My ‘Short’ Encounter with the Pygmies of Uganda

Last year my husband and I spent Thanksgiving in Uganda (central Africa).  We made time to see a group of Batwa pygmies.  When I first met them I didn’t even notice how short they were.  They wore big smiles and had even bigger personalities.  They wore modern day clothing with some African flavor and they weren’t afraid of a little color.

The Batwa were evicted from the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest 10 years ago in 2001.  That was when their forest home became a national park to protect the 350 mountain gorillas living there.  Unfortunately, the Batwa were never compensated and they were faced with yet another problem:  They needed to make money.

As a way of earning an income they invite tourists to come watch them in a short performance.  They sing in their native language, Rukiga, and dance as they did when they lived in the forest.  They demonstrate how to make fire using sticks.  They display arts and crafts that they make by hand. Every day they make this temporary shop outside that showcases their handmade woven bowls, carved wooden gorillas, and gorilla drawings done by the children.  Gratuities are also happily accepted.

Dancing with them was a lot of fun and I can see this being the place where freaky deaky dancing originated.  But the best part was walking back to the village with them.  We were their last visitors that day and it was just starting to drizzle.  They packed up all of their wares, and started the trek back into the village.  Everything that they had they carried and the pregnant women were no exception.  Everyone helped.

One girl in particular gave me a lasting memory.  She took my hand and held it like we were old friends.  Her name was Sharon.  She was 12 years old.  She was small for her age and absolutely beautiful.  Her hair was short like a boy’s and her demeanor was gentle and unafraid.  We walked hand in hand all the way back to the village.  We were flanked by corn fields and bright green trees and so our path was narrow, but our hands never separated.  It was a ‘short’ experience but one of my favorites.