Afternoons in Bwindi, Uganda: January 17 - 18, 2023
|(l-r) Mugisha (A Blessing) age 54; King of Batwa age 78 named Konyamugara (Hairy body) the name inherited from his great grandfather; Musinguzi (winner) age 33; Mbele (someone in front) age 40|
The Batwa are an internally displaced group who until 1991 lived in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. As hunters and gatherers, they lived off the land. To preserve the animals living in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, the government at gun point removed the Batwa. The land that the Batwa live on was purchased by a foreigner who recognized the plight of the Batwa. As a people they have been hunted and killed, endured slanderous names, and discrimination. The government has yet to compensate the Batwa for the removal from their ancestral lands.
As we came near the land where the Batwa now live, we were met by the King of the Batwa and three other men. We had to ask permission to enter their land. Permission was granted.
The Batwa have established kind of a living village tour to keep their traditions alive and share them with outsiders. We saw how they once ingeniously trapped animals and how they are now making bows, arrows, and spears. They didn't have a history of smelting, but now are making spear points from scrap metals. They showed us how they lived in the forest. Often they made their beds from ferns. If one of their group died, they moved to another part of the forest.
Life has changed for the Batwa, but with the help of an NGO they are building huts and other housing, they have a sewing room, basket weaving is being learned, they have a school room for the children, and tourist dollars come their way through the tours and charitable contributions. They no longer wear just animal skins and the sewing room is used for making crafts to sell and also clothing for the Batwa.
I asked the King if there was a meaning to his regalia. He said that each small mask is in memory of someone he lost, his fur crown was fashioned from the hide of a duiker (a small antelope), and his shorts were created in the sewing room.
|Konyamugara, King of the Batwa|
|The School Room|
The land that now belongs to the Batwa stops halfway up the mountain. The thick forest at the top of the mountain is the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
The main street in Bwindi between most of the tourist lodging and the entrance to the park is crowded with restaurants and other business that cater to tourists. I took a photo of the restaurant that caught my eye every time we passed.
|Farm to Table Dining|
Another afternoon we visited another local Non-governmental organization dedicated to helping women and saving wildlife. Ride 4 A Woman began in 2009 as a mountain bike rental company. The money from renting bikes would be used to empower women and assist the community. The initial purpose grew into eight programs: sewing, bike mechanics, agriculture, safe water, domestic violence prevention, education, microfinance, and baking. They also have dance classes. Once a woman perfects her skills, she becomes a trainer. Women are paid for their work and get a daily lunch at the center. The center has installed a water filtration system and over 1000 families come to fetch safe drinking water.
Most of the sewing machines are operated by foot pedals as the availability of electricity is not guaranteed.
|Treadle Sewing Machine|
The next morning at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park headquarters, some of the women from Ride 4 A Woman entertained those of us preparing for another Gorilla Trek.