The two Baka villages where I have been spending the last weeks are called Adjab and Pba nà pòte. They are located in Northern Gabon along the river Ivindo, and it takes roughly a day to get there from the provincial capital Makokou. Often, the Baka live in the same villages as the people they work for, but Adjab is special, in that it is the only village in Gabon with a uniquely Baka population. Pba nà pòte, which lies about 1 hour’s boat ride south of Adjab, has a predominantly Baka population, with some Bakwele living there too, the Bakwele being one of the neighbouring tribes of the Baka in this region.
Transport to either location is first with a 4WD car, along some of the most adventurous roads in Gabon, and then by ‘pirogue’, a wooden dugout canoe which can be anything in size from a nutshell to a substantial boat. Travel always involves unexpected events, and once my backpack was submerged by water pouring into the boat. Luckily I could use my 400-page Baka dictionary again after drying it in the sun for three days.
Baka village dwellings along the Ivindo consist mainly of mud-walled houses, and thus can hardly be distinguished from their neighbours’ villages. The houses normally have two or three rooms, earthen floors, and either palm thatched or tin roofs. The kitchen is in a separate building next to the house, and yes, the house in Baka is called the ‘place of men’, and the kitchen is the ‘place of women’.
In each village, I was given a room where I could string up my hammock with integrated mosquito net (awesome!), and where I slept better than in many other places. You are never alone in a Baka house, and sometimes I shared the space with 11 adults and at least as many children; and, of course, the spiders, termites and other creepy crawlies.
In order to experience life the ‘Baka way’ and to minimise on logistics, I eat what the Baka eat as much as possible. The most important part of their diet today is manioc, better known as cassava or yuca, and originally from Latin America, as a Columbian woman told me recently. Manioc can be prepared in many different ways, but in Gabon, the most common way is to pound the root, and then roll the pulp into a ‘baton’, meaning the manioc is placed in a marantaceae leaf and rolled in tubular form.
The second important ingredient to any meal is, of course, meat, if available. A traditional division of labour is still in place, ie the men hunt, and the women prepare. On many occasions, I provided the cartridges for the hunt, which was a strange feeling at first. During all the weeks in the forest I never had any digestive problems, but rather put on weight, because the food tastes great. I think the secret lies in the fact of fresh produce prepared slowly. One Baka man who has been to France told me he didnt entirely appreciate French cuisine because people missed those extra 15 minutes that make a meal really tasty.
Enough of food – it’s now dinner time in Libreville – and I will be posting more about my experiences in the forest soon.