The Baka, known in the Congo as Bayaka (Bebayaka, Bebayaga, Bibaya), are sedentary ethnic group inhabiting the southeastern rainforests of Cameroon, northern Republic of Congo, northern Gabon, and southwestern Central African Republic. They have been historically called pygmies (the term is no longer considered respectful).
The Baka is the only group culturally adapted to the Southeast forest of Cameroon. They are rightly referred to as the "people of the forest". Only 50 years ago, this territory was mainly virgin forest with countless elephants, god as and other endangered species.
Few others, beside these pygmies, knew and traveled the deep forest. The Baka are so much at home in the forest that they were not long ago considered mere animals by many Bantu groups. They were (and still are) thought to transform themselves into various animals that could kill others. The Baka have medicine and special ceremonies to obtain this power to transform themselves.
They are extremely agile in the forest and can walk long distances very rapidly without making any noise. Their incredible skills and endurance in the forest make them successful hunters. They know every plant and recognize every animal track no matter how small, even turtles. Using traps, dogs, spear and crossbow (although disappearing) they hunt nearly all animals.
When someone is sick, they make medicine from roots, leaves, plants, barks and trees which successfully cure many sicknesses. They also use plants to make their poison arrows, which gives Little chance for the animals to survive. Their knowledge and adaptation to the forest surpasses the villagers who hire the Baka to hunt for them.
Dhellemmes, a Catholic priest who lived among the Baka for many years noted that, "The intimacy this people has with the forest is so deep and so sacred that at times, it seems wonderful and magic."
The Baka live in small hunting groups and hunt in areas of the forest assigned to each group. These lands are defined by natural borders such as hills and rivers. A hunting group can split into smaller units. Their grouping is complex as it includes people from many family groups. Each core group comprises siblings and cousins with the people classified into four basic age groups: the children, the young men and women, the adults who hunt and gather, and the elders. Each category has its own sphere of authority and responsibility, and each one's contribution to the economy of the society depends on his or her age and sex.
The livelihood of each group depends on hunting and gathering. The forest provides an abundance of animals, fish, honey, mushrooms, fruits, and nuts. Honey is especially valued by the Baka. They often reserve the best honeycomb for the elders. When they have too much food, they either sell it to the Bantu, smoke it to preserve it, or give it to other groups as as. When an elephant is killed, everyone in the surrounding area comes to get some mat. Most often, the men are involved in hunting and the women in gathering. In preparation for a hunt of either an elephant, gorilla and sometimes a wild pig, the rite ngangà (divining where the animals are by reading in the fire) and the yéli (the cahg to the ads) play a crucial role. For the Baka, the forest is living and communicates with them. Instead of domineering nature, the Baka's goal is to live in harmony with it.
Komba is believed to be the Sky God who created Baka, the "people of the forest." In the beginning Jengi belonged to Komba, who kept him in a box because he was so dangerous. One day, when Komba was off collecting, a man came and persuaded Komba's son, who had been left with strict instructions not to open the box, to let Jengi out so that he could see him dance.
Komba, away in the forest, heard the sound of the dance and returned to see Jengi flee, whereupon he was very angry, because Jengi was so dangerous. So, since man had brought this on himself, Komba said, 'Alright, you can have him,' and he left Jengi with men and went away.
That was the time when Komba and man separated. Komba has hidden himself and no one sees him, but Jengi is now everywhere in the forest. Jengi therefore has much closer contact with men than Komba, and it is Jengi they call upon in time of need.
The Baka people speak Baka. Baka (also called Be-bayaga, Be-bayaka, and Bibaya de L’est) is a dialect cluster of Ubangian languages spoken by the Baka Pygmies of Cameroon and Gabon. The people are ethnically close to the Aka, the two together called the Mbenga (Bambenga), but the languages are not related apart from some vocabulary dealing with the forest economy, which suggests the Aka may have shifted to Bantu from a language like Baka about 1500 CE.
Some 30% of Baka vocabulary is not Ubangian. Much of this concerns a specialized forest economy, such as words for edible plants, medicinal plants, and honey collecting, and has been posited as the remnant of an ancestral Pygmy language which has otherwise vanished. However, apart from some words shared with the Aka, there is no evidence for a wider linguistic affiliation with any of the other Pygmy peoples.
It is unclear if three minor varieties are mutually intelligible with Baka proper. They are Gundi (Ngundi), Ganzi, and Massa (Limassa). Most Massa have shifted to Gundi, which is spoken by 9,000 people.
Today between 150,000 and 200,000 Pygmies live in the tropical rain forest regions of Africa. This is difficult to verify because of their semi-nomadic Lifestyle. They are divided into many groups who share great similarities in culture but are diverse in language. However, they share many similar words to describe " forest" activities. As a result, some linguists believe that at one time all Pygmy groups formed one linguistic
group called Baakaa, and that, throughout history, their travel and co-existence with others forced them to adopt different languages. However, this remains only a theory.
All Pygmies live in at least seven African countries. The Aka (also known as Bayaka, Biaka or Babinga) are situated in the Northeast of Congo as well as Southwest of Central African Republic. The Bongo Live in East Gabon and Congo, while the Mbuti, with its three sub-groups, the Efe, the Aka and the Sua, dwell in the Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The BaTwa Pygmies form three sub-groups in Zaire with one covering parts of Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Republic of Congo.
We find three additional groups living in Cameroon. The Bagieli (aiso known as Lolodorf Pygmies), who live near the coast with a population of about 2,200. The Tikar who live among the Tikar people in the Northwest province with a population of only 241. Finaly we have the Baka, whose history is gonna be recounted. Both the Bagieli and the Tikar groups were originally Living with the Baka in the Southeast region. They migrated away from the Baka during the first half of the 18th century.
It is quite possible that other groups of Pygmies, such as the Béné, Beko, Bakwe, Holo, Beka and others, Live in the countries mentioned above as well as other surrounding countries. Because they are not well documented and because some of these names may actually refer to groups already mentioned, they are not listed here.
Of all the Pygmies, the Mbuti and the Aka are by far the most studied groups. However, as mentioned above, a significant amount of research has already been done among the Baka as there is high interest among many religious, social, and government organizations as well as linguistic and anthropological researchers for working among the Baka.
The Baka population is found primarily in the Southeast region of Cameroon and extends across the borders of Gabon, Congo and Central Afiican Republic. The people called themselves baka or B`aka. Although the neighboring Bantu groups refer to them as "Pygmies," they rarely use this term to refer to themselves . The word "Pygmy" came about 2,450 years ago in the time of Herodotus, a Greek historian and traveler who saw these short people and means "tall as a forearm." Fortunately, few Baka know the meaning of this word.
The Baka economy is based on hunting, fishing, animal husbandry, pisciculture and apiculture. The Baka, being traditionally nomadic hunter-gatherers, are still relatively new to agriculture, with most communities still lacking sufficient knowledge, skills and materials to grow all their own food.
Yet most of the communities who have settled along roadsides have learned to cultivate the most common crops locally grown in the region, including plantain, cassava, maize, peanuts and local varieties of root vegetables (similar to potatoes and sweet potatoes). Nevertheless, regardless of what “stage” of agricultural development they were found to be at, all the Baka communities visited expressed their needs for assistance in: a) skills (technical assistance on how to increase agricultural productivity); b) tools (spades, hoes, machetes, etc) and; c) seeds (for expanding quantity and variety). Some Baka communities do own cocoa plantations but they rent these out to the Bantu, who are better equipped and skilled to annually treat the plantations with pesticides. The Baka has shifted to organic cocoa production and that should be strongly encouraged and supported.
Hunting is still practised by the Baka, albeit less than before as there is much less game in the forest today than there was 50 or more years ago (due to multiple pressures, including population growth and increased access to forests by outsiders, use of modern firearms, illegal trade in species, forest degradation, etc). Nevertheless, even for the settled communities, hunting remains, to this day, an important part of Baka livelihood and tradition, and various rites of passage in Baka culture are hunting-related.
According to WWF and PERAD (two environmental NGOs working with the Baka in south-east Cameroon), the problem of over-hunting is not due to the Baka but rather a result of outside intruders, including neighbouring Bantu populations, who often give shotguns to the Baka and order them to go and hunt for the Bantu. The Baka stressed this point further: in one community, when asked about how sustainable their forest activities were, a Baka representative responded as follows:
“If all the animals were hunted in the forest, to the very last one, then it would be the Bantus’ fault. They cannot come and blame the Baka.
For the Baka know very well that one only hunt for one’s own consumption, one does not kill a female animal that is pregnant, one hunts only
what one needs, and that is not very much. But the Bantu are the ones sending the Baka into the forest to hunt, and to overhunt, to then sell this
meat for good money (of which the Baka get a fraction, if anything at all).” - Baka representative, anonymous
Women play an invaluable role in Baka society. In addition to their numerous responsibilities in relation to building the mongulu (the traditional Baka hut), NTFP collection, fishing and more recently also farming, Baka women are also the ones in charge of keeping the family together, and of guiding and advising their husbands and their children. This has very important implications for Baka livelihoods, and for maintaining the highly respected and empowered role of Baka women, which reiterates the importance of including women in all stages of research and project work undertaken with the Baka.
The Baka traditionally live in autonomous clans (or kanda) of about 20 people, each consisting of about five or six households. Dhellemmes claims there are approximately 30 clans among the Baka, and Dodd claims about 25." When a family arrives from a long stay either in the forest or from another camp, the man builds a house among his own clan in the village.
All the members of the clan consider one another as relatives, even those to whom they are not closely related. Each family unit lives among the other members of the same clan. There are six clans represented in Ndjibot: the yè-ng6to (a kind of vine); the yè-silo (a kind of vine); the yè-likimbà (a kind of mushroom that grows independently); the yè-mbodo (refers to the yambo , a drug leaf which they smoke); the yè-njhbi (refers to the kusa,' vine which leaves a mark on you when you touch it); and finally, represented by only one family, the yè-yànji (which refers to the smoking leaves used to guard against the bees when getting honey).
Each clan has a chief who is responsible for the protection of his people and for the decision-making that concerns the entirety of the group. Baka society is neither authoritarian nor repressive and it is therefore an egalitarian society. There is no penal code just as there is no private property, for everyone lives in community and the forest does not belong to anyone in particular (to the Baka it was given by their god “Komba”)
The Baka also have social norms that give rise to a form of collective intelligence, a “group consciousness”. An analysis of the administrative structure of the Baka shows how the traditional community fundamentally works, with a chief who is surrounded by groups of advisors and collaborators. The chief “nkumou” plays a key role in Baka society, and to become a chief is a rite and ritual that far exceeds the “tests” and requirements of our modern society (see RASED, 2006 for a detailed description). The ‘boklaks’ are the wise sages of the clan who assist the chief in assessing and maintaining tradition and in passing on knowledge, wisdom and tradition from generation to generation.
Other vital groups of the Baka community include: the “belombe”, specialist and expert hunters; the “bigambi” or family representatives (“family”’ being a more extensive concept than in our modern society); the craftsmen and women who produce weapons for hunting, tools for fishing and harvesting, as well as the weavers who weave clothes, nets and baskets; and the “nganga”, or specialists in traditional medicine.
To think that the Baka have no knowledge of social organisation is thus a severe misconception (as was the case with several of the government authorities interviewed). To what extent the traditional form of social organisation can be translated to fit “Western” models of social organisation is an interesting question, and one that might be worth exploring in more depth.
Authority in the hunting group may depend on age but even more so on skills. Anyone can have "authority" in a field he or she has mastered, but no one cm claim to be the leader of the group. The best hunter is usually more respected, but the people will oppose him or anyone else who tries to accumulate power or manipulate the group. One cm be rejected by the group if he tries to impose his way.
The Baka will say that he acts like the villagers (the Bantu) who have no respect for the forest. Decisions supported by everyone are pleasing to the forest. The group will attempt to discover the forest's will by reading and interpreting natural signs such as the winds and storms. Only a unanimous decision can be the will of the forest. The prolonged noises of a dispute are offensive to the forest. For this reason, they often use jokes and ridicules to communicate or settle their disagreements.
In addition to kinship divisions, the Baka have eight categories of people, classified according to age and status. Each category is associated with a social role and economic activity. These are:
( I ) dindo : Small baby.
(2) yande : Children up to about 10 years old. They play around the camp but also help with the work. The girls go fishing and fetch water, while the boys learn basic skills and are circumcised.
(3) sia na wose : Young girls of 12 and 13 year old. They learn adult responsibilities such as caring for children, building mongulu , cooking, and gathering food. They may start having sexual relationships, and when they marry (usually around 14), they will most likely remain matrilocal for the first few months.
(4) wanjo : Young males of 12 and 13 years old. They now begin to kill their first animals, but they have to borrow weapons as they do not own their personal spears or machetes. After his first "big" kill (usually an antelope), neither his father nor his mother nor any of the women in the camp will eat the meat. The hunter never eats the meat of an animal he kills himself. Their abstinence will help the wanjo become a good hunter and have lots of luck in finding animals. Later on the mother may start eating his meat, but it will take longer before his father does. It is at this age that the boys go through the Jengi initiation ceremony which admits them to the world of the forest people.
(5) mbotàki : A man in his prime, a hunter. After a youth has proven himself as a hunter and the women have started to eat his meat, he must continue to kill lots of animals before his mother is allowed to eat it. After a number of kills, the father makes a secret remedy from leaves in the forest and cooks a portion of meat in the mixture. Having eaten this, the father is then free to eat his son's meat . Thereafter the hunter in the forest always carries his own spear and other hunting equipment . The hunter never eats his own meat, but must give it all away. If he kills an elephant neither he nor his father or mother may eat of it.
(6) wose: A married woman, usually with children. She is an expert gatherer, fisher, and mongulu builder. She works in plantations and plays a major role in providing and preparing food for the men.
(7) kobo: A middle-aged man or woman. They may be considered elders, but they still have roles as hunters or gatherers. However, their trips into the forest are less frequent.
(8) gbekoà : An old man or woman. These people have retired from hunting and gathering and stay in the village camps year round. They look after children and are kept by the rest of the camp. They continue to participate in camp discussions and negotiations.
Polygamy is rare. Rarely do two wives live with their husband at the same the. A wife normally stays with relatives in Ndjibot or in another camp while the other lives with the husband. Although the chiefs desire to have many wives is exceptional, it is well accepted by everyone in the village. Many testify that a chief`s polygamous lifestyles has brought them many problems, yet no one judges them or considers them a bad person. "It is within their rights to have many wives," the Baka Say. Although the Baka have been known for their monogamy, now with the introduction of plantations, some of them are attracted to the idea of having more than one wife in order to produce more crops.
There is no marriage ceremony. When two people love each other, they prepare for marriage. The man gives gifts to his mother-in-law, and, if they live in the village, he builds a mud house for him and his future wife. If they live in a forest camp, the woman builds a mongulu . When the time has come to be united, the man, during the evening, goes to the girl's parents' house to talk with her. After spending a short time there, he tells her that she must come with him. They both go to their new home where they spend the night. The next day, they are considered married and will continue to live together. It is not until the couple has children will they
be considered a permanent couple. Until then the marriage is in a trial period. A number of marriages do not last beyond this period.
Actually, she is expected to remain faithful to her new husband and to make her marriage work, but is free to live in both her parents' home and her husband's. If a woman does not become pregnant after some time, she may go to her kàà-lé (father's sister), who will give of her own saliva mixed with ngele, in exchange for a small M. The barren woman will then apply the ngele to her belly in order to become fertile. In addition, the husband and wife may wear strings carefully made out of certain forest plants around their waist. These and other traditional medicines can help the couple to bear children.
Like all other Pygmy groups, the Baka are patrilocal. However, they spend an initial period of uxorilocality during the fïrst few years of marriage. The system is quite flexible, though, as some males prefer to live with their in-laws and stay in t heir camp. Normally, their stay with their in-laws will vary from six months to six years, although the two extremes are rare. Not only will the husband not pronounce the names of his brothers-in- law, but neither will he pronounce the names of his sisters-in-law, his wife's parents as well as grand-parents. The husband can, however, use the names of the children. A family may try to keep their son-in-law in their camp indefinitely.
Although they rarely succeed, some people from Ndjibot who have gone elsewhere to many have not come back, even after 12 years. When the gili love a certain son-in-law, they may make some medicine with a special wood called ngbi and rub it or pound it onto the seat where he frequently sits. This will assure that he will not leave the camp to go back to his own family.
The ngili na wose exercises much power over her ko-là a Ie . If he does not perform as expected, she can easily curse him simply by speaking words against him. If he does not give enough gifts, she may threaten him by saying that her daughter must return home. This happens frequently, and when it does, the husband may bring back his wife home only after he has given gifts to his mother-in-law.
However, the relationship with one's gili need not be negative. The mother-in-law has not only the power to demand, but also to help, to bless and to give good luck. The mixture of her saliva with the ngele will assure the kodà a lè good luck in hunting. The goal of every husband is to maintain peace with his gili, and of course it can be achieved when all parties are reasonable. The Baka have a strong sense of justice. [f one's gi-lé na wose makes unrealistic demands, the ko-là a lè may speak up, involving the elders in the camp. If the young man is right, they will ask the mother to ease up on him.
Today there are pressures to keep the Baka from taking wives far away, leaving the village for any extended period of time. Now that many Baka have their own fields, it is sometimes difficult for them to leave their fields in order to live elsewhere. This limitation does not apply to all. Many young men, who do not yet have their own plantations, are free to travel. In addition, men who have a wife, sister or mother who can take care of their fields, are free to travel. This is sometime the case when a married man seeks a second wife from another camp.
There are also pressures from the neighboring Bantu that keep the Baka from marrying far away. The Bantu do not favor the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Baka, including their stays at their gili's camps, because they often rely on Baka labor to cultivate their fields. The Bantu who has trained a Baka to work for him and has given him gifts, will oppose his plan to travel or move elsewhere. However, the Baka's fieedom and their obligations toward their gili seem, so far, stronger than the Bantu's efforts.
Divorce for the Baka is simple and easily obtained, as long as the two parties agree on the separation. If a wife desires to divorce her husband, she may leave him and go back to her parents. If the husband wants her back, he must address his gili as well as his (ex) wife. This process often takes many months, during which the husband lives with the in-laws. The gili must be satisfied before they let the girl go back to her husband's village.
On the other hand, if the husband wants to divorce his wife, he will ask her to leave. If she leaves, they are considered divorced. If she does not consent, they will normally stay together and work out their problems. The elders often get involved and play an important role in the settlement of marital disputes. They help the younger couples by giving them advice and solutions.
Baka people believe that Komba is the God who created the "people of the forest" and everything else. The Baka know little about Komba, but they believe that he is good because he gave them the forest. He not only cares for the Baka, but also for ail the animals of the forest. Jengi, also called Djengi or Ejengi, the chief spirit of the forest, is more involved in the daily Life of the Baka as he brings blessing, healing, protection and helps find animals.
In the Iücàn) (chantfables), Komba is described as an old man, full of wisdom, yet a great hunter. He lived a long time ago with men, but became annoyed by the noise they made, their dances, and their constant insults. It is then that he decided to change some of them into animals. These were the first animals created. After that he left for the sky and no man or beast has ever seen him since. However, he still loves the people and provides for them. The forest is living and in a sense it is an extension of Komba . One Baka said that the forest is like a father and a mother who carefully look &er their children. When the hunt is bad or someone is sick, it may be because the forest is sleeping. Singing and dancing help to wake it up and make it look favorably on the people.
The likàn) tell us that in the beginning of time, man lived with Komba and bis family . Life was easy then, as Komba shared ail his possessions with the people. These stories also tell us that even today Komba is very interested in all details of their lives, including their success in hunting and their health. Dodd notes that, "Kumba is providential and lives 'somewhere in the sky; he will 'keep a Baka well' who follows the basic social rules but he is not directly punitive nor does he offer or promise Me after death. There is no formal worship of Kumba nor are there any ceremonies of praise. "
The Baka believe that all men are composed of flesh and blood, a breath, a shadow, an image and a spirit. When a man dies, his body, breath and shadow leave. His spirit, flee from the body, enjoys much power over man. He nonetheless Lives a similar life but remains invisible.
Through rites, invocations, symbols and rituals, the Baka try to influence the forest. As they do this, they may ask either Komba, the spirits, or the forest to bless them. Their singing and dancing play a crucial role in their rituals and in their daily life activities. Through singing, the women can please the forest and even call in the animals in preparation for a hunt. Not a day goes by that the women are not singing at one time or another.
Ethnomusicologist Simha Arom describes the beauty and complexity of the Aka music, which is much similar to the Baka music, saying, ". . .as l was listening to them, there, at the edge of the deep equatorial forest, 1 realized that 1 was witnessing some of the most elaborately complex music, polyphonically, contraputaily and rhythmically, of all the non-written music in Africa or elsewhere." Although the Baka do not have the word
"music" in their language, their singing and musical instruments' : are at the very center of heir culture.
Jengi is the chief "me" (spirit) and has power over all the me (Baka ancestors) in the forest. He is considered good as he looks after the welfare of the Baka. Many of his children (those initiated) are in danger, they may call his name and he will deliver them. If an injustice is done, a Baka can also call on Jengi as well as any other "me" to punish or even kill a criminal. However, none of the spirits would ever accept to harm an innocent person.' In every Baka camp there is a man who plays the role of Jengi, but he may never represent Jengi in his own camp.
The Baka people believe that the spirits are real people. At death each one becomes a spirit. Yes, spirits are humans! It is the spirits of those who have already died. And why not? Othewise, where would they come from? We have spirits right here who live near the people. They work for those who are not yet dead. One day, we, who are still among the living, will make them a costume with leaves, and they will come dancing. Just like real people! They dance in the yard, and we offer them food, and then they leave. (POLI, Chap. 12, p. 4).
The me (spirit) can also do evil among the people by bringing sickness on them. When this happens, the elders make medicine in an attempt to reverse the damage done and to chase away those evil spirits.
There are at least nine different kinds of mg active in the lives of the Baka people. Most of them are well known, even by the young people. These are the mokondi , 'emboàmboà , 'emboàndà , ngaje, mongelebo , nyabolà , wungà , kose and joboko . All of these spirits seem to fit John Mbiti's definition of the "leaving-dead. "': However, as Mbiti points out, it is not always easy to categorize spirits.
The spirits play an important role in the lives of the Baka. They constantly seek their blessing during a hunt or any other activities and present food offerings.
1. The mokondi are considered good spirits who like to live near the people. The elders may ask them to come either when someone is sick or when they see that the whole village can use strength and medicine. Because they usually stay for two or three weeks at a time, the women must build them one or more mongulu near the village. While the women sing something similar to the yéli, the m6kondi dance something similar to the likàno , but always keep their backs to the people and the elders are free to join them in the dance. They are covered from head to toe in raffia. Because they dress and dance somewhat like Jengi, they are sometime called the sons of Jengi. As they dance, they rub their hidden faces on children and sick people to give them healing strength. During the many days they are in the village, they reveal the traditional medicine the people need at that time. These spirits also play an important role in hunting. At their forest camp, the hunters frequently called on them to reveal where the animals are. When the hunters have killed animals with their help, they give them the hearts and livers in return. The hunters throw the raw hearts and livers cut in small pieces all around them. The "me" (spirit) catch and eat them.
2, The 'emboàmboà (also called mboàmboà ) are buffoon spirits which make people laugh at funerals. They come to every death ceremony, where they may perform the 1aa1à dance on one or two nights. During this comical and diverting performance, they dress in leaves or palm branches and speak in deep growling voices. This is not to be confused with the 'emboàmboà dance, which is not performed by 'emboàmboà, but by the young adults who, before the 'emboàmboà come, laugh and mimic them. The 'emboàmboa always perform on the first night of the ceremony at about 3 a.m. They may arrive naked from the forest and steal clothes and other items from the people's homes in the camp or village which they leave in the forest at the end of the ritual.
3. The 'emboàndà (also called mboàndà ) spirits are similar to the 'emboàmboà but with a different role. They do not come during a death ceremony and, like the ngaje, they are called upon to bring healing and give medicine when someone is sick. They may also come, sometime early in the morning, to prepare the hunters for a hunting trip. They dance directly on the hunting weapons the hunters bring before them. They will do so
without ever cutting their feet. This ritual assures that they will kill many animals on their hunting trip.
4. The ngaje spirits, like the 'emboàmboà , come only to perform the laàlà dance during the death celebration. Places near the village are selected where people may leave some clothes for them to Wear. If there are not enough clothes, they do not come. Their faces are uncovered, but no one recognizes them, as they are strangers. They speak like the 'emboàmboà and shake hands with the people very hard. However, unlike the 'emboàmboà , they are quiet and do not run ail over the place. If there is too much noise (often made by the 'emboàmboà ), they will not come. They live far away in the forest, as they dislike the noise of the villagers.
5. The mongelebo spirits cm only come during a death ceremony. The mongelebo, with the 'emboamboà and the ngaje all dance at the same time. Like the 'emboàmboà , they steal clothes in houses when the people are gone. They only Wear these clothes during their performance. No one can recognize them as they are strangers. They usually come at about 4 a.m. on the first night of the ceremony, after the 'emboàmboà , and may dance until dawn. They perform the laàlà, but do it differently than the 'emboàmboà and ngaje. They never speak, but only whistle.
6. The nyabolà spirits come only when an elephant has been killed. They dance and celebrate with the people and accompany the hunters back to the village. The nyabolà, the mongelebo , as well as the wùngà spirits who come during the ngàngà ritual, are rarely active and are not well known by the younger generation.
7. The last two spirits, the kose, who come during the ngàngà ritual, and the joboko , who come during the yéli ritual, are only known by the elders, as they are the ones who control these two important rituals. It is difficult to tell at this point if these rituals are passed on to younger generations with the same intensity as it was in the past.
+ nje "blood; life; strength; unity." The mboni ritual, although not often performed, is an important aspect of the culture. This alliance is made only between men. Through such alliances, men can build sure relationships which they can fall back on in case of sickness and tragedy. They do not drink each other's blood as such. Instead, they dip either plantain or yarn or other food in the mixed blood of the two people and share
the food. They cannot eat meat in this ritual as it already contains blood. When such a covenant has been performed, the two people become kin. Therefore, even when involving a Bantu and a Baka, intermarriage within their families is forbidden and considered incest.
+ nguso "saliva; blessing. " Saliva can never be applied by itself. It is always used mixed with ngele (Komba's blood) or coal. If a hunter has misfortune and hears either his wife, his mother or his father's sister speak about him, he may go to her and ask for her blessing. She will then take her saliva, mix it with either ngele or coal, and apply it on the hunter's forehead. She may also give a prayer, but if she does she may or may not address it to Komba or the spirits. Her words alone have the power to bless.
+ libanjo-bo "forehead; good luck; blessing." The concept of good luck is still strong among the Baka, especially the hunters. There are countless do's and don'ts related to diets, habits, rituals, sexual activities and formulas which can bring good or bad luck. However some people, especially those who labor in their plantations two or three times per week, realize that hard work, not only luck, contributes to a good harvest.
The Baka on the Lomié road may never under any circumstances take the saliva from a deceased person. The giving of saliva to make the ngaje is done by the kàà-lé (father's sister) or as a last resort the tita-lé (mother's brother) a few days after the burial of the deceased.
The Baka are in a period of transition from hunting and gathering to a sedentary and agricultural way of Me. They are beginning to live in villages alongside the main road. In her article, Higgens shows that the Baka still have an important relationship with the fores, which provides a basis for their worldview.
While the initiation ritual of young males is the principal means whereby both, Baka men and women, are brought into an alliance with the forest, the Baka tie to the forest begins before birth and continues after death. Consequently, the following descriptions follow the Baka Me trajectory as it leads up to and then away from the Jengi ceremony (p. 100)
A Baka, while still in his mother's womb, is exposed to the forest's protection. To ensure a safe delivery and a healthy baby, one rubs the stomach of the expectant mother with a red paste made up of ngele, a powder made from the mahogany tree. When the baby is born, the ngele is applied to the umbilical cord. This way, the baby begins its first days under the continuing protection of the forest. When a baby is two days old, the father makes protective charms from a special type of wood which the child will wear around his waist and ankles. The father must also make a carrying sling for the child, which has protective powers.
In Ndjibot the belly and the umbilical cord are not rubbed with ngele to protect mother and child. The ngele medicine, which can usually be found at any time in the village, is only used to rub the mother's belly on the day of delivery when she gives birth to twins. When the umbilical cord falls off, the mother takes it and plants it with a new banana tree. It is a symbol that the child will grow as quickly as the banana tree. Only the grand-father (titi-lé ni mokose ) and the grand-mother (titi-lé nà wose) will later eat the first bananas produced. This new custom has been borrowed from the neighboring Bantu groups during the last generation or two.
Many other natural resources are used to ensure that the child grows strong and healthy. As with the Mbuti child,:" for the first three years of his life, the Baka child is rarely put down and almost always remains in physical contact with mother, father, or sister. In this way the child enjoys total security. However, although very young, a child has as much autonomy and personal responsibility as do older individuals. A child learns skills, not by fond education, but through imitation. The learning is his own responsibility. This is also time for the learning of rituals, singing, and dancing. The child learns quickly to make his own decisions. For example, at about the age of eight, he may decide whether or not to have his teeth cut to a point in the traditional Baka way.
In pre-adolescence, the children's imitating becomes more serious. The boys build their own house and live together until they marry. Some plant their own "practice" plantations and start killing larger animals. Rituals are important, as they bring each one closer to and in harmony with the spirits of the forest.
"Girls, when they become young women, must be fully adept at the ritual form of singing that provides an accompaniment for the hunting rituals. This special singing, similar to yodeling, is called yéli and its power 'weakens the forest' or more specifically, 'weakens the hearts of the animals,' and this ensures that the men cm kill them" (p. 101).
When a few young women between 18 and 20 years of age can be found in the camp, an initiation cm take place. In preparation, older women gather leaves and other necessary ingredients to make medicine. During their initiation, girls are given a drink of medicinal leaves, water, and honey. Each is taken to a pathway leading into the forest where the spirit of Jengi , the chief spirit of the forest, will give her a new power and ability to sing. Higgens describes this spiritual experience saying that, "There, while she is alone, the spirit (Literally: 'the forest person') holds a cup for her while she drinks. The spirit teaches her to sing the Song that 'calls' the animals, and she yodels well" (p. 102)
Jengi is the chief spirit of the forest, specific to the Baka people, and sent to them by Kornba . While Komba is for the whole world, Jengi is for their territory.
While the girls come to adulthood through this ritual, the young must be brought under the protection of Jengi through another ritual. Every five to seven years, Jengi comes to receive the young males, who range from about 12 to 20 years old. The initiation takes months of preparation by the whole camp. Although most of the activities involving the initiation take place in the camp or village, the initiation itself always takes place in the forest. In every camp, "Jengi is 'kept' by a certain man, who is called 'master', or 'chief,' or 'father' of Jengi. Each camp also has a 'spokesman,' chosen by Jengi, who transmits Jengi words to the rest of the camp" (p. 102). Jengi must never be seen or heard by women. Therefore, the women in particular are dependent on the spokesman to receive Jengi's instructions. In order to hide himself, Jengi appears enveloped in a two-story raffia covering that can be extended or compressed. At full height, it can reach over three meters. This covering is made of fresh raffia and is woven by the young initiated boys.
At the edge of the camp, near the forest, a two meter wide screen made of raffia is tied between two trees. Other screens are ahead leading into the forest, where Jengi lives in a leaf-hut without his covering. Before the initiation,
"The eldest sister of each young man who is to be initiated shaves the head of her
brother in elaborate patterns. The candidates are liberty covered in oil and ngele, all
of it accompanied by the blessing with saliva. Ngele in this context is said to be
Komba's blood, which will keep the candidates' bodies "soft." The candidates, each
carrying a walking stick, then disappear behind the screen. Each is accompanied by a
kinsman or guardian, for otherwise he would be too frightened at the point when he is
killed (p. 102).
Meanwhile, the initiated men, hidden behind the raffia screens, clap their hands and scream and then thrust long sticks through the screen in the direction of the camp:
"Then each guardian emerges with his candidate's stick. Its tip is covered with blood. This signifies that Jengi has put the initiates to death. How this happens has been described to me as follows: Jengi cuts the candidate's throat, throws his body to the ground then cuts it up--the latter word being the same term used to refer to the butchering of animals. Jengi then takes out the initiate's Liver and eats it. It is this that subsequently enables him to recognize one of his own "children" in the forest, and he will come to their rescue when they called his name (102-3).
Jengi then puts the parts back together and blows into the initiate's nostrils, so he receives life again. He is now under the protection of Jengi who has "saved him. " Meanwhile, the women sing particular songs. The eldest sister or the mother of each initiate holds his stick and with the help of a leaf keeps the flies from touching the blood.
Should she fail, the initiate would die. Then, "Old women shout pleadingly, "Treat them gently!" The initiate's paternal aunt spits, and in great fear she shouts loudly in the direction of the screen, "Be saved, don't Ml him forever! " She takes medicine she has prepared and sprinkles it in the direction of Jengi, saying, "Don`t be angry; be at peace!" The group of women swing their breasts with their hands, and they wrinkle their noses, saying, "Let him be saved; let him live! " They clap their hands and stamp their feet . After this the guardians return through the screen to take the sticks and food and water to the newly resurrected initiates (p. 103).
Finally, the initiates come out from behind the screens and people take off their own bracelets and necklaces and give them to the young initiates. Then the women sing and dance while the initiates sit in a row, crouched in the fetal position. Many times Jengi comes from behind the screen to dance, then exits again. It is a the of joy, festivity and excitement.
When the ceremonies are over, those who have just been initiated spend the nights in a special leaf-hut so that Jengi can give them medicine to make their bodies strong and protect them from sorcerers. The initiates believe that now that Jengi has killed them and brought them back to life, he will do so again if'they are killed. This gives them courage to face danger in the forest. Jengi is beneficial only to the men, as he will not protect the women and children. Higgens quotes Robert Dodd who suggests that Jengi has an equalizing role for the Baka sexes, since in several ways the woman has a dominant position in Baka society
Now roles and expectations are redefined for those young men and women. They will soon face full adult responsibilities, as they move toward the establishment of a family. Men will go on hunting and women gathering. The performance of the appropriate rituals is the responsibility of all adults and assures success in hunting. These rituals include the weakening of the animals by the women singing yéli, the imparting of blessing through ngele and saliva, and various forms of divination that reveal where to hunt.
Older people become kobo, which means " elder," "wise man," "senior," or "ancestor." As they retire from hunting and gathering, they stay in the base camp and become respected advisors. Their primary role is to settle disputes, watch their grandchildren, and pass on legends and rituals.
Death of old age is considered normal. If a younger person dies, there is something wrong. His death may be attributed to the breaking of taboos (as in the case of a newborn girl who people said died because her mother walked in damp places), sorcery, adultery, neglecting his wife, or disturbing the forest (such as creating undesirable noise).
Death ceremonies are not only important for the people, as they mourn, and for the spirit of the deceased, so that it may leave peacefully, but also to bring harmony between the forest and the Baka. As Higgens points out:
"The ceremonies following death bring out two of the main purposes for Baka
ritual. Throughout Me, and especially after the death of a family member, rituals and
the application of symbolic substances are vital to "keep a person's body strong so
that he will be well on the earth." The other major purpose for ritual, especially for
ritual dances, such as those danced after a death, is to bring joy to the forest, because
if the forest rejoices, animals will come close to the Baka, and the people will have
meat (p. 105)
Twins are feared as they are said to have special powers. After their birth, both twins are given raw meat (of any animal) from which the babies suck the blood. This makes the babies to identify with an animal and will exercise some kind of power over it. That animal will be attracted to them because of the blood they ate, which means that the twins will be successful hunters and will always have plenty to eat of that animal. For as long as the mother cooks for the twins, she will use only pando wood" to feed the fie. When the children are big enough to crawl, the parents will apply ngele mixed with a powder made of the back of the kulu tree on the children's forehead. The words pronounced by twins are powerful. If they speak even lightly again to someone, this person will suffer from a headache. Fortunately, twins are rare
The use of charms are quite similar to the practices of Yenga . A ngba (charm) on a string is put around the neck of a baby or toddler to provide him or her with strength and protection. in order to put the ngba on a string, one must heat the wood in the fire and then pierce it either with a piece of metal or, in a more traditional fashion, with a sharp piece of pipi': (an extremely strong wood). - - Sometimes the ngba is put on a string made of baàlà,-- which will eventually break. When it does, no one must look for it as it means that the child is now strong and no longer needs the ngba. Otherwise, one may Wear a ngba until the age of about six.
Other protective charms are used; however they are not specifically for children. For example, teenagers and adults can wear the ngbi (a string skillfully made with the inside of the ngbi bark) around their wrists. Often ngele is applied to the string to add to its power. This string medicine will protect against danger and spirits and is most often used when traveling. A criminal will not succeed in killing someone who wears this string.
This practice is used even by the young people, although not as much as in the past generation.
Because a pregnant woman brings bad luck, a different string is attached to the husband's ankle to assure him good luck in hunting. He will Wear it from the beginning to the end of the pregnancy, removing it only when the baby is born. A husband who does not Wear this string while his wife is pregnant will surely bring disaster on himself and everyone hunting with him. The same applies whether one hunts with traps, a spear, or a gun. Although only the husband may Wear this string, other hunters in the camp may seek good luck by asking the expecting mother to apply her ngele (mixed with her own saliva) on them.
The parent-child relationship is extremely strong among the Baka. In Ndjibot, as well as among other Pygmies,Ii the child almost always remains with his mother or father during the first three years. Children are born two to four years apart. This way, the parents can give themselves entirely to their child. During this time, the child sleeps with the mother until he or she is weaned (at about three years of age). The parents sleep in separate beds, as the husband is forbidden to have intercourse with his wife. This sex taboo will last until the child is weaned, able to walk and eat, and knows his way around in the camp.
During this time, the husband and wife are not to have affairs with others. If they do, the child will get sick and even die. If the husband has an affair and the baby gets sick, he may save the life of the child by washing him or her in some medicine. In a small tub, the father will wring some tukusà (a kind of vine) leaves in the water, which will then become thick, and will bathe the baby with his right hand while his mistress washes with her left hand. Turnbull witnessed the same sex taboo among the Mbuti Pygmies but points out that it is often a time of conflicts because the men seek to have affairs with other women.
The initiation of the young girls to the yéli-' (pronounced yéyi on the Lornié road) is different from that described by Higgens. The women eventually learn to sing the yéli but without the intervention of Jengi . Instead, they are taught by the elder women over a long period of time as the yéli is difficult to learn. Secret medicine known only by elder women plays a vital role in the acquisition and the performance of the ritual.
The young women do play an important role in the singing at d sorts of rituals. They join the adult women in dancing and singing whenever they are ready.
The community itself exerts some pressure on the young women to become singers, able to carry on the traditions. The parents and the elders, especially the best dancers, play an important role in teaching the children to sing and dance. However, the success of a child depends primarily on his or her own efforts and natural abilities. Often, after the evening meal when enough children are together and it is not raining, they dance and sing for at least an hour.
The children, primarily girls, make every effort to perform well, although they do it with laughter and amusement. The parents may apply some medicine (made with a leaf or a bark mixed with oil) to the skin, in incisions made on the lower back. This will help the child later on to perform dances such as the likàno which require that one moves his lower back very quickly. Other medicines are used to help the dancers and singers perform well during rituals.-' However, there is no magic or formula that can replace the children's duty to learn by imitation and practice.
Physical appearance is very important for the Baka. Therefore, the children between the age of 10 and 20, male and female, must decide whether or not they will have their teeth cut into a sharp point. For the Baka, this sharpening of teeth is one of their most attractive characteristics.
This is an important decision and the majority of the youths choose to have the operation done. Only male elders can perform the operation and it rarely takes more than one day. The practice requires a large amount of courage as it is extremely painful. With the help of a knife and a piece of metal used as a hammer, the elder man cuts only the Front teeth.
During the operation, the young person keeps a piece of wood across the back teeth to keep his or her mouth open. It is totally free of charge and there is no overt pressure from the elders to have the operation done. However, traditional stories claim that uncut teeth travel in the night while the person is asleep and eat excrement .
In addition to teeth cutting, scars on the forehead and cheeks are made by elder women for aesthetic reasons. Many women and a few men choose to have such scars. It also takes a lot of courage as it is a painful operation The elder woman opens the skin with a razor blade and inserts a choice of certain leaves in the open wound to assure that the scars will always remain black. The men consider the women with marks far more attractive than those without . Today very few people have their nose pierced as their parents or grand-parents did. However, many women still pierce their ears. This is again a decision the young men and women must make. It is done not only for aesthetic reasons but also for practical ones. On their frequent fishing trips during the dry season, the women insert a medicine in their pierced ears or nose which helps them find fish.
The Baka worship a forest spirit known as Jengi, also called Djengi or Ejengi, whom they perceive as both a parental figure and guardian. Each successful hunt is followed by a dance of thanksgiving known as the Luma, which is accompanied by drumming and polyphonic singing. One of the most important traditional ceremonies is the Jengi ceremony, a long and secret rite of initiation which celebrates the boy's passage into adulthood.
Performance of Jengi thus creates an exchange network between camps among older males. When Jengi comes he stays in the forest near the village. The people spend many nights singing and dancing, and Jengi himself often dances" among them. Every two or three nights, depending on the elders, the celebration pauses to give place to one or more nights of rest. During the first few days after his arrival, Jengi, with the help of the elders, puts a medicine powder (made of bark) on the head of everyone in the village. This ritual is also performed by the elders at the beginning of every year, however, using a different medicine, which gives the people protection and strength.
After a few days a team of hunters, followed by a team of porters, go hunting for a number of animals, usually including elephant, gorilla, wild boar, and other small animals such as the chimpanzee and antelope. The elephant hunt is the greatest of hunts for the Baka. Although today the Baka only hunt this animal when a rifle is lent to them, it remains one of the most dangerous and exciting experience for the hunters. Elephant hunting, however, is quickly disappearing in Ndjibot (Baka town) as no one is willing to hunt with a spear, and guns big enough to kill the elephant are hard to find. Jengi does not go with the hunters as he sometime does in the Salapoumbé area. The ngàngà ritual, usually performed before an important hunting trip, takes place the day before the hunters leave.
The ngàngà diviner tells the hunters where to find the animals and how long the hunt will last. Depending on which animal they hunt, the hunt may last from one to six weeks. The initiation ritual takes place shortly after they return. Sometimes Jengi, the elders, and the initiates, with their mothers or wives, will move into the forest and perform the ritual away from the village. At other times, it all happens part- in the village and partly in the forest nearby, as described by Higgens. However, the actual initiation always takes place in the forest.
Once the hunters are back, the mbonio (initiates) stay together in a big mongulu built just for them, in the village. The elders feed them with the food that each one's mother or wife has prepared. Jengi also makes frequent visits during the night to give them medicines (which are known only to him) while they sleep, to ensure that they are in good health, and to ensure that there are no sorcerers who may kill someone and then blame Jengi . At dawn Jengi leaves for the forest with one or two elders who will keep him company near a fire. Jengi always sleeps in the forest, away from the people. The morning before the initiation, Jmgi and the people perform more dances while the initiates stay in their mongulu and are fed by their relatives. Then the elders trim the hair and eyebrows of every initiate in a specific shape and cut their eyelashes. They replace their pants with a skirt made of raffia, attached in between their legs, or with shorts. This is all that they may wear. Then they cover their entire body with black palm oil and with ngele made with Jengi's saliva. The mbonio are now getting anxious, as Jengi will soon perform the initiation.
In early afternoon" each mbonio , guarded by an initiated man, is led to the first kpànga (long logs of about three meters long on which the initiates sit), facing Jengi's hidden home in the forest. The raffia screens as described by Higgens are many, leading into the forest. The first screen, nearly two meters wide and tali, is tied between two trees at the edge of the camp. As Jengi dances toward his home, the elders tell the mbonio to take the kpànga (there may be three or four) and move closer to Jengi 's home. Slowly, as Jengi dances around them, they continue to make their way closer and closer to his home. The initiates, dressed only in their raffia skirts or shorts, pour more palm oil and ngele over their bodies. This the the ngele is made with their mother's saliva. During the ritual, the women sing a number of songs. Then as Jengi dances very near them, they sit with their heads between their knees. They must not look at Jengi. Now the people are extremely afraid and may even try to run away. Each guardian stays near the young mbonio, he must protect and keep from fleeing because of their fear. Then the guardians ask the mbonio to close their eyes and quickly take each one in their arms and run into Jengi's house. This is where the miracle of Jigi (as they call it), which is carefully kept secret from outsiders, takes place. Somehow Jengi kills the youths and eats their livers. The women who were singing and dancing, stop suddenly.
Moments later Jengi gives the guardians small sticks of wood with a piece of raw liver on each one. These come from the initiates' livers, so there is one stick for each initiate. The guardians pass them on to the mbonio's mothers, who mud place the sticks upright into the ground. Each mother is responsible to guard her stick, and by moving a leaf on the meat, she keeps the flies from landing on the blood. Failure to do so may result in her son not healing properly. After a Little while, the guardians gather these sticks and return them carefully to Jengi , who will use them to heal the initiates. It is important that the guardians do not drop them. Jengi then repairs the bodies and breathes into the initiates' nostrils to give them Me again. Because of his great power, no one feels any pain for a number of days.
The newly initiated men stay with Jengi for a while to talk with him. They are no longer afraid, as Jengi tells them that they are now his friends and are under his protection. They swear to never reveal to any non-initiate the secret of Jengi and the hidden initiation. When they return to the village, Jengi takes each initiate to his own home. There he asks one of the parents, "Have 1 harmed your son?" When the person responds "No," he moves on to the next home. if the ceremony takes place in the village the mbonio never need to sleep in the forest. However, if it takes place at a forest camp, they may come back only two or three weeks later.
Before the initiation, the hunters give their meat to the women who prepare it. On the following day of the ritual, the women serve the meal to Jengi and everyone in the village. In addition to the meat, they prepare plantains and other products they have cultivated and gathered. After they eat, the initiates take a some piece of meat and hook it to the roofs of their houses. This teaches them self-control and assures that they will not become gluttons.
Later, each initiate is given two medicine-coated strings which he will wear over each shoulder like slings. Attached to one of these strings is a horn of an antelope or other small animal. It is cut about three centimeters long and is filled by Jengi with a healing medicine made of ashes and oil. When the newly initiated man feels pain in his liver or stomach, caused by the initiation, he may apply the medicine. The mbonio must
wear the strings all the time, except when sleeping, until they fall off on their own. When this happens, it will mean that he is completely healed. In addition to these strings, they may wear modem necklaces and bracelets bought at a nearby town. A few days after the initiation (some say the fifth day), the youths go back to Jengi 's house to receive a small stick with leaves attached to it, which will serve them as healing medicine. They will hang them in their mongulu for one day, after which they must return them to Jengi, who will hide the sticks in the forest in such a way that the rain cannot touch them.
The following day or some days later, the initiates go through a washing ceremony. They wash in water which already contains medicine that Jengi has added to it. When they finish washing, Jengi pulls them out of the water one by one, with the help of a small stick treated with medicine. After this washing ritual, each initiate exchanges his raffia skirt or shorts for a pair of pants belonging to an old initiate. Between rituals and festivities, many people work in their fields and carry on their daily responsibilities. If the people were at a forest camp, they now return to the village.
Jengi always appears covered in raffia and although no woman can ever see him, the men can. To everyone, however, he is not a man, but the spirit of the forest. The identity of Jengi, along with many other aspects of the initiation, is a secret that belong only to the Baka.
The festivities continue for many more nights, while Jengi comes to dance and to take care of the healing youths. When the initiates see him, they line up before him. Every now and then, as he dances, Jengi pushes and shakes them violently. This is the final test to see if t hey are strong and healing well. This ritual is repeated during many nights. As he gets ready to leave, he admonishes the parents to care for the youths and gives them recipes for healing medicine. Once Jengi is gone, the young men feel that they belong even more to the forest and share its deepest secrets.
The Baka, in addition to being expert hunters, fishermen and NTFP harvesters, are also well known for their
extraordinary skills in healing with traditional medicine, including midwifery, and in their craftsmanship. These
skills are also marketable, and could well provide the livelihood of many members of Baka communities.
Ironically, the main customers of Baka healing and midwifery treatments are currently the Bantu who, despite often discriminating against the Baka, will go to the Baka (albeit discreetly) to be cured of a wide range of different illnesses. The Baka not only possess encyclopaedic knowledge on medicinal plants and potions, they have also become known nationally for their powers and efficacy in healing.
In Cameroon, for example, stories suggest that some Baka healers have, upon request, gone as far as the capital Yaoundé to heal patients. Interestingly, the Ministry of Health of Cameroon recently passed a bill stating that medicinal plants and traditional medicine are to be accepted as valid forms of treatment just as “modern” healthcare is. There is a national institute in Yaoundé, the Synergie Africaine Foundation, researching traditional medicine, which could be a valuable contact for Baka projects looking for collaboration, and also in terms of finding out what kind of markets might arise both for medicinal plants as well as for healing, and how the Baka could better benefit from these. It is imperative, however, that intellectual property rights are ensured for the Baka, and that sustainability criteria in harvesting medicinal products are met. It is also critical that any possible trade is fair, such that the Baka communities are the main beneficiaries, rather than the state or private companies.
The Baka are also well known for their skills in midwifery. Baka midwives are becoming increasingly well known for their ability and success in curing sterility, inducing fertility, in their ability to both prevent and terminate pregnancies, or even to just postpone or advance childbirth. Baka midwives are often visited by neighbouring Bantu women seeking help in difficult situations. Here, again, the Baka could learn to negotiate a fair wage for the valuable and unique skills and service that they provide.
As for handicrafts, the Baka are excellent and fast weavers, and are known to be able to produce many baskets in just one day. When asked whether they manage to sell these, one Baka community informed us that there was always a demand for baskets (especially when selling by the roadside) but the challenge for them was learning to negotiate fair prices. Currently, the Baka are selling their crafts at a very low price (the equivalent of one euro for one large carrying basket or case). In addition to helping the Baka learn how to negotiate better prices, alternative marketing channels for handicrafts could also be explored. The Baka have the materials, the skills, the time and the interest; the only missing link is a profitable market.
According to Kathleen Higgens " The Baka refer to themselves in time as wà-mbelio (the first people). They lived on earth with Komba (God) and they describe this age in their likàno (chantfables) as s)k)- likàno (season-chantfables), which is the time when the first legends were being enacted.
Today, when referring to events that took place a long time ago, the word mb3li (first state; a long the ago) is used. The Baka word for the is tie, but this can also refer to "place, height and dimension." For example, it can be used to say, "1 have no place to sit;" "this man is tall;" or "1 will come some other time." However, the phrase "à bo maka tie" is ambiguous and can mean either "at what place or time?"
The Baka recognize three main climatic seasons, specifically related to hunting and gathering. These are S)k)-mà "the rainy season", s)k)-yaka "the dry season," and s)k)- lànga "the short dry season." The is also described by what the season produces. For example, S)k)-bàndi (termite season) can substitute for the term for dry season. Or again, "ma na 1eka" is the flower that the bees will visit when it grows after the March rain.
They use words to describe parts of the day such as the early morning, about 7 a-m., 8 a-m., midday, late afternoon and early evening. Words for week and the days of the week are borrowed from the neighboring Bantu. As in many languages, the word for month (f3) is the same as for moon. Although the Baka, like other hunters and gatherers, have little interest in the moon's activity, they recognize its cycles.
The sun (bàko) is extremely important to the Baka for keeping time. By describing the position of the sun from early morning to sunrise, they have a precise reference to time. Other time words are Iàkpe (day), makàlà (today), dukpe (morning or tomorrow), ngili (yesterday), rnbilimbili (early moming), dakalà (evening), fitimà (late evening, at dark). The only word to refer to a vague, distant future is bike (one day). This is not surprising for such a present-oriented society.
One important consideration in the life of the Baka is the gathering of honey, which is the favorite food of the Baka and even of Komba himself Consequently, the Baka divide the day in tems of the bees' activities.
When a Baka dies in the camp, she explains, the Baka moum and show their sorrow through wailing and crying. The wailing is done mainly by the women. People from the camp are sent in ail directions to call in those members of the group still in the forest. Although traditionally dead bodies were left at the base of the kungu: tree (known as the tree for hiding things) and covered with leaves, today sick people are taken to the village to die. This way the authorities cannot accuse the Baka of murder.
Death evokes great fear of the departed spirit. The spouse of the deceased must take precautions to assure that the spirit will not return to trouble him or her. One of the ways to do this is to paint around the eyes of the spouse, children and parents of the deceased with white kaolin or charcoal.
The death of a child especially b~gs fear. Rituals must be performed to protect the other children, especially the young ones. Often the slings made with the kio bark (put over the mother's left shoulder to carry her baby on her right hip) are beaten out of bark in order to reinforce their protective power. In addition, they may paint the slings with charcoal and white kaolin and mark the children's foreheads' with charcoal for several days. Quite often the cause of death is attributed to disputes. Therefore, one causing trouble may be accused of murder. Peace and unity, as well as avoiding undesirable noise, are therefore important among the Baka.
The Baka believe that when a person dies, his spirit leaves the body but remains near the camp for a few days. However, the spirits may return later on, either to help hunters find game or to trouble the camp. In order to ensure a good future relationship with a spirit, a mourning period of three nights of story-telling and dancing is organized. The whole community is expected to participate at one time or another and all must be done according to tradition to ensure that the spirit goes peacefully away and does not return to trouble the camp. The spirit observes from the forest nearby to see that these ceremonies are done properly.
During the first night everyone meets outside the deceased's house. Often leaving the body in the main room of the house, they tell traditional stories until morning. These stones have the power to hypnotize animals for the hunters to kill. The only other time these stories are told is in the evenings in their hunting camps in the forest . They are very entertaining and often My with erotic details. The whole camp joins in singing as the stones also contain choruses. In between stones, the buffoon dance (mboàmboà ) is performed. This is a very comic dance, with the dancers, My clothed, calling out "comments of a suggestive nature and making movements imitating the sexual act" (p. 10). In the midst of all the laughing, dancing and singing, it is hoped that the mourners might forget for an instant their sorrow. On the second night, the people might chose the Bumi dance and on the third the kose (also known as jesa) dance. The spirits of the forest (the spirits of the first ancestors) are said to be present in the dancers (men initiated into those spirits) during these nights. At the final dance, the kose spirit spits on everyone in order to give them strength. By that time every member of the camp has come to the ceremony, at one time or another, in order to please the spirit.
Many Baka believe that after the death of the body, the spirit leaves for a better place. Some claim that one can hunt and fish there. Others believe in heaven, as the Catholic missionaries taught them. One can describe a dead person by saying that "he has gone to Komba`s home," or "gone up above," "gone to the big city," "gone downstream," "gone ahead," or "gone to wait for me."
The grave of the deceased is often dug behind his house. The people dig ledges across the two long sides of the grave in order to lay logs above the body later on. Higgens describes the burial as follows:
"The body, wrapped in a new cloth and sometimes in a woven mat, is carried out
with the head uncovered. A man who is not a close kin of the dead person (that is,
not his son, daughters' husband or sibling's son), stands in the grave, about 5 feet
deep, to receive the body. The man lays the body full-length facing upwards, then
puts the logs in place and covers them with large strips of bark which are handed
down to him. He then tramples a layer of earth down hard, so that the rats will not
eat the body. He emerges from the grave and mourners each take a handful of earth,
spit in it as a final blessing, throw it in the grave, then tum back to the house of
mourning. There is no wailing round the grave, no prayers and no invocations. Other
males then cover the grave with earth. The grave remains unmarked and is soon reclaimed by brush.
Those who dig the grave and carry the body are regarded as ritually unclean. As
compensation, the mother of the deceased must give them chickens, spears or fire-
making kit bags. After the burial, they go down to the Stream to cleanse themselves.
The dead person's mother's brother accompanies the group to point out different leaves and barks the men should use as medicines. They then wash, and rub these medicines on themselves, or have them sprinkled on their heads. (p. 1 1)"
Two or three days after the burial, the immediate family of the deceased need to purify themselves. Without drawing any attention to themselves, they leave for the forest. Through a complex ritual of passing through an arch into the water, washing with some bark medicine and standing in the smoke made by burning fifi (rnicrodesmis puberula. In today`s Baka orthography it is spelled pipi) leaves, the mourners cleanse themselves. The ritual is symbolic of their separation from the deceased. However this is not the end of the separation ritual. A son of the sister of the dead person attaches a piece of the arch to his roof Years later, in a final separation celebration, he will take this piece and will mix its remains with the hair shaved from the heads of the nearest relatives.
After this begins the rite of transition. The mourners must learn to live without this family member and therefore face new responsibilities. At this stage, people give the mourners gifts that symbolize food acquisition and preparation or the construction of forest shelters, thus acknowledging the changes in status and responsibilities the mourners experience through the death of a family member. A woman may receive leaves, firewood, or food, while a man may receive mat, a spear or other hunting weapons. The women are encouraged to take up once again their important roles of cooking and building the family camping hut. Ail this is done without any singing or dancing. If' the deceased is a man, it is up to his senior brother's wife to take the lead in these rituals.
The term ngàngà cm mean many things. Most importantly it refers to two ritual dances. One is used in preparation for a hunt, and the other during a healing session. The term also refers to the people who have been initiated into divination, either to read in fire, to heal people or to determine who committed violations. In his article, the study of the rite ngàngà is limited to the preparation dance for a hunt and to the selection of diviners who read in fire.
After a day's work, while the women prepare the evening meal and the men prepare themselves and their weapons for a hunt, young boys play the "male" drum, keeping the wà rhythm to announce to all the Baka nearby the ngànga dance. After the meal, an elder asks a young hunter to start the ngàngà fire. The hunter then enters a few selected houses and collects from their fires pieces of burning wood with which he will start the ngàngà fire.
The people start singing, and as the night progresses they add two other drums to make a total of three. These are the male drum (moko), the smaller female drum (wose) and the child drum (yande ), smaller yet. People form a huge circle in which each age group stays together around the tire. The drums are part of the circle: those who sing soprano are on the right, and those who sing alto are on the left of the drums. The space between the fire and the people is kept for the dancers. The hunters make their appearance. The drums and the singing take on new Me as the men participate. At this stage, other participants from neighboring camps job their age groups around the circle. As long as non-Baka neighbors are present many people stay home, and the singing and dancing lack enthusiasm. Once they leave, the Baka sing insults at them and accuse them of annoying the forest.
When it is night and no one but the Baka are present, dancing and singing in ail sorts of canons take place. Then the hunters and other young men enter the circle to dance in harmony with one another. Dressed with leaves fixed to their lower backs and hitting the ground as they make small steps, they walk behind each other while going around the fire. Everyone looks at the fire. Later on in the night, the dancers, touch the fire with their hands and then touch their foreheads. This they do many times while making loud noises. At the same time the singing of the women intensifies. After a few minutes, the men start dancing behind each other, making a circle around the fire. Sometimes a woman will speak to the forest, telling it to weaken and to be annoyed by the singing. Slowly, people start retiring to their huts, and soon only the drums are heard in the night. When people are gone, the lead dancer stops dancing and commands the drums to stop.
At about 10 p.m. the same dancer starts singing again and urges every one to come back to the fire. Soon every one is back in a circle. The dancer sits on the ground a few inches from the fire and stares into it. Other ngàngà (people who read the fire) join him near the fire. They see the animals the hunters will kill and all the dangers they will encounter. After reading in the fire for a while, the ngàngà discuss what they have seen.
Meanwhile, all the others dance and sing intensely as they come to the climax of the ceremony. When the ngàngà have come to a consensus on what the fire reveals, the lead dancer asks every one to stop and listen. Then in a melodious voice he tells the story of what he has seen. He circles the fire telling about his "vision," while looking into the fire to find the most revealing place. His story sounds were this: "People, people, hear the forest. The forest wants to do good things. 1 see animals, all sorts of animals in the forest.. ." As he tells his story every one has a part to play in it. Some dance, some sing, others respond to the story by saying "heo," while other ngàngà participate in the telling of the story. They discuss some of the specifics of the hunt.
After this, some continue to dance while others go to their huts. As they leave, they touch the embers of the fire with the right hands and mark their foreheads. They also bring a piece of ember to their own fires in their huts. Then at 5 a.m., the people start singing and dancing again until the hunters leave at about 7 a.m.
Baka In Gabon
In Gabon, they form a small community (of about 500 individuals) in the North, and they are surrounded by the Fang population, the largest community in Gabon, with whom they have frequent contacts. They are, for this reason, bilingual, speaking Fang as well as Baka from their earliest years. Fang, like the rest of the languages of Gabon (estimated at 50), is a Bantu language, whereas Baka is an Ubangian language. Traditionally, the Baka are hunter-gatherers and have a nomadic lifestyle.
The Baka Pygmies, in Gabon, are unusual in that they speak an Ubangian language in an essentially Bantu environment. This small community has successfully maintained their language despite pressure from Fang, the language of one of the country’s majority ethnic groups. However, government imposed sedentarization policies have forced this population to abandon their nomadic lifestyle, a consequential change which has important repercussions for the community as a whole.
Nowadays, even if they find the bulk of what they need for subsistence in the forest, their situation is changing, as the Baka are becoming gradually sedentarized, leading them to abandon their own language for Fang. The Baka are traditionally hunter-gatherers, finding still the majority of their subsistence in the forest. In the past, the Baka were nomads, but the government policy of sedentarization has forced them to settle in a village and build clay houses similar to those of the Fang. The village has become then the place to systematically return to after excursions to the forest, taking the place of the forest camps of the past. Not only do the Baka spend less time in the forest, but they don’t travel as far into the forest as they used to and, because of this, are starting to lose a great deal of the vocabulary related to tree species found in the primary forest. In the same way, they are no longer really in a position to administer the sort of care requiring this type of canopy, and here certain practices are disappearing.
New customs are being established; the Baka tend to live like the villagers and aspire to material comfort. They are therefore becoming more and more dependent on paid work, which means spending more and more time in the company of Fang, speaking the language of their neighbors to the detriment of their own. The Baka have established a few plantations, and the changes in their diet are not always adapted to their
organism. Idleness is gaining ground because of the increasing distance of the forest, and alcohol dependence is becoming frequent in some villages. All the changes have brought about new diseases, and according to Hélène Nzé, more and more Baka youths are dying prematurely, barely reaching their thirties
Factors contributing to endangerment
Following the various criteria established by UNESCO, it is clear that Baka is an endangered language; besides the intergenerational language transmission, and the proportion of speakers with respect to the total population, all other values established for the other criteria are weak or non-existent. No government policy has been put into place for the preservation of the fifty or so Gabonese languages, though for the case of
Baka, the use of the language remains vital inside their own communities. In addition, I believe that it is necessary to take leverage from the existing strong points to strengthen those weak factors which could otherwise prove deadly to language transmission, for example the attitude of the speakers towards their own language.
The Baka are often looked down upon by the Fang. The latter do not consider themselves simply as the bosses of the Pygmies as they say - when they call on them, as they often do, to clear their fields - but as their owners. Even if behind this notion we can also see an idea of responsibility towards the Baka, it is still the case that the Fang consider them as their property, them as well as their material goods. And as I have already mentioned, some people have gone so far as to say that they are not even human beings. The Fang have successfully convinced the Baka that they are inferior to them, due to the fact that they are not schooled and therefore uneducated.
In addition, it is necessary to keep in mind that the Fang make up more than a fifth of the population in Gabon, and are therefore one of the majority ethnicities of the country; they also are strongly represented in Cameroon, their country of origin. The Baka consider the Fang as inferior to Whites.
There is also, in their minds, a social hierarchy in which Whites are placed at the highest level, after which come the Fang, and then they themselves, the Baka, at the very bottom. This is why, it turns out to be prestigious for the Baka to receive a White person in their home, and even more so to take part in scientific research.
The majority of the Baka, thus persuaded of their inferiority, are proud to show that they can speak Fang. They seek by any means to gain access to a higher social status, notably through inter-ethnic marriage. In Gabon, a man wishing to marry a woman must put together a dowry, in the form of compensation for the lost productivity of the bride’s family.
However, it turns out that the Fang dowry is the highest of all ethnic groups in Gabon, according to Mayer (2002). It is therefore very difficult for a young man to gather a sufficiently large sum, and if he’s keen to marry quickly, he will “fall back” and seek a Baka wife, because the dowry is generally around ten times less than what it would be for a Fang wife.
The Fang man is happy with his lot, but so is his Baka wife, who then has access to a so-called “superior” social status, as her children will too. The Baka and the Fang are two patrilineal societies, and so the children from such mixed marriage belong to the father’s Fang lineage. The mother does not see therefore why she should speak Baka with her children, and in more than half the cases I noted that the father in fact forbids his wife from speaking her mother tongue to her children, who do not even have a Baka family name. These children are lost speakers for Baka, since, even if they are able to understand normal conversation and express themselves in this language, they actually do not, thereby highlighting that they belong to the “superior” lineage of the Fang.