Cannabis And Music – The Intriguing Yet Fulfilling Life Of The Bayakas Of Congo

CULTURE | 6 minute read | | 0 Comments | 968 Likes

Sangha River

Congo is a terror land for tourists, often blacklisted for being one of the worst places for women and systematic abuse. A place where mass rape to vanquish villagers is accepted as the status quo.

This notorious reputation in the media is why Africa has never been a synonym for rich culture and its diverse folk music. But deep in the African basin rainforest, near the Sangha River in Congo, on one of the most remote places on the Earth, lives an exceptionally talented community.

Life of the pygmies

Slipped in remote wilderness, disconnected from civilisation are the first settlers of Cameroon – the Bayakas.

The pygmies have inhabited equatorial African jungles for thousands of years. With no outside influence, they naturally developed a language and way of life that is so unique and opulent, that the story of their survival and livelihood is something worth commemorating.

Their lifestyle is a thing of intrigue and has enthused researchers, filmmakers and anthropologists worldwide. Louis Sarno, an American musicologist and author spent 25 years capturing the story of the Bayakas in Song from the Forest (2013)[Import].

What's captivating about the pygmies is their habitat, inimitable culture and way of being, even now, which makes us realise that talent is all around us, sometimes even in places where you least expect it – like in the remote, dark forests of Congo.

Honey gatherers

These bush men are native hunters, exceptional climbers and expert honey gatherers. Even today pygmy men climb atop 40 to 60m high trees to raid bee hives. The tribes completely rely on their instinct and luck to climb huge trees and their determination and basic approach is something of a marvel.

There’s no security and a total chance of risking their lives as they climb high with nothing more than an axe, liana rope and valour. But the men do this everyday as a means to feed their children and family. Once they collect honey, it’s a feast for the entire community.

“Pygmies don’t fight each other because the jungle is very big and there is enough for everybody.”

Teeth sharpening and cannabis

Men and women manually sharpen their teeth on a regular basis. This is also considered as a common practice in various other cultures in the Congo. Even though the ritual originated for spiritual reasons, today it is only done by the tribes to enhance their beauty.

Teeth Sharpened - Congo men

The men in the jungles also smoke a lot of cannabis. Almost over 70% of the men from this tribe consume the plant. However a recent study by researchers which appeared in the American Journal of Human Biology, revealed that this is a blessing for men of the jungles, as those who smoked weed, had less parasites in their system.

“The use of cannabis and other psychoactive plants might originate from a subconscious drive to rid the body of internal parasites and other maladies – Hightimes

Distinctive music

Music and dance has been inextricably linked to all social events within the Aka community. They developed a local musical tradition which drastically varies from those of neighbouring ethnic groups.

Their multifarious contrapuntal polyphonic melody is based on four voices. Unlike polyphonic sounds written using notations. The vocal tradition of the pygmies consists of natural and impulsive improvisation. They create their own peculiar musical instruments and rely on sounds of nature for the backdrop. You can listen to the whole compilation on Voice of the Rainforest - Baka Forest People Of Southeast Cameroon.

Their special dance is lead by grand ladies, the mothers of the group. These women lead the group and are valued because they are responsible for the survival of the pygmy tribe. Women gradually move to the background to pave way for the master dancers. Their choreography is inspired by hunting and their dance steps emulate the movement of a hunter and the way animals move in the jungle.

Deforestation and poaching

But in the present day, these forests are getting virtually empty as urban hunters and poachers have invaded the land and are killing animals, leaving the locals and true inhabitants of the forest with less food.

The sad thing is the Bayakas are looked down by other tribes because of the clothes they wear, primitive lifestyle and they are considered subpar for not embracing the present moment. Due to the intervention and financial support from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), efforts are made to preserve their land. 

Dzanga Sangha is a natural preserve that is set up to protect the animals of this region. This natural preserve has become a World Heritage Site and is looked after by the Bayakas. It also gives the tribes an income, and what the pygmies are looking after is amazing not just for their community, but for the whole world.

Ultimately the life of the Bayakas is not as it seems. It has a lot of tragedy and struggles, but they strive to be happy.

Writing about their simplistic life is humbling.

On one side there’s a group who are extremely happy with the basics -  food, clothing and shelter, and on the other side, there's us. We have more than we need, yet we fight. We have money and all the modern technology, yet we suffer from depression, struggle to maintain happy relationships and most of us are incredibly unhappy.

It really makes me wonder - which one of us is more evolved, us or them?

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