Custodians of Life- Reviving Culture and Nature in Uganda’s Great Lakes, a new film from The Gaia Foundation, ANARDE, NAPE and AFRICE, explores how the Bagungu Indigenous People are reviving their Earth-centred culture and the diversity and health of critical ecosystems.
The Albertine Rift, in which Lakes Albert, George and Edward lie, is one of the most beautiful and biodiverse regions in Africa. It’s also an area impacted by colonisation, climate change and now a massive threat from the planned expansion of oil extraction.
In response, the Bagungu communities living there embarked on a remarkable journey of hope, courage and incredible achievements through the revival of their culture. Regular community dialogues with elders helped them to remember how their land used to be and they were able to create eco-cultural maps and calendars. They were then able to document their customary laws and governance systems.
Cultural pride is flourishing and so is their ancestral land that is once again being governed and nurtured by the community and custodians of sacred natural sites, critical havens of biodiversity. The revival of a rich diversity of locally adapted, climate resilient seed varieties has led to increased food security and improved nutrition.
AFRICE’s Dennis Tabaro, an Earth Jurisprudence Practitioner who has been accompanying the Bagungu on their journey, says:
“These communities are showing the way for many others in our nation who have suffered colonialism and now find themselves facing the realities of climate change and destructive projects. They have revived their ecological knowledge together with traditional spiritual practices and are healing their ecosystems for present and future generations.”
Through this remarkable revival, the Bagungu have also made new allies. The Buliisa District Government recently passed new ordinances recognising and protecting the sacred natural sites and the traditional governance systems of the Bagungu.
Meanwhile, Uganda’s Government has taken an exciting step towards becoming the first African nation to fully enshrine the Rights of Nature in its legal system via a new Environment Act.
“The Ugandan authorities are recognising the Bagungu’s work and opening the door to a different kind of future for our country – by decolonising our minds and drawing on our rich ancestry to remember that development and well-being can and must be attained in harmony with Nature. Uganda is now poised to become a leader in Africa and globally as it takes this opportunity,” says Tabaro.
In 2017, Bagungu custodians also played a critical role in convincing the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to adopt a new resolution (Res. 372) calling for continent-wide recognition and protection of Indigenous sacred natural sites and ancestral lands and the rights of the communities who conserve them. This is a landmark achievement towards the decolonisation of conservation and Africa’s legal systems.
Speaking at the film’s official launch in Kampala/London, Liz Hosken, Director of The Gaia Foundation, the environmental organisation that commissioned the film, said:
“Across Africa there is a growing movement of communities like the Bagungu who have realised that their indigenous ways of life, their customary laws and governance systems that cared for the land for generations, hold the key to a life-sustaining future in Africa. They are raising their voices with confidence, influencing and inspiring support for policies that reflect Africa’s plurilegal heritage. This film is an invitation to decision makers to walk alongside the Bagungu and others on the path of restoring life for generations to come.”
 Advocates for Natural Resources and Development (ANARDE). National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE). African Institute of Culture and Ecology (AFRICE).
 Rights of Nature Gain Ground in Uganda’s Legal System (2019). See: https://www.gaiafoundation.org/rights-of-nature-gain-ground-in-ugandas-legal-system/
 AC Resolution 372- Q&A (2017) https://www.gaiafoundation.org/qa-african-commissions-new-resolution-372-on-sacred-natural-sites-and-territories/