Pygmy: Supernatural

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Aka Bayaka Pygmy Artists

This forest is my home
Semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers of nature’s resources, the Pygmies live in a large area in the equatorial forest of central Africa. Subdivided into several ethnic and language groups scattered throughout the Congo basin, the Aka Bayaka Pygmies live in the Central African Republic, where they are a minority of 70,000 people out of a total population of almost 5 million.

Joissin Bakanga - Show us the way, Our lord (2016)

The Central African Republic has inherited a difficult colonial history – and still experiences its consequences – on the background of the fights for the immense riches hidden in its soil: gold, uranium and diamonds, above all. Since 2012, the country has been struggling with chronic political instability which turns into continuous new waves of violence, inter-ethnic and, more recently, inter-religious conflicts.

Chamango - Aka Bakaya Pygmy (2016)

Veronique Poline - My field (2016)

The Aka Bayaka communities have always had relations with the neighbouring Bantu, “the big black men”, especially to trade the products of the forest for metal tools. However, the terms of this relationship drastically changed with the presence of the French colonial empire. Today, it is essentially based on the submission and exploitation of the Aka by the Bantu.

Albert Lambou - Offering a pagne fabric (2016)

Mado Poundiji - The eye of the ancestors (2016)

At the end of the 19th century, the high demand for ivory, rubber and timber first, and then the development of monoculture plantations by the French colonial administration (coffee, cotton, palm oil), imposed the introduction of forced labour and the exploitation of the Bantu villagers. Because of this growing subjugation by the French colonists, the Bantu were forced, in turn, to increase their pressure on the neighbouring Aka Bayaka. They were not only required to hunt more to feed the trade of ivory, meat and leather, but they were also forced to work in the Bantu’s fields and plantations.

Nicolas Mananga - Singer of singers (2016)

Pierre Ndagboede - Acajou wood (2016)

The Aka Bayaka Pygmies currently live in very difficult and vulnerable conditions, which are the result of the oppression by the French colonists and the consequences that this has had on the relationship between the Aka Bayaka and Bantu people.

Ane Nzeba - Pearls (2016)

Gerard Essombe - The healer (2016)

The Aka Bayaka Pygmies are regarded as inferior beings, “half human and half animal”, and are treated in an inhuman and degrading manner by their neighbours, the Bantu, who use them as slaves in their fields. Their work is underpaid: they get a cigarette or a bottle of beer for one day’s work. The Pygmies are not allowed to choose how they are paid. The products that the Pygmies sell are valued differently if they are sold by the Bantu. The Pygmies still barter, while the Bantu, who are used to the monetary system, exploit the situation and speculate against them. More and more often, the Pygmies get into debt with their Bantu masters; this legalized system of usury prevents their true emancipation.

Lelé Koungou - My father’s education (2016)

Yayu Feti - Bad hunt (2016)

Although the Central African Republic has signed the Convention No. 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organization) on indigenous and tribal peoples, promoting equality for all citizens regardless of their ethnicity or culture, its implementation at the local level is still somewhat problematic. The racial discrimination of Pygmy children at school and illiteracy exacerbate the exclusion of the Aka Bayaka Pygmies from the public, economic and political life. Most of them do not have a birth certificate or an identity card, which prevents them from travelling to neighbouring countries during the hunting seasons, or from claiming their rights as citizens of the Central African Republic.

Pierre Gboté - Honey gathering (2016)

Marie Masseka - The tattoo (2016)

Maurice Ekpenzele - I follow your path (2016)

Bekouende Nakoka - Dance of the gods (2016)

Their camps are less and less mobile, movements are limited in time and are mainly linked to seasonal gathering activities in the forest. The increase in the number of people who live in the camps worsens hygiene and health problems, with a gradual degradation of the diet and the spread of malnutrition. Children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable groups.

Alphrancine Elanga - Mark, tattoo (2016)

Pauline Bossea - Water, forest, earth (2016)

The home of each Pygmy is the forest; the camp is the essential place for each household, but more importantly it is the starting point to keep the forces of nature in the right balance and harmony. In the image that the Aka Bayaka havemof the world, each action is guided by the higher spirit of the forest: the Zengi spirit. Spiritual forces are present in all living beings: humans, animals, plants and mushrooms, and these play a key role in life and in the collective rituals. It is the task of the oldest in the village, the divine healer and the master hunter to intercede, get to know and make peace with the supernatural forces, the spirits of the hunted and killed animals, or the spirits of the ancestors at the most difficult times for the community.

André Ikpeo - The koka bird (2016)

Henriette Nande - I dream (2016)

The idea for this collection comes from the desire to present the richness and value of the Aka Bayaka culture, with the aim of claiming the respect and dignity it deserves. Among many questions, these people also need answers. How can we protect their traditional cultural values from modernity, while avoiding any form of “folklore”? How can we deal with the processes of globalisation, which also arise from our most unaware choices, and have consequences on seemingly faraway places, threatening the existence of an entire population?

Paolo Prina
Art Curator

Ambroise Essanza - The dance of the great elephant hunter (2016)

Credits: Story

Art Direction, Photography and Production
Project Management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd.
Paolo Prina
Project Coordinator
Oriano Mabellini
Enrico Mascelloni
Barbara Liverotti
Giorgia De Luca
Editorial Coordination
Enrico Bossan
Luciano Benetton
Enrico Mascelloni
Paolo Prina
Editing and Translation
Simona Caldera
Emma Cole
Valentina Granzotto
Pietro Valdatta
Art Direction
Daniele Tonon
Marco Zanin (artworks)
Bienvenu Serge Kouka- Binguimale, Malick Samba (artists)
Marco Pavan
Jeanne Yano - Evil heart – Good heart
Special Thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Oksana Ignatush
Davy – Armel Bitsiboulou
Bienvenu Serge Kouka – Binguimale
Laura Prini
Malick Samba

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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