Dzanga-Sangha, Central African Republic
“Ndima-Kali” Youth Initiative: “Sustaining Traditional Knowledge, Indigenous Rights, Conservation, and Community Development”
Over time, the peoples of the Sangha region, which straddles the tri-national border of Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, have developed an intimate, synergic relationship with the territory they inhabit, establishing a vital bond with the forests and rivers which they rely on for their sustenance. This close interaction has defined the values and shaped the social organization of these communities and has generated sophisticated traditional environmental knowledge systems and a deep understanding of these fragile landscapes.
Yet today the rich cultures of the forest-dwelling BaAka and of the riverine Sangha-Sangha Bantus have come under immense pressure. Discrimination and exploitation, and a total disregard for their traditions and way of life on the part of a growing population of settlers undermine the continuity of ancestral practices, discouraging their transmission to the next generations. The daunting challenge for the BaAka and Sangha-Sangha communities is to adapt to rapid and radical change and to revitalize their time-proven skills and traditional knowledge in ways that enable these to remain viable and relevant in today’s world.
The project, supported by WWF Germany and initiated in 2012, is bringing together a group of young men and women from the BaAka and Sangha-Sangha villages living within the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park buffer zone, part of the “Trinational de la Sangha” (TNS) – World Heritage Site. It offers them the opportunity to participate in a series of workshops, excursions, field campaigns, and activities that enables them to explore and document their threatened heritage. Another important aspect of this enabling process is a focus on national and international legislation regarding indigenous civil and cultural rights.
It is expected that this experience will strengthen their cultural self-esteem and commitment, providing them with the necessary confidence to start concrete cultural-promotion initiatives and knowledge-based projects in cooperation with the National Park, local and international organizations and educational institutions, as well as the scientific community. Some of the activities the group is involved in are community outreach activities, documentation and transmission of cultural traditions, indigenous rights wareness-raising campaigns, and the development of ecological monitoring systems based on traditional ways of observation together with the park management.
During the first workshop in December 2012 the group developed the script for a theater piece which they decided to present in the villages as part of an envisioned awareness raising campaign regarding the protection of their forests and rivers. The youth group is known in the villages as “Ndima-Kali” – a combination of “Ndima”, the Aka word for forest, and “Kali”, the name given to the Sangha River by the Sangha-Sangha fisher folk.
The story is a cautionary tale which “Ndima-Kali” hopes will convince its audiences that the destiny of their BaAka and Sangha-Sangha people and culture depends on how they behave today vis-à-vis the protection of their forests and rivers. Two potential futures are presented, first a worst-case scenario in which, after corrupt village authorities allow a logging company to fell most of their trees, the community finds itself with an impoverished forest which does not yield enough food to live a healthy life. As the daughter of the village chief falls ill and then dies as a consequence of the appropriate medicinal plant no longer being available, the scene ends with a funeral march and everybody lamenting having made the grave mistake of selling out their forest. The second half of the piece, which presents an alternative future, starts with the young members of “Ndima-Kali” consulting with the elders as to how best protect their forests. The advice of the elders is rooted in traditional lore and values and inspires the youth to resist the enticing offerings of poachers who want to hire them as trackers. They report poachers to the conservation authorities and present themselves as willing partners in the protection of the forest and rivers. The authorities accept their offer and this partnership leads to a best-case scenario in which a sustainable use of resources is the basis for an abundant and healthy life.
This project is supported by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
- Watch the self-presentation video of the youth group from 2016 here: https://vimeo.com/242543403
- Have a look at some of the first workshops and activities of the youth group from 2012 to 2014: https://vimeo.com/123191447
- Observe the youth participants encountering mangabes in 2014: https://vimeo.com/124398133
- See some of their video statements (in French) from 2014: https://vimeo.com/124015974
- BBC did an amazing video clip on BaAka gathering honey in treetops, filmed in Dzanga-Sangha. You can find this video in the BBC Human Planet series in the chapter on forests.
- The polyphonic singing of the Aka pygmies of Central Africa has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Click here to find out more.
- A historic film of the early “pygmy” anthropologists in Central Africa: https://vimeo.com/4803893