Essay from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

"Report from My Arrival at the Cameroon Field Station"

SHIKATA Kagari (Division of African Area Studies)

This is my first report since my arrival at the Cameroon Field Station in Ndongo village.

On July 13, I arrived in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. It is now the minor dry season here and the climate is very pleasant in contrast to the humidity and heat in Kyoto. The city of Yaounde is active as ever. The spread of mobile phones and the Internet in the past few years has been remarkable and wherever I go in the city, I can see advertisements by cell phone companies. Moreover, Internet cafes called “cyber cafés” are booming. When I first came to Yaounde three years ago, I used to go to a telephone shop known as a “tele-boutique” to make a call, but today, just like in Japan, mobile phones have become status symbols for young people. In the town, instead of Lingala music, I hear loud hip-hop and wonder for a second where I am. But as I talk with a woman selling bananas enthusiastically in the market or with a young taxi driver who calls out to me from a broken car window, I can believe that I am in Yaounde.

On July 21, I left city life in Yaounde, and our car started for the forest. In Eastern Cameroon, where the Field Station is located, green forests stretch as far as the eyes can reach. However, commercial logging by European companies is rapidly gaining momentum and the forests have been riddled with logging roads. Roads now extend into the depths of the forests that couldn’t be reached by car in the past, and the forests, which were once quiet, are now undergoing a major change.

On my way, I visited YASUOKA Hirokazu, an ASAFAS graduate student who has been doing research in a village called Zoulabot Ancien on Baka pygmies’ long-term foraging expeditions. When he began his research in 2001, there was no road for cars, and he traveled to the village on foot. But today, cars can drive right up to the doorsteps of the houses. At night the Baka people performed their songs and dance called “be” The rhythmical voice of the tom-tom and the polyphony of the women echoes in the silence of the forest, and the dancing of the forest spirits, the “Jengi,” emitted a mystical aura.

On July 23, I left Zoulabot Ancien and made my further to the south along the main road. On the way, I saw many trucks driving the other way carrying large trees such as Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon) and Sapeli (Entandrophragma cylindricum). At Moloundou, the end of the main road, I ferried across the river, and drove again for another hour before finally reaching Ndongo village. From Yaounde, I traveled well over 1,000 km.

Ndongo Village, where the Field Station is located, lies along the Dja River which runs along the border between Cameroon and Congo. Our house is in the Baka’s settlement, and we can hear the people chattering in their houses called “mongulu”.

One evening about a week after my arrival at the Field Station, I suddenly heard a huge animal sound behind the house, sounding like “ko ho ho!” It was a gorilla. Of course, I was more surprised than anybody else, but the entire village erupted in chaos and the men dashed into the forest. Whenever the gorilla growled, the people ran around in confusion and they too cried out. Apparently, the villagers failed to catch the gorilla. The roar of the gorilla, which I heard for the first time, was so powerful that I couldn’t but keenly feel afresh the strong heartbeat of the forest and the greatness of the forest that embraces such life.

For my pre-doctoral thesis, I conducted research on farming activities of the Bangandou farmers living in the rainforests in Cameroon, with a particular focus on the cultivation of plantain, their staple crop. Their livelihood depends on various activities that take place in the forest including farming, gathering, hunting, fishing, etc. but in recent years cacao growing has grown as a source of cash income, and there have been changes in their forest utilization and way of living. There is a large cacao plantation in Ndongo Village, and I heard that during the harvest season from September to December, all the Baka people in the village work on the plantation for wages. Cacao, the “money tree,” occupies a very significant position in the village, and some farmers have even purchased their own chainsaws. In the near future, is the bellowing of gorillas replaced by the roaring of chainsaws ?

And thus I conclude my first report upon arriving at the field station in Ndongo Village, which is still filled with excitement from the gorilla’s visit.

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