Building Traditions: New Year’s Eve Celebration on Habukomi Island

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“How do local people celebrate New Year’s Eve?” visitors to the Gorilla Highlands often ask. Until 2007 there wasn’t much to say. The drumming that traditionally announces Christmas would get repeated to some degree, and that would be all.

But now that we have awaited a new year on Habukomi Island ten years in a row, we can probably claim there is a traditional way to celebrate?


On 31 December 2016 most of our party goers went to Habukomi direct by motorboat, however, about 20 of them took a half-day dugout canoe detour.


They landed at the Kyabahinga peninsula and climbed to the home of Omugurusi Jeremiah, a traditional healer. After he told them many interesting things about herbs and beliefs he joined the group on the way down; he wanted to be with everybody on Habukomi.


Kyabahinga normally impresses with fabulous views of all sides of Lake Bunyonyi but last Saturday was dry-season-like hazy. Then again, better that than rain on New Year’s Eve!


The last destination before paddling to the island was the family of Annah, a craft maker. She showed them different techniques and products, taught them how to make bracelets and then became part of the party team too.


Once everybody reached Habukomi, over 50 people in total, Miha introduced them: Gorilla Highlands Trails hosts from Kabale and Kisoro Districts, two Batwa “Pygmy” communities, visitors from Kampala and Kigali, a big group of German volunteers, Italian and French guests. Slides projected on the wall followed, showcasing the work of Edirisa and MYL in 2016.


Tom’s family cooked a local meal while the chefs from Edirisa served BBQ skewers.


There are always various fun and funny games taking place at the party …


… but only one is truly unmissable and, ha, traditional! (It originates from the Netherlands.)


At 11pm preparations for the annual grand finale started.


10 canoes, a motorboat and a bit of military-level coordination were needed to get everybody into a circle on the lake surface.


And after some minutes of quiet floating on Bunyonyi, 2017 arrived, with fire and champagne.

Let it be a successful one, for you and for the Gorilla Highlands initiative!

photo: Enock Luyonza and Gael Grilhot