the song and dance of uganda’s batwa pygmies [video]


In the conservation game there are always winners and losers. When in 1991 the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve—along with Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve and Rwenzori Mountains Reserve—was gazetted as a national park and renamed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the mountain gorilla won. However, it meant that several thousand Batwa pygmy people were evicted from the forest and were no longer permitted to enter the park or access its resources. They lost their home.

The Batwa Pygmies people are generally assumed to be the oldest surviving population of the Great Lakes region of central Africa and can be found in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that today the population range is somewhere near 85,000 – 90,000.

The Ugandan government is making a huge effort to integrate the Batwa population in the conservation struggle, for example, earmarking certain jobs [i.e. gorilla tracking porters] for their population only. Another way the Batwa Pygmies make an income is by performing their traditional dances and songs for tourists – and I was privileged to witness them.

Near the town of Rubuguri at the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest, the Batwa Pygmies sang about the beauty of Uganda and praised the rainforest in their native language, Rukiga, which apparently has no word for “saving” and no word for “goal” except when referring to kicking a soccer ball into the net. The language rarely uses the past or future tense which leaves most all conversations in the present tense.

Even their language lives for the moment.