I have always been fascinated by the different cultures in Uganda: from the Bakiga to the Acholi to the Batooro you name it. So when I got a chance to hang out with the Batwa in Nkuringo town I was rather ecstatic!
Journey to the Batwa
We had to cross from Buhoma, which is located in Kanungu district to Nkuringo, Kisoro, but there was a catch. We either had to use a car that would take us 4 hours to get there or we walk through the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which would take about 2 hours. My friends and I chose the latter and that was the beginning of one of my longest treks in a National Park.
Despite the sun being at its peak, it was quite chilly as we trekked through the forest with the rangers that Uganda Wildlife Authority was kind enough to provide. The National Park is famously known for the Mountain Gorillas, so every time I heard wood crack I would stop and look around wishing I would see one hanging in the tree. I was so hopeful that every time we met a pedestrian walking the opposite direction I would ask if they had seen any of these majestic creatures.
As we continued our journey, I often wondered about how I would react if I met aggressive gorillas like an angry chest thumping King Kong. Would I bow and say “all hail the king” or run for dear life? But after this proved to be a dilemma, I asked one of the Rangers if gorillas understand human gestures, he was so confused by the question and asked why? “You see, I’m trying to figure out my options just in case we meet angry gorillas on this trail,” I said to him.
After laughing hysterically, he assured me that the possibility of meeting a gorilla on the trail was very low since they tend to avoid it and even if we did, they wouldn’t engage unless they felt threatened.
Honestly, I was quite saddened by his response, it was like denying a child candy. I thought we would easily run into them since Uganda has half of the world’s gorilla population.
We were treated to a welcome song and I remember just smiling aimlessly as I tried to understand their language or just one word.
The Batwa used to have an interesting life, all their food came from within the forest. They showed us how they cooked their food, starting with the way they made fire. Forget the urban way of lighting a fire, these guys used the traditional way of using sticks to light a fire.
They also showed us their hunting skills and boy oh boy, I would sign them up for archery competitions. One of the guys kept hitting the same spot with so much ease and when he noticed I amazed, he passed me the bow and arrow and asked me to try my luck. I was supposed to hit a tree but for some reason, my arrow kept finding the ground, it’s like there was a magnetic pull. After a few tips, I managed to hit a tree but it wasn’t the target tree and it was at that point I realized that the wind wasn’t in favor as well.😄
The Batwa used to be forest dwellers who set up tree shelters off the ground in order to avoid attacks from wild animals. The shelters were also considered a safe place for children to stay in case the parents went out hunting or wood gathering.
With the government emphasis on conserving the natural habitat for Mountain Gorillas, most of the Batwa relocated to communities neighboring Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and several have adjusted to the urban way of life.
If you’re interested in learning more about the different cultures in Uganda, then I totally recommend the Batwa Experience, you will get your money’s worth and more.