In the south-eastern rainforests of Cameroon, the indigenous Baka people are seeing their habitat decimated by logging, farming, mining and construction. Where once they sang and danced to celebrate a hunt or give thanks to the spirits, their traditional performances have become acts of protest and calls for conservation.
The sun has set, but the forest is alive with sounds.
The Baka gather around a large fire, their faces glowing in the flickering light. They are ready to celebrate a successful hunt, to honour their ancestors, and to connect with the spirit of the forest, which they call the Jengi.
They form a circle around the fire, their music produced by clapping of hands, beating of drums and alternating vocal sounds that pierce the forest. Clad in their exquisite costumes of leaves, feathers, beads and rattles, they sing in unison, producing an intricate polyphony that reverberates through the woods.
But all is not well in the forest.
Singing for survival
“We are singing for the survival of the animals and birds,” Ngarlo Freddy, a legendary Baka dancer, told RFI.
“We have to preserve the forest biodiversity so that our children and grandchildren will grow to see them, the same way our grandfathers and us are seeing today, because there are some places where everything has been lost such that children can’t even see the dung of an elephant.”
It’s a concern shared by the more than 30,000 Baka people who live in the forests of south-east Cameroon, who have seen their ancestral habitat decimated in the interest of development.
And that means the natural home of the Baka people is fast disappearing.
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