Our second field visit for Singing Wells which was in November 2011 took us to the southwest corner of Uganda. Here we met the members of six Batwa communities, all of which had a music group which we recorded for the project. Before we introduce you to the communities we met and the wonderful music and dance of the Ugandan Batwa, here is some background information about this unique group of people.
The Batwa people of Uganda
The Batwa, historically a nomadic, forest dwelling community of hunter-gatherers, are widely acknowledged to have been the first human residents of the forest areas which stretch across much of what is now Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC. In recent history however, the Batwa have become a displaced and largely forgotten ethnic group and their traditional culture and way of life is threatened with extinction.
The Batwa community first became fragmented as other ethnic groups populated their homelands, cutting back the forest to provide land for crops and livestock. However, it was in 1991, with the creation of formal conservation areas to protect the endangered mountain gorilla population and outlawing all human activity in the forests surrounding the Virunga mountains, when everything changed for the Ugandan Bawta. Unable to live and hunt in the forest, the Batwa were forced to live in areas not suited to their traditional way of life. They became largely excluded from Ugandan society. Batwa communities suffered from poverty and exclusion and were offered little stake in the tourist industry which has developed in forests where they once lived.
The plight of the Batwa in Uganda is now being recognized and there are initiatives in place to support their communities and help them reclaim their traditional way of life. The United Organisation for Bawta Development (UOBDU) was founded in 2000 to address land problems and develop sustainable livelihoods. UOBDU has identified four key areas of support: land & housing; education and adult literacy; income generation and forest access & benefit-sharing. By way of example, the Batwa Cultural Trail is a recent initiative launched by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and UOBDU. The trail provides an income for Batwa and it is the first initiative to afford them a stake in the conservation and management of the National Park which was once their home.
This short video produced by UOBDU explains about the current situation facing the Batwa people in Uganda
And another short video promoting the Batwa Trail