This week we accompanied the last group of tourists into the wilderness of Echuya Forest and to the famed ritual tree of the Batwa “Pygmies”. From now on we are going to be charged USD 30 per person to enter this nature reserve, and we are simply not ready to pay this exorbitant fee. We had to bribe heavily to get the already booked people in, and now we will look for other solutions.
Our activities in Echuya have been part of a strong partnership with the Batwa of Rwamahano, and very successful until governmental entities stepped in. We have been working with two other Batwa communities in Uganda — at Lake Bunyonyi and on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park — and faced major problems there as well … We will update you on the situation in three installments.
Partners #1: Rwamahano Batwa community
Location: Echuya Forest Reserve
Adversary: forest protectors
This community is located on the bank of Echuya in the newly-formed Rubanda District. In 2013 Studiosus from Germany suggested we develop a Batwa experience “without dancing” and that led to Batwa Today, a combination of a forest walk and a group conversation in the village. It became a respectful and cherished activity that made both the guests and the hosts happy.
The Batwa themselves feel proud of what they have to share with visitors, and how much they have achieved. We were impressed when the idea about the Batwa Jamboree came from their community, the yet-to-happen event bringing together kindred groups from different countries. Because we saw them as leaders and role models, we also organised English classes for them.
Recently, however, Rubanda District and the National Forest Authority (NFA) have been fighting for who gets the spoils from Echuya tourism. It looks like the NFA has prevailed, and this organisation has made it previously clear to us that they could potentially sign an agreement with a local organisation that represents the Batwa. The community of Rwamahano does not trust any of the entities claiming to speak for them, so our solution will be to form the Ugandan version of Gorilla Highlands Experts, and give the Batwa proper representation. This new organisation will then attempt to arrange something with the NFA.
photo of the Rwamahano Batwa leader Yohana Biraro by Tomaž Malovrh