Rain forest aborigines crowded out by newcomers, loggers
March 11, 1997
Web posted at: 11:32 p.m. EST (0432 GMT)
From Correspondent Gary Strieker
EASTERN CAMEROON (CNN) -- The vast rain forest in central
Africa is the home of countless species of plants and animals
-- among them, for 40,000 years, the aboriginal people of
Many call them Pygmies but, in eastern Cameroon, they are the Baka.
In a nation dominated by 13 million ethnic Bantus, there are
only 40,000 Bakas. And the Bakas who do live in the Cameroon
rain forest are overwhelmed by change and the ongoing
destruction of their forest home.
Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development
says the Bakas are caught between the majority Bantu and the
"Both of them have claims over the forest," Nguiffo said,
"and both of them are more powerful than the Bakas. And most
of them, for the Bakas, are enemies."
As timber companies push logging roads deeper into the
forest, outsiders follow the roads to trap and hunt wild
animals, and then slash and burn to plant crops.
After living in harmony with the forest for thousands of
years, hunting and gathering only what they needed to
survive, Bakas now find many of the forest's resources are
The hunters say there are too few animals so that only the
best of hunters -- or those endowed with magical powers --
can catch them. And the chief in one settlement says the
noise from bulldozers and chain saws drives animals away.
And because the forest has been so disturbed, it's hard to
find the special plants the Bakas use for food, medicines and
The Bakas are given little in return when they are displaced
from the forest. They have no legal title to any land in the
forest they've occupied since ancient times.
Government policy refers to them as "marginal social groups,"
to be made into productive members of Cameroon's society by
surrendering their nomadic life to clear land and plant
Change, change, and more change
In other words, Bakas are expected to abandon the culture and
spiritual life that connects them to the forest, and to join
in its destruction -- a process already begun.
Alcoholism, prostitution, unemployment and exploitation by
dominant Bantus are common dangers confronting Bakas when
they leave the forest.
"They are facing a very violent civilization, and from this
civilization they tend to take only the bad aspects," says
university lecturer Roger Ngoufo.
In their new settlements, the Baka people are in transition,
no longer depending on hunting and gathering in the forest --
and facing an uncertain future in the fast-growing towns and
villages around them.
Several residents in the roadside settlements say they are
happy to be there -- the forest is too dangerous. But others say the forest is paradise lost.
The settlements have little to offer -- no school, no health
clinic, and only a few menial jobs on a nearby Bantu
What they really want, and what they should have, says Noel
Olinga, who has worked with Bakas for 16 years, is a pristine
forest reserved for their hunting and gathering. But no one
in Cameroon takes that idea seriously.
The future looks especially bleak for the young.
"They're completely lost," says Nguiffo. "They're not Baka,
not full Baka -- they're somewhere in between."
Traditional Baka initiation rites are held every year to
summon the god of the forest, the Jengi, to induct young boys
into manhood and to bring good fortune. But many Bakas say
they haven't seen the Jengi in a long time.
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