The Ba’aka are a nomadic people, who live in the forests of the Central African Republic. Their lives have been traditionally spent as hunter-gatherers, who set up camp and feed themselves from fruits, berries, and animals found in the forests. They regularly move around, allowing the natural wealth of the forest to replenish itself.
But the Ba’aka’s lifestyle is now quite threatened, because of the clearing of the forests for logging. As a result, many groups have decided to settle and grow crops. However, being physically much smaller than most African people in the area (Ba’aka have traditionally been called ‘pygmies’, although this label isn’t accepted any more), they have often been mistreated, and forced to serve as manual labourers for other populations.
It’s true to say, then, that their traditional life and culture is under threat. Is that a bad thing? It’s difficult to say. ‘Progress’ certainly can be good. None of us would like to be living in Britain with the sewer systems of the 18th century! Women wouldn’t want to go back to the time when they couldn’t vote. And going to the dentist and getting your teeth pulled without anaesthetic can’t have been pleasant! At the same time, it does seem that the Ba’aka culture, with its wonderful music, is transforming itself. One way that’s happening is through contact with other parts of the world. Their music has been heard, changed, and integrated into our consciousness.
The next few articles describe just one of the ways their music has impacted on our own.