Baka people, one of the most disadvantaged populations in sub-Saharan Africa
Baka people are sons of the forest,, men and women who have always been part of it. This Pygmy ethnicity, who lived until recently as nomads and made a living from fishing, hunting and gathering, have been forced to abandon the forest and to settle in the edge of the road, on foreign lands.
Deforestation caused by the logging and mining industries, as well as by the preservation of protected areas, forced pygmies in the mid-century to sedentarization as their only alternative to subsistence, given the impossibility of pursuing their traditional way of life. Nowadays, they settle in lands dominated by other majority ethnic groups who take advantage of this situation to use them as cheap labor in slavery-like conditions.
The current situation of the Baka pygmies is of extreme urgency.They live between a past that is not possible anymore and a present in a context in which they feel out of place.
Where do the baka pygmies live?
According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, about 60,000 Baka pygmies are distributed between the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Gabon and the Central African Republic, and 5,000 of them are located in the southern forests of Cameroon. However, in Cameroon there is no official census of the pygmy population and neither have they representation in the national government, nor in the regional and local governments.
How is the Baka cultural tradition?
For generations, the Baka Pygmies have developed their own methods to live in harmony with the jungle, to which they attach a divine nature. They do not just live in the jungle, they are part of it.That's why they take care of it and preserve it. This means that they only hunt for food and that they share the roots and fruits harvested with the other members of the group. The jungle provides them with everything they need to live and they do not conceive facts such as accumulating or storing.
They are organized in small groups, with monogamous marriages and open nuclear families, where children are free and develop autonomously, and the elders represent the authority due to their wisdom. The heads of the Pygmy groups are responsible for advising and accompanying their people, but each individual is free to make his own decisions. In the Pygmy culture there is no hierarchical structure and they have great respect for personal autonomy.
The pygmy society is very egalitarian. Knowledge and expertise are valued,but these skills do not grant any authority over other individuals. A division of labour between men and women is established, but there is neither superiority of man over women nor a dependence on men.
In each village there are between 15 and 20 families, each made up of four members. They live in mungulus, huts built with leaves and palm trunks with a single door which constitutes the only source of natural light. The whole family live in this single room.
This way of life is vastly different from their neighbors, the Bantu, sedentary peoples who dominate society and economy in southern Cameroon, imposing their own rules of coexistence. Most of them do not recognize the pygmies as human beings, making them victims of all kinds of human rights violations.
A pygmy loves his jungle just as much as he loves his own body. Refrán Mbendjele
What is the current situation of Baka pygmies?
At present, baka people are still engaged in harvesting, but hunting has been reduced to small animals since it is considered as an illegal practice by the government, as a measure to protect nature reserves. For this reason, the Pygmies work the land of Bantu people, one of the country's ethnic majority, in exchange for a minimum salary, a plate of food or a dose of alcohol. In recent years a clear relationship of hierarchy has been set up, relegating them to a situation of semi-slavery from the Bantu, who often take advantage of their innocence and their ignorance of their own rights.
The legislation of the government of Cameroon acknowledges these peoples as marginalized, and even if they are not recognized as indigenous peoples at the legislative level, in practice they are classiffied as such. However, the lack of an official census on the pygmy population prevents them from being represented in the national government or in regional governments. There are no concrete measures to save their culture and their habitat. Baka people do not receive neither specific aid nor compensations for the use of their land, being in most cases despised and discriminated.
Lack of education and health
This social exclusion is associated with problems of access to education and health care, since many families are unable to cope with the national payment system to receive health care or travel long distances to see the doctor. With regard to the education, although in theory it is free, in practice, Baka children are not accepted in most of the public schools. In the schools were they are accepted, parents must pay for school supplies, uniforms and other expenses, making schooling unaffordable for these families.
Zerca y Lejos is a supporting actor
Zerca y Lejos has been working since 2001 alongside these communities to achieve their emancipation, as well as the recognition of their rights and the preservation of their culture. We believe that the main objective is not to set the way forward, but to support them and empower them to get the necessary tools to open their way to the new horizon that awaits them.
The change will come from themselves, we can only support them.