Bayaka

From Anarchy In Action

"Bayaka" is an umbrella term for a group of Central African foraging peoples including the Ubangian language-speaking Baka, the Bantu language-speaking Aka and Mbendjele and smaller groups including the Mikaya, Luma, Gyeli, and Bongo. These groups generally use variations of the word "Bayaka" to refer to the area's foraging peoples, and they group together the more recent agricultural settlers as the "bilo". The territories of each Bayaka people is marked by rivers.[1]

Culture

The Bayaka's moral code of ekila ensures sharing in all aspects of life:

"Ekila taboos serve to enforce and define proper sharing: By not sharing animals and meat properly among all present, a hunter’s ekila is ruined so that he is unsuccessful. If parents of infants eat ekila animals, it can provoke illness and even death in their children. If either husband or wife inappropriately shares his or her sexuality with others outside their marriage, both partners have their ekila ruined. A menstruating woman is ekila and must share her menstrual blood (also ekila) with spirits so that her male relatives continue to find food. Even laughter should be shared properly. Laughter shared between people in camp during the evening makes the forest rejoice, whereas laughing at hunted animals ruins the hunter’s ekila."[2]

Bayaka women preserve gender egalitarianism through sustained collective ritualistic action. One of the women's songs taunt the men, "The penis gives birth to nothing, only urine!" Another says, "We the Yaka! We the Yaka! Twice the intelligence [of men]!" Such songs place a check on the men's ability to dominate. The men believe that the women's song and dance draws in forest spirits and please the forest itself.[3]

Aka men, who watch children while the women do their share of the hunting, are considered the best fathers in the world. Anthropologist Barry Hewlett found that Aka fathers are within reach of babies about 50% of the time, more than fathers in any other society on Earth.[4]

Decisions

Decisions are made by consensus at horizontal assemblies called mosambo. This assembly meets twice a day and and also serves as a place to share news, opinions, and advice. The tone is generally lighthearted, and humor is often used. Even after a decision is made, there is no coercive power to make people obey it. People who disagree with a major decision typically just leave and join a different camp.[5]

Economy

The Mbendjele contribute according to ability and share according to need. The elderly and differently-abled who contribute less are not excluded from getting their fair share. A Mbenjele saying encapsulates their communist approach: "Since we have easy hands we just give it." The Bayaka societies are examples of what James Woodburn called "immediate return" societies.[6]

Some Bayka peoples are notable for the women's prominent role in hunting. Aka[7] and Baka women regularly hunt just as the men do.[8] Among the Mbendjle, men generally hunt, fish, and gather honey, while women generally gather yams, edible leaves, insects, mushrooms, vegetables, fruit, small fish, and crustaceans.[9]

The sharing of meat is governed by a set of rules of ekila. The hunter gets the heart, other men get the liver and kidneys, a dog who participated gets the lungs, and the rest of the meat must be shared with everyone present.[10]

Some Bayaka specialize in spirit guardianship, song composition, healing, and public speaking. These specialist roles bring no special privilege. Though only a man can have the specialist role of elephant hunter, the other specialist roles are open to women as well as men.[11]

At present, most mbendjele live as full-time foragers for about two-thirds of the year and spend the year's remainder laboring and trading near the villages.[12]

Environment

The Baka have a taboo on overly destructive weapons such as guns, and they hunt using only their traditional nets and spears.[13]

Among the Bayka, ekila hunting taboos are, according to Jerome Lewis, "the key to the safe enjoyment of forest resources and the guarantee of their continued abundance."[14]

Bayaka communities are threatened, on one hand, by ecologically destructive practices of logging and poaching,[15] and on the other hand, by top-down conservation efforts. World Wildlife Fund rangers have attacked and murdered Baka people living on their ancestral lands.[16]


Crime

When someone behaves wrongly, one or two elderly women will mockingly renact the event in a practice called moadjo. The performance ends when the wrongdoer finally joins the rest of the audience and laughs.[17]


  1. Jerome Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation among hunter-gatherers: the case of Mbendjele Bayaka," Libcom, 26 August 2014, https://libcom.org/history/humans-lived-anarchist-communist-hunter-gatherers-100000-years-how-did-primitive-communi.
  2. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  3. Morna Finnegan, "The Politics of Eros: ritual dialogue and egalitarianism in three Central African hunter-gatherer societies," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (2013): 697-715.
  4. "Are the men of the African Aka tribe the best fathers in the world?," The Guardian, 15 June 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/jun/15/childrensservices.familyandrelationships
  5. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  6. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  7. "Are the men of the African Aka tribe the best fathers in the world?"
  8. Susan Schulman, "Life for the Baka Pygmies of Central African Republic," The Guardian, 4 May 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/04/life-for-the-baka-pygmies-of-central-african-republic.
  9. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  10. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  11. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  12. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  13. Schulman, "Life for the Baka."
  14. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."
  15. Schulman, "Life for the Baka."
  16. Survival International, "Baka," https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/bakamessokdja.
  17. Lewis, "Egalitarian social organisation."