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The Lost Tribe of Uganda

By March 3, 2021March 23rd, 2023No Comments

The Batwa Tribe of Mgahinga

With International tourism focusing on the conservation of the endangered mountain gorilla, the Mgahinga region of the Virungas Volcanoes in Uganda was declared a national park in 1991 to curb poaching. Although this initiative was deemed a success and the number of the gorilla population increased it did present another challenge. That for years went by unnoticed and forgotten.

The Mgahinga Batwa tribe lived a very simple life in the forests of the Virungas. Hunting small game, gathering plants and fruits, they lived in caves or small huts constructed from leaves and branches. They are a unique tribe that was untouched by modern life until they were uprooted and left to fend for themselves in a world they did not understand.

Known as the “Keepers of the Forest”, the Batwa are thought to be one of the oldest surviving indigenous people in the Central African Region.

The Batwa have a synergetic relationship with the wild and would forage for food and medicinal plants in the undergrowth of the forest. They lived in harmony with the mountain gorilla and were a peaceful tribe also concerned with the conservation of the area.

There are now only about 3000 Batwa tribe members in the Virunga region.

About eighteen families, displaced and squatting on farmland close to the Mgahinga National Park entrance have now found a permanent home in the Gahinga Batwa Village. This village was created by the Volcanoes Safari’s Partnership Trust to enable these families to become a part of a community that celebrates their heritage and culture.

The project to house and recapture this lost tribe began in 2015 with the creation of a Batwa Heritage Trail. Consisting of a demonstration herb garden, traditional huts and a trail that allows the Batwa to showcase how they used to live, hunt with bows and arrows, collect honey and how they used herbs and plants from the forest for medicinal purposes.

This awakened the need for a proper home for the community that since 1991 had no permanent space to call their own. Volcanoes Safari’s Partnership Trust purchased a ten acre plot of land and each of the 18 families were given space to create their own homes and herb and vegetable gardens to sustain their families. In 2018 the families moved into their homes, over 100 adults and children finally had their own home for the first time in almost 30 years.

The settlement will enable the Batwa to break the cycle of manual labour and land rental payments.

The long term goal is to provide land for the Batwa to create a home that will be theirs for perpetuity; to integrate them back into the lifestyle and culture of the Virungas; and to ensure that they are no longer the lost tribe. The community were directly involved in all steps of the planning process and are part of the daily running of the tourism projects.

Image courtesy of Mount Gahinga Lodge

To spend time with the Batwa is not just an opportunity to learn about nomadic forest living but an experience that will leave you inspired and moved.

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