Aka Information

Location: Central African Republic
Population: 30,000
Language: Aka
Neighbors: Ngandu
Types of Art: The Aka are one of three groups of pygmies, collectively called BaMbuti, of the Ituri Rainforest. Their complex polyphonic music has been studied by various ethnomusicologists. Simha Arom has made historical field recordings of some of their repertoire. Michelle Kisliuk has written a detailed performance ethnography (with audio and video companion website, Oxford University Press, New York). Mauro Campagnoli studied their musical instruments in depth, comparing them to neighbouring pygmy groups such as the Baka Pygmies).
History: With the slave trade of the 18th century came migrations of tribes in the area, with resultant pressures on the Aka. In addition, at the end of the 19th century the Aka were the major elephant hunters that provided ivory for the ivory trade. This trade used the tribes with whom the Aka were affiliated as middlemen. From 1910 to 1940, rubber production was desired by colonialists, and forced labor of the tribesmen with whom the Aka were associated increased the demand for bushmeat, and some villagers escaped into the forest, where they put added demands on the Aka. The Aka were never involved in the forced labor schemes directly, but the increased demands for meat and skins encouraged the more efficient method of net hunting instead of spear hunting. This shift in hunting technique changed the social structure of the Aka. In the 1930s the French encouraged the Aka to move into roadside villages, but like the Efé of the Ituri forest, most Aka disappeared into the forest and few joined the villages (except in a few villages in Congo-Brazza). Today, the world economic structure encourages Aka participation in coffee plantations (of the Ngandu and other neighboring farmers) during the dry season, which is also the hunting season. This has changed their societal structure even further. Employment with the ivory and lumber trade bring in far more money than their traditional lifestyle, further putting pressure on their culture
Economy: The Aka tribe gain sustenance from 63 plant species, 20 insect species, honey from 8 species of bees, and 28 species of game. They also trade with their farmer neighbors for agricultural goods and, more recently, often plant their own small seasonal crops. These hunter-gatherers have a symbiotic market relationship with neighboring villagers (collectively known as Ngandu). While the Ngandu are primarily farmers, they will also occasionally hunt for bushmeat, and also keep domesticated livestock. They exchange their village goods, including crops of manioc, plantain, yams, taro, maize, cucumbers, squash, okra, papaya, mango, pineapple, palm oil, and rice for the bushmeat, honey, and other forest products the Aka collect. There are over 15 different village tribes with whom the approximately 30,000 Aka associate. Their hunter-gatherer lifestyle exposes them to blood of jungle fauna, thus they have among the highest rates of seropositivity for Ebola virus in the world. The World Wildlife Fund of Washington, DC, has worked with the BiAka since the 1980s to protect gorilla habitats, minimize logging of forest, and promote other conservation efforts while empowering the BiAka and other indigenous peoples
Political Systems:
Religion: Fathers of the Aka tribe spend more time in close contact to their babies than in any other known society. Aka fathers have their infant within arms reach 47% of the time and have been described as the "best Dads in the world." Males unable to obtain multiple wives as a result of belonging to the lowest rungs of the economy substitute resources for parental obligations. It has been observed that they pick up, cuddle, and play with their babies at least five times as often as fathers in other societies. It is believed that this is due to the strong bond between Aka husband and wife. Throughout the day, couples share hunting, food preparation, and social and leisure activities. The more time Aka parents spend together, the greater the father's loving interaction with his baby.
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