Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda
Batwa trail which begins at the base of Mount Muhabura is the only trail that takes Visitors to the ancient Garama Caves. Garama caves are one of the top attractions found in Mgahinga national park Uganda. Mgahinga national park is regarded as Uganda’s smallest Scenic park, located in south western part of Kisoro district. It is host several animal species such as the endangered mountain gorillas, Golden monkeys and various bird species. It is attached to the 3 Volcanic mountains which are Mt Gahinga. Mt Sabinyo and Mt Muhabura.
The tour along the batwa trail is regarded as a living museum that will take visitors through the lifestyle of the Batwa people together with their ancestral home, the Garama Cave. Garama cave is 200 metres long, 14 meters deep and many years ago this cave was inhabited by bats. It’s approximately 14km from Kisoro to the Mgahinga park headquarters at Ntebeko Visitors center Uganda, where visitors begin the batwa trail and garama cave tour. The batwa had these caves as sacred places after they were evicted from their ancestral forest in 1991, but currently they are now allowed as guides to lead visitors and this has earned them an income from tourism.
The Batwa Trail experience takes you on a guided trail by the Batwa guides to the Secret Garama cave, who provide insight into their traditional forest way of living. The Batwa are the shortest people on earth, who used to live the forest as forest dwellers, surviving on fruit, hunting wild animals for meat, and honey gatherers. Along the trail to the caves you will learn from their explanations and show case of their former forest traditions including hunting skills, herbal medicine administration, water collection using bamboo shoots, tree climbing, houses and evolution of fire and pipe smoking.
Once at the caves, Batwa elders used to pray to their perfect black god known as Biheeko for spiritual guidance. Inside the caves are stairs giving access to its dark interior, the Batwa pottery, remains and molded chairs where they used to stay and hide from enemies, bottle fields can also be seen and as you come out there are bat colonies.
This Garama cave used to be the kings residence, training area, granary to keep their food and meeting place for the elders. Currently the cave has an enriched shelter on top which was done by USAID. The batwa trail ends with traditional performances by Batwa people displaying their dancing strokes accompanied by music.
Traditionally the batwa had their ways of living including marriage where batwa (mutwa) were not allowed to marry non batwa (mutwa) tribe and getting pregnant before marriage was forbidden. The family of a mutwa boy would admire qualities of a mutwa girl and decide if she is the right partner for their son, then they would visit the girls’ family carrying gifts which included pots of honey roasted meat and beer brewed with honey where they would negotiate dowry which then would be paid by the mutwa boys family before being handed over the mutwa girl for marriage.
When the woman would get pregnant she would be fed on meat, honey, vegetables and drink a lot of herbs to boost her health and that of the unborn baby. She would be helped by other women at the time of giving birth who would use pieces of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord, the baby would then be wrapped in clean animal skins and brought near fire for warmth.
When any mutwa would die they would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in grass. The batwa leaders would lead the burial ceremony and encourage all the family members to drink herbal extracts as a way of preventing death from that family. After burial they would migrate to a far place and never return.
This way of leaving under threat has already vanished and Batwa have been struggling to have their rights back, but they are unlikely to succeed. So Batwa remain in a legal limbo with unpromising prospects.