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The poorest of people comes from the richest of forests

January 17, 2017

 

We visit the Pygmies and see how they used to live in the forest before they were driven out. We also go to bed ourselves in there lost forrest to see how it is to sleep in a real jungle.

 

Pygmies or Batwa people meaning the poorest of the poorest.

 

As I write this I am laying under a tree. It is dark. I listen to the sound of crickets and mosquitoes outside of the thin tent fabric. Every now and then we here branches brake. We stop breathing and turn the red headlamp off and listen. It is exciting. We don't know if we are allowed to camp in this forest and there are some wild elephants, gorillas and at least five species of monkeys, probably wild pigs and a few snakes like the king cobra lurking around here. When we hear a car we do the same, lights off, quiet and a few moments later we breathe again and giggle simultaneously of excitement.

 

We are in Bwindi impenetrable forest in Southern Uganda, once the home of the many Batwa or pygmies. Today a protected forest, beautiful and wild up in the mountains some 2500 m above sea level. We cycled all day up the hills, really all day long. Up, up, up, a little down, up, up and up.

 

It was not so fun in the beginning. People were actually a bit annoying. Kids really shout “give me money” a lot here and grown ups too and it’s ok. We say “no, sorry” and pedal on. But here the kids sometimes run after and you can see their eyes searching our packing for something to snatch. So we have to paddle on to get away. Then when some drunk grown up does the same it is no fun. But this is Uganda’s poorest region and two or three nights a week most families here go to bed without a third meal on there table according to Dr Scott who we mentioned last post.

 

The higher we get, the more seldom that we meet people. Only a few cars. We actually hitch a ride with a 4 wheeler. Its an old, friendly, american couple from Seattle, USA who travels with a guide, watching birds for three weeks. They drive slow and give us perfect lift for a couple of miles.


Yesterday we learned more about the Pygmees or Batwa meaning poorest of the poorest. These people are shorter than 150 cm on average. They otherwise look very normal for Uganda.

 

We go on a tour which is held by the Batwa Development Program, founded by Dr. Scott Kellerman. All the money goes to this group of people for healthcare, education and so on. Our guide shows us the old shrine which was the place of worship before 1934 when the village was "saved" by missionaries with the message of god.

 

The shrine still stands tall, it is a gigantic old fig tree once the home of the god. A giant snake which came down from the mountains once a year. People went crazy, slaughtering animals, filling the road with blood and fruits for the snake. The snake drank the blood and when satisfied and happy it went back into the forest again. The tree later served as shadow for the first village school, church and the first hospital was also here as a place to come to before there were any of these buildings in the village. Still today people meet here and discuss matters of the region. Today the topic is that some gorilla family is eating some farmers fruits and crops.


We go up the hillside with our guide. Halfway up, well into the forest we are greeted by four Batwa. They sing and dance in a spectacular way. We really enjoy this show. After an introduction of each other we move on and look at how they used to make fabric from bark,

 

how they make fire with twigs and how to get honey without getting stung. Honey was their favourite food and they also ate fruit and sometimes also meat from wild hunted animals. They were nomads and good hunters. Living in families of five to ten people. They show us how they hunt with bow and arrow and snares. They lived short times in an area. Killing many animals until they believed the animals wanted revenge, then they moved on. Or if someone died then it was a sign of the area being cursed and after ceremony the family could never come here again. So they buried their loved one in grass tied around the body and hid the corpse with their eyes pointing towards the sky, so the spirit could go to the sky and be free. Once they reach another mountain they built a new hut, out of sticks and grass.

 

Sometimes even up in the trees. They show us a lot and it all ended with another entertaining show of singing and dancing where we also get to see a batwa dressed up representing the forest god, Nawinji.

This costume was a way to dress up and tell children that in case of bad behaviour the forest god will take them.

 

We had a great day even if we are a bit tired, Fredrik with malaria and all. Also once the guide is done and get our written receipt filled in also he seems to be tired and is actually a bit rude.

 

Anyway, all in all a good day. This is not a cheap day’s excursion but the money is all ensured to go to the poorest of the poor so we say it’s ok with this 70 USD per person.


Now it is time to sleep like a lion in the jungle. Christian is allready tucked in and sleeping like a baby. I really want to see a forest elephant but just not these coming 8 hours. Good night!

 

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