Batwa “Pygmy” Activities


Ethics

Visit to the Batwa of Rwamahano; photo by Marcus Westberg

Ethics of Visiting Batwa “Pygmies”

“See the Pygmies” is one of the most popular tourism pitches. Please be cautious. There is no lack of unscrupulous people who target tourists wherever Batwa settlements exist. Such “guides” tend to disrespect the Batwa, keep almost all of the money collected and limit the experience to poverty porn and uninspired dancing.

A related problem is Batwa alcoholism. As any other disfranchised indigenous group on the planet, they resort to drinking as a way to deal with their situation. Tourism money too often fuels this scourge.

With that in mind, is it even worth visiting the Batwa?

It is.

Legitimate Batwa projects exist, supporting the poorest of the poor in the Gorilla Highlands region. Around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park we can recommend two: Batwa Experience in Buhoma and Buniga Forest Walk in Nkuringo. Within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park there is the Batwa Trail. Finally, in the Lake Bunyonyi area you should avoid too-common motorboat trips to Kyevu on the western shore of the lake and consider Batwa Today in Echuya Forest instead. A special children version of Batwa Today exists as well.

With the exception of Batwa Today, all these activities fall in the living history category; you will see Batwa in costumes very professionally and at times cheekily recreating their foregone forest lifestyle.

Batwa Experience

Batwa Experience

The Batwa Experience in Buhoma (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park) is the original Batwa cultural walk. The Batwa Trail and the Buniga Forest Walk are heavily inspired by its success, attempting to replicate it with Batwa communities from other parts of the Gorilla Highlands region.

The Batwa Experience happens in a forest bordering on the national park, an area that can be relatively steep. A path in an excellent condition leads from one station to another, showcasing traditional herbalist knowledge, hunting techniques, forest shelters and more. The crescendo is reached at a spacious purposely-built hut that acts as a dance floor and dining area. The dancing includes an elaborately and impressively costumed deity that is quite a scary sight. The food served has little to do with the Batwa forest diet; it is instead a tasty example of what rural Ugandans usually eat: matooke (plantains), goat stew and fruits.

The activity lasts about 5 hours and can be started any time from early morning to early afternoon. Up to 12 visitors can go at once; two groups per day can be served.

Price:
four people or more: USD 60 per person
two to three people: USD 70 pp
one person: USD 85
private tour: USD 100 pp
price for volunteers: USD 30 pp
Ugandan students: UGX 15,000 pp

Official website: www.batwaexperience.com

Batwa Today


Batwa Today

Batwa Today combines a nature walk in Echuya Forest Reserve with a visit to the Batwa community of Rwamahano. The latter is based on respectful conversation – guests are expected to introduce themselves to the Batwa, get to know them, and ask and answer questions in a relaxed group atmosphere. There is as well a pre-activity session at Lake Bunyonyi and debriefing afterwards; Batwa Today is deeper than other Batwa experiences in the Gorilla Highlands.

The longer version of the Batwa-led forest walk can take up to 2 hours, is of easy to moderate difficulty and leads to the sacred place where Batwa used to slaughter the animals they hunted. The much shorter loop (30-45 minutes) is meant only for visitors who have trouble walking.

Price:
five people or more: USD 30 per person
four people: USD 35 pp
three people: USD 45 pp
two people: USD 60 pp
one person: USD 95

Includes everything during the trip: guiding, activities, a cup of coffee/tea at Lake Bunyonyi, a snack at the local bar and a contribution to the Batwa community.

Official website: www.edirisa.org/batwa

Batwa Kids

Batwa for children; photo by Marcus Westberg

Batwa Kids

During Batwa Kids, a young visitor becomes a “hunter” in Echuya Forest. Equipped with a traditional Batwa bow, he or she tries to hit cardboard targets representing animals that used to live in the forest. On the way the child learns about herbs and fruits as well. The adventure ends with a picnic deep in the bamboo bush and a limbo dance competition with amazing views of Lake Bunyonyi.

The was developed to entertain children under 15 who cannot visit mountain gorillas with their parents. It is open to all visitors, irrespective of their age, and takes up to 3 hours (excluding transport to Echuya).

Price:
five people or more: USD 30 per person
four people: USD 35 pp
three people: USD 45 pp
two people: USD 60 pp
one person: USD 95

Includes everything during the trip: guiding, activities, a cup of coffee/tea at Lake Bunyonyi, picnic lunch in Echuya Forest and a contribution to the Batwa community.

There is an official web page for children, and one for parents.

Batwa Trail


Batwa Trail

The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is available in a shorter and longer version. The price and the activities are the same, the only difference is the length of the walk across the lower slopes of Mt Muhavura and Gahinga (on average 2.5 versus 5 hours). The trail is well-maintained and, if you opt for the short option, very flat.

Batwa performers in imitation of traditional wear will show you the forest as a larder, pharmacy, builder’s yard, tool kit and, above all, a home. Along the trail you’ll try to fire a bow and arrow, check hives for wild honey, help repair a Batwa shelter, harvest plants for medicine and food, light a fire without matches, 
listen to legends and learn about Batwa 
culture and traditions. The highlight of the trail is a descent into Garama Cave, a historical hiding place 342m/1,120ft long. It provides the setting for an unforgettable dancing and singing performance.

Price:
USD 80 per person (includes park fees)

Buniga Forest Walk

Buniga Forest Walk


The Buniga Forest Walk in Nkuringo (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park) is about 1 kilometre long, easy loop through a pocket forest known for its many birds; over 100 species have been identified in the area. Buniga Forest harbours numerous mammals, for example duikers, and primates like black and white colobus and mountain monkeys.

A Batwa guide, dressed in a simplified reproduction of the olden forest wear, will try to show you some of the fauna but lush indigenous flora is the only guaranteed part of the walk. Giant lobelias and tree ferns may truly amaze you, in case you haven’t yet set foot into Bwindi.

Together with a team of Batwa actors and actresses, your guide will take you into his people’s past. You will get to understand how the jungle provided them with food, medicine, clothing, construction, tools and crafts. Contemporary crafts will be on offer at the end of your stroll that may take 2-3 hours.

If you wish, you can finally be taken to the Sanuriiro settlement some 5 kilometres away, to see how Batwa survive today.

Price:
USD 25 per person



Gorilla Highlands blog essentials:

Why Gorilla Highlands?

20 Best Stories from the Gorilla Highlands Blog

“Responsible Tourism” – Right Term, Right Way