Hunter Gatherer Research

Baka ritual flow diverted

Hunter Gatherer Research (2015), 1, (2), 197–224.

Abstract

Ethnographers of Congo Basin hunter-gatherers have emphasised ritual as a levelling mechanism that strengthens community spirit and mediates power evenly between individuals and subgroups. Pursuant to recent research with a Baka community in Cameroon, now largely abandoning the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, I analyse the mutual causal interactions between ritual alterations and other markers of social change. I argue that there is a positive feedback loop between ritual change and general social transformation towards a less egalitarian mode of sociality. Increasingly pressed into convening with globalising forces and integrating into the capitalist economy, the rhetoric of development has been adopted by the Baka. This community talk of a history of isolation, as a public road was extended to the district as late as 2007 by a mining corporation. The result of the new road and burgeoning mining activities is that the community has been exposed precipitously to new peoples, lifestyles and technologies. ritual has become an arena in which Baka individuals grapple with a widely experienced ethnic identity crisis, leading to structural changes that encourage further social transformation. ritual diversion thus refers to social changes being explored through mimesis in ritual spaces, resulting in the changing character of ritual. It creates a hierarchical flow of power among the Assoumindele Baka. The hypothesis this case study yields is that, in egalitarian societies, ritual rebellion favours explorations of inequality, whereas in hierarchical societies it explores equality. In situations of rapid social transformation these ritual potentialities can be consolidated into the social order.

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Townsend, Cathryn