Cameroon: Destruction of forest & culture most often begins with the ‘gift’ of a radio

“We have different dances that express different aspects of our
culture and tradition.” Foremost amongst them is the Jengi dance.
Jengi is Baka pygmies’ god or spirit of the forest. Jengi, the Bakas
believe, provides guidance and protection. Jengi appears in times of
sorrow as well as in times of joy. “You just need to call his name and
he will answer your pleas,” says Daniel Njanga of Gwapaleke. Jengi is
often masked with straws and keeps a distance of between 10 to 15
metres from the crowd. It intervenes through an intermediary, even
when providing herbs and roots to cure the sick,” explained Njanga.
According to Olivier Tegomo, a Sociologists working for WWF in
Southeast Cameroon, “A day or two before Jengi appears, it covers the
forest around the village with a curtain.

A unique path is opened up
for this purpose,” revealed Tegomo. Women, who possess strong mystical
powers, do not participate directly or physically in the Jengi dance.
Then there is the Yeli dance, performed mostly by women to prepare the
men for hunting. “Through this dance we attract animals in the forest
that will be target for our husbands,” says Pauline Siembe, a Baka
pygmy in Gwapaleke. “It is only after Yeli that we give the signal to
our husbands to march into the forest. Yeli contributes to the
protection of the hunter,” she explained. If Yeli provides protection
for hunters, Bouma, another dance, is purely for pleasure. It
showcases Baka pygmies dancing skills with a concentration on swinging
of the waists and dexterous movement of the arms. If the ambiance at
Gwapaleke translates Baka pygmies love for music and dancing, this
élan does not becloud the recent phenomenon now taking hold in Baka
communities: listening and dancing with the radio. Your correspondent
had a whiff of this while driving on the road leading to the camp. We
saw plenty of Bakas carrying radios, some on their shoulders others
held them down to the waists. Some occasionally stopped to cut the
carper, while others carried on through the equatorial evergreen
forest, nodding in appreciation of their favorite Makossa or Zaiko
(music that originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo) A Baka
pygmy will sacrifice his year’s earnings to buy a radio cassette. “We
buy radios from Moslem traders in the village. Some cost FCFA 25,000,”
explained Mobouem. He sees the use of radio an invasion of modernism
that threatens Bakas traditional way of dancing. “This is not good,”
he gushed. “The radio is an instrument of the white man that can
impact negatively on our dance.” His views notwithstanding, Mobouem
says he now owns an eight battery radio which he uses strictly to
listen to the news.

Posted via email from Deane’s posterous

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