hospital. We were shown around the grounds and met some of the hard-working doctors and nurses who care for these forgotten people.

The Bwindi Community Hospital relies entirely on donations and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp works closely with the project to provide much-needed medical care to the Batwa, who now have a better chance of survival outside their forest home and a way to preserve their ancient culture.

Find out more about Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Sean Messham’s article, Overlanding East Africa

For more information about the Bwindi Community Hospital go to: www.bwindihospital.com

Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp: www.sanctuaryretreats.com

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Marcus & Kate

Marcus and Kate are a freelance writer/photographer team, contributing stories on travel, conservation and human interest from across east and southern Africa. They just completed a year in Kenya's Masai Mara where they conducted a research project on wildlife tourism and community-based conservation, including working on projects such as Elephant Voices and Living with Lions. They are a Swedish-Australian couple with itchy feet and a love for Africa, adventure and discovery. To see more photos from Marcus and Kate, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hauser.jens Jens Hauser

    I visited a Batwa community in the middle 80s and it was sad indeed. The villages was in poor condition and the pure rasism from other ethnic groups was unbelivable.

  • Janelle J. Christensen

    I am an anthropologist, spending some time interviewing the Batwa. This blog provides beautiful photos from the Batwa Experience through the Batwa Development Program (a lovely adventure). The history is a tragic one, since the Batwa were not the true threat to the forest, but rather, the farmers who were cutting it down to grow their crops. The Batwa have not fared well, however, the Bwindi Community Hospital has done much to improve their health and social standing. The Batwa are far more accepted in the community than they were in the past, however, there is an ongoing assumption that they should simply learn to be farmers like everyone else (which is a sad assumption to make, based on the decreased health that is associated with subsistence farming versus hunting and gathering).

    • Janelle J. Christensen

      A very warm thanks to Marcus and Kate for sharing this!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1403108042 Katherine Mary

        Thanks for your interesting insights Janelle! We are going to do a more in-depth article about Bwindi and the Batwa and I’d love to get some quotes from you. Looking forward to hearing from you! kate@lifethroughalens.org

  • JACKSON KEIWUA

    THANK YOU SO MUCH MARCUS AND kATHRINE FOR SHARING THIS, AWESOME

  • http://twitter.com/Guide2Uganda Guide2Uganda

    Lovely photos.

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