Bayaka people and culture; Ba'Aka pygmies
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
25 Feb 2002
Central African Republic
- Near Bayanga; Yandoumbe
- 2.901 16.269
- SONY TCD-D8
4-Channel Surround; 1=L, 2=R, 3=Ls, 4=Rs; Schoeps MK 2
Log of DAT #: 12A
Engineer: W. McQuay
Date: Feb 25 2002
LS = Louis Sarno
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
WM = Bill McQuay
ah.. it's about 10 o'clock in the morning of the 25, we're in the Bayaka village where Louis Sarno lives, just on the outskirts of Bayanga. And we're walking back to Louis' office in the forest, where he works. We're stopping here in the village, which is built of mud waddle buildings, with a kind of palm frond roves, and there are a lot of villagers here watching us. I would say they are very poorly dressed. Most of the children are naked, with swollen bellies. One of them is picking his foot, I'm sure they have bites. There are very poor, I would say desperate circumstances. It was raining last night and we were thinking about what the village would be like, we could see there ¿.. some of the village men are sitting in kind of a covered open area¿ (notes for Alex)
fx - children screaming and yelling, a man speaking another language
fx - a child crying
fx - a group of men talking
fx - a stick falls on the ground, wooden tool perhaps
leaves, heavier footsteps, birds whooping and chirping
FX - ?
footsteps in wet ground¿ oo oo oo of a forest animal..
oo oo oo, birds whistling, chirping
regular beep-like sound of a bird
fx - crunch
high pitched sqeaking
squawk like sounds
loud bird whistling
a bug whizzes by
steps in a puddle
go fast, there's ants all over that thing
do you need help bill
whoops.. going the wrong way. Here we go
tell him to be quiet?
a twig breaking
mic test - knocking
arranging things in a bag
louder birds, shrilling
FX - footstep
footsteps get louder
barely audible voices
15:10 - 15:43
funny sounding¿ bird??
¿several different bird sounds
fx - bug
walking through some thicker grasses
fx - bug
fx - large animal?
still fighting through thick grasses, water
fx - bug
fx - bug
Whoa, that's quite a setup
Everybody's got a cross to bear, huh?
that tea you brought was delicious by the way
looks like a nice place to be
any forest that lies untouched is going to lie victim to slash and burn.. but when I expand this it is worked-on forest, then it will be left alone as my plot, ya know?
but whose plot is it?
it's nobody's plot. It's just forest. But all these slash and burn fields are approaching, so I'm trying to stake a claim to this. It's just left as unmodified forest; people feel they have a right to chop it down for their plantations
right here it's Bayaka towards these fields. Back towards the road it was built.. Bantu village and plantations. But here, if it's modified forest, if it's been worked on, someone has laid a claim to it. This would be the first stage to making a plantation- they clear out the brush and start cutting down trees, but I'm only clearing out the brush.
what do they grow here?
mostly mantioch. That's their protein, that's their main carbohydrates.
that's what all those plantations are?
yeah, that's their mainstay. They're almost pure maniach. Sometimes they plant corn just to have something ahead of time. But the manicah takes one or two years to really be edible. It should be two years, but the Bayaka are still harvesting in a year. Tubers are still kinda small then but they don't like to wait too long. Do you have a plastic bag or something? You could sit down then.. I only have one.
we don't have any, we didn't bring none
just tell me when you want to do the interview and I'll set something up. I can clear this table
out of this is better than in, it'll be a different sound.
outside, you mean out of this shelter here?
it's just a different sound
it's kinda nice to be in his office¿
yeah that may make sense because it's in his office sure..
sounds of wood being moved
you want to put your kit here bill, so you don't have to wear it?
24:11 WM - CJ
have a seat - that's all right
Carolyn is the executive producer and creator of the radio expeditions series that we do with geographic¿
(setting up for interview)
Louis, would you begin just by identifying yourself by spelling your name and then telling us how you'd like us to identify you.
my name is louis Sarno¿ but I'm used to being called Louis, so I just like to be called Louis.
how would we describe you, as a musicologist, as a person who lives among the Bayaka?
well really I'm just a person who lives among the Bayaka, I don't have any musicology training. I don't know the technical sound of music. I just appreciate the music. Really all I can say, I think, is that I'm just someone who moved here, people move into a new house, new place, and I happened to have moved out here with the Bayaka. This is where I've lived for better or worse.
how long have you been living here?
I first came here 16 years ago.. so I've been living here full-time for about 13 years.
how did you find this place?
just on a map. I was interested in coming to record music with the Bayaka which I once heard on a radio program, became obsessed with the music., eventually I made these plans to come and record. I chose this place because it seemed very remote on a map, I didn't know at the time there was a logging company in Bayanga, because the Michelin map didn't even have a map going to Bayanga. And this was the territory of a group of Bayaka called babenzeli, and it was their music especially that I really liked as opposed to the music of other groups like the bambuti in Zaire. I like all the music but it was the babenzeli to me that was the most intriguing, plus the expanse of forests in northern congo just seemed totally without villages, very remote, and so I thought this would be a good area to come to. And so I came down and there was no WWF down here at that time, just the original logging company, parks and all that were created later.
how did you get the Bayaka to accept you? I mean, here you are, an outsider, you couldn't have spoken their language when you first got here. A white man from America, and you show up and you say I want to record your music¿
for one thing they think very highly of the music, so if someone is interested in their music, that just makes sense to them. Because they think their music is the greatest, so if someone else comes and wants to record their music they immediately know what it's about. Whenever there's some government minister coming here, they always have to perform for them. Back in the first recorded mention of Bayaka in history from ancient Egypt 4500 years ago, one of the things that was writes was the pharaoh writes back to the head of the expedition who first encounters the Bayaka when they're looking for the course of the Nile the commander wrote back to the pharaoh - they have those in the pharaoh's tomb- and they encounter these people of the trees who call themselves Bayaka who sing and dance to their forest god and the pharaohs reply was, you know, 'bring some of these to my court so I can hear their dance, hear their music and see their dance.' So they've been performing their music probably ever since for people and so I don't think it was surprising at all that a white man came down and wanted to record their music.. the fact of them accepting me, the Bayaka are very open to any kind of new experience. So when a white man came and says he wants to stay with them for a while, I didn't say I wanted to stay with them forever, I just said I wanted to stay a couple of weeks.. so you know they were very open to it. They figured they would get something out of it. White man usually has some kind of wealth. So originally anyway, It was an arrangement for 2 weeks, I was there to record music, and 2 weeks became 2 months, and once I left I made arrangements to come back very quickly, it's just developed from there. And in the beginning I didn't know their language, but they knew a few phrases French, and I was picking up a few phrases of czango, the official language of the CAR and all the Bayaka speak that as well, so¿ we started communicating that way. People can always communicate even when they don't have a common language, there are other levels of communication - gestures and stuff¿ that's how it started any how.
I want to make sure I get this info down.. You do have.. People can actually buy recordings that you have made, is that correct?
yeah, they could up until a certain point, I don't know now if they can or not. I did put out a cd with a company called Ellipses Arts, it's with a book with photographs and things, it's about a 95 page book.. sort of shaped like an old vinyl album with a CD in the back. I think it's now out of print, you could find it in some old shops or on the Internet, amazon.com maybe. I think at the moment there is nothing widely available¿
and what's the name of that?
it's called Bayaka.. and I also put out, I made with some friends a limited edition CD, only 500 copies, there might be some with my friend in Holland.
what's that called?
it's called.. I forgot now.. yboca.. Bayaka music and dance, ceremony, from the CA Rainforest. Yboca means music and dance all in the same one..
we got to know Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, and they both spoke very highly of you and your cd
that was the limited edition one, I think I gave carol a copy. I think she'd like to come out some time, not so much to listen to music but to take photographs¿
((talk about book on African ceremonies))
((talk about holding the book))
So how was it for you when you were trying to get established here? For most people, you're just a kid from New Jersey, right? Most kinds from New Jersey, it would be very hard to live this way.
I guess so, I didn't¿ the physical challenges to living with them, was difficult in the beginning, I didn't seem to really take that much notice of them. I didn't even have a mosquito net when I came because I had been told by an anthropologist Colin Turnbull, and some correspondents with some Bayaka in northeast Zaire, and he had said there is no mosquitoes in the forest.. So I thought, I'm visiting the Bayaka in the rainforest, so there wont' be any mosquitoes. Well the first night I'm staying at a roadside settlement and there are tons of mosquitoes there. And there were also bed bugs and lice, and these sand fleas that burrow into the toes which are really horrible, and I got a terrible infestation of sand fleas, I think I had 100 in my feet because I was just wearing flip flops, I didn't know what was going on¿ and to deal with the mosquitoes I just slept underneath the sheet, I just put up with that. I'm amazed now that I was able to, because after say the first week or so, in the beginning I was just getting party music from them, nothing special, I would have to buy them a big jug of alcohol - I was hoping for more profound music than that. Sort of one night unexpectedly, they did a real ceremony for the forest spirits and stuff. For a moment it was such a sublime spirit that I didn't notice the physical discomforts of living with them after that. I was transported by this music, I was so happy, I didn't expect anything like it. for the rest of my stay I was gliding on air.. at the end of the trip I got malaria and a Yugoslavian people I got flown back to bunghi - I had no money at that point. But the music I had seen, the ceremonies that they showed me, I was determined to come back, because it was this whole world of music had suddenly opened up, and I was just scratching the surface of a lot of things. That's what committed me of the area, after they made this decision to show me one of their real ceremonies..
I went back to Europe, I was in Europe for a time.. the time I came down here, I was in Europe for 6 or 7 years, and I had married a Dutch woman originally, we moved to the Netherlands, and I was there for several years and that's where I heard the music on the radio. I think it would have been more unlikely to hear that on American radio - you know, some pygmy music. So I heard that on a Belgian radio station so I was already living abroad, so I didn't go back to America until the end of the 80s. I moved to Europe in '79, so I missed the Reagan years. So I went back to Europe and I tried to scrape together enough money to go back again. What I did Is I made some cassette anthologies of some things I made on the first trip, and I sold some to friends and word got around, and I got a bicycle, so I was just going around with a bicycle selling cassettes to, after a while, complete strangers. I would sell them, If someone would give me a number and say 'they may be interested in the music,' and I'd have to phone them up and introduce myself and the issue of Bayaka music. And they usually respond 'well, it sounds interesting but we'd like to hear it before we buy anything' so I bike over to their house and tell them stories and play some cassettes for them, and they'd usually buy a cassette or two and a phone number of someone else that may be interested. I didn't make enough money to come back, but it was food money, and I worked at a couple of odd jobs in Amsterdam to make enough money to come back - I've always been on a shoe-string budget. So anyhow then I came back again and made more recordings and then on my third time I came back that is when I started really living here. I've been here ever since, for good or for bad.. Sometimes I've been so frustrated that I think about leaving. I'm too involved in the community now.
when you get frustrated, what is it that frustrates you?
well you know, sometimes their behavior, stealing things occasionally, they go through a spell where teenagers steal things or climb into my house, and stole my raincoat and stole it and probably sold it in town. I guess they figured it was the dry season, I wouldn't need it any more but the rains are starting again. I have to commute into my office even when it rains. So¿ fortunately I do have an umbrella. Things like that, they get annoying. The constant bombardment for cigarettes and constant requests and sometimes I find it hard to deal with that, and that's one reason I find it really hard to work, because if I'm in my house I'm fair game to anyone who wants to come in. They do respect this area, they know I'm working, but when I'm in the house, like I said, I'm fair game, and they come in whenever they want - talk to me or whatever. And you know frustration because of what's going on with the logging here and the poaching, and that's not the Bayakas fault - and the conservation program as I see it is failing, and watching the area being destroyed is heartbreaking to me, like I can't watch it happen, but now I'm committed to the Bayaka and I feel like I have to stay with them in this period when things are getting so bad.
there are enormous parks, the conservationists are proud of what's going on in this area. There's a huge park and reserve areas¿
yeah but the parks are not for the Bayaka's use, they are totally off limits to the Bayaka. The only people that benefit from the Bayaka.. well they benefit the wildlife sure, and some of the animals go from the park to the reserve and so it's kind of like a reserve for animals.. but the only people that benefit from the park are the expatriates - Europeans and Americans that come here to do their studies. The Bayaka don't benefit, they're not even allowed to walk in the park without being accompanied by officials. They aren't allowed to fish in the park, theoretically they aren't even allowed to drink water in the parks. There is no sustenance activity allowed in the parks, so what they have left to them is the communal hunting zone, the reserve, what they have left is the reserve, and that's being logged by the logging companies so that's getting all getting torn up.
what does the reserve mean if you can log in there and hunt in there?
it's a reserve rather than a park, so they're allowed certain economic activities. The shame is that they should have just been local economic activities and not this large-scale industrial cutting trees down. They didn't have the resolve or the means to convince the CAR to abandon the idea of logging completely. that's a very modern saw mill in Bayanga. I think that's the 2nd most modern sawmill in Africa. I think ivory coast only has a newer sawmill. Conservation is good that they have these parks, but poaching is out of control. They're concentrated mostly on conserving the parks but so many people are being pached out by the townspeople. So many people have come with the latest reincarnation of logging company. Bayanga has nearly doubled in size in the last two or three years. There's a lot of people come down here, and there are so many guns. Anyone who has money down here in Bayanga, the first thing they do is buy a gun. A lot of the guards are corrupt, and are poachers themselves, and find it easier to harass Bayaka than other Bantus, who are often their neighbors in town..¿ There just isn't' the will on the central African government to fully back conservation, because the population is certain.. The immigrants are certainly against conservation, they're here to get money to exploit, and so the idea of conservation is against their best interests.
when you say the immigrants.. do you mean other parts of the central African republic came here because they wanted to get jobs because of the sawmills..?
they come mostly from the savannahs.. in an area called busungua
that's 100s of miles here in a different environment..
totally savannah environment, and these people also they're not.. they don't know the Bayaka, the original people from this area, the sunga sunga, the ungly, the ilu, these are people that have grown up with the Bayaka, some of them can speak the Bayaka language. Whereas these immigrants have come from the savannah, they're much more, they're kind of brutal in the way they treat the Bayaka. These people that have grown up with the Bayaka, and have had generations of living with the Bayaka, even though that they consider they own the Bayaka, they still have obligation to the Bayaka as well. It's a bit of a give and take thing. With these new immigrants they seem them almost as animals to be exploited for their own benefit, like animals. Just to be exploited for their own benefit. There's no subtlety in the relationship at all. It's one of pure exploitation, its been very bad with the Bayaka, because they also come with their guns and their cables and whereas the original inhabitants of the area used to when they wanted meat had to deal with the Bayaka, trade for it or barter for it. But these new immigrants they just go and kill the animals themselves and completely sidestep the Bayaka. At best the Bayaka become people porters to carry the meat out of the forest for the Bantus, they get no real benefit form the extraction of the animals from the forest.
let me.. actually I want to ask you there's several other things¿ talk about the book, because we actually have to leave fairly soon¿
(talking about return)
why do you begin the journey?
well I had done this earlier journey with the National Geographic, that area in the northern congo is an area I'd heard about for a while and wanted to go out there for years, because there's some Bayaka from undune bay that are from there originally - quite a lot, but a lot of them came over from children. But there are a few that went over there more recently in the late eighties and then came back.. and there as all these.. one of the things that they all talked about was the extraordinary music out there, how strong the traditions there still were. Compared to what was going on in undume now, the new generation of teenagers now not so interested in their own music. I guess I'm curious about music from different Bayaka groups.. and this are sounded especially beautiful because there are no roads, this is one river the motaba river has had no economic development at all - no roads that go out there, all small villages around the river, very traditional, very isolated, aso I always wanted to go out in that area and record the music. And so when I got the chance to go with Mick Nichols and national geographic part of that megatransect with mike fay, I jumped at the chance because I was having my expenses paid, to network along the river and prepare for my own jouney later on, so that's what I did, so I only got a glimpse because we only spent two weeks going up and down the river altogether, including a week in the forest capital at the top most village - and it was beautiful music and I did tell people I was coming back, things like that. So then it was just a question of time, getting the permission and things, it was a close country for a long time, congo, but thanks to the project then, running the new national park, I was able to get the permission to research from it, to make recordings, so that ws the reason I made the journey, to discover more music, to recapture the feeling I had when if first came to undumbe, when I first saw the forest spirits and it was a whole period of discovery for me. I often look back to that period even though it was dismal physical conditions.. up by the road with the logging company there and all that. That original period of discovery was very exciting for me. I think I wanted to recapture that going to these other places.
this is the name of the village, is this the village where you still live, yundumbe?
they named it after the stream that's behind it in the forest
you travel with one of your closest friends here, makuti?
yeah, makuti, and also another young man mboanda, a young man whose father I knew very well..
he is kind of your guide and advisor?
he's an elder so I look to him on advice for protocol
and umbanda is there to help you guys there so that makuti will have someone to say "pick this up, do this over there¿"
He's there to do the kind of chores that makuti and I wouldn't be doing, chopping fire, gathering wood, things like that. Umbande came along because he also has a lot of relatives, his wife is from the motabar river, and he has a lot of relatives there. He lived there as a teenager with his family, and makuti also grew up there, he's originally from there.
how old are you?
So when you set off, you're going for 3 months, you have to walk to get to this river, and a pirogue, which is a canoe made from a hollowed out tree.. you kind of rent these pirogue for a couple of months and go off and you're traveling in the book, by canoe, and by foot, you're carrying almost everything you need on your back, you have it seems to me almost no money, and you set off.
Yeah I'm used to it now, well I speak the Bayaka language now.. so anywhere that's Bayaka I'm going to be welcomed because I speak the language, it's really the key to being accepted by them. They know that if you know their language that means you're familiar with their culture because you can't learn their language from a book. If you speak their language it means that you're familiar with them that you've lived with them for a long time. And also going from two Bayaka from undumbae, that's guaranteed success as well because Bayaka are so curious about other Bayaka from far away. The further away the more intrigued they are about them. So there was this amazing curiosity - when I first went through it was with a whole bunch of white people, so we created a stir, it wasn't a ordinary kind of curiosity because we're a disruption, whereas if I arrived, just me, speaking Bayaka from far away it was a completely different reception that we had. I knew we'd be welcomed all along the way, I knew it wouldn't be a problem.
indeed you do find these villages, and almost every village you encounter on the way, it turns out that makuti has some kind of relation with someone in this village, some kind of great nephew or third cousin, and that often takes him, and I take from reading your book, that you don't always understand the family relationship
no, not all the time, because they use vague terms, like my brother, something, when actually they do have more specific terms but they don't use them to mean cousin, or uncle.. but makuti it was great because his stature suddenly when he was on that river, suddenly he was much greater than he had been for a while at yumduonbe¿ he's improved in his character, sometime he would get stinking drunk before we ever embarked on this trip. But since then he has really been full of dignity, and I think he got that a lot from this trip because he was treated with so much respect by the Bantus and the Bayaka, and he came back feeling very important, and he has very many stories to tell and the fact that he even made this journey has improved his standing even among the youth at yumdoumbe, which is a pretty cynical lot. But.. they really respect him for having masde sucha journey and for having seen far more than they 've seen so far. No it was great going twith makuti, except way downriver he was lesser known, when we went down in the swamp, we were entering a different group of Bayaka, with a lot of different traditions than what we have here. And farther up the river, much more common, the high forest was much more like what we have here. Whereas down in the swamp forest, although there as still people who had relatives here in yumdoumbe, it was still more of a strange area, but ombunda and makuti, they had never been down that far down the river in to the swamp forest
there is also a sense of frustration in the book because you're looking for this musical experience and it's not very easy to find¿
it's not easy to find, one of the problems, some of the villages we stayed in I think I'd easily find it but we didn't stay enough, especially some of the small villages along the way. The most frustrating thing though, was when we arrived at oru goal, umginda, to find out that it wsn't as untouched as, I thought there had been a missionary there for years and that had already caused a corruption of the musical influence, and it reminded me very much of the teenagers at yundumbe, they were well dressed compared to other Bayaka on the river, which meant that they had a lot of interaction with the Bantus, and they were also more cynical about their own music because they had for 10 years or so been taught these Christian songs, and maybe been told that their spirit stuff shouldn't' be taken seriously and maybe not performed at all. And it was not the untouched kind of village that I thought it was. I could still hear the potential in the music - it was very complex polyphony, very complex, very beautiful, it just wasn't sustained for long period like I was used to at yumdumbe, where they stick to a single ceremony and do it all night and reach these peaks that were really amazing, and this village they usually didn't sustain it long enough, more like a show and tell thing, bring out one spirit, bring out the next.. I think the catholic, or maybe a protestant text, and they said when they performed music for themselves, it was church stuff. But if it was for the tourists they could do it for the tourists, their spirit dances for the tourists for money, so that was a corrupting influence on the purity of the culture, but I still think I'll go back, because I still think there's a lot to discover there.
you will go back..
I think it's just more difficult there.. and in fact when we moved to when we were forced to leave bunginda and move back to the Bantu village mombalu with the Bayaka from bungindu who came with us, we did draw closer, the Bayaka did open up to us more and we actually did get some nice music then. I think it was partly because we were living under the terror of the Bantu of mombalu, a tribe called bunkdabundali, they're quite hard sort of .. fierce kind of people, the bundali, very traditional themselves, also very fascinating, I was fascinated by them but I didn't want to show my fascination but I couldn't let them know that I was interested in recording the Bayaka, and any time when I'd show an interest in their stuff they would sort of take me to be with them, the Bayaka, so I'd like to record more of the bungwali music as well, but iw as trying to establish priorities and I was there primarily to record the Bayaka. But it was living under this kind of siege, at the edge of mumbalu, I mean, the Bayaka were really treated as slaves, It was the worst village as far as Bantu and Bayaka relationships.
can you explain the relationship between the Bantu and the Bayaka for an American audience? I mean, first of all, who are they?
well, the Bayaka also called pygmies which is an ancient Greek word for them, but they don't like that name. They call themselves by different names depending on where they are, in NE Zaire, there's the Bambuti, there's the Efe, and there's also a group called Aka, and in Cameroon there's another language group called themselves Baka, and there's subgroup names as well, the Bangombe, and then you have the Bayaka, or the Aka, that's the root word that's here, they live in the rainforest throughout Central Africa; Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, Congo Brazaville, Congo-Kinshasa, and a few in Rwanda, the Twa, and also in Uganda, and the thing is this Aka, this root Aka word, is common to most of the groups, even Twa comes from a form of Aka and there's the Yakwa in Gabon, there's the Baka, the Bayaka
what does the word Aka mean?
the name for themselves, I don't know it doesn't seem to have a particular meaning, I guess that's what they'd call any pygmies. And that's who the Bayaka are, they're hunter gatherers, and they live in a symbiotic relationship with different Bantu tribes, I don't' think any Bayaka live on their own without this relationship. Which has evolved over probably thousands of years, it looks very much like slavery because the Bayaka are owned very much by the Bantu, for instance, they Bayaka used to be owned by the sanga sange people, the fisher people and this ownership is inherited by the oldest son of the Bantu family, they older son would inherit his father's Bayaka. And they have would have to work in plantations, cutting clearing new forest, for plantations, providing meat and honey to ¿. In turn the Bantu families have certain responsibilities towards the Bayaka, for instance, trying to heal them if they're sick, if they can.. also they would go to the Bayaka for their own illnesses because they're known for having lots of medicines from the forest. And if it would ever get to abuses, one thing that distinguished the relationships between slavery, they often had access to the rainforest, they could escape into the rainforest before they came back, so they've always had that. That's now where you have a lot of logging and poaching, but anyhow that's the basic relationship. Depending on the particular group of Bantu, or the particular chief, their relationship could either be benign or horrible, in Aka life each village is like a different permutation of the Bantu baccca relationship, some of the villages have a very nice relationship, and others like mombalu was just the worst. Where the would even execute Bayaka for things that they.. stealing or something like that. Which apparently that used to happen sometimes here as well. But I mean, not the songa songa are such nice people to the people I met in congo. There was one village I was in where the Bayaka could joke with the Bantus. Make fun of them and everything and they just laughed, it was a really nice relationship. Well I would never hear a Bayaka make fun of the bungwali, they would be beaten, probably beaten terribly if they did something like that. The bungwali they treated them like animals, they considered the Bayaka animals.
well isn't there.. well there are governments, aren't there anyone to appeal to and say, hey we're being exploited, we're being used by these people, it's unfair, in contravenes every national declaration of human rights, it's just wrong¿
the thing is these governments what can they really do about it, it's such a remote area, unless you had some sort of permanent presence to watch over things but even then it's not going to work because who are the people that in the government, they're Bantus as well. In the end they're going to grotate to feeling sympathetic to the Bantus and they don't' see the way the Bayaka live, when the Africans see the Bayaka it's something they get ashamed by it or something, they don't' want to see this, they think of it like how animals live, they don't have any material culture, they are so close to nature that they can't be human.
we just came through this village here, it's a dirt village, people looked extremely poor, most of the children don't have any clothes, one boy I noticed his foot was turned in, there was a sore or something.. they are poor. Wretchedly poor
the Bantu are poor too, but the Bayaka are the poorest of the poor. The thing is, when they're in the forest, their lack of material wealth is not poverty, if you see them in a forest camp, they don't seem poor any more, they just seem in their element and they seem really.. They seem to have what they need, it's only when you put them by the road, near a town or something like that suddenly their lack of material wealth becomes poverty, because also they're not in their material element any more. And then also the Bantu look down at them for not having wealth, and it's not just lack of material wealth, it's the Bayaka's whole attitude on life, which is they're very focused on the present, they don't really think too much about the future. I guess they've provided them, so I guess they don't have that concern for the future, that most of us have developed. so you know they don't plan the future, when they have a resource, food or whatever it is, they tend to use it up immediately, they don't they'll deal with tomorrow when it comes, and usually tomorrow turns out to be all right, they deal with it successfully. But when they're in the village, teat turns against them, because there you do need to think about the future a little more, they're getting problems so they don't' have money, so they go to down and borrow from villagers, and they make debts like that and they can't pay the debts, there's this whole thing that the villagers think the Bayaka are totally irresponsible, and they're just not focused anything but the present. They also don't dwell on the past, so that's why when a villager comes at them with some 200 frnacs owed from months ago, the Bayaka can't believe that they would keep in mind this debt from so long ago, just forget about it you know, that was a long time ago, why is that still an issue.. the ____ will never forget a debt. I've seen them come after years of someone owing them 100 francs, whereas the Bayaka don't dwell on the past, they've forgotten it already. It doesn't seem real to them any more
the idea of the future, what about you have you become.. do you think about your future?
I think a lot less about the future, the reason is think they don't think so much, they focus more on the present because their life span is very short. It doesn't make sense to plan on a long future if death comes so rapidly. Since I've been here I've seen death so much I___ I'm going to die too, tit's a constant fact, the way I'm going to carry out my life now, I'm aware that some day I'm going to die. I think that a lot of people forget that, or try to forget that in the American culture, they smother themselves in material wealth to forget it all. But I think it's important to know what's at the end of it all because you prioritize better in life. One of the things I was struck about during when the twin towers that were destroyed. People who called on their cell phones, a lot of them mentioned love, all this stuff about love was coming over the phone, but I bet a lot of those people didn't think about love for a long time. A lot of them were into their careers, and I bet that that sort of thing didn't occur to them. In the end that was the most important thing of course. All about love, that struck me, because I know most Americans on a day to day basis don't think about love that much, loving your children, loving your family, they're more occupied with all that other stuff, they think it's more important, but I think that came out in those last minutes when those people were making those phone calls. Anyhow, I don't' think that much about long term future, also because I'm here I'm usually so destitute it's challenge enough facing each day, trying to deal with the requirements of each day. If I have my supper secured for each evening I'm pretty happy - tomorrow I'll have to think of another way to get supper, but at least for today I'm set up. So it has creeped in to my way of thinking over the years, I haven't tried to adopt their way of thinking, but I think it has affected me, of course not completely I'm kind of caught between two cultures. I don't I'm not completely comfortable, I don't completely fit in here, but on the other hand I feel very uncomfortable when I go to the states. I feel like I have no place there at all, I literally don't, I don't have a place to go. I don't have a role any more in American society, I've been gone too long.
you could be the interpreter of a strange and foreign mysterious and intriguing culture, ambassador of Bayaka
I've been called that before by the Congolese - on that trip I described, they sometimes say 'you're the ambassador, you explain things to them.." well how many people are interested in the Bayaka in America. I'd be the ambassador but what would I do?
well, okay, we gotta walk back.
as the ambassador, what would you want people to know about the character of the Bayaka, because we don't' know the essence of what it is you see - is there any way for them to appreciate?
well for me the important thing with Bayaka is that what attracted me to them was their music. You hear some yodeling¿ that's Bayaka.
doesn't sound anything like yodeling, it sounds like a bird
it's yodeling, I think it fits in perfectly with the forest ambience.. I think any forest that doesn't have that yodeling sound feels sadly empty to me. Mike Fay did his megatransect, he loved going into areas that humans had never been in before. I like going to places where the Bayaka are as well, I feel it kinda completes the picture.
But anyhow the music is the thing that drew me to them, and I think their music making is fundamentally different from our music making, I have this theory because they hear this music already in the womb, in traditional Bayaka society there's so much music, the women are always singing it when they're pregnant and when they have the babies the babies are there during the music so they're actually learning the rules of the music at the same time they are learning the rules of language. As their brain is developing in the first few years, they are also learning the rules to improvise and how to create this kind of music, it's very very deeply innate in them, this music creating unlike with us - we acquire it later on, if at all, we study it like a foreign language or something, they learn it as a natural part, so really musicmaking is an ingrained part of their personality, every Bayaka, and this makes the music much deeper than the sort of things that our culture creates. And that to me is very important aspect because it's very important tot them as well. It's so important, it's their one great creative expression for themselves is this music, as well as dance, they learn to dance really before they learn to walk. They're always learning to dance.
(talking about them going to plantations)
trying to get yodeling sounds
rain hitting leaves, pulsating bird-like sounds
fx - bug
Louis speaks native language with natives
well you'll hear the harpsichord from makuti, and a dance that came over in 1994, maybe 1992 it was brought down. What else¿ maybe gano, song fables. So three different kinds of music. Gano.. enyomu has drum dances and polyphonic singing. It features a storyteller and also a very nice chorus. And the harpsi is a solo instrument that's played at night that is usually played while people are sleeping.
another thing about Bayaka, another feature of their personalities, they don't hold grudges. You can flare up, be very angry, and have a good argument with them, but an hour later it's completely in the past. I think they've had to adapt to such a practical outlook on life because you just can't afford to hold grudges like that if your life is short and you need the cooperation of everybody to survive, and so they don't hold grudges like that, and I think that we can use that attitude more in the world, civil wars and grudges go on for centuries, always dwelling on the past. So that's an important part of their personality.
I want to ask one more thing.. we're doing a thing on Andrea and the bai, I just wonder how do you seem to have a conflicted view of the conservationists.. What do you think of her?
I think she's a real pioneer, like Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall, I think she has a huge patience where she's able to observe and learn a huge amount on elephants. Her knowledge on the elephants is really extraordinary; she knows the family structure and the personality of the elephants that kind of knowledge is just amazing, I really like what she's doing. I'm not against conservation; I just have some problems with conservation kind of deals with the Bayaka. And here it's better than some areas. In some areas they don't let the Bayaka do any hunting at all, just through a park, there's no kind of reserve, no concession to Bayaka interests.
but how is andrea viewed by local people here?
It's hard to say that the Bantu have some sort of crazy theories about her, they say she has an invisible plane and she's flying out tusks, and they think that she's going.. they think that all white people are coming here for money, they think we're making tons of money from whatever they're doing. The idea that Andrea is just out watching elephants, they find that hard to swallow. Not the Bayaka, he Bantu. They think she's up to something, secretly harvesting the ivory. And they also resent her presence there because it is her presence that have put a damper on elephant poaching out there. And so a lot of them would really like to get at this ivory, they see it as a huge gold mine of ivory and they would like to get out there, they resent the fact that she's out there.. as far as the Bayaka, well she employs Bayaka, so they're in favor of her that way, and have even referred to her as the guardian of the elephants, because she does not want poaching going on outta here. Al the tings they put, the gorilla habituation is good, my main problem sis that as outsiders we've come here and appropriated what are the best areas of the rainforest, all the bais, for instance, in the forest, are now in parks. There's none that are available to the Bayaka. I mean the Bayaka, some of them were born there, before the park was made in congo, I used to go out from hunting groups from umbunde, which is their traditional territory, we'd go in to northern congo, and there are some beautiful clearings out there. And to camp in one of these clearings, for the kids it's like vacation; it would be like when I was young going to the beach, going to the seashore, because you're in the forest and then
You come out to this gorgeous clearing, and there would be some water flowing and the children would go out and swim in the water. This is their country, this is theirs, and now a lot of the children, a lot of them are going to grow up without that, unless they work for the project and become guides like that, so it's taken away from them completely, I can't help seeing it really, conservation is another form of colonialism. We take the best land, taking it for the good reason, and colonialism has always said it's doing good things, it never says its' doing bad things it always claims it's good for people. So they say it's for the good of everybody here but who are the beneficiaries of it? I think it's just the Americans and Europeans that come here, a lot of them get their degrees working here, other have their salaries and big working budgets, and they pursue their careers. They're getting a lot of benefit out of having special access to a forest which is now off limits to local people.
Would you include Andrea in that?
I would include her as a beneficiary of conservation, sure. She doesn't get a salary but she does get a working budget. I'm not against conservation it's just one way I can't help but seeing it sometimes when I see how it's seen by the Bayaka
if Andrea were not there, if the conservationists were not there, the jungle would be gone. The elephants would be gone.
yeah well I don't know. Maybe.. you don't know what would have happened, with the conservation project has also brought in immigrants. I just don't know, you don't know how much attention the loggers would have to the are if there was no conservation. I thin part of the reason they're so intent is a power struggle between the French, the Germans, and the Americans that are here for the conservation, the French don't want that interference in their former colony. They want to remain a foothold here. I don't think the logging company is making any money. I think it does have secretly whatever supported by the French government, I think at least diplomatically is behind the French logging company's efforts to stay here. But it's probably true that without the conservation a lot more of the forest would be getting cut down. But you know so it's good the conservation at least it's not destroying the forest, maybe someday the Bayaka can go back someday and it will still be there. It's better for it to be protected than to not be protected. I just can't help but see the colonial side to it, I guess the Bayaka are benefiting indirectly from conservation. I guess if conservation was more successful in stopping the logging and stopping the poaching, I would be happier with it, but it' slike what they're really doing is protecting the parks, they're not really protecting the rest of the forest, which is the forest the Bayaka use, so they're protecting the part of the forest that they use. And that's really the primary part of the forest that they're protecting, protecting that is not going to help the Bayaka that much, because they're not allowed to hunt elephants anyhow. So they're protecting the elephants but they're not protecting the small game which is what the Bayaka are depending on which is being wiped out. So I see it as a kind of a self-interest, really, conservation.. who are the greatest beneficiaries of conservation? The whites that come to work here. The Bayaka really really down on the list. I mean, in the end, though, you're right, I'd prefer to see conservation here than not.
To me you've created the most idyllic office, really a new world, I wonder if you could just describe it.
It's just an open air shelter, with palm thatch roof, I have a table and a chair here. It's in an area of forest that they have cleared the underbrush out, but they've left the little tress and the lianas, and of course the big trees so we're underneath the canopy and it's fragrant often with forest blossoms, there's monkeys that pas through and birds and several species of squirrels, just the wildlife here. I bring my thermos of hot water and drink tea here every day. And if it's too dark I have a candle that I can use. My old office are just past those poles when we were walking up. That used to be forest too. It's great, I'd walk to my office and a couple times I've encountered a gorilla along the way.. green mambas, so it's always exciting here. No one else has quite a commute to their office.
I want to stress that Amanda's a friend of mine, and I think what she's doing is great, and I'm glad she's there and I'm glad Chloe is there with the gorillas.
I'd be much less ambivalent about conservation in this area if they were more successful in protecting Bayaka interests as well, and they're not, they even say 'our primary concern is the wildlife' so the wildlife, studying the wildlife, really benefits the expatriates.
ambi - interview tail ambi
1:41:33 - 1:49:25
ambi - heading back now