SABA Episode #5 — Grauer’s Gorillas, Bonobos & Community Issues

With this fifth episode of SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA we achieved something pretty monumental: we recorded everything but the Voice of Santa Barbara live, at once! Before we would always have to add extra recordings to what we get on the Tuesday Zoom call. That wasn’t easy for me — I’ve been doing studio sessions, I’ve been setting up a B&B in Kabale Town, I’ve been stopping neighbours from encroaching on my family land … You know, life just happens to you!

We were so determined to do it at once, do it well, and do it within an hour, that I even forgot to share with our listeners what the opening tune was about. It’s called Owundikwenda. It’s an ancient Bakiga folk song that I heard my mom absentmindedly singing one day when I visited her. She couldn’t remember the entire thing though, so she just kept repeating that chorus. I adapted it and wrote it into a song that I put on my Kahiri EP (short album).

It says:

Niwe owundikwenda
You’re the one I want

Runyasi rwa ngunga
This line needs some explaining. Ngunga is a special type of grass that was used decoratively waaaay back when there were no ribbons and tinsel in our mountains. Whenever there were special people incoming, they would go fetch this ngunga and lay it on the ground. It made a fresh smelling beautiful carpet in the yard to welcome visitors. So runyasi rwa ngunga means the ngunga grass. It can be translated to mean you’re the ornament of life, you beautify life. You’re the one I am proud to show off.

Rutagi rwa munyinya
Branch of munyinya (I don’t yet have context for this — must be a tree of great value!)

Ruraara mahamba
Your beauty is other worldly.

I chose this song because it speaks to me of how much importance people back in the day placed on nature around them. That is what crossed my mind when I heard my co-host Miha talk about “community conservation” in preparation for the episode … Not exactly a topic I would be a world-class expert in, to put it mildly. I ended up being quiet for most of the show, listening and learning.

Because we do have some expertise on our panel! This time the main star, Amy Porter, is a primatologist with a PhD who worked with communities deep in the Congo (the bonobo above was photographed by her in the west of the country). Moses Turinawe, our regular, runs the tourism aspects of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Marcus Westberg may best be known as a top-notch wildlife photographer but he is as well an excellent writer on issues of conservation, and he has been to every national park in our region.

You know, when Miha first invited me to be part of SABA, I was a bit worried. I expected that giants from the fields I know zero about will be intimidating, that I would need to be careful every second not to make a fool of myself! I had no clue it would be as easygoing and pleasant as it now is! I think this is primarily due to Miha’s relationships with everyone he invites to our Zoom calls. I believe a listener can feel this friendship, and enjoy it.

I was utterly impressed by Amy, her love for animals and the machine gun-like delivery of what she had to say. Mehn! She used to write great articles for our Daily Dose, but then got busy with wolf conservation in America. She really liked the idea of doing podcasts instead — and giving our experts a more efficient way to share their knowledge was a major reason for us to begin SABA in the first place! Still, at the end of the recording Amy realised that she wanted to express much more on community conservation, so an article by her might bless us in the near future. Fingers crossed!

This time we deliver behind our promised schedule (we want to be ready for your weekend listening pleasure). As with most baby projects, well, shit happens … In this case a couple times over. Our highly experienced audio maestro, Gregor “Roger” Strehovec, who volunteers in Slovenia to improve on our recordings every week was absent till the last minute. Combine that with Miha’s overworked and relentless perfectionist nature, bent on delivering the best product possible, and you have a humble explanation for the tardiness. But now you do have one polished, info-loaded and entertaining episode to enjoy — and we wouldn’t have had it any other way!


Washington Post article about Gorilla Highlands Experts (this episode’s question is in the comments)

Marcus Westberg’s article on gorilla national parks

Miha Logar’s article on where to best track mountain gorillas

Interview with Amy Porter

Amy Porter’s story about Grauer’s gorillas — and Nabanga!

Congo Travel Advisory article (with 29 brilliant images)

International Community of the Banyakigezi (Moses Turinawe mentions it)