Batwa living another life…
Traveling to track gorillas in misty Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Mountains is such a lifetimes’ thrilling experience that comes with the mother of all bonuses which is not worth missing. It is none other than the Batwa Trail which involves snuggling into the belly of Mgahinga mountain and you suddenly halt in Garamba Cave.
This underground lava is pitch dark, save for the light on the helmet of a guide John Nyinakayanja and our seven mobile phone torches. To the Batwa tribe, it is a sacred place with dear cultural attachments that is trudged with respect. Oral literature has it that, it was a hideout and food store besides hosting meetings between the King, elders, and chiefs. As it is done, after 30 minutes of snaking through precarious crevices and scaling boulders, we are requested to switch off any lights and observe maximum silence.
“The king of the earliest people to inhabit the earth used to hold court here 60, 000 years ago,” says Nyinakayanja. “Come 2020 and very little has changed since Egyptian explorers took the Batwa as symbols of their sun god called Ra. Aristotle the Greek Philosopher made mention of our tribe living in Rwanda, DR of Congo and Uganda where the Virunga ranges are spread.”
Besides being treated with reverence by Egyptians, the Batwa were and still are known for dancing by jumping so high and storytelling. Visibly little has changed except limitation to stay in their habitat comprising: Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forests gazetted in 1991. Old habits die hard as the elderly Batwa are orally passing on their ways to their children besides dramatizing their unique culture to tourists along the eight-kilometer trail.
Folklore has it that the first man of the Batwa tribe Gihanga had three sons: Gatwa, Gahutu, and Gatutsi. Put on a test of their abilities, Gahanna got three jugs and filled them with milk and challenged them to sit by the fire – all night long.
The next day Gatutsi’s jug was found full. Gahutu had gulped some and Gatwa had emptied his. It is upon this performance that either participant was awarded a talent and gifts. Gattuso got herds of cattle and land to graze them.
“Your children will always have food and milk,” Gahanga told Gatutsi the pastoralist found in Rwanda.
Gahutu got a hoe and fields to farm on and was endowed with a good house and leisurely life.
Like fate would have it Gatwa (from whom the Batwa hail) got a bow and arrow. This, according to folklore, is why the Batwa were still hunting small game and gathering food in the forest until 1991. To them, the forest is a one-stop center for herbs (medicine,) food (fruits and game meat,) clothes (tree leaves) and worship of powers above.
Hunting is another thrill that awes tourists especially the accuracy with which they hit distant wooden rabbits or antelopes with arrows propelled by feathers. In the forest, they used to live in small communities of 25-50 homes under a chief. They resided in makeshift units constructed by bend and weaving tree branches.
“The mother and father slept on a raised place in the space but the others made themselves comfortable anywhere,” says Nyinakayanja. “A fire was a security compulsion toward wild animals away. This was in addition to a guard staying awake in turns.”
Fetching water among the Batwa is the role of the women who also look for food like yams that double as medicinal against worms. Instead of jerry cans, huge bamboo stems suffice to carry the water home from springs. The stems double as cooking utensils and vessels for honey or meat.
The spiritual belief among the Batwa has it that their god Biheko has given them the responsibility to take care of their dwelling place – the forest. It is believed that is where the spirits of their dead reside and connect with the living. They need regular appeasing or the tribe risks earth quarks, landslides, and locusts.
“Beer laced with honey is brewed and everyone celebrates or risk some uncurable disease like HIV or Coronavirus,” says an elder in the tribe Steven Kiongozi. “That why when death occurs we mourn and light a fire till burial day. Plants are ground and smeared on the body of the living to keep the bad omen away.”
Herbs are available in the forest whenever they fall sick. They dry leaves, termites and plant roots before grinding them into powder to mix with honey to make syrups for cough, flu, and headache. They handle skin allergies and have antidote to poison.
This is besides one called Ituza which is a remedy for high blood pressure. The leaves are chewed or boiled in water and drunk. Another one called Mufumba is known to make the consumer as swift as an antelope in flight. The tribesmen chew it when going to propose or hunt. When it comes to diabetes they have Rusoga which works wonders.
Dress code among the Batwa means leaves that cover the breasts and the torsos. The women wear Umuse which winding creepers picked from trees and sliced into strings. From a distance, they look like dance costumes. Others use skins of animals to make loin clothes or sheets to sleep on when it rains.
Honey is an occupation that is done with skill and tact as some community members are all ears for the buzz of bees and all eyes for their combs. They stalk the workaholic insects from the source of pollen to where they process it by watching the movement of certain birds (Bee-eater.)
The starting of fire as the early man did by rubbing stick between palms until sparks are formed and they fall on grass. What follows are petals of blue and red flames with smoke spiraling lazily. The narrative concludes that fire was used to roast meat, cook leaves and protection against wild animals at night.F0r affordable gorilla tour packages and Batwa tour packages contact Mj safaris Uganda.