Conservation-Induced Resettlement

The Case of the Baka of Southeast Cameroon—A Variation on the Habitual Mobility–Immobility Nexus

in Transfers


This article demonstrates how conservation-induced immobilization aff ects the movement of knowledge and practices. I employ the case study of the Baka of East Cameroon to show how spatial immobility, or forced anthropostasis, among the Baka influences the flow of some kinds of knowledge and practices. This study also off ers a critique of the view that, when hunter-gatherers settle in towns or permanent villages, their access to new knowledge and practices will be improved, thereby making their lives better. Rather, the loss of local medical knowledge, increased alcohol abuse, and an increasing destabilization of the ecological environment are the main detrimental consequences of new forms of knowledge that Baka are acquiring in villages as a result of contacts with the state, absorption into a capitalist society, and the influence of western-based nongovernmental organizations.

In the literature, the Baka are generally described as a hunting and gathering community,1 and as the original inhabitants of the Dja Reserve area, East Cameroon.2 Historically, Baka groups usually settled in small groups and led a seminomadic forest-based life.3 Baka language, culture, and religion have been strongly linked to the forest, which even today remains a key source of livelihoods.4 The Baka, who are known to be the first occupants of their current territory, have a widespread knowledge of the use of natural resources in their area. Their culture and economic practices are connected with the use of these natural resources.5 This article focuses mainly on a particular group of Baka, living around the Dja Reserve in East Cameroon. These people have been subjected to a drastic resettlement program characterized by forced immobilization, which had deep effects on Baka sociality and well-being.6 For the purpose of this article, in which we try to understand the social forms of mobility and technology, this case off ers exemplary material on the role of forced immobilization in the transfer of knowledge and practices between societies and environments.

The Dja Reserve was established as a wildlife reserve officially in 1950 by decree number 75/50 of the French colonial administration.7 Following the creation of Dja Reserve and based on the “fortress” conservation ideology that the presence of people in protected areas is anathema to the idea of nature protection, the first wave of displacement and resettlement of the local Baka population began in the 1950s and has been ongoing ever since. Studies by Michael Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau have shown that an estimated 7,800 Baka depending on the forest for more than 50 percent of their livelihood have been forcibly displaced from the protected area between 1996 and 2003.8 The Baka were not consulted prior to displacement and no compensation was off ered for their loss of land and livelihoods. Consequently, the Baka have been forced to settle in villages alongside the sedentary and dominant Bantu groups.9 After their forced displacement, resettlement, and sedentarization, the Baka have fallen victim to marginalization by the state and other ethnic groups. See figure 1 for the location of the Dja Reserve.

As will become evident in the course of this article, the forced transition from a seminomadic life world, with its own knowledge and practices, toward a sedentary life in peri-urban, multiethnic settlements, has given rise to fundamental transformations in societal values and practices, material culture, and ideas about health, identity, and environment. An interesting question is how the actual movement from one area and emplacement in another have also led to the emergence of new knowledge and practices. How have forced displacement and (re)settlement influenced Baka appropriation of new knowledge and practices? How are “conventional Baka knowledge” and the idea of “being Baka” transformed in these new environments characterized by permanence and fixity? What new meanings and uses of things become permissible, get lost, and are transformed through Baka’s forced sedentarization?

Fieldwork data were collected in Cameroon between July and September 2012 and in April 2013 in the Baka villages of Adjela, Sissoh, and Le Bosquet. Adjela is a Baka settlement located south of Lomie town. Situated along the main eastern route into the Dja Reserve, Adjela is an overcrowded village with a population of approximately 500 inhabitants living in about 60 houses and occupying an area of some 150 square meters. Adjela does not possess a community forest of its own. Proximity to Lomie means Adjela does not have its own health center or school. Due to the situation of Adjela between Bantu farms, arable land for the inhabitants of Adjela is very limited. Consequently, most adults in Adjela work on Bantu farms. Despite being a suburb of Lomie

Figure 1
Figure 1

Location of the Dja Reserve area.

Citation: Transfers 6, 2; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060205

town, which is electrified, there is no electricity in Adjela. Sissoh, which is also known as Sissoh Baka, is a roadside village on the P6 road from Lomie through Ngoila to the Republic of Congo. Located about 15 kilometers from Lomie town, Sissoh has a population of approximately 300 inhabitants. The village shares its name with a neighboring Nzime village located a few hundred meters south known as Sissoh Bantu. There is no school, health center, or source of potable water in Sissoh. While the village has its own community forest, this is overexploited by conflicting land uses between the Baka and the Nzime. The third field site, Le Bosquet, was founded in 1972 by Franciscan Roman Catholic sisters. It has a population of about 1,500 inhabitants, who are exclusively Baka. There are two grocery shops, a Catholic church, a Catholic primary school, and a Catholic health center run by the Franciscan Catholic sisters from the diocese of Notre Dame de la Foret (Our Lady of the Forest), and a nearby community forest. There is no market in Le Bosquet and the inhabitants can only sell their produce in Lomie, which is about 40 kilometers away. Le Bosquet is a settlement that was created for the Baka who had initially been settled in other villages alongside the Bantu. Following years of marginalization of the Baka by the Bantu, the Catholic mission relocated the Baka in the area to a newly created village exclusively for the Baka. That explains why Le Bosquet and the closest Bantu village are about 20 kilometers apart.

The study sites were selected together with expert participants based on the criterion that the area should contain at least ten medicinal plant species. I interviewed ninety participants using administered structured questionnaires across three communities (one questionnaire per household) with equal numbers for men and women. The Baka are well-known in the literature for their prowess in healing, medicines, and other forest products.10 Expert participants (traditional healers) were asked to tag or label plants with medicinal value in the quadrants or along transect paths using numbers. Following the identification and labeling of plant species, we carried out transect walks in study sites with nonexpert participants (thirty per site). These included people for whom medicinal plants are not an important component of professional life, although they may, in certain cases, use medicinal plants for other purposes or for home consumption. Nonexpert participants users were shown live plants along the transect path and asked if they recognized the plant and had a name for it, if the plant had medicinal or construction value, how they acquired knowledge of the plant (transmission of knowledge) and its uses, and if they personally used it. Answers from participants were ranked in the form of test scores based on number of plants identified and their uses. These answers were verified and validated by the expert participants. I also conducted in-depth semi structured interviews with the head of ECOFAC (Ecosysteme Forestiers en Afrique Centrale), which is the organization charged with protecting the Dja Reserve, and with the delegates of prominent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the area,11 and the chiefs and kokomas of the three villages concerned.12

Mobility and its opposite (immobility) are used here as analytical categories that combine practice, representation, and (the lack of) physical movement.13 Mobility and immobility have particular traceable histories and geographies,14 and are embedded within political constellations that orient, block, curtail, and censor mobilities of people, ideas, knowledge, commodities, and other forms of life. Significantly, immobility is used here as a relative concept that does not necessarily imply a complete lack and/or absence of movement. Rather, it refers to a state in which the transfer or movement of people, knowledge, and practices is restricted or curtailed. In his plea to take into account the politics of mobility, Tim Cresswell reminds us of the need to constantly consider the politics of obduracy, fixity, and friction.15 Furthermore, my study places the notion of power relations at the center of discussions about mobility and immobility. According to the Foucauldian approach, power expresses itself in the routinization, formalization, and legitimization of certain forms of knowledge in everyday practice.16 Power relations are therefore not only regarded as manipulative resources but as webs of relations of dominance normalizing the processes of transfer or movement of knowledge, goods, and services within “sedentarized” Baka society. It is analytically helpful to understand the conservationist-induced villages as contact zones where multiple forms of knowledge and practices intersect. Pratt defines a contact zone as a social space where cultures meet, often in the imperial and postcolonial context; and this definition draws our attention to the spatial and temporal co-presence of subjects previously separated by geographical and historical disconnection, and whose trajectories now connect.17 This perspective allows us to analyze “how subjects get constituted in and by their relations to each other,”18 and emphasizes “co-presence, interaction, interlocking understandings and practices, and often within radically asymmetrical relations of power.”19

By focusing on new technologies in the context of forced settlement, my article addresses a hiatus in mobility studies, namely, the politics of mobility, and it also fills a gap in existing conservation research, which has often paid lip service to the agency of movement.20 Any change in society that results from the introduction of new knowledge and practices following sedentarization is equally regarded as a change in the environment. Also, inscribing itself in the second conceptual strand of this special section on African mobilities, “mobilities of technology,” my article pursues a critical examination of encounters between incoming knowledge and practices, local creativities, cultures, and societies. In particular, I identify socially significant changes in the flow or movement of knowledge and practices concerning clinical medicine, agriculture, Western firearms, and liquor production and consumption as consequences of immobilization.

Clinical Medicine and the Loss of Indigenous Medicinal Knowledge

Confidence in local medicine comes from relying on treatment practices that already existed long before Western medicine became available.21 Based on accounts of some research participants, predominantly older Baka people believe that Western medicine either makes an ailment worse or can introduce new diseases to the human body. However, following sedentarization, the range of therapeutic alternatives has widened. Biomedical healing practices are increasingly regarded as a viable alternative to Baka medicine, which has become hard to obtain in the settlement. It has been reported that 70 percent of the Baka use some form of clinical medicine alongside indigenous medicine.22

There is an interesting twist to the origins of biomedical drugs. Although the West is commonly credited with having invented clinical medicine, the origin of some ingredients in clinical medicine could well be Southern. According to Maurice Iwu, Angela Duncan, and Chris Okunji,23 historically, plants of African origin such as garcinia kola (bitter kola) and abemumum melegneta (grains of paradise) have provided a good source of anti-infective agents. The processed forms of some of these plants track back to the tropics despite the fact that, nowadays, Western clinical medicine is often distributed among the Baka through government and nongovernmental health institutions staff ed by Bantu. With the exception of vaccination, which is often administered onsite in Baka villages by health workers, most clinical health care is available only in hospitals and health centers. The forced resettlement of Baka in permanent villages on roadsides has reduced the distance they need to cover in order to access clinical medicine and, as a result, the transfer of such medicinal knowledge has become much easier.

The Baka use both clinical and indigenous medicines for different types of illnesses. Generally, biomedical health care is preferred for the treatment of illnesses that Baka associate with their new living conditions such as diarrhea and malaria. For spiritual-related illnesses, such as possession by evil spirits, Baka continue to rely on their own healing practices and experts. Considering that malaria and diarrhea together account for 80 percent of reported prevalence of disease according to my survey, and those clinical medicines seem to respond well to these ailments, Baka faith in clinical medicines in this regard is understandable. Yet an additional explanation for this changed attitude toward clinical medicine is the loss of knowledge in autochthonous medicine that happens over time whenever certain forms of knowledge and practices become obsolete. By contrast, the promotion of specific practices that are formalized, and the provision of infrastructure for their practice sustain and cultivate other forms of knowledge. As one Baka research participant stated: “Due to the fact that we have a health center here, we tend to ignore or not pay enough attention to medicinal plants because it is easier to just go to the health center for treatment.”24

Forced immobilization, however, places people in undesirable conditions that drastically transform cultural processes considered to be the foundation of the Baka’s relationship with the natural environment. The relationship between resource use and management, on the one hand, and attitudes to and knowledge of key resources, on the other,25 becomes an important mobility question: what happens when people are forcibly moved to a new area or confined to an area where certain forms of mobility are severely curtailed? For the Baka, the loss of medicinal knowledge following displacement has had a negative impact on health. This negative impact manifests itself in the lack of knowledge on which plants have medicinal value or the required dosage. Highlighting the impact of knowledge transmission in this decline of traditional medicinal knowledge, one Baka chief asserted: “If there would be efficient transmission of medicinal knowledge to the younger generation, as was the case before immobilization, then we would not have this problem with wrong medicines and wrong dosage.”26

Transfer or movement of knowledge entails distinct social spaces that orchestrate new forms of social life around such nodes. Though these social spaces do not necessarily have to be fixed locations, sedentarization creates fixed contact zones where multiple forms of knowledge and practices intersect. These contact zones either enhance the flow of some knowledge systems or reinforce the demobilization of others. In my study, though forced squatting by the Baka has generally blocked the transfer of indigenous medicinal knowledge, this reduction of movement of indigenous medicinal knowledge is not uniform across places. As Figure 2 shows, there is a remarkable loss of indigenous medicinal knowledge in Le Bosquet and Adjela, in particular relative to Sissoh. These data suggest that this loss of knowledge is due to a combination of two factors: (a) the availability of competing clinical medicinal services in Le Bosquet; and (b) the lack of a community forest in Adjela that could provide medicinal plants and an effective learning environment on the uses of these plants. According to one member of the Baka elite, “When there is a health center, it becomes a lot easier to turn to modern medicine than to go into the bushes to look for medicinal plants.”27 In Le Bosquet, for example, despite access to a community forest, the loss of medicinal knowledge is less significant because of the availability of clinical medicine from the Catholic health center situated in the village.

The relatively low scores in Adjela and Le Bosquet in Figure 2 also show that proximity to Western-derived clinical medicine in the town of Lomie (for Adjela) and a Catholic health center (for Le Bosquet) could be adversely aff ecting the indigenous medicinal knowledge of both men and women in the community. In this power relation between new clinical medicine and conventional medicinal knowledge, the latter is increasingly marginalized, as

Figure 2
Figure 2

Knowledge of plants and their uses by gender and location among the Baka.

Citation: Transfers 6, 2; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060205

is manifest in the decrease in medicinal knowledge in communities situated in close proximity to clinical health services. This uneven power relation has been facilitated and accelerated by the forced sedentarization of the Baka.

Furthermore, particular “modes of transmission” or itineraries of knowledge also lead to the loss of traditional medicinal knowledge. Data from my transect walk medicinal knowledge survey show that parent to child transmissions account for up to 60 percent of all indigenous medicinal knowledge transmissions or mobility of knowledge.28 This is followed by grandparent to grandchild (35 percent); between extended family members (3 percent); spouse to spouse (1 percent); and finally, friends to friends (1 percent). The process of acquiring knowledge of medicines can be regarded as a mobility space, whereby parents and children are purposefully moving through place, one showing by doing, the other learning by doing.

This “mobile transfer” of knowledge has altered because of the forced resettlement. Boys do not spend as much time with their parents as before because they are more independent and start working for the Bantu on the plantations and farms at a relatively early age. Consequently, they miss out on the opportunity to learn about medicinal plants from their parents. However, this is not the case with girls because young girls do not often work on Bantu plantations, which gives them the opportunity to spend more time with their parents (mothers especially) and learn more about medicinal plants.

Consequently, nowadays, Baka women have more knowledge of medicinal plants than Baka men. But their lead in acquiring this knowledge is not the only explanatory factor here. The reproductive responsibilities of women also explain why Baka women are more knowledgeable in the medical domain. The prenatal and postnatal conditions of Baka women are characterized by the incidence of several ailments, as for all women. Baka research participants explained that conventionally in Baka culture, men do not normally help the women with child care. Accordingly, though displacement has not introduced the pressure of child care on Baka women, it has arguably worsened the burden of this responsibility. Barry Hewlett asserts that women’s workload is greater in settled villages than in temporal forest camps.29 According to another research participant, Baka women have the responsibility to learn the pharmacopeia of thirty to fifty medicinal plants.

One of the conventional Baka medicinal knowledge systems that has survived the general threat to medicinal knowledge is the knowledge of charms and aphrodisiacs (Figure 2). Baka men generally master plant uses for charms and aphrodisiacs far better. These can be more readily commercialized to interested customers from the Bantu community, which contributes to the building of a cooperative relationship between the Baka and Bantu men, with the former being the providers of charms and aphrodisiacs, similarly to the way they supply Bantu men with other nontimber forest products. As the Baka seldom go into Bantu settlements, most purchases of charms and aphrodisiacs are carried out in Baka villages. Over time, Bantu buyers have come to familiarize themselves with the “best” Baka suppliers of charms and aphrodisiacs and consult these specialists often at the convenience of the homes of the Baka specialists. This becomes an important aspect of the politics of mobility, showing the pattern and route taken by mobility of knowledge and practice.

Making Hunter-Gatherers Farmers: The Sedentarization of a Mobile People

What happens when a social group whose systems of production and self-sustenance based on transhumance (constant mobility) is forced into a sedentary lifestyle and when its movements are severely curtailed and in certain instances criminalized? This is the predicament of the Baka, a hunting-and-gathering people. Before their forced sedentarization, the Baka could spend about three to four months in the forest at a time before returning to forest camps.30 Even today, after their settlement in villages, many Baka continue to hunt and gather forest products, both legally and in unofficial ways. In fact, hunting remains the highest earning activity for 65 percent of Baka men, and gathering of forest products is still the highest earning activity for 77 percent of Baka women.31 However, with restrictions on movement in nearby protected areas, longer distances are required in order to find forest products. This leads to shorter time (or no time at all) spent in the forest for the majority of the Baka, who for various reasons cannot cover the long distances. Increasingly aware that the forest will not always provide for them, a growing number of sedentarized Baka people are now turning to agriculture, especially arable farming. Based on my survey, 63 percent of Baka households actually practice some form of arable farming and 23 percent practice some form of animal husbandry. Nongovernmental organizations have been involved in promoting new forms of agriculture in Baka communities.

However, the success stories of these NGOs obscure the reasons that the Baka have not totally adopted new agro-knowledge. First, decisions about resource use must be understood against the cultural background that shapes how people move within the forests and what they do in them. If the Baka had a choice between hunting in the nearby protected Dja Reserve or domesticating animals for consumption or for sale, they would probably still go for the first option as most of them perceive bushmeat to have more flavor than meat from domesticated animals. A well-to-do Baka from Lomie area declared:

Even if you give us hundreds of cattle we will still hunt in the nature reserve because bushmeat has an exceptional flavor you will not get from any domesticated animals. Let the law and the government do what they have got to do but we will continue hunting in the Reserve.32

Conservationists often dismiss this perspective, persisting instead in the belief that if the Baka are “educated” on the economic benefits of raising livestock, they will shift from hunting to herding or animal husbandry. However, the Baka have a negative feeling about eating any meat from domesticated animals, claiming it smells bad. This explains why only 23 percent of them practice any kind of pastoral farming, most of them only rearing domestic birds such as chickens and ducks. By concentrating on only domestic bird species, the Baka reaffirm their belief that certain types of animals, especially mammals, should not be domesticated.

This lack of interest in rearing animals reflects a rejection of the linearity associated with technological momentum,33 whereby once a knowledge system is introduced into a society, it is immediately accepted and embraced. The NGO FCTV34 (Fondation Camerounaise de Terre Vivant) distributed cane rats to Baka households in a village in the Lomie area in a bid to encourage them to substitute bushmeat for domesticated animals. However, during a follow-up mission to the area a few months later, FCTV staff were told the Baka had released all the cane rats into the wild, preferring to go after them and hunt than to have them readily available in the backyard. As the Baka chief remarked: “Animals should be in the forest and not around homes. So we have freed all the cane rats you tried to make us raise around our homes. We will not be having any of those animals living with us.”35 The cultural self-fulfillment that successful hunting provides stands as a barrier to the fast and total conversion of communities from their preferred dependent mobile-centered production to a top-down immobile mode of existence. A second reason for the slow adoption of new agro-knowledge is related to the transmission modalities of such knowledge.36 Transmission from Baka parents to Baka children accounts for up to 53 percent of transmission and transmission from NGOs to Baka is second with 29 percent. It is surprising that the Bantu, who practice farming extensively, account for only 9 percent of transmission to Baka.37 The consequences of the lackluster adaptation of incoming agriculture techniques and the prohibition of hunting in protected areas have compromised the Baka’s food security, with malnutrition becoming a major problem. In April 2013, the time of my fieldwork, up to 22 percent (36 percent for women) of the Baka were underweight and 60 percent of the displaced Baka ate fewer than three times a day. The reluctant adoption of new agro-knowledge also explains that in this power relation, new knowledge does not always dominate or marginalize conventional knowledge.

The Shift among the Baka from Hunting to Poaching

Baka usually hunt using a wide variety of techniques, including traps made with stems and branches of plants and in some cases wires, bows and arrows, and spears, often also aided by dogs.38 With these kinds of hunting weapons, the scale of hunting is obviously rather small and large mammals are much more difficult to hunt. In the past, the Baka hunter thus mainly targeted mice, antelope, and sitatungas. However, following sedentarization, the Baka are increasingly using firearms to hunt bigger and more dangerous endangered species such as elephants and gorillas.39

Following the civil war in the neighboring Republic of Congo between June 1997 and December 1999, guns could be cheaply and easily smuggled in from Congo through Ngoila to Lomie. It nevertheless remained more expensive and difficult to traffic guns from Yaoundé and Bertoua because of the various rigorous checks by forces of law and order on the Yaoundé–Lomie or Bertoua–Lomie route. Consequently, smugglers sometimes use corrupt police or gendarme officers to traffic guns on these routes.40 Logging camps and fast-growing towns and cities provide a ready market for bushmeat,41 thus increasing the profitability of hunting with guns. As stated before, hunting is the highest income-generating activity (in monetary income) for 65 percent of Baka men in the study area, and a significant proportion of the hunting is carried out with guns. Expanding on the profitability of hunting with guns, David Wilkie and Julia Carpenter note that shotgun hunting produces seven to twenty-five times more hunts than hunting with conventional methods such as bows, nets, and snares.42 Also, estimates of income generated from commercial hunting with guns in the study area amount to between 330 USD and 1,058 USD per month—well above the official minimum wage of Cameroon and resulting in a profit of more than 30 percent.43 Furthermore, in a six-month survey of the study area, Paul Ngnegueu and Roger Fotso observed that thirty commercial hunters generated an income of more than US$9,500 from bushmeat sales.44 Finally, according to my field survey, a porcupine or varan costs about 3,000 FCFA (6 USD) in the Lomie area and 10,000 FCFA (20 USD) to 15,000 FCFA (30 USD) in Yaoundé or Douala. Illegally obtained bushmeat is sold mostly at night in the area.

Despite these financial benefits of commercial hunting with guns, the activity possesses an ugly side. This proliferation of small arms is one of the most immediate consequences of forced immobilization. Most of the incoming guns sustain illegal hunting. Police frequently seize illegal ivory and meat from both Baka and Bantu hunters. Forest elephants have decreased by 62 percent across the Central African subregion (which includes my study area) over the past ten years.45 As recently as March 2013 two men trafficking ivory were arrested in the Dja Reserve by ECOFAC forest guards from Lomie possessing two ivory tusks inside the Dja Reserve. Some of the ivory recovered was buried in the ground and the suspects claimed to have even larger quantities stacked away.

Poachers are often displaced Baka, whom rich smugglers from elsewhere off er the most efficient firearms to hunt only specific species and quantities.46 This was confirmed by the ECOFAC chief, Mindoum Pascal, who affirmed that: “Outsiders hand weapons to the Baka who go into the forest and hunt. These outsiders come all the way from Yaoundé because the Dja Reserve is the only place you can have certain species that are in high demand in the bushmeat trade in Yaoundé.”47 The proliferation of firearms used in hunting is evidence of the suppression of conventional hunting with traps and spears. The uneven power relation between opposing knowledge-hunting techniques has been facilitated and accelerated by the sedentarization of the Baka. This uneven power relation also has devastating effects on nature conservation, which was the initial goal of the immobilization through uncontrolled illegal hunting.

Immobilization and Liquor Consumption

Drinking alcohol is a social act performed in social contexts,48 and despite inconsistencies between different scholars, alcohol consumption has been proven to register positive effects on drinkers. First, alcohol has been known to improve positive moods (happiness, euphoria, conviviality, pleasant and carefree feelings) and decrease negative moods.49 Second, although discourse on sexual arousal in response to erotic stimuli is viewed as inappropriate or immoral by some sections of society, according to the normative views of alcohol consumers, alcohol intake increases sexual arousal.50 Third, alcohol consumption has also been known to improve cognitive performance, for example, in problem-solving and short-term memory.51 Accordingly, recourse to alcohol is being employed by the Baka as a stress management strategy to deal with the effects of sedentarization and loss of the freedom to be mobile, including its benefits. According to some Baka participants in this study, the Baka consume liquor as a stress relief strategy in dealing with the few employment opportunities around the relatively new roadside villages.

Notwithstanding the benefits of liquor consumption, the negative consequences of excessive liquor consumption have been profound. Excessive drinking has been proven to lead to deliberation in task performance,52 and to increased aggression in response to provocation.53 Excessive drinking has also been proven to be causally related to more than sixty different medical conditions.54 The pressure of adapting to sedentary life and having to forgo millennia of transhumant culture and identity seems to have driven the Baka toward excessive drinking. Said one elderly Baka lady from Adjela: “In our forest life we did not know about alcohol. Our only beverage was fresh honey. We were only introduced to alcohol when they forced us to live beside the Bantu in the villages.”55 Drinking is of course not restricted to men, in contrast to what other studies claim.56 In fact, beer drinking in African contexts has never historically been for men only.57 After all, in most societies the women are the beer brewers.58 In fact, the burden of feeding the family falls mainly on the mother of the household. Thus, Baka women are as prone to the bottle as men. Results from the field survey also show that although the most common liquor consumption time is the evening between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Baka men’s and women’s consumption rates of 29 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in the mornings (before midday) do not vary considerably. This study unveiled that women even drink more than men in the afternoons (between noon and 4:00 p.m.) and at night (after 8:00 p.m.). The effect of liquor consumption on well-being is reflected in the cost of alcohol itself. A liter of palm wine costs about 200 FCFA, which is about 40 percent of the average daily monetary wage of a Baka. A sachet of whiskey costs about 100 FCFA, which is about 20 percent of the average daily monetary wage of a Baka. In effect, hard-earned money, which could have been channeled to other livelihood needs, is being spent on alcohol, thus, further exacerbating the already precarious standard of living of the displaced and sedentarized Baka.

Concerning the transfer of knowledge on liquor production and consumption, locally produced palm wine is the most popular beverage among the Baka today. Its popularity is tied to the fact there has been a transfer of knowledge on its extraction from the Bantu to the Baka. The Baka have acquired skills on the extraction of palm wine sap from the easily available palm trees, thus making it cheaper to purchase this kind of liquor. The origin, transfer and distribution of whisky, the second most popular beverage, are far more complex. These can be found in small sachets, contain about 40–45 percent alcohol and are processed by a brewery company, Sofavinc, located in Yaoundé, which is several hundred miles away from the study area. Bantu traders transfer the whiskey from the producer in Yaoundé to the Baka consumer in the study area by road.

Sedentarization in roadside villages has made it easier for the Bantu traders to supply the whiskey to the Baka, who previously were harder to reach in the forest. The relative popularity of whiskey compared to beer is that it is cheaper at just 100 FCFA (0.211848 USD) as opposed to beer, which costs up to 500 FCFA per bottle (about 1 USD) equivalent to the average daily wage of a Baka. Also, at 40–45 percent alcohol per 5 centileters content, whiskey will intoxicate faster and for less cost than beer, which often has only 5 percent alcohol for up to 75 centileters content. In a nutshell I argue that the resettlement of the Baka has facilitated the transfer or movement of liquor and knowledge on its production among the Baka from the Bantu thereby creating an alochol abuse problem.

I triangulated the questionnaire survey on liquor consumption with a ranking of the most salient livelihood issues faced following immobilization based on the views of the Baka themselves. The result showed that 52 percent of the Baka themselves recognize liquor as their most salient problem in the immobilized communities. Of the aforementioned 52 percent, Adjela accounts for 85 percent of the Baka who believe liquor consumption is the greatest social problem facing the community as opposed to only 14 percent in Le Bosquet. Adjela, which bears more resemblance Lomie town concerning incoming means and modes, has a greater liquor problem than Le Bosquet, which is farther away. This observation confirms the adverse effect of incoming knowledge and practices on displaced and sedentarized indigenous people especially on those closest to such incoming knowledge and practices.


My analysis of the consequences of anthropostasis due to conservationist policies brings a unique story to the contemporary literature on new mobilities. A hunter-gatherers group—probably the stereotypical (and maybe even exotic) image of “old” forms of mobility—becomes fixated in villages, where they are exposed to the mobility of new knowledge and practices; and older forms of knowledge and practices are rendered impossible or criminal. My analysis has documented recent enforced abandonment of mobile livelihoods and its effects on well-being, local knowledge, and the ecological system. Mobility is a crucial aspect within the symbolic matrix of the Baka identity, as hunting is the key to masculinity, health, and the reproduction of the social group. However, while the Cameroonian state and NGOs provide the sedentarized Baka with new spaces and means of livelihood, the Baka do not totally embrace the new “immobile” condition. In addition, the use of firearms has been embraced by the Baka, thereby thoroughly transforming the game they were accustomed to hunting. With the incoming firearms, Baka are now hunting for large animals, which is not only illegal but also does not agree with the Baka’s own relation to the forest. In a seminomadic lifestyle, animals were killed and eaten or sacrificed, while now the larger animals are being hunted down and sold. The availability of these firearms also renders the Baka hunters into “criminals,” citizens who do not respect the borders of the protected area and even transgress national laws.

These observations lead us to reflect more deeply on the dialectics between mobility/immobility, transfer of knowledge, and the environment. Sedentarization, with its emphasis on permanence and stasis, kills or weakens certain knowledge and cultural practices. This is intensified when one looks at people who depend on constant, unlimited movement for their livelihood, identity, and ways of life, and who find themselves excluded from the places where culturally important forms of mobility such as hunting, teaching, and healing are customarily practiced. The immobilization proclivities of such resettlement render activities like hunting impossible. This quenches whatever knowledge might depend on such practices, which cannot be conducted legally without undercutting the very basis of wildlife conservation.

This study has explored different levels of immobility and mobility using the guidelines of the new mobilities paradigm. This new paradigm of mobility highlighted by Cresswell has provided guidelines for a rigorous accounting of specific aspects of mobility in this article, such as: what restricts or facilitates the flow of certain forms of knowledge and practice? (friction); what pattern or route does the transfer of knowledge and practices take from the source to the destination? (routing); what is the perception of the mobility of knowledge and practices among the local Baka concerned? (experience). This article has demonstrated that although new knowledge and practices can be viewed positively by some people in society, others can view such new knowledge and practices negatively.

Although some incoming knowledge and practices can be adopted for the common good (use of alcohol for stress relief, use of guns to facilitate hunting and increase quantities of game, clinical medicine that off ers a viable alternative to traditional medicine), the empirical findings in this article have also demonstrated that the Baka are not simply users of incoming knowledge and practices. This article also presents the Baka as initiators capable of instilling or challenging incoming knowledge and practices with their own meanings, purposes, and value systems. In fact, this essay shows the Baka rejecting the incoming practice of animal husbandry, for example, and showing a preference for hunting in the wild for meat. Where incoming knowledge and practices have been adopted by the Baka, empirical findings from this article show how such incoming knowledge and practices have led to negative effects on the livelihood of the Baka. This strengthens critique of the assumption that incoming knowledge and practices are often adopted for the common good. Such a critique is at the core of the second conceptual strand on mobilities of technology in this special section. By presenting an analysis that counters the general image of contemporary life as one in which people become more and more mobile, more liberated, and happier, I hope to have made an empirical contribution to mobility studies.


I wish to express my gratitude to the following people who have supported me during the writing of this paper; the Baka of the eastern periphery of the Dja Reserve of Cameroon, as well as Octave Ondoua, Benjamin Kodju, Noel Ebango, Helena Nsosungnine, Joseph Payo, Katrien Pype, Jeroen Cuvelier, Clapperton Mavhunga, Gijs Mom, and my supervisor Maarten Loopmans.


Serge Bahuchet, “Les peuples des forêts tropicales aujourd’hui [The people of the tropical forest today]: 2. Une approche thématique” (Free University of Brussels, 2000), 655.


Sem T. Shikongo, “Report on Threats to the Practice and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge Regional Report: Revision on the Second phase of the Composite Report—Africa” (Report prepared for the fifth meeting of the ad hoc open-ended intersession working group on article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada, 15–19 October 2007), (accessed 24 November 2010).






In a related study, I conducted a survey in which Baka people were asked to define well-being in terms of livelihood challenges they face in day-to-day life. Based on the livelihood themes identified, well-being among the Baka revolved around the following themes: housing, sanitation, income-generating activities, health care, education (formal and informal), and nutrition.


United Nations Environment Programme, “Dja Faunal Reserve, Cameroon,” (accessed 15 March, 2013).


Michael Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau, “Biodiversity Conservation versus Population Resettlement: Risks to Nature and Risks to People” (paper presented at the International Conference on Rural Livelihoods, Forests and Biodiversity, Bonn, Germany, 19–23 May 2003).


John J. Butt, The Greenwood Dictionary of World History (Westport, CT: Green-wood, 2006), 39. Raymond G. Gordon, Ethnologue: Languages of the world (Dallas: SIL International, 2005).


Jean L. Betti, Impact of Forest Logging in the Dja Biosphere Reserve, Cameroon (Cameroon: Ministry of Environment and Forestry, 2004).


The NGO delegates I intensively interviewed and observed were representatives from FCTV (Living Earth Foundation Cameroon) and GeoAid Cameroon. These two units are international NGOs but there are a host of local NGOs with which I tried unsuccessfully to create contact.


In Baka communities a kokoma is often the person who represents the village or community in dealings with outsiders. The kokoma does not necessarily have to be an elderly person and in most cases needs to be someone with a mastery of French (which is the language of communication with outsiders) and some level of formal education. In other words, the kokoma is like an ambassador. The kokoma is only relevant when dealing with issues that involve outsiders.


Tim Cresswell, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World (Abingdon: Taylor and Francis, 2006). Tim Cresswell, “Towards a Politics of Mobility,” Environment and Planning. D, Society and Space 28, no. 1 (2010): 17–31.


Cresswell, “Towards a Politics of Mobility.” Kevin Hannam, Mimi Sheller, and John Urry, “Editorial: Mobilities, Immobilities and Moorings,” Mobilities 1, no. 1 (2006): 1–22.


Cresswell, “Towards a Politics of Mobility.”


Halleh Ghorashi and Ida Sabelis, “Juggling Diff erence and Sameness: Rethinking Strategies for Diversity in Organizations,” Scandinavian Journal of Management 29, no. 1 (2013): 78–86.


Mary L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992), 8.






Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991). Alan Rabinowitz, “Nature’s Last Bastions: Sustainable Use of Our Tropical Forest May Be Little More Than Wishful Thinking,” Natural History 108 (1999): 70–72. Peter R. Wilshusen, Steven R. Brechin, Crystal L. Fortwangler, and Patrick C. West, “Reinventing a Square Wheel: Critique of a Resurgent ‘Protection Paradigm’ in International Biodiversity Conservation,” Society and Natural Resources 15, no. 1 (2002): 17–40. Jon Hutton, William M. Adams, and James C. Murombedzi, “Back to the Barriers? Changing Narratives in Biodiversity Conservation,” Forum for Development Studies, vol. 32, no. 2 (2005): 341–370.


Betti, Impact of Forest Logging.


I asked the Baka in a structured questionnaire survey to indicate their source of health care. Three boxes were provided for answers, which included, clinical medicine, indigenous medicine, and other. The result showed that 70 percent of my 90 participants checked boxes for both clinical and indigenous medicine. Twenty-six percent claimed to rely only on indigenous medicine, and only 4 percent depended exclusively on clinical medicine.


Maurice W. Iwu, Angela R. Duncan, and Chris O. Okunji, “New Antimicrobials of Plant Origin,” in Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses, ed. Jules Janick (Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press, 1999), 457–462.


Author’s translation from French to English.


Marianne Schmink, Conceptual Framework for Gender and Community-based Conservation, MERGE (Managing Ecosystems and Resources with Gender Emphasis), Tropical Conservation and Development Program, Centre for Latin American Studies (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, 1999).


Author’s translation from French to English.


Author’s translation from French to English.


Ninety participants (30 per village) in the three villages practicing were asked in the transect walk survey to list their sources of medicinal knowledge. Their responses were as follows: Parent to child—60 percent, Grandparent to grandchild—35 percent, Spouse to spouse—1 percent, Baka friend to Baka—1 percent, and Self acquired knowledge—1 percent, Other relatives—3 percent.


Barry S. Hewlett, Cultural Diversity among African Pygmies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 215–224.


Hirokazu Yasuoka, “The Sustainability of Duiker (Cephalophus spp.) Hunting for the Baka Hunter-Gatherers in South-eastern Cameroon,” African Study Monographs: Supplementary Issue 33 (2006): 95–120.


I asked the forty-five Baka men and forty-five Baka women (with the use of an open-ended question) to indicate their highest-earning economic activity. Highest earning activity is understood as the economic activity that provides the highest monetary income to the individual per month.


Author’s translation from French to English.


Thomas P. Hughes, Technological Momentum: Does Technology Drive History 101 (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994).


FCTV is an organization affiliated with Living Earth international. FCTV has been working in the Dja area since 1998. First, they have been carrying out a human rights project in the area concerning usage rights of the people, and their awareness concerning legal issues around resource use. Second, they have been acting as watchdogs over law enforcement agencies, making sure that sensitization of the local population on the law occurs before law enforcement. Last, FCTV has been active in the domain of providing alternative livelihood outcomes to the local Baka population in the study area. Such initiatives include bee farming and cane rat farming.


Author’s translation from French to English.


Between 1000 BC and 500 BC, ancestors of the Bantu practicing distinguishable food-producing systems depended mainly on growing cereals and raising livestock for their sustenance. Therefore, agriculture cannot be fully credited to the Western expansion as the Bantu Africans have been great farmers in their own right. David L. Schoenbrun, “We Are What We Eat: Ancient Agriculture between the Great Lakes,” Journal of African History 34 (1993): 1–31.


Participants in the three villages (only those practicing agriculture) were asked in questionnaire surveys to list their sources of agro-knowledge. Their responses were as follows: Parent to child—53 percent, Bantu to Baka—9 percent, NGO to Baka—29 percent, Baka community to Baka individual—4 percent, Baka friend to Baka—4 percent, and Self acquired knowledge—1 percent. The Baka are relatively new to agriculture and they acquire more agriculture skills from other Baka such as themselves instead of traditional farmers such as the Bantu and input from NGOs staff ed by the Bantu and a few expatriates.


Yasuoka, “The Sustainability of Duiker.”


Clapperton Mavhunga identifies firearms as incoming technology received and used by Africans with a variety of social outcomes. He goes on to emphasize the role of European imperial expansion on the diffusion of arms in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the consequences of this transfer, which include widespread poaching. Clapperton Mavhunga, “Firearms Diff usion, Exotic and Indigenous Knowledge Systems in the Lowveld Frontier, South Eastern Zimbabwe 1870–1920,” Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 1, no. 2 (2003): 201–231.


Based on testimony from an anonymous informant in the field, prices are estimated to be 150,000 FCFA (225USD) for a single-barrel Russian rifle and 200,000 FCFA (340USD) for a double-barrel twelve caliber.


David S. Wilkie, Malcolm Starkey, Kate Abernethy, Ernestine Nstame Eff a, Paul Telfer, and Ricardo Godoy, “Role of Prices and Wealth in Consumer Demand for Bushmeat in Gabon, Central Africa,” Conservation Biology 19, no. 1 (2005): 268–274.


David S. Wilkie and Julia F. Carpenter, “Bushmeat Hunting in the Congo Basin: An Assessment of Impacts and Options for Mitigation,” Biodiversity and Conservation 8, no. 7 (1999): 927–955.


Michel Gally and Philippe Jeanmart, “Etude de la chasse villageoise en forêt dense humide d’Afrique central [Study of village hunting in the dense humid forest of Central Africa]” (Thesis, Faculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux, 1996).


Paul R. Ngnegueu and Roger C. Fotso, Chasse villageoise et conséquences pour la conservation de la biodiversité dans la réserve de biosphere du Dja [Village hunting and consequences for the conservation of biodiversity in the Dja Biosphere Reserve] (Yaounde, Cameroon: ECOFAC, 1996).


World Wildlife Fund, “Poachers Kill 28 Forest Elephants in Cameroon,” (accessed 13 March 2013).


The findings would seem to articulate with the findings of Christo Fabricius, who found that in South Africa, displacement, forced resettlement, and the criminalization of hunting leads to increased poaching. This is mainly as a result of people’s being restricted to limited areas and deprived of the right to roam, hunt, and gather as they used to, which was a more environmentally friendly activity insofar as no particular section of the forest or resource was put under enormous pressure. Christo Fabricius, “The Fundamentals of Community-based Natural Resource Management,” in Rights, Resources and Rural Development: Community-based Natural Resource Management in Southern Africa, ed. Christo Fabricius, Eddie Koch, Hector Magome, and Stephen Turner (London: Earthscan, 2004), 3–43.


Author’s translation from French to English.


Mary Douglas, Constructive drinking: Perspectives on drink from anthropology. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987).


Cynthia Baum-Baicker, “The Psychological Benefits of Moderate Alcohol Consumption: A Review of the Literature,” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 15, no. 4 (1985): 306–322.


Jay G. Hull and Charles F. Bond, “Social and Behavioral Consequences of Alcohol Consumption and Expectancy: A Meta-Analysis,” Psychological bulletin 99, no. 3 (1986): 347–360.


Baum-Baicker, “The Psychological Benefits.”


John A. Carpenter, “Eff ects of Alcohol on Some Psychological Processes: A Critical Review with Special Reference to Automobile Driving Skill,” Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 23, no. 2 (1962): 274–314.


Hull and Bond, “Social and Behavioral Consequences.”


Robin Room, Thomas Babor, and Jürgen Rehm, “Alcohol and Public Health,” Lancet 365, no. 9458 (2005): 519–530.


Author’s translation from French to English.


Robert O. Pihl, Jordan Peterson, and Peter R. Finn, “Inherited Predisposition to Alcoholism: Characteristics of Sons of Male Alcoholics,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 99, no. 3 (1990): 291–301.


Steven Van Wolputte and Mattia Fumanti, Beer in Africa: Drinking Spaces, States and Selves (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2010).


Christian M. Rogerson, “A Strange Case of Beer: The State and Sorghum Beer Manufacture in South Africa,” Area (1986): 15–24.

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Contributor Notes

Harrison Esam Awuh is a Doctoral researcher at the Catholic University Leuven, Belgium. His research interests are inequalities, nature conservation and development.


Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies