Trouble for Batwa “Pygmy” Communities: Lake Bunyonyi

We previously talked about Rwamahano, as an example of Batwa “Pygmy” groups we work with. These indigenous people originate from some of the oldest humans in Africa. They once lived in forests looking for fruits and honey, and hunted with bows and arrows, trained dogs by their side. Towards the end of the 20th century they were pushed out of national parks without any appropriate relocation or reparation. They became the poorest of the poor.

Partners #2: Makanga Batwa community
Location: Lake Bunyonyi
Adversary: easy money

We started visiting the Batwa on the shores of Bunyonyi in 2005 when orienting our international volunteers. Checking on their village was part of our multi-day canoeing and hiking trips that later became popular among travellers too. We considered the Batwa of Makanga to be members of our big family and they were cherished guests at our New Year’s Eve celebrations. However, these friends have disappointed us eventually!

Exposed to excessive tourism, our partners have been corrupted by this easy money. Tourists have been splashing shillings and dollars at them for quick dance performances, and that has resulted in widespread alcoholism, chaos and imbalance in the area (listen to our podcast about it). Frankly, booze is a significant problem among the Batwa communities — as it is for tragic reasons in other indigenous communities around the world — but here it’s worse!

What to do? Our plan is to engage, by the end of 2022, all those who are sending motorboat loads of visitors to Lake Bunyonyi Batwa communities. If these tourism professionals and business people acknowledge the damage that is being done, they may listen. Our invitation: join in a responsible tourism alternative that will influence the expectations and behaviour of visitors, discourage alcoholism and encourage productive activities among the Batwa communities of Bunyonyi. Hopefully Batwa leaders will also agree that we need to overcome effortless income and liquid benefits — if for nothing else then for the kids’ sake!

photo by Marcus Westberg