The Batwa Trail Experience
The Batwa Trail Experience is one of the most fascinating tour activities done in Bwindi forest, Mgahinga National Park, and around Lake Bunyonyi. Much as the mountain gorillas and other wildlife and bird species are the inhabitants of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park, the Batwa pygmies are the only humans that had been able for a very long time to co-exist with them. The Bwindi and Mgahinga are rainforests located in the South Western part of Uganda. The Batwa were keepers of these rainforests stretching from Cameroon to the southwest of Uganda. The Batwa lived harmoniously with the forest that they established no villages or built any permanent structures. They instead lived in caves and were hunters and gatherers who lived according to their customs.
As years went by and national parks were information for “conservation” purposes, these keepers of the rainforests were evicted without compensation to live as squatters in other people’s homes making them lose their identity as people and eroding their culture. They have since found refuge in sharing their life with those who care to listen and learn, thus forming the Batwa trail experience. Since they live outside the forest, every gorilla sector can access it, including those who are in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The Batwa trail experience introduces tourists to the life of the only ecological humans that ever inhabited the rainforests. The trail often starts with welcoming orientation remarks by the elders of the land who then lead you through the trail. They are often dressed in animal hides (goats’ skins, not wild animals’ hides). The elders who take tourists through the trail get to a point and kneel as they pray for blessings and guidance from their forest god called Biheeko before they enter the forest. They pray to their god Biheeko in the belief that he will protect them as they go about their activities in the forest. It should be noted that the Batwa are also animists who take plants and animals to have a spiritual presence.
As the trail continues, the Batwa guides share their knowledge of nutritious plants, leaves, and fruits that are found in the forest that you might have thought not good to eat. They also share their knowledge of the medicinal plants, herbs, and roots that they have always used to heal themselves of illnesses-remember they are bush-people who had no contact with any sort of modernization. You will be taught how to extract wild honey while on a Batwa trail experience, which you can share with them thereafter.
When they do demonstrations of their hunting and trapping skills, honey gathering, starting a fire from just a stick, water collecting with bamboo tubes and the huts that they lived in, one can get to know how friendly they were to the forests and that their lifestyle hardly threatened the environment. When you reach the Garama caves which were the king’s residence, chambers, training place among other uses, a group of Batwa women sing in darkness songs of sadness about their lost habitat. The trail climaxes, however, with very vigorous ground stamping dances and melodious tunes that you just might keep humming for a long time.
The Batwa forest experience can take about 5 hours or a full day, according to your arrangement. The trail costs $40 for all foreign travelers and UGX40,000 for East African citizens doing the trail while in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, while it costs $80 for all foreigners and UGX50,000 for East African citizens doing the trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The Batwa trail experience oftentimes is an additional activity that travelers who go gorilla trekking in any of the parks choose to do. It is rewarding as one gets an opportunity to learn a lot from them and also enjoy their dances and songs.