Indigenous Tribe Loses Out to Environmental Conservation

Photo by Jocelyn Saurini https://flic.kr/p/3hvDeXGenerally, indigenous groups promote a way of life that is harmonious with conservation. There is a tie to nature and a respect that is not seen as strongly among other populations of settlers. Most of the time, indigenous groups favor government policies that strengthen land preservation.

But things are a little different in the African state of Uganda. The Batwa indigenous tribe has been left destitute because they were forced off the land in the name of environmental protection.

The Land of the People

The Batwa culture has historically lived in harmony with nature. The natural habitat provided food, shelter, and medicine. It was also the setting for their livelihood and culture.

But their tie to nature goes beyond the day-to-day. They see their relationship with the land around them as a divine responsibility. According to one legend, the god Nagasian gave the Batwa people the responsibility of caretakers of the forest. (This is very similar to the Judeo-Christian concept of stewardship.)

Indeed, the tribe has a history in Africa that dates back thousands of years. All myths, beliefs, and ancestry are tied to the forest. It is their birthplace and where they rightfully belong.

Longing for a Place to Call Home

The plight of the Batwa indigenous tribe is one steeped in irony. The people were forced off their land due to environmental conservation. In the early 1990s, the area was turned into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park to preserve the natural habitat.

Due to conservation efforts associated with the national park, the Batwa tribe has been forced off their homeland, left to fend for themselves. They have suffered and their population has dwindled as a result. Unfortunately, the Batwa were excluded from society, caught in a cycle of poverty, having to beg and scrounge for resources.

Fighting for Land

The Batwa are working to take control of their livelihoods and hold onto the traditional culture that is eroding. A few members of the tribe are trying to get the Ugandan government to hear their plight and let them return to their jungle. The tribe doesn’t want to own the land, just inhabit it again. In 1995, the Constitution granted inherent rights and freedoms to all people in the country.

The Batwa Experience, a cultural history tour created by the displaced Batwa to educate their children and share their amazing heritage and traditions, has worked to inform tourists around the world of their plight and earn them some revenue. It is part of an eco-tourism initiative in the country to preserve the land and bring in tourists to see the various habitats.

Stephen, a Batwa tour guide, said, “The hope is to be given land of our own. That would be peace. Even if our children had no access to the forest, they could have a future.”

The Batwa’s plight highlights the need, not just to preserve the environment, but manifest a shift in consciousness — a shift that recognizes a way that humans can live in harmony with the nature around them.

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.