Today we woke up early to head to Salapoumbé. First we talked to the chief of the town to arrange for a visit with a Baka tribe camp, about an hour hike into the forest. We were told we had to wait for a while so we walked around the town for a bit. We visited the town’s school, made up of small classrooms, with both French and English writing on the chalkboards. Of course, it is summer and the children were not around. We also looked around the town’s small flower garden, which was the first town garden we have seen so far, it’s not common in these small rural places.
We hiked into the Baka camp at the pace of the Baka men leading the way, which was almost at a jog, even while carrying provisions like salt and rice on their heads. We hardly had time to look around, we just had to keep moving and keep our eye on the tiny footpath so as to not get lost. It is Baka custom to paint their bodies using white clay for special occasions and celebrations, and when we arrived, everyone was painted in their own pattern. They were celebrating our arrival, singing a welcoming song, and were very happy to be our hosts! After a few minutes, noting that everyone else was painted, we also wanted to be painted too. We politely asked, in hand gestures, if we could be painted, and the chief grabbed some wet clay and painted designs on our arms and faces.
I think after this, the Baka got more comfortable having us around, and they started playing music and singing and dancing. Of course we joined in, throwing aside any inhibitions and just dancing for the sake of dancing. They formed a dance circle, and one person danced in the center then tapped the next person to dance. I think they were amused by our style of dancing, and tapped us every other turn to see more. They have such a unique way of dancing, shaking their hips really fast to the beat. To add to their dancing style, they often grabbed handfuls of fern fronds and other leaves and stuck them in the back of their pants or dress, almost resembling peacock feathers. They also have something they wear on their waist which holds cans filled with some stones, making a shaker when dancing.
We were amazed by this small community living in the forest, relying entirely on what the forest can provide. Their homes are small, dome-shaped huts with a structure made out of sticks which they hang large Calathea leaves on like shingles.
We set up our tents, which oddly resembled the dome shape of the huts, and started making dinner over a fire. A storm looked like it was rolling in, so they performed their traditional way of keeping rain away. They filled a bottle with water, stuck a hot pepper in the bottle, and put it near a fire. Later, we learned that it poured in Salapoumbé, but only drizzled at the Baka camp.
In the morning, the chief took us on a hike to look at medicinal plants they regularly use. The bark of many trees seemed to make up the most medicines. One called fever tree was used exactly as its name implies. The ground bark is applied in the nose for up to a day. Another tree was used in food as a substitute for onion. When the bark was scraped it had a strong onion odor.
We also learned of some spear hunting techniques and how to make a snare trap on small game trails, all very important skills for those who need the forest to survive. Baka and other tribes in the jungle regions of Central Africa have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years; it was a treat to spend time learning the ways that have sustained them. Once our hike was done we threw on our packs and started up the path. Just as we heard a song of hello when we arrived, a song of goodbye was serenading us as we headed up the hill to town. The walk back was not as fast and we had time to look more closely at some of the plants and small forest farms of plantains, cassava, and maize along the route.