Introduction / History
The Bayaka Pygmies are one at least eleven different Pygmy groups in Central Africa. They are original inhabitants of the section of the Congo-Basin rainforest found in the southwestern Central African Republic and northern Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) between the Sangha and Ubangui Rivers. They freely cross the border between countries. The total Bayaka population is approximately 50,000. There are at least five different regional names for the Bayaka (Bambendzele, Baaka, Biaka, Beka and Bayaka). Over the years, anthropologists have used the terms Aka, Binga and Bambenga to refer to them. The language of the Bayaka, Yaka, is classified as Bantu C 10.
The Bayaka call themselves Bisi Ndima, the people of the forest. Their identity is tied to their relationship with Komba (the Yaka word for God) who created the forest and gave it to the Aka to use. A large body of fables defines their relationship with Komba. There is little tribal solidarity among the Aka. The little unity that exists between the different clans comes only when the Aka of different regions participate together in spirit rituals and through intermarriage among Aka clans.
The Bayaka interact with the sedentary village farmers who settled along the rivers and roadways of their territory. These villagers, referred to collectively by the Bayaka as Bilo, represent over 48 different ethnic groups of diverse origins and languages. The Bilo marginalize and denigrate the Bayaka in order to use them as a cheap source of manual labor. Traditionally they referred to the Bayaka as animals. Lack of solidarity makes the Bayaka easily exploited by the Bilo as well as by the local regional and national political leaders.
The Bayaka are masters at exploiting the resources of the forest, but the traditional hunter- gatherer lifestyle has not prepared the Aka to meet the demands of contemporary socio-economic conditions. The creation of National Parks has locked them out of traditional hunting territories. Logging operations swell the populations of remote forest areas. Market hunting wipes out the game to feed those associated with logging and supply the bush meat trade for in larger cities and villages. The Bayaka welcome assistance from sympathetic outsiders to help deal with these changes.
The Aka traditional religion developed to meet the needs of a forest society of subsistence hunters and gatherers. As the traditional lifestyle becomes less and less viable due to forest degraded by logging and the bush meat trade, the traditional religion becomes less and less relevant. This leaves the Aka of these degraded areas without spiritual moorings and very open to the Gospel which will fill the void. As Bayaka churches emerge they are a force for unity among the Aka people. Christian leaders emerge as spokesmen for the Aka people.
The Central African national translation organization ACATBA working with a translation agency has finished the translation of the gospel of Luke in Yaka. The Luke booklet in Yaka is being distributed, but Bayaka Christian leaders still need help transitioning to Yaka Scriptures from Bibles in Lingala (the language of the Republic of Congo) and Sango (the language of the Central African Republic). There is a need to test the translation for comprehension in the Yaka dialect spoken in the Republic of Congo.
As the vision for missions is promoted in Central African and Congolese national churches, the Bayaka have increasingly become a focus for missions' ventures from these national church associations. International missions working with the Bayaka include United World Mission, Grace Brethren International Mission and the Swedish mission Interact. The Bayaka are resilient. They are used to outsiders imposing their own agenda and will. Mission ventures can fall into this category. To prevent this possibility, the focus should be on promoting contextualized worship forms, the use the Bayaka language in worship and a commitment to work exclusively through Bayaka Christian leaders. The biggest need for expatriate missionaries is in the area of development. The Bayaka cry out for help with schools, literacy work and vocational training to deal with the contemporary socio-economic realities.
The Bayaka of the Likouala Region of the Republic of Congo have formed the Bayaka Association to be a voice to the local, regional and national government on issues of exploitation. When they get on the radio, they are able to address the specific needs of the Bayaka people and help break down stereotypes. There are several NGO's that fund human rights seminars for the Bayaka of the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo. These are worthy efforts since they bring together the Bayaka leaders who would not otherwise have contact.