The dense forests at the foot of the Virunga Volcanoes were home to the Batwa people: hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine thanks to ancient knowledge passed down for generations.
When Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was established, the Batwa were suddenly evicted from the forest and forced to abandon their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. Now landless, they work when they can for local farmers, and the only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on The Batwa Trail, where they invite visitors to discover the magic of their old home.
During this moving tour, the Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques; gather honey; point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are finally invited to the sacred Ngarama Cave, once home to the Batwa King, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a striking and moving sense of the richness of this fading culture.
Uganda’s Batwa do now have a voice. The United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) promotes Batwa rights and helps to provide Land, education, and health care. UOBDU’s flagship activity is the newly established Batwa Trail. Run by UOBDU members, this is Uganda’s first organized tourism project. By participating in this new initiative, and sharing your experiences with others, you can help UOBDU to make a difference.
The Batwa Trail runs across the lower slopes of the Muhavura and Gahinga Volcanoes in Mgahinga Gorilla Safari Park. The forest is home to a variety of wildlife but the Batwa Trail is far from being a conventional nature walk. With the help of Batwa guides, you will see the forest as a larder, pharmacy, builder’s yard, tool kit and above all, a home. Along the Trail, you will 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 traditions.
The highlight of the trail is a descent into the Garama cave, a 200m long lava tube beneath Mt. Gahinga. The Batwa are famed for their music and dance and their historic, subterranean council chamber in Garama cave provides the setting for an unforgettable performance. The Batwa trail is a celebration of the forest culture of the ‘first people’. It is imposible, however, to ignore the fact that Batwa life has greatly changed. The day’s events conclude is a discussion about the Batwa’s current situation; how it can be improved; and progress towards doing so.
Crafts; Batwa communities living around the Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi impenetrable National Parks produce a variety of attractive handcrafts. These are sold to provide income to craftsmen and women, and to generate funds for UOBDU activities.
Access; The Batwa Trail is located in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes in South Western Uganda. The Park lies 520km from Kampala and 10km south of Kisoro. The first 430km to Kabale are on good tarmac. The 80km stretch to Kisoro follows a winding mountain road which is presently murram but is in the process of being surfaced.