The Aka pygmies

Aka Pygmies

The Aka pygmies (also called BaAka, Gba-Aka, Bi-Aka, Bek`a,Yakwe,Yakpa, and Yakpawe) live in the Central African Republic and Congo (Brazzaville) and number around 5,000. Like the Mbuti and Efe of the Ituri forest, the Aka are true pygmies and adults are no taller 150 centi-meters (4 feet, 11 inches). According to geneticists they, along with the Mbuti/Efe and Khoisan, have the Y chromosome haplogroup B and mt (mitochondrial) DNA haplogroup L1, making them per-haps the oldest living group of modern man.

The Aka speak their own language, Diaka, as well as the Bantu languages of the populations close to them.The Aka are among the oldest of living groups of modern man and are most likely the descendants of the Tschitolian industry that dates back to around 25,000 years ago on the fringes of the rain forest. An ancient Egyptian (6th dynasty, 2300 BCE) account of an expedition that may have reached into central Africa records bringing back a pygmy dancer, and other ancient Egyptian references call pygmies “Aka.”

The Aka traditionally are hunter-gatherers and developed relationships with some 11 Bantu peoples who moved into the region. Aka provide skins, ivory, and wild rubber to their Bantu neighbors in exchange for foodstuffs that are not found in the wild. The Aka live in particlan groupings, or camps of three to four adult males who belong to the same male line of descent.

The Aka have become well known for their distinctive contrapuntal polyphony vocals accompanied by drums and hand clapping. They perform the music to mark the making of a new camp, funerals, and other special occasions. In 2003, the United Nations named their music one of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.The Aka were brought into the world economy in the late 19 th century to help supply the European market with ivory. Elephant hunting brought about a change in their society as elephant hunters gained prestige from their earnings.

Later, with the introduction of coffee, many Aka now spend significant parts of the year working on village farms during the best time of year to trap and net game. Like the Mbuti and Efe, the Aka have been targets for kill-ing squads called Les Efaceurs (erasers), who also are accused of cannibalism. It is reported to the UN representatives in sev-eral central African states that some of the rebel groups in the region hunt and kill pygmies, eating parts of their victims to gain the skills of those eaten, believing they can take on some of the abilities of those they eat.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Hewlett, Barry. Biographical sketch. http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/hewlett/introaka.html (accessed December 30, 2009).

Kent, Susan. Cultural Diversity among Twentieth Century Foragers: An African Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Kisliuk, Michell Robin. Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance. New York: Oxford Univer-sity Press, 2000.

Newman, James. The Peopling of Africa: A Geographic Interpretation.NewHaven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

“Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage.” http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index .php?lg=EN&topic=mp&cp=CF (accessed December 30, 2009).