Our boat gracefully plowed the dark waters of Lake Bunyonyi. Not a ripple disfigured the smooth surface, allowing the carefully terraced green hills to be mirrored in the deep lake. Banana groves and tall eucalyptus trees dot the steep shores and most of the 29 islands. Each has its own legend, like Punishment Island where unmarried pregnant girls were left to starve as recently as 90 years ago.
Grey Heron, in the company of Grey Crested Cranes, the national bird, stalk the shoreline. Kingfishers happily bounce on the papyrus and Long Crested Eagles adorn the top of flame trees. Sounds kitschy? Maybe, but this is exactly how we experienced this boat trip to the southwestern end of the snake-shaped lake.
Our first welcome committee was a carpet of water lilies. After a steep climb, a bunch of children eagerly ledged on to us. Two, even three kids grabbed one of our hands, the rest following us. Word had gotten ahead of us: two “Mzungos” were visiting!
Thus a group of adults and children had gathered on a small flat piece of land to present their songs and dances, which was extraordinary. Unfortunately there was not much interaction. None of the Batwa spoke any English and our guide chose to limit his translating to an embarrassing minimum. His attitude towards them reflected the negative perception they are commonly subjected. As soon as we arrived, he whispered that they would take our small donations straight to the village bar, that they smoke marihuana and besides are simple minded.
The older people indeed looked quite different to Ugandans, a bit like aborigines: broad flat noses, the hair seemed different. And yes, some of them were very short, but due to intermarriages their physique has changed. Now full-blood Batwa is usually elderly people, who used to be hunters and gathers indigenous to the dense rain forest.
Gradually they lost their traditional living space to deforestation and the spread of farm land. In 1991, the exodus was made complete when they were literally evicted from the forest and resettled in village, without land rights and legal forest access.