November 29, 2010
‘Mozugwe’ means hello in Baka and is one of the many things I learnt over the last three weeks, which have been so rich in experience that it feels more as if three months had passed. I visited the two regions in Gabon where the Baka live, around the towns of Minvoul in the North close to the border with Cameroon, and Makokou, in the North-East close to the border with Congo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minvoul and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makokou).
The aim of the trip was to introduce myself to the different communities, to find out whether they want to work with me and what the practicalities of living with modern hunter-gatherers are. I spent a few days in five different villages in total and the photos below show some of what happened whilst I was there. The Baka are indeed still living a highly mobile or nomadic lifestyle, as half the village was always away ‘en brousse’ (in the forest) when I arrived, but they are also partly sedentary with all the involved health issues, such as alcoholism. I was unlucky in that it always rained (it is officially rainy season), and so I didnt get to see any of their famed singing and dancing, but am looking forward to seeing it during my next trip to the field. I am now back in Libreville, digesting all the information and experiences, and planning the next steps.
Meeting some of the Baka female village elders. Traditional huts in background
One of the official research sessions in the village meeting hall, which also functions as a church
Lying in front of me is one of the most dangerous snakes here: the Gabun viper
Anita building a traditional hut called 'mongulu'
We started off with only three people in the boat...but there had been a death in one village, and when we journeyed on to the next village, many Baka joined to share the sad news with their relatives. Thankfully, I had the sub-prefect's large boat so I could invite everybody along.
A quiet moment on the Ivindo river
Will be posting more over the next week, now that I have better internet access here in Libreville. In rural Gabon it’s difficult, as the connection is very slow and unstable . . .
November 1, 2010
Gabon Expo is an exhibition currently showing in Libreville and covering five central topics: Gabonese prehistory at the heart of Africa, the richness of Gabonese flaura and fauna today, the ritual diversity in song, dance and maks of the 50 ethnic groups that make up Gabon, independence and the State today, and finally, modern art and design. The exhibition is well thought out, and I really had fun learning about this country, together with many Gabonese for whom it was also a chance to discover their own heritage (www.legabon.org). For example, the Sugar Loaf in Rio de Janeiro and the so called “Inselberg” in the Minkébé area I will be working in, are of the same geological period, and were part of the same formation before the continents split.
Libreville itself has truly lived up to being the paradox of developed and developing this week, an example being that you can drink the tap water without any problems, but we also had a water cut for a day and a half starting last Monday. One of the crazier things that happened this week was meeting a Gabonese documentary maker, Luc, who studied in Germany (Darmstadt) and has just spent three days with the Baka in order to make a TV film on them. I bumped into Luc on the street after a jazz concert at the French Cultural Centre.
But more importantly, if everything goes to plan, I will be heading off to my field site and finally meeting the Baka myself this week. I have been busy trying to learn more of the Baka language, which is as complex and rich as any of the European languages (trust me, I would be happy if this were not the case). I will be travelling to two places, Minvoul and Makokou in North-Eastern Gabon, to find out whether I can work in both, or only in one. This pre-study will take about three to four weeks. So excited to see how this project is developing …
If u want to know more about the exhibition, checkout http://www.legabon.org