Baka (Cameroon and Gabon)

Baka (Cameroon and Gabon)

ethnic group

poptime=5,000 to 30,000
popplace=Central Africa, Cameroon, and Gabon
langs=Baka, Koozime, French
related=Aka, Mbuti

The Baka, also known as Bebayaka, Bebayaga, Bibaya, or Babinga, are an ethnic group inhabiting the southeastern rain forests of Cameroon, northern Republic of Congo, northern Gabon, and southwestern Central African Republic. They are sometimes mistakenly called a subgroup of the Twa, but the two peoples are not closely related. Likewise, the name "Baka" is sometimes mistakenly applied to other area peoples who, like the Baka and Twa, have been historically called pygmies (the term is no longer considered respectful).

The Baka of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan are an unrelated people.



The Baka's exact numbers are difficult to determine, but estimates range from 5,000 to 28,000 individuals.


Unlike most other Central African pygmy groups, the Baka maintain a unique language, also called Baka. It is included in the Adamawa-Ubangi 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 proportion speak French.


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, using poisoned arrows and spears to great effect. They sometimes obtain honey from beehives in the forest canopy. The men also fish using chemicals obtained from crushed plant material. Using fast-moving river water, they disperse the chemical downstream. This non-toxic chemical deprives fish of oxygen, making them float to the surface and easily collected by Baka men. Another method of fishing, performed only by women, is dam fishing, in which water is removed from a dammed area and fish are taken from the exposed ground. Women also 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.


The Baka are skilled in using various plants to treat illness and infertility. Children's health is of particular concern, as they are particularly susceptible to disease, often resulting in death.

Religion and belief-systems

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. One of the most important traditional ceremonies is the Jengi, a long and secret rite of initiation which celebrates the boy's passage into adulthood, studied in depth by the anthropologist Mauro Campagnoli, who also could take part in it. The Baka practice traditional medicine, and their skills are such that even non-Baka often seek out their 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 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 Baka villages or arrange Baka guides for visitors to forest reserves, often with little compensation to the Baka. Rates of Baka-Bantu intermarriage are also on the rise. Baka who marry outside their ethnic group typically adopt the lifestyle of their non-Baka spouse, so some scholars predict that the Baka 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.
*National Geographic: Baka - People of the Forest (1988)

See also

"Other Pygmy groups" include Aka, Twa and Mbuti.

"Researchers who studied Pygmy culture" include Colin Turnbull and Mauro Campagnoli.

"Other": Demographics of Cameroon, Pygmy music, Baka Beyond

External links

* [ The Baka Forest People] emphasis on their music with photos, videos and sound clips
* [ Baka Pygmies of Cameroon] with photos and ethnographic notes
* [ Mauro Campagnoli - Fieldworks] Anthropological researches among Baka Pygmies
* [
* [http://www.NCDA-USA.COM] Baka Pygmies vocal polyphony] by Vincent Kenis

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