THE BENET COMMUNITY IN MOUNTAIN ELGON NATIONAL PARK

The Benet Community in Mountain Elgon National Park

The Benet community is an indigenous community found in Mountain Elgon National Park in eastern Uganda dominantly depending on pastoralism, fruit gathering and hunting. The Benet community is also known as the Ndorobo community meaning “the primitive people of the Mountain” and also divided into three subgroups depending on their geographical location which include; the Kwoti in the western part, Yatui in the eastern and the Benet in the central part occupying the moorland. This minority community lived around Mountain Elgon for more than two centuries as hunters and gatherers later as pastoralists and small scale farmers who grew a few crops for home consumption not until in 1938 when the area around Mountain Elgon in which the Benet lived was gazetted as a forest reserve by the British colonial government. This led to the community being subjected to strict grazing and cultivation rules though they weren’t evicted from the reserve. This forest reserve was later declared a state central reserve in 1968 after independence which led to the area becoming stricter and the Benet people ended up being evicted from this reserve and resettled around nearby communities. Later in 1992 Mountain Elgon was declared a National Park under full control of Uganda Wildlife Authority. Regardless of continued efforts to evict the Benet people from Mountain Elgon, they still do settle on Mountain Elgon slopes in Kisito village Kween district that was initially part of Kapchorwa district and currently bordering Kenya in the south. Nevertheless a visit to the Benet communities on the lower slopes of Mountain Elgon rewards one with the most authentic, attested and interesting cultural experiences he/she will ever think of having in the Pearl of Africa. A visit to the Benet community is made by making a hike known as the Benet hike through an 18km Benet trail. This trail is an off-beaten trail that has so far not been hiked by so many people and believed to have been developed for the love of adventure by Jan Bakker an international hiking expert together with a group of local guides and tour operators. The Benet hike starts from Kapchorwa town through Kaptabomwo village where you enjoy the Sawuriako rock scenery proceeding to encounter two beautiful waterfalls referred to as Chepchebai and Kaptokwoi falls that cascade through the mountain rocks. At this point one starts to enjoy the sweeping views and captivating sceneries that overlook Kenya and the Karamoja region in Uganda. It is believed by the locals that the two waterfalls poses demons also referred to as their small gods that they go to worship and ask for blessings. You then continue through sophiscated plantations, cultivated land, patches of grass thatched houses arriving to their homesteads to be rewarded with the community tailor-made cultural experience. This experience is made of emotional stories about their history, local cultural dances, honey harvesting, custom local wine preparation known as the Lawek, processes undertaken in the cultivation and harvesting of crops such as onions, cabbages, Irish potatoes, barley to mention but a few. Therefore, since it is a long hike to the Benet community, use of a boda-boda is a must to pick you from the end point of the trail in Benet back to the lodge of your residence in either Kapchorwa or Sipi.  
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