ROC: "Of Apes and Men"

Excerpt from "Of Apes and Men: Baka and Bantu Attitudes to Wildlife and the Making of Eco-Goodies and Baddies" by Axel Köhler, Researcher and Lecturer in Social Sciences, Centro de Estudios Superiores de México y Centroamérica – Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas (CESMECA-UNICACH).

Abstract: In this essay particular local attitudes to wildlife are compared
with western representations of such engagement with the natural environ-
ment. The ethnographic focus is on Baka (Pygmies) and their Bantu-speaking
neighbours living side by side in the rainforest of the north-western Republic
of Congo (Brazzaville). Their current attitudes to gorillas and chimpanzees,
both CITES-protected species, seem to confirm western stereotypes of Pygmy
hunter–gatherers living in tune with their environment and caring for it, and
of Bantu farmers as invading the forest with little or no conservation ethic.
How did these moral tales of proto-ecologists versus ‘eco-baddies’ develop
and what is the history of such polarising ideology? How have these ideas
been appropriated and used in environmental discourse, and how do they map
onto current perceptions and attitudes on the ground? Heeding these ques-
tions a specific history of representations is discussed, starting from an as-
sumed Pygmy aboriginality and a Bantu status as late-coming forest
colonisers and leading to a pervasively dichotomous view of their cultures
and socio-ecological relations. A closer, anthropologically informed look at
contemporary Baka and Bantu perceptions and attitudes to wildlife, however brings home the need for historical contexts and in-depth research both into
social and cultural configurations and into situated ecological and economic
knowledges and practices to uncover subtle distinctions within local models
and the complexities of behaviour.

Keywords: Central Africa, Pygmies, rainforest farmers, environmental perception, conservation

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