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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 407-435

Of Apes and Men: Baka and Bantu Attitudes to Wildlife and the Making of Eco-Goodies and Baddies

Centro de Estudios Superiores de Mexico y Centroamerica - Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas (CESMECA-UNICACH) [Centre for Mexican and Central American Studies-University of the Sciences and Arts of Chiapas], Calzada Tlaxcala # 76 (esquina con Diego Rivera), Barrio de Tlaxcala, San Cristobal de Las Casas, C.P. 29230, Chiapas, Mexico

Correspondence Address:
Axel Kohler
CESMECA-UNICACH, Calzada Tlaxcala # 76 (esquina con Diego Rivera), Barrio de Tlaxcala, San Cristobal de Las Casas, C.P. 29230, Chiapas
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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In this essay particular local attitudes to wildlife are compared with western representations of such engagement with the natural environ­ment. The ethnographic focus is on Baka (Pygmies) and their Bantu-speaking neighbours living side by side in the rainforest of the north-western Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Their current attitudes to gorillas and chimpanzees, both CITES-protected species, seem to confirm western stereotypes of Pygmy hunter-gatherers living in tune with their environment and caring for it, and of Bantu farmers as invading the forest with little or no conservation ethic. How did these moral tales of proto-ecologists versus 'eco-baddies' develop and what is the history of such polarising ideology? How have these ideas been appropriated and used in environmental discourse, and how do they map onto current perceptions and attitudes on the ground? Heeding these ques­tions a specific history of representations is discussed, starting from an as­sumed Pygmy aboriginality and a Bantu status as late-coming forest colonisers and leading to a pervasively dichotomous view of their cultures and socio-ecological relations. A closer, anthropologically informed look at contemporary Baka and Bantu perceptions and attitudes to wildlife, however brings home the need for historical contexts and in-depth research both into social and cultural configurations and into situated ecological and economic knowledges and practices to uncover subtle distinctions within local models and the complexities of behaviour.

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