Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Baka, also known as Bebayaka, Bebayaga, Bibaya, or Babinga, are a Pygmy ethnic group inhabiting the southeastern rain forests of Cameroon, northern Congo (Brazzaville), northern Gabon, and southwestern Central African Republic. They are sometimes mistakenly called a subgroup of the Twa pygmies, but the two peoples are not closely related. Likewise, the name Baka is sometimes mistakenly applied to any of Cameroon's two to nine recognized pygmy populations. With an average height of 1.5 metres, the Baka are, strictly speaking, pygmoids rather than pygmies. Nevertheless, in everyday usage, the term "pygmy" is employed. The Baka themselves find the term "pygmy" derogatory and prefer their tribal name.
Unlike most other Central African pygmy groups, the Baka maintain a unique language, also called Baka . It is included in the Volta-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. In addition, many Baka speak Koozime , the tongue of their Bantu neighbours, as a second language. A much smaller percentage speak French. The Baka's exact numbers are difficult to determine, but estimates range from 5,000 to 28,000 individuals.
The Baka are a hunter-gatherer people. Groups establish temporary camps of huts constructed of bowed branches covered in large leaves (though today more and more homes are constructed following Bantu methods). The men hunt and trap in the surrounding forest, employing poisoned arrows and spears to great effect. Meanwhile, the women gather wild fruits and nuts or practice beekeeping while tending to the children. The group remains in one area until it is hunted out then abandon the camp for a different portion of the forest. The group is communal and makes decisions by consensus.
Baka religion is animist. They worship a forest spirit known as Jengi or Djengi , 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. Another traditional ceremony is the Jengi (not to be confused with the god), which celebrates a boy's passage into adulthood. The Baka practice traditional medicine, and their skills are such that even non-Baka often seek out pygmy healers for treatment.
The Baka live relatively symbiotically with their Bantu neighbours. They often set their camps along roadsides to better facilitate trade; the Baka provide forest game in exchange for produce and manufactured goods. Nevertheless, exploitation of the Baka by other ethnic groups is a grave reality, especially since the Baka are still largely unaccustomed to the cash-based economy. Non-Baka sometimes hire Baka pygmies as labourers, for example, but pay them virtually nothing for a full day's work. Or, conscious of the tourism potential, some non-Baka arrange visits or stays in pygmy villages or arrange Baka guides for visitors to forest reserves, often with little compensation to the pygmies. Rates of Baka-Bantu intermarriage are also on the rise. Baka who marry outside of their ethnic group typically adopt the lifestyle of their non-Baka spouse, so some scholars predict that the pygmies will one day be completely assimilated into other groups.
The Baka are among the oldest inhabitants of Cameroon and the neighbouring countries. Their semi-nomadic lifestyle has persisted largely unchanged for thousands of years, despite the fact that during colonialism, the Baka's prowess at elephant hunting prompted ivory-hungry German and French overlords to force them to settle in roadside villages where their talents could be more easily exploited. The government of Cameroon, while stopping short of forced settlement, has attempted to maintain this policy through government incentives and regulations such as mandatory schooling for all children. However, the Baka largely resist. Today, the greatest threat to their way of life comes from multinational logging interests. As the forests disappear, the animals and plants upon which the Baka rely vanish as well.
- Fanso, V.G. (1989) Cameroon History for Secondary Schools and Colleges, Vol. 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Nineteenth Century. Hong Kong: Macmillan Education Ltd.
- Neba, Aaron, Ph.D. (1999) Modern Geography of the Republic of Cameroon, 3rd ed. Bamenda: Neba Publishers.
- Baka Pygmies vocal polyphony by Vincent Kenis
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