The first inhabitants of the African equatorial forest, the Pygmies constitute a totally marginalized minority, both on social, economic or political. Most anthropological studies mention three ethnic groups Pygmies in Cameroon:
- The Bakas, in the eastern and southern provinces. It’s the largest Pygmy group, with about 40,000 individuals.
- The Bakola, and the Bagyeli, in the Ocean Province, the geographical area of the entire region from the coastal forest strip to the border. The Bakola and Bagyeli are an estimated 3,000 members.
- The Medzam in Tikar Plain, Central Province. The minority group consists of only about 1,000 people.
The Pygmies have long lived without any contact with the outside, living among themselves and protected by the forest, which was both their habitat, their spiritual mother and their source of food.
However, in the past 40 years or so, intense logging has been established in the Bipindi region, sinking deeper and deeper into the forest. This industrial logging is a threat to the life and survival of the pygmy population.
The Bakas pygmies
The Baku pygmies of Cameroon and Gabon are certainly one of the oldest peoples of the world’s forests. Their number is estimated at about 40,000 people, which makes them the largest pygmy group in these countries, with the Bagyely, Medzam and Bakola ethnic groups with only a few thousand people.
Basically, the pygmy groups are united by a common culture and share the same way of life: exploitation of the forest environment by hunting, fishing and gathering, honey harvesting, construction of intertwined huts (moungoulous) covered with foliage ensuring their sealing, use of plants, bark, roots and plant fibres for therapeutic purposes, cult animist of the spirit of the forest (Kirdi) and the protective totem of the community (Ejengi).
The vast majority of the Baka are out of school. The Baka youth learn about the forest from an early age and actively participate in the life of the camp by gathering, fishing and «small hunting» with the help of traps. The evenings are dedicated to collective games and participation in songs and dances that bring families together around campfires.
In the forest, the baka tracker is distinguished from the visitor by the fact that he carries only a loincloth tied around his waist and a machete. What to give real complexes to a westerner equipped with his bush outfit and equipped with gourd, mouth provisions, pharmacy kit, torch light, insect repellent etc… To quench the thirst, a baka cuts with a machete a section of liana from which a quarter of a litre of naturally pure water will flow. For his food needs, he will obtain without difficulty berries, fruits and small game that he will collect at the pass to bring them back to the camp in the evening. With a machete stroke, he will remove wood fibers, scrape the bark of a tree or cut a few leaves necessary for the preparation of a curative decoction.
As a result of the increased exploitation of forest resources, whether it is the cutting of trees, the establishment of mines or the poaching of bush meat, pygmies are encountering increasing problems to feed on forest resources. However, they find it difficult to adapt to a sedentary lifestyle. The government is seeking solutions, in consultation with NGOs sensitive to pygmy problems.