The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, a profusion of exotic plants and animals that includes the endangered mountain gorilla. For thousands of years, the forest was also home to an indigenous people—the Batwa pygmies.
As the original dwellers of this ancient jungle, the Batwa were known as “The Keepers of the Forest.” The history of these small-statured people is long and rich. The Batwa survived by hunting small game using arrows or nets and gathering plants and fruit in the rain forest. They lived in huts constructed of leaves and branches, moving frequently in search of fresh supplies of food. The Batwa lived in harmony with the forest and its creatures, including the mountain gorillas, for millennia. Some anthropologists estimate that pygmy tribes such as the Batwa have existed in the equatorial forests of Africa for 60,000 years or more.
In 1992, the lives of the Batwa pygmies changed forever. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a national park and World Heritage Site to protect the 350 endangered mountain gorillas within its boundaries. The Batwa were evicted from the park. Since they had no title to land, they were given no compensation. The Batwa became conservation refugees in an unfamiliar, unforested world.
Many Batwa died during the early years of exile, and the tribe’s very existence was severely threatened.