A Woman, Thinking

People of the Forest

Words on WordsPoppy LochridgeComment
DR_Congo_pygmy_family

This week's questions were challenging. The question below is very specific about what it asks us to do, and, well, I don't think it's really the most critical need at the moment. We are talking about the Aka or Baka people in Africa, who have lost nearly all of their traditional homeland to commercial interests and against whom there is still a very strong sub-human prejudice. While it's nice to acknowledge their cultural heritage when we in the Western world appropriate it in our music (See Hancock, Herbie and Ciccone, Maddona), I think helping them with their continued survival in as authentic of a lifestyle as possible might be slightly more important. To that end, after the essay below will be some links to learn more about the Pygmies.


If you were in the field of cultural advocacy, and were asked to develop a program that would educate the “pygmies” about new technologies, their rights as individuals and communities, and the use of music by their own communities, outside scholars, entertainment industry representatives, and so forth, what would be the three most important pieces of your program.

The first piece of my program would be to set up radio stations in several “pygmy” villages and teach broadcasting. Each station would be equipped to broadcast, and also have a radio receiver so that they could tune in to each others’ broadcasts as well as other world wide radio. If it were possible to connect these radio broadcasts to the internet to share with the world, I would do so as well. This would achieve several worthy goals related to giving the pygmy people control over their own media: one, it would give them a public voice and a means of sharing their own story in their own words; two, it would allow them to listen to each other, connecting diverse bands separated by distance, and three, it would connect them to the wider world, and build a basis for shared cultural understanding.

The second piece would be literacy. Literacy is historically closely tied to advances in abstract thought and increased vocabulary. “In a purely oral culture, thinking is governed by the capacity of human memory.”(1) Literacy is key to developing the Forest People’s understanding of their rights both as people and as musicians not only because its tie to abstract thinking, but also because it enables them to participate in the documentation of their own heritage, to communicate with others, and because it increases their ability to participate in commerce and trade(2). All of these benefits contribute to the Baka’s ability to develop political power on their own behalf.

The final piece would be a theory of currency, trade, and markets. Right now, the Pygmies have a barter economy, where surplus materials are shared between families.(2) Their current economy doesn’t place a value on art - music is shared between people much as food and resources are, which puts them at a disadvantage when understanding intangible culture as a resource. This piece of the program would not focus specifically on music as a commodity, but would rather teach the theory behind currency as a promise of a barter in the future. This would target the young, who are best prepared to adapt a new technology to their existing culture.

These three technologies have been selected after consideration of what the objective needs of the Baka appear to be and taking into account the egalitarian structure of their culture. None of these technologies are likely to directly alter that structure, although they all allow for changes to be made in the future if the pygmy people so choose. After all three of these pieces have been introduced, the program could then begin to ask questions about intellectual property rights. Having taught the ideas behind currency and markets, we would then be able to express the idea of a market for music; having learned to read and write, the Baka would be able to document their music and their wishes for the use of it; and having provided communication with each other and with the world via radio (and possibly internet), they will be able to communicate those wishes. Not coincidentally, these technologies also put them in a position of being better able to advocate for their political rights and their way of life.

(1)  Carr, Nicholas (2011-06-06). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2) http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=9&ReportId=58627


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aka_people
  2. http://www.baka.co.uk/baka/index.html
  3. http://www.bakabeyond.net
  4. http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=9&ReportId=58627