Uganda, The Cultural Safari Gem

Uganda, The Cultural Safari Gem

A 2013 Harvard University study reckons that Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country in the world. Indeed, the 1995 Constitution of Uganda details 56 different indigenous ethnic groups in the country!

Situated at the geographical heart of African, Uganda is a cultural melting pot, with 30-plus indigenous languages. These belong to five distinct broad linguistic groups with a matching diversity of food, music, art, marriage rituals and crafts. This ethnic diversity comes with richly diverse heritage and cultural rituals. The Bagisu from eastern Uganda are famous for “initiating” boys into men in colourful circumcision ceremonies every even year. The Bagisu also produce the globally famed aromatic Arabica Coffee, one of the best types of the beverage world-wide!

The Ankole of western Uganda are famed for the elegant long horned cattle they raise. The nomadic Karimojong from the remote, semi-arid North Eastern Uganda have peculiar dress code and live in communal make-shift settlements known as ‘manyattas’. The Karimojong are a warrior, cattle-herding tribe, believed to have migrated southwards from Ethiopia several centuries ago.

In the far south-west of the country are the Batwa and Bambuti Pygmies, Uganda’s most ancient inhabitants. They are relics of the hunter-gatherer cultures spread out around East Africa. At the cultural core of modern-day Uganda lie the Bantu-speaking kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole and Toro, whose traditional monarchs still serve as important cultural (titular) heads today.

Ugandan communities retain fascinating cultural distinctions in terms of language, unique geographical locations, climatic variations, social practices and economic activities. These are laced with differing music, dance, cuisine, crafts, folklore, marriage rituals and traditional healing rituals.

Arguably, therefore, Uganda is a cultural safari destination in Africa, like no other! Through its cultural tourism services component, Africa Sceneries is your reliable partner in gaining deeper and rich insights into the amazing history and heritage of the peoples of Uganda.

For instance, the Buganda region in central Uganda, where the capital city Kampala is also situated is dotted with several must-see historical relics. As the largest ethnic group in geographical area and population, Buganda kingdom and its monarchs have

Uganda Cultural Safaris

BUHOMA COMMUNITY TOUR

Overlooking the imposing hillsides of Bwindi Impenetrable forest, with mist swirling over the summits, Buhoma is a truly dramatic setting for your cultural tour!

The three-hour village walk begins with a visit to the handcraft shop - selling handmade artifacts such as fabrics, bee-wax candles and wood carvings, all produced by talented local craftsmen and women. The neighboring Batwa community performs songs and dances about their former life in the forest, introducing you to another unique local culture.

You will also meet the traditional healer who treats the sick with medicinal plants, and the teachers and pupils of the local primary school. Finally, you can learn how bananas are used to make juice, beer and gin - and taste the results! Proceeds from the tour go towards supporting community development projects such as a secondary school, maize mill and microfinance circle. The native Batwa people also receive all proceeds from their performances.

Nkuringo Community Conservation & Development Foundation (NCCDF)

Set in a lush hillside bordering Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with an extended view of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nkuringo is a wonderful place to visit for those who want a cultural experience and beautiful scenery.

A visit to Nicholas the blacksmith winds back time to the Stone Age, as the sound of sheepskin bellows air into a charcoal-fired furnace, from which workaholic Nicholas hammers red-hot metal into utensils - knives, hoes, arrows, machetes - name them. Sesilia welcomes you into her home - a series of traditional huts housing a millet-grinding stone, cooking pots and apparatus for distilling local waragi (a potent banana gin). Pena is the village´s traditional healer who uses native plants to make tea, ointments and herbal powders that cure various ailments.

NCCDF supports community artisans and the local Batwa through its crafts shop. They train orphans who perform at a nearby lodge, and can make arrangements for visitors to sponsor them.

BUNIGA FOREST NATURE WALK

Discover the gorgeous hidden treasures of Buniga Forest and its diverse flora and fauna on this trail, led by locals who are expert on-the-ground guides.

Buniga Forest Reserve is one of the three remaining pocket forests adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Due to the increased encroachment and associated loss of biodiversity and other forest resources, the trail was created by Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation (NCCDF) to protect the forest and manage it for eco-tourism activities. Proceeds from the tours also benefit surrounding communities to encourage them to participate in its conservation.

CONSERVATION THROUGH PUBLIC HEALTH (CTPH)

Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) is a grassroots organization that has improved the health of wildlife, livestock and some of the poorest people in Africa. In Buhoma, visitors can take a tour of the Gorilla Health Centre to learn about their health and how diseases are transmitted between wild animals and livestock, as well as other conservation issues addressed by CTPH.

Tour the Village Aquaponics project where you will learn about sustainable methods of farming fish, which is then sold to local lodges. If booked in advance, CTPH staff can also offer presentations on conservation issues in Bwindi and guided tours of local communities to demonstrate how improving the health and livelihoods of people and their livestock supports the conservation of gorillas.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN KIBALE

Join a local guide on a walk through the Magombe swamp wetlands to enjoy the local wildlife, birds and vegetation. The daily life of the Batooro can be discovered during village walks, including stops at the village’s primary school, church and traditional healer.

Kibale Association for Rural Environment Development (KAFRED)

KAFRED is a community-based organization which promotes local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation through ecotourism.

During the nature walk, a local guide will take you along the boardwalk through the Magombe swamp wetlands. You are likely to see wildlife at close-hand, including several of the 200 species of birds, eight varieties of primates and numerous butterflies, along with unusual swamp vegetation.

The daily life of the Batooro can be discovered during the village walks. The tour stops by the village’s primary school, church, and traditional healer. You will learn about the role of women in the village and traditional ceremonies, and the history of Bigodi is told through the story of the “Village of Two Tribes”, describing when the indigenous Batooro were joined by migrating Bakiga from southwestern Uganda in the 1950s.

Income from this activity is invested in education, health, sanitation and improving the livelihood of local residents. It is also used to help raise awareness of the value of biodiversity through music, dance, and drama performances at local schools. In 2010, KAFRED they won the prestigious UNDP’s Equator Initiative Award.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN MGAHINGA

The Batwa Trail For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa - hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Today, they lead visitors through the forests and introduce them to their old home - and the techniques they used to survive in it.

For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa: hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine.

When the national park was established, the Batwa were evicted from the forest and abandoned their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage.

The Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a moving sense of the richness of this fading culture.

Part of the tour fee goes directly to the guides and musicians and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books, and improve their livelihoods.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN MOUNT ELGON

Find out where your coffee comes from! Grown on the mountain side of Mt Elgon is Arabica coffee - also named Sipi or Bugisu by the farmers - who have a reputation for producing some of the finest washed Arabica in Kenya and Uganda.

Sipi Widows’ Group

Find out where your coffee comes from! Grown on the mountain shambas (an area of cultivated ground) of Mt Elgon is the Arabica coffee also named Sipi or Bugisu by the farmers - who have a reputation for producing some of the finest washed Arabica in Kenya and Uganda. The Sipi Widows’ Group will take you on a guided walk through the coffee plantation demonstrating how to plant, pick, grind, store and wash the coffee.

You will also learn about life of the Sabiny as you meet local residents, and participate in traditional weaving. Learn about African cuisine through the preparation, cooking and tasting of local dishes. A visit to the women’s handcraft shop in the trading centre is also highly recommended. Proceeds from the tour and shop are invested in maintaining the coffee trees; raising awareness about the dangers of female circumcision (traditionally practiced in this region); and paying school fees for orphans.

Budadiri Community Walks Ecotourism Experience

This community group, based in Budadiri, offers accommodation, car hire, cultural dances, guided coffee tours and community nature walks. Visitors can discover the region’s cultural dances, food preparation, folklore and its famous malewa (delicious bamboo shoots prepared in pounded ground-nut stew).

There is also a tour of Mt Elgon’s famous Arabica coffee processing plants, which supports local farmers. Nature lovers can indulge in one of the three trails - the full-day Namugabwe Cave Trail, passing through Bamasaba community land and banana plantations to reach a historical cave filled with bones; the Dirigana Loop Trail to the Dirigsana Falls and Gabushana Cave past local markets and the “Walls of Death”; or the three day walk to Sipi Falls which reveals the culture of two neighboring tribes.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN MURCHISON FALLS

Energetic dancers from Mubako perform around lodge campfires, making for a magical African experience at dusk. Boomu Women's Group offers accommodation, a craft shop and village tours, revealing the realities of life in this rural community.

Mubako Cultural Campfire Performances</p>

The remote community of Mubako is located beside the sprawling savannah of Murchison Falls National Park. The village is a cluster of traditional thatched huts around a clearing, where villagers gather to escape the midday sun under the shade of a large tree.

Mubako’s small craft shop sells carved wooden sculptures and hand-woven items made by community members. At dusk, the local cultural groups perform vibrant songs and dances around the campfires of local lodges, accompanied by the beautiful sound of the adungu (a native musical instrument). Originating from this region, this instrument is made of cowhide and twine, and the harmonies of the various-sized adungus against the backdrop of a Nile sunset are magical.

There are few economic opportunities in this region and the climate makes farming hard, but with the money generated through tourism, the community can buy produce from local markets, pay school fees and support a nursery for 90 children.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN QUEEN ELIZABETH

See the energetic dances of the Kikorongo Equator Cultural Performers, community workers extracting salt from Katwe Salt Lake, a traditional Banyaraguru hut or an agricultural village - all guided by those who know them best - local community members.

Leopard Village

Leopard Village is a community-run, socio-economic development initiative that promotes cultural and wildlife conservation through ecotourism. Located near the village of Muhokya, Leopard Village sits on 3 acres bordering the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Visitors can tour replicas of the traditional huts of the Banyabindi, Bakonzo, and Basongora ethnic groups, watch traditional song and dance performances, and purchase handicrafts made by local communities.

Longer visits can include conversations with community members about the challenges and opportunities they face living next to the park, visits to local schools, and discussions about traditional village life and solutions for human-wildlife conflict. We can work with tour groups to create a customized program.

Leopard Village is a partnership between the local communities of Muhokya, Kahendero and Hamukungu, and the Uganda Carnivore Program, with support from zoos in the United States and Germany. All fees and donations go directly to community development, conservation and education projects, and to the individual artists. By supporting Leopard Village tourist and cultural activities, you will be assisting in the conservation of the area's wildlife and supporting sustainable development in the local communities.

Kikorongo Women Community

Kikorongo means Too Much Sunshine in the local language of Lukonzo - but the heat of the African plains has not diminished the energy of the Kikorongo Equator Cultural Performers! This vibrant performance, which takes place at lodges around the park, is a wonderful glimpse of life in Kikorongo, with dance, drama, music and fire-making. While a local interpreter explains the significance of the performances, you can sit back and watch village life unfold in front of you.

Kikorongo’s African art-craft workshops teach guests how to weave baskets and bowls using natural fibers - it´s not as easy as the teachers make it look! They also demonstrate how to recycle magazines into colorful paper beads, which can be made into unique necklaces. If your own craft skills are not up to scratch, beautiful items made by the women´s group, such as baskets, bowls, purses and woven belts, are available to purchase.

Katwe Tourism Information Centre (KATIC)

This unusual lake is far too salty to support much wildlife – though since the 16th Century it has ensured the survival of the Katwe villagers, who spend their days under the equatorial sun, walking the network of paths that cross-cross the lake and harvesting salt from its milky waters.

Katwe Salt Lake Tour gives a unique insight into the fascinating yet tough process of salt mining, as well as providing an alternative income for Katwe. See villagers at work on the lake, cross the mud walkways and enter a traditional grass hut. You will also pass the nearby bird sanctuary lake, home to thousands of birds, including flamingoes from October to May. A bird watching boardwalk will be ready in 2012

During Katwe Village Walk, visitors are welcomed to a traditional homestead. Cooking demonstrations introduce the region’s cuisine, and there is also a trip to the local school.

Nyanz’ibiri Cave Community

Stretch your legs after long game drives with scenic walks around a slice of Ugandan paradise, at this community site known as The Cave. Admire panoramic views of volcanic crater lakes to a soundtrack of crested cranes and eagles. Paddle a canoe, hike to the Transparent Lake, spot eight species of forest primates, or just stop and smell the local flowers - this is the place to come to truly get away from it all!

Local attractions include a historic cave and Cultural Museum - a perfectly preserved Banyaruguru hut, filled with valued local artifacts that were once the tools of everyday life.

This community run establishment also offers three, fully furnished private bandas and a campsite. All visitors are invited to use our restaurant and bar, and enjoy our evening traditional dance performances. A generous portion of your activity and accommodation fees go directly to community development, conservation and educational projects.

Agro-Tour Walk

The sweeping Kichwamba Escarpment makes up the eastern wall of the Western Rift Valley. This 2-3 hour trail begins in rural Kataara Village with a hike through the farms of the escarpment in the cool morning or early evening. Your expert local guide will point out beautiful bird species, exotic and medicinal plants and sites of cultural importance, as well as explaining local farming methods.

Visitors will also learn about the enduring challenge of human-animal conflicts in the area, and will tour the beehives that are used to divert destructive elephants away from community crops on the park border. Interested clients will even have the chance to try their hand at honey harvesting.

After enjoying the peace of the endless savannah and the shade of the trees, visitors hike back up the escarpment and can return to their lodges.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN THE RWENZORI MOUNTAINS

Walk with Bakonzo villagers through their homesteads in the foothills of the Rwenzoris as they demonstrate their daily activities, from tending to their animals and crops, to preparing meals with the freshest ingredients. See cultural dances, traditional costumes and hear their fascinating folklore.

Ruboni Community Camp

Discover the peaceful farming village of Ruboni, home to around 2,000 Bakonzo, in the foothills of the Rwenzoris. Walk with the villagers as they demonstrate their daily activities, from tending to their animals and crops to preparing meals with the freshest ingredients. Meet the blacksmith, traditional healer, basket weavers and storytellers, and enjoy a vibrant dance performance accompanied by lively drumming.

Alternatively, your guide will lead you along the rocky Mubuku River. Ruboni means clear water in the local language of Lukonzo, and you will follow this crystal-clear stream, passing villagers carrying crops and wood. As the trail winds upwards, your guide will point out many colorful native birds such as the Rwenzori Turaco, tiny sunbirds and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters. There are also chameleons, squirrels and vervet monkeys.

Look out for Baker and Portal Peaks rising above the forests. On a clear day the snowcapped Magherita Peak is also visible - a truly spectacular sight.

Rwenzori Turaco View Camp Site

The tiny village of Mihunga faces the craggy, snow-capped peaks of Rwenzori Mountains. The Bakonzo tribe has lived here for over 300 years with no electricity or running water, and this community has adapted its way of life to the climate and steep green hillsides of the Rwenzori foothills.

Mihunga’s community tourism group, Turaco View, takes visitors on a cultural tour of the village. This includes a demonstration by a traditional healer, whose herb-based concoctions are believed to cure many ailments. There is also a trip to the village school, a crafts demonstration and a lively dance performance.

Visitors can also choose to walk with a local guide through the surrounding forests. They may be lucky enough to spot brightly colored turacos in the forest canopy. The expert guides will be able to point out other species such as bee-eaters, sunbirds and playful black-and-white colobus monkeys.

Bulemba-Ihandiro Cultural Trail

Follow this fascinating six to seven hour trail through the holy valley and other sites of great cultural significance to the Bakonzo tribe. A community guide will introduce you to the traditional healer, explaining his powers, known as muhima; and to the local blacksmith, who will reveal the spiritual significance of the traditional Bakonzo stool. Basket weaving and fire-making skills are also demonstrated along the route.

The trail then takes you across the Kamusonge River whose waters are believed to be sweet and quick to quench the thirst. There is a break in a hut to enjoy the glorious mountain views and shelter from the equatorial sun, before embarking on the final hour-long walk to the museum, thatched in the traditional Konzo style. On display are implements used during the Rwenzururu struggle, traditional dress and the other items of historical and cultural importance to the people of the Rwenzoris.

CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN SEMULIKI

The Batwa’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle means they have always been dependent on Semuliki forest for food, shelter, medicine and tools, though this is beginning to change as a result of interaction with other local communities.

The Batwa’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle means they have always been dependent on Semuliki forest for food, shelter, medicine and tools, though this is beginning to change as a result of interaction with other local communities.

Tourism offers an alternative source of income for the Batwa, and gives them the opportunity to maintain and display their rich cultural history through music and dance performances at Ntandi. They also produce intricate handcrafts for sale.

A boma, or cultural village, has been built so that the Batwa can demonstrate how they used to live in the forest - check back for more details