Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Ugandan Batwa complete 3-D Model of their Bwindi Forest ancestral area

7 July, 2011

In 2009 a group of Batwa representatives from Uganda travelled to Ogiek communities in Kenya to learn about their situation and the different advocacy strategies they were using. One of these strategies was the use of Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM), which helped the Ogiek engage Kenyan agencies on their rights to their ancestral territory, the Mau Forest. The Batwa walked away from this visit impressed by the simplicity of the P3DM technique and hopeful of replicating it in their own context.

Two years later in June 2011, the Batwa, with support from the ARCUS Foundation, began their own three-dimensional modelling of their ancestral territory, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.  More than 100 representatives from the Batwa communities surrounding Bwindi, including youth, elders, women and men attended the exercise over a three-week period.

The first step involved cutting out the individual contours and then assembling them to create the blank model. Once the blank model was completed, a group of ten Batwa from each of the ten communities neighbouring the park were given the opportunity to travel to the venue where the model was being assembled and apply their traditional knowledge to it.

The information they provided included the location of forest resources (weaving materials, medicinal herbs, hunting grounds etc), specific places of interest (worshipping sites, burial grounds etc), locations of animal habitats (gorillas, elephants, pangolins etc) as well as all the individual names the Batwa gave to each hill, valley, swamp, and cave.

The Batwa communities hope that the model will be useful in a number of different applications. With the number of Batwa elders slowly decreasing, producing the 3D model and populating it with information drawn from memory provided an opportunity for documenting and storing the Batwa’s unique cultural heritage. Such a display of information can be used to open-up job opportunities for Batwa within Bwindi, both as guides and through other tourism enterprises. The communities also hope that the information depicted on the model can be used as a platform for discussions with protected area managers regarding increased access to Bwindi, and in particular access to specific locations and resources which are culturally significant to the Batwa such as worshipping sites.

Based on similar experiences in other parts of Africa and the world, it is expected that the wealth of information stored on the model will serve as a reference for communities to participate in the future management of their ancestral lands. As such, the model provides an important tool in the Batwa’s ongoing advocacy and rights initiatives and provides a common platform for protected area managers and the communities to engage in the long-term conservation of Bwindi Forest.