The Congo Rainforest

Measuring at 500 million acres, the Congo Basin is larger than France and is the world’s second largest tropical rainforest- it is often known as the world’s second lung. The Congo Basin surrounds the equator, which alongside the massive water supply, makes opportune conditions for the rainforest to grow abundantly. It is made up of the Congo River, rich tropical rainforests and swamps.The Congo Basin is extremely important for regulating climate, as it has a huge carbon sink which traps carbon that would otherwise be C02 emissions. Located in Central Africa, the six countries that contain extensive forest cover are: Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Countries that have part of their territory in the Congo Basin include Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia

The rainforest is home to an array of species, including gorillas, buffalo, elephants, chimpanzees, bonobos, okapi, and the Congo peafowl. The Congo Basin is the only place to shelter all three subspecies of gorilla: the lowland gorilla, the Eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. The Basin has been occupied by human existence for more than 50,000 years and supplies more than 75 million people food, shelter and more. An ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle is still lived by the Ba’Aka people, whose wellbeing relies on that of the rainforest. Eight natural sites in the Congo Basin are recorded on the World Heritage In Danger list and 14% of the humid area of forest is designated as protected. The Congo Basin has a history of military neutrality forced upon them by colonists that was decided on in The General Act of the Berlin Conference which tied its signatories to impartiality (this was ignored during the First World War).

Despite the widely held knowledge that the Congo Rainforest is essentially the Earth’s second lung, there is still major exploitation that goes on there. ‘Land grabbing’, which is the act of renting or buying large areas of African territory for exporting resources, is something that is on the rise and there is no consideration for the ecosystems, food security and economic developments that ‘land grabbing’ is harming. For local communities Illegal logging of timber is also an issue within the Congo Rainforest that destroys wildlife, negatively affects climate change and harms local communities such as that of the Ba’aka people, for example climate change linked to deforestation massively affects seasons, causing droughts and floods which prevent adequate foraging. Timber that has been illegally cut is currently banned in both the United States and EU. However, as long as the product is still shipped into China (China has not created restrictions concerning illegal timber), the problems will persist. 

Due to the dangers being posed to the forest, the Dzanga- Sangha special reserve was created in 1990 to protect certain areas of Central Africa including the Congo Basin. There are also the issues of conservation and National Park building which are life threatening to the Ba’aka since it cuts them off from the forest. Conservation-related malnutrition among tribal peoples in the Congo is already a well-documented problem. In 2017, concerns were raised that conservation had contributed to the deaths of several dozen Ba’aka children during an epidemic in 2016. The deaths were attributed by a medical expert to malaria, pneumonia and dysentery, aggravated by severe malnutrition.

Ba’aka people

The Ba’aka people are a hunter-gatherer society of people living in southeastern Cameroon, Northwestern Congo and North Eastern Gabon.. With a population estimation of 25,000 Their hunter-gatherer society is also one that is acephalous, meaning that there are no hierarchies or political leaders, which makes it difficult to assimilate with other surrounding hierarchical countries. Politically, the Ba’aka people make decisions through consensus. Their nomadic tendencies as well as their stunted height (they have an average height of five feet) means they are often marginalised from society.

Both men and women hunt everyday and their hunting adheres to laws created to protect the forest which state that only traditional nets and spears can be used. Men hunt in a way which uses non- toxic chemicals which starve the fish of oxygen and make them float to the top for simple gathering, whereas the women carry out a type of hunting called ‘dam fishing’, where water is drained from a certain area and the fish are collected. The extensive knowledge that the Ba’aka people have of the forest is often heavily exploited by ivory traffickers, who use Ba’aka poverty to provide incentives for killing elephants for their tusks.The Ba’aka traditionally only hunted elephants for celebratory occasions such as weddings. There are some Ba’aka people taking a stand against these kinds of deals, being employed by the Cameroonian government as eco guards against poaching.

The Ba’aka people have managed to preserve their language (Baka). However, this is becoming more and more lost as they are forced to move from their traditional lands (due to illegal deforestation and logging). This means that they lose their knowledge that is directly associated with the land.

In terms of religious beliefs, the Ba’aka people are animist and believe in a forest spirit named Jengi, who they see as a guardian and mediator to the sovereignty, Komba. Some religious rituals include:

  • A post hunting ritual called Luma, in which the Ba’aka people sing songs of thanksgiving and praise to Jengi for what they have collected
  • A ceremony called Jengi where young boys volunteer themselves to be initiated by Jengi. After this initiation, they are free to walk in the sacred forest.

Traditional medicine is very important to the Ba’aka people and mainly involves herbal treatments taken from the forest, pureed into a pulp to treat things such as infertility. Their medicines are effective enough to attract non- Baka people who have taken ill.

Ba’aka people and COVID-19

Since the COVID pandemic was announced in Mid-March, the Ba’aka people have been isolating, grouping themselves by family or village. They returned to their camps in the forest, emulating their age-old tradition coined ‘molongo’ in which they go deep into the forest for extended periods of time to hunt and gather. However the low densities of the Congo Rainforest means that adequate protection from the spread of disease is difficult to meet. 

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