Accepted Paper:

The passion of fashion and moving: the transmission of body decoration among the Baka hunter-gatherers  


Yujie Peng (National Museum of Ethnology, Japan)

Paper short abstract:

The Baka hunter-gatherers have apparent different body decoration from their neighbors, the Bantu-speaking people. How do they transmit it across areas and generations? How do they address new fashions? This paper will discuss these questions by focusing on the Baka’s mobility and cultural transmission.

Paper long abstract:

The Baka in southeastern Cameroon are a Pygmy hunter-gatherer group living in the tropical rain forests of central Africa. They had settled down around the road nearby the village of Bantu-speaking people since 1950s. They still keep hunting and gathering in the forest, but had already adapted themselves to the village life. They typically have many scars on their skin resulting from treatments for diseases or procedures to protect themselves from disease. However, they also have some scars that are only for aesthetic purposes. Sharpened front teeth, tattoos, brandings, and piercings are common body modifications among the Baka. This paper treats over 1000 points of data about Baka body modification, observed in eastern Cameroon.

Through comparing tattoo designs of each area, apparent area gap is not found, and there is no linkage showed up between the Baka's tattoo designs and their clan, ethnic group of neighbors or location of their camp. According to observation and interview, Baka women are usually chatting and exchanging their ideas and skills of body decoration, and they travel frequently especially when they are adolescences. Hence, these patterns could be spread with their travelling. Although the performance of tattoo is not mandatory ceremony in Baka society, adolescences are still high on body decorations. Even so, there are changes of popular designs across generations. This paper will hold Baka's body decorations as an example to discuss whether adolescences are the dynamic of cultural innovation in Baka society and how do the Baka meet and address a new cultural object.

Panel P009
Sociality on the move: finding the way through hunter-gatherer ecological knowledge