The Baka and their Shrinking Forest
by Shantha Bloemen
The Republic of Congo’s indigenous people, the country’s first inhabitants, are under threat. The Baka, one of 15 ethnic groups, who traditionally have lived as hunters and gathers in the forest of central Africa, confront two grave dangers. Their traditional habitat is under threat from commercial logging and when they do leave the forest, they are often left landless, impoverished and exploited.
In the village of Moscow on the banks of the Bangui River and on the fringe of the forest in northern Likoula Province, Antoine Bwange is the chief of the Baka. He still takes his son with him into the forest to teach him the natural wisdom of their habitat and to respect its gifts. But when he goes hunting and shoots a monkey, the animal is turned over to his neighbor, the Chief of the Bantu village who lives just a couple of hundred meters away. He and is family will only enjoy the heart.
The “Pygmy” became well known in the nineteenth century colonial imagination as being “short, subhuman and backward”. Those deep-seated attitudes sadly continue into the twenty first century. Today, it is the country’s majority population, known as the Bantu that benefit from their ongoing economic and social exclusion.