After spending two days in the magnificent nature of Dzanga Park, I am determined to have a closer encounter with the BaAka pygmies. They have established themselves in the rainforest a long time ago, and use whatever they find in it for all kinds of purposes, among which food, construction materials, and medicine. I have met a few already: the trackers on both gorilla tracking as well as the visit to the elephants of Dzanga Bai are pygmies. There is a variety of activities you can do with the pygmies: construction of traditional huts, cooking, music, dance, crossbow hunting and net hunting. Various people have convinced me that the latter is the most authentic thing to do, and even though I don't like the idea of hunting just for the sake of being a visitor, I decide to go for it. When I hear that I can propose the pygmies to pay in order for them to release the caught animal instead of killing it, and buy a similar animal at the market, I think that is a good idea, and I go for it. We stop at a road stall selling mangoes, and the guide quickly recruits ten BaAka to join us.
They have their nets ready, and after taking some pictures with the kids and the net hunters in the back of the pickup truck, we start driving southwest. Behind me, the pygmies directly start singing, and I wonder what the songs are about. The upcoming hunt? The rainforest? Love? Whatever the subject, they all energetically sing and clap along; I can feel the energy flowing. I still ponder about the hunt: should I offer money not to have the animal killed? It seems hypocrisie to pay them, let the animal go, and have them buy another animal instead. I decide to just let them have their hunt. We drive the main road towards the border through the rainforest, and suddenly, there is a call from behind, indicating the driver to stop. It seems like a haphazard decision, the guide cannot explain why we have to stop at exactly this spot. The BaAka get out, swing their nets over their shoulders, and we head into the forest. To my surprise, half of the hunters are women, and the guide tells me that they are actually considered better hunters than men. So far for the traditional notion of men being born hunters. The reason is probably that this kind of hunting depends less on physical strength. The BaAka ask me to stay put, and then the hunt gets on the way. There is excitement in the air: the pygmies are all keen to score an animal, or more.
They quickly span their nets in a wide circle in the thick vegetation of the rainforest, and I now finally start to understand how this net hunting actually works. Once the net is up, the pygmies jump into the circle, and start chasing around, with all kinds of sounds, running, making noise by shaking plants. The thing is: they cannot have a clue if there actually is an animal in the circle they have just made with their nets. When I hear one voice shouting out loud, I imagine that a bait is spotted, and that they are chasing it towards the net. I imagine that the BaAka are getting there, and wonder what animal it will be: a blue duiker, or other small antilope, a hog, or something else? But after a period of yelling and shouting, the pygmies collect their nets, and we move on to another spot in the forest. Meanwhile, one of the BaAka women shows me several things: how to construct the net from plants in the forest, how to cut a liana and drink water from it, in case they are in the forest for a prolonged time without access to drinking water, and in the meantime, collects leaves which can be eaten. The nets are cast five times, and in the end, nothing is caught. I am later told that poaching is a serious threat to the hunting of the BaAka: there simply are less animals to catch left in the forest. At the same time, it doesn't surprise me: this is a haphazard, trial and error way of hunting: no animal is lured towards the circle, no animal can be spot beforehand because of the terrain: trees, leaves, and plants everywhere. It seems like a good deal: I have lived the excitement of the hunt, I have seen how it works, I have been shown some of the ways in which the BaAka make the most out of their rainforest, without having to decide about life and death. I imagine my BaAka pygmy friends will have a vegetarian dinner tonight.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from BaAka net hunting (Central African Republic). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to BaAka net hunting.
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