In June, I visited Hoima district at the invitation of the Chimpanzee Trust, an organization best known in connection with Ngamba Island. My trip was an exciting mix of beautiful scenic landscapes, rich cultural heritage, chimpanzees, rural hospitality, a royal visit, and an amazing forest walk – all in two days!
The Chimpanzee Trust promotes the conservation of chimpanzees and their habitats, and is looking to provide livelihood incentives to private forest owners in form of tourism-related, forest-based enterprises. The Trust contacted me as community tourism consultant to access the tourism potential of the communities where they are piloting income-generating projects to reduce dependency on the chimpanzee habitat.
Hoima has a very interesting legacy; it is the capital of the once powerful 19th century empire of Bunyoro-Kitara. At the height of its glory, the Kitara Empire included present day western Kenya, northern Tanzania, and eastern Congo. Hoima is deeply rooted in the history of Uganda and is known today as the home of Uganda’s most cherished natural resources, oil and gas.
Accompanied by Paul Hatanga, the Chimpanzee Trust program manager, we left Kampala at 7:30 AM for a pleasurable three-hour journey on a smooth tarmac road. We stopped at Katikamu, a popular roadside eatery which Paul and our driver Moses had been excitedly promoting since we left Kampala. A group of local women run the business and sell the most amazing, mouth-watering roasted maize, goat meat, and plantain – locally known as Gonja snacks. I highly recommend the stopover for anyone travelling along the Kampala / Hoima route!
Kyamaleera Wildlife Education Center
After checking in at the Hoima Resort Hotel, we set off on my survey exercise. The first stop was Kyamaleera Wildlife Education Center, one of six projects the Chimpanzee Trust supports. The center is strategically located on a good all-weather marrum road en route to Murchison Falls National Park. Chimpanzee drawings on the front of the building attract attention and communicate the Center’s mission. At first, local people feared the building, thinking that there were live chimps inside, hence the name Chimpanzee House. The Center serves the community as a meeting venue for workshops and school wildlife and forest conservation mentoring programs.
Our next stop was Mparangasi village, where I interacted with a local women’s group at the chair person, Abwoli Mbeeta’s, home. We were warmly welcomed with a dance and the group was happy to see Paul whom they share a cordial relationship. The Mbeeta homestead is very pleasant to visit. It is well located by the roadside and easily accessible. The homestead is neat and inviting – the family photos were proudly displayed on the living room wall. We were treated to a sumptuous luncheon of local and organic food from the women’s gardens prepared by the group. There was so much variety and the presentation was excellent.
Mr. Mbeeta joined us for lunch and it was nice to see that he supported his wife and her group. One thing that makes the women of Mparangasi unique is their needlework skills. They sew beautiful cushion covers with local themes depicting their everyday activities and local wildlife. The cushions are sold in California – USA. It was a joy to be part of the rural hospitality experience where the women demonstrated the traditional culture of the Bunyoro people and ably showcased their skills through entertainment, food, and handcrafts.
If anyone had told me that my first day in Hoima would end with a visit to Karuziika Palace, the official residence of the King of Bunyoro, I would not have believed them. But that is what happened! Karuziika Palace, the official residence of the Omukama of Buyoro Kitara Kingdom is in the middle of Hoima town. Unknown to me, Paul made an appointment with the King’s private secretary to visit the palace and meet His Majesty King Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, the Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara! The kingdom has an ongoing memorandum of understanding with the Chimpanzee Trust and there are several conservation programs in the kingdom. The King gave us audience of almost one hour. Paul introduced me to the King and briefed him on the Trust’s interest in working with the kingdom to develop community tourism linked to conservation and cultural heritage which would also impart these values to the young generation. The King showed a lot of interest during my presentation about community tourism and its linkage to poverty alleviation, cultural preservation, and women empowerment. King Iguru is very passionate about cultural tourism development and sees it as an avenue to identify, document, develop, and safeguard the cultural heritage of Bunyoro Kitara kingdom and achieve benefits for the community. Due to protocol, I was not able to take pictures of the King.
On the second day we left Hoima town at daybreak for Munteme village about 40 minutes on a good marrum road. We met our guide, Mr. Sezi Adyeri, and embarked on a three-hour walk in Itohya Forest, which turned out to be the highlight of my second day in Hoima. Itohya consists mostly of mature tropical forest with a variety of wildlife, interesting plants, and large impressive trees
Our knowledgeable guide was a forest enthusiast who has been part of Itohya forest for over 30 years. Sezi ably educated us about the activities of researchers, community monitors, local people, and tourists. He shared his vast indigenous knowledge of forests including the different types of trees, their ages, and medicinal values. We learned how to identify wildlife species by their droppings and sounds. Sezi entertained us with tales of dealing with pressure from local herbalists seeking to collect herbs from the forest to produce love portions for their clients. We also learned the history of Itohya forest and its past glory before the white missionary funders left Uganda.
Community Tourism Potential in Hoima
Due to the area’s wildlife, natural beauty, cultural heritage, and hospitality, we are hopeful about the potential to establish community tourism in Hoima district!