LEK Project
"The adaptive nature of culture: A cross-cultural analysis of the returns of Local Environmental Knowledge in three indigenous societies”
Fr | Es |Ind
LEK Project
Dr. Victoria-Reyes García

Tsimane, Bolivia

Baka, Cameroon

Punan Tubu, Indonesia
Sites: Cameroon

a) General description

The Baka are a semi-sedentarized and agriculturalized ethnic group of the Congo Basin. Their population is estimated around 40,000 and it spreads over three countries: Congo, Gabon and Cameroon. For centuries, they lived in closed relation with Bantu-speakers sedentarized populations. They were traditionally nomadic and highly depending on both forest resources (hunting, fishing, and gathering) and non-monetary exchanges with sedentary neighbors.


b) Geographic situation


We are working principally with two Baka communities localized in the Haut-Nyong department, Eastern region. The area is characterized by a tropical rainforest, home of a high biodiversity which led the creation of three protected areas: the Dja reserve, the Nki and the Boumba-Bek National Parks. The climate is equatorial, alternating between major rainy and dry seasons and minor rainy and dry seasons.

c) Brief History

The ethno-linguistic group of Baka has been, and is still, often so-called as “pygmies”, an historical category created by westerns in order to name the different hunter-gatherers population of Central Africa. In spite of common technical features, those African foraging groups represent different societies, speaking different languages : Aka (Centrafrican republic, Congo), Bakola (Cameroon), Efe (RDC), Cwa (RDC), Twa (RDC, Rwanda, Uganda) et Baka. The first mention of “Pygmies” was found in the Homer's stories, reporting the existence of population of small-height. The origin "pygmy" comes from this date, derived from pygmaios meaning “a cubit in height”. More recently, first mentions of Baka could be found in colonial administrators and explorers reports mentioning Baka hunting role into the ivory trade. The Baka would have come in the actual Cameroon around 1850-1890. The main shift into the Baka's story is the brutal passage to a sedentary livelihood and the adoption of agriculture, two phenomena incited by the colonial administrations and then the independent government, around the 1950-1960. Even less used, the term “pygmies” is nowadays considered as pejorative when it refers to the small stature but enhancive when it is employed by some organizations struggling for “indigenous people” rights.

d) Main Economic Activities

The main wage labor performed by the Baka is agricultural work into the plot of their Bantu-speaking neighbors. The food crop cultivation is mainly engaged for the household’s subsistence (especially cassava and plantain). Known as expert hunters, Baka men could earn some relevant income thanks to hunting expeditions, generally solicited by neighbor population. Some of the game the Baka hunt personally is punctually sold. Moreover, seasonally, the Baka are selling wild edibles as fruits of Irvingia sp or Baillonella taxisperma. From those last decades, the increase of logging companies led to the contract of the Baka as prospector of precious wood (ebony, moabi…), bearer of planches for legal or illegal sawmills.

e) Social organization

The nuclear family is the first social sphere for the Baka, composed by the father, the mother and their more or less numerous children. Their society is patrilinear, organized by clans. Even during centuries, the Baka were principally living with the different members of a same clan in their forest camps, joining between 30-40 people for closest families, various clans are joined together in the actual villages along the logging roads. Every clan maintains close relation with a Bantu neighbour clan for whom they are working. Linked by various symbolic and material aspects, this "alliance" between Bantus and Baka let shape a concretized relation on the trade of work against such a “protection” by the Bantu. The Baka didn't have traditional leadership but recently, in order to integrate them into local and national policies, various NGO incite the creation of chief for Baka villages.

f) Current Challenges

From a long time, the wealth of resources presents in their territories raises interest in a wide range of actors from logging companies, to agro-industrialist farmers, operators of mining concessions, and conservationists. Nowadays, the Baka are under the pressure of those actors and their living area drastically reduced with all the game and wild edible daily consumed. Moreover, nowadays, the Baka are still as the margin of the society and are still stigmatized. Their literacy is low, schooling confronts several cultural walls and it is not adapted to Baka reality. Due to the sedentarization and the difficult access to health centres, the Baka suffer several sicknesses, due among other to parasites. A collaborative initiative both governmental and institutional is actually needed in order to elaborate real integral policies for the education, health and the respect of the territories of the Baka in particular and the Cameroonian forest people in general.

Location of the study sites in Cameroon. Source:Leclerc 2012


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