25/7/2017 - 1:11 pm

Gorillas And Tribes In Uganda – The Story Of The Evicted Batwa Community

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Batwa people in Uganda, known as The Keepers of the Forest. Batwa people in Uganda, known as The Keepers of the Forest.

Anna Bohlmark, a freelance journalist, wanted to do a documentary about the endangered mountain gorillas of Uganda, but during her research she discovered the story of the Batwas – the keepers of the forest. Since the ’90s, when the Batwa people were literally evicted from the Lake Region forests of western Uganda, the authorities have earned approximately $600.00 from each tourist taking safari tours of the region. Even today, thousands of Batwa are discriminated against and face devastating poverty as they search constantly for a living on their own.

Fog of Bwindi, a 25 minute short movie, was the first documentary Anna made, as part of a school assignment which she finished in 2015. The Bwindi forest used to be home to both gorillas and the Batwa pygmies. The forest is now the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and UNESCO world heritage site, but the Batwa people received no compensation for being driven out of their de traditional homeland. Today, they earn a daily subsistance by begging, dancing for tourists, or selling souvenirs and other trinkets.

As for her purpose in making the documentary, Anna points out that it is of essential importance to “raise the world’s awareness of the Batwa community, because economic interests are taking over, and we tend to forget the human rights of small peoples.” The social inequality affecting the Batwa pygmies has inspired local NGOs to raise funds for them so that they can acquire their own lands, cultivate them, and establish a consistent source of livelihood. Their government’s neglect and the lack of involvement of the international organisations present in Uganda have given rise to “changes coming from the grassroots which are of primordial importance”, and Anna has tried to bring them into the spotlight in her documentary.


Mountain gorilla, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

The backstage of an early documentary career

It cost the film maker about € 3000 to make the Fog of Bwindi. Since 2015, when the documentary was finished, Anna has earned no money from it. On the contrary, the documentary is for Anna a sort of gift to the cause of indigenous peoples everywhere. Only 25 minutes long, despite the fact that she recorded over 100 hours of film, the documentary reflects her understanding that « shorter is better » when sharing information and communicating feelings. The footprint of empathy is omnipresent throughout the movie, without explicitly pointing fingers at those who should be responsible for ensuring social rights and thus bringing about better living conditions for the Batwa pygmies. Anna simply wants to raise awareness.

In terms of promotion, personal contacts have come first. Through her network back in Italy, Anna succeeded in screening her documentary in India, where the movie was very well received as local communities are facing similar habitat issues as parks are established for elephants or native forests for tigers. Thanks to the media coverage in India, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) got in contact with Anna and recently screened the documentary in Brussels. The story of the Batwa community is a fine example of engaged journalism, making the voices of those who are unrepresented heard and highlighting the sad fact that “decisions must be taken by both the heart and brain, not only the brain”, argues Anna.


Bwindi Forest National Park, Uganda

Anna wishes to be able in the near future to screen her documentary on a TV channel. This explains why Fog of Bwindi is not yet available on YouTube. For the present, Anna is working on 3 other documentaries for which she has succeeded in raising financial support. She can be contacted through her single person media production company, Pelican Media.

Background information: In the area known as the Great Lakes Region, there are about 80,000 Batwa living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The forced evictions in the ’90s were due to conservation projects to protect mountain gorillas. However, as a nomadic people, the Batwa had no right to compensation for losing their ancestral forest lands. Over 6000 Batwa were evicted from what is now known as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The Batwa community is also still marginalised in Uganda, and their culture and language are under constant threat.

Photos: Shutterstock

Read 509 times Last modified on 18/9/2017 - 5:33 pm

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