How Europe’s greed for rubber destroys Cameroon’s rainforest, threatens livelihood of indigenous forest dwellers.
“When they destroyed the forest, they were actually destroying our homes.” Moise Ndjelee sits on a bamboo-made chair, surrounded by other Baka who squat before him to listen as he explains how “strangers” came and “forced them out” of the forest where they used to live.
Ndjelee is a Baka, an indigenous ethnic group spread through rain forests in Cameroon, Congo, Gabon and Central African Republic. They have been historically called pygmies, a term that is no longer considered respectful. There are an estimated 250,000-500.000 forest people, living in the rich forests of Central Africa. In Cameroon, the Baka community represents roughly 40.000 individuals.
For millennia, the Baka have lived as hunter-gatherers, surviving off the forest’s bounty of plants and animals and using its natural herbs as medicine. But their way of life is dying – forcibly so. The territory is shrinking for the indigenous forest communities as agro-industries destroy forests, depriving them of their ancestral habitat and customs.
“We grew up in the forest. The forest is our patrimony,” says the 80-year-old in Nyabibété, a village in the South region of Cameroon.
Ndjelee explains that about two decades ago, he had just returned from hunting and was about to prepare dinner when “strangers” arrived and informed the forest dwellers that they had to relocate. “They told us to come and stay here temporarily so that our children can attend school,” Ndjelee continues: “We agreed, and that changed our lives forever.”
That marked the beginning of another epoch for the indigenous community. The strangers Ndjelee referred to were rubber plantation operators.
What used to be the Baka’s rainforest home has been cleared and is now covered by a 450km2 rubber plantation operated by Sudcam plantation.