Amongst the Forest Spirits

Central African Republic

The Bayaka

Welcome to my world

…Often, when people seek out jungle dwelling tribes to photograph, the reality of their experience in the field doesn’t quite live up to the expectation they may have initially brought with them en route to their destination.  It’s 2009 after all, and the heyday of those kind of cultural expeditions has passed with the changing times, the images now most commonly to be found residing in the pages of old National Geographic magazines piled up on dusty shelves in second hand shops.

This fact of 20th century tribal life is something I’m quite accustomed to encountering on my travels. When recording visual records of indigenous cultures and traditions it is very often necessary to rely on a rather less veritable version of events, as a tourist would when, say taking a picture of a Beefeater at the Tower of London – a pretty photo opportunity no doubt, but which nevertheless bears little or no relationship to the reality of contemporary London culture.

In this respect, the Bayaka have been a veritable breath of fresh air.  As a few of our crew have already mentioned, this community we are now sharing the forest with are like the tribe you would probably imagine if you were asked to describe the archetypal jungle people.  There’s no doubt we’ve all very much fallen under their enchanting spell in a setting where not a day goes by without something extremely unusual happening.  This is the place where a simple trip to the river to wash turns into an incredible water drumming concert, where leaf spirits randomly jump out of the forest in broad daylight to drop off a dead deer in the village as a gift and where every evening, bar only one so far, after the women call with their enchanting yodelling, a plethora of luminescent forest beings come and dance amongst us in the pitch black of night, making psychedelic shapes and sending will-o-the-wisp balls of light flying over our heads.

Welcome to Bayaka world… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  We have come here to film men who scale 40m trees with just a short length of liana as a makeshift harness.  They do so in order to collect the prized jungle honey found in the nests of stinging bees way up in the canopy.  Tomorrow will be our first day up in the trees to see how they do it. To say I’m a little apprehensive is an understatement.  Everyone in our team is already getting stung between 10 and 20 times a day by the bees in camp, and we haven’t even approached a nest yet.

Pass the soap when you finished

Pass the soap when you're done

. . .

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One Response to “Amongst the Forest Spirits”

  1. Jane Gerard says:

    Beautiful! can you really feel the spirit of the land then as your writing suggest? This is important work that you do then, as this illustrates the equality amongst all things instead of the usual ‘dead’ feeling and lack of connectness most ‘modern’people preside within. After all the only way to preserve and conserve is to know you are part of it- hence the rituals around gratitude and the blessings- could you show more of this please? thank you JG.

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