Academic journal article African Studies Review

Baka and the Magic of the State: Between Autochthony and Citizenship

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Baka and the Magic of the State: Between Autochthony and Citizenship

Article excerpt


While Baka "Pygmies" are regarded as among Africa's most indigenous peoples, their autochthony seems lacking in features that would give them standing for special consideration by the state. Somehow, indigenousness does not equal autochthony. Other mobile indigenous peoples such as traders and pastoralists have also been seen as less than autochthonous. These groups lack "roots in the soil," which makes them less subject to the authority of the state than farmers. Further, as an acephalous society, Baka political culture cannot be appropriately adjusted to interact with the hierarchical structure of the state and related institutions. For this reason the problematic autochthony of Baka is less an issue of rights within the existing structure of the state-of civil rights-than of human rights. Unfortunately, this human rights issue is not really on any policy agenda, not even that of the working group for the U.N. Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Résumé: Tandis que les Pygmées Baka sont considérés comme les populations parmi les plus indigènes d'Afrique, leur identité autochtone semble manquer certaines caractéristiques qui leur donneraient un statut particulier aux yeux de l'état. D'une certaine manière, il semble que l'identité indigène n'est pas équivalente à celle d'autochtone. D'autres populations nomades telles que les commerçants ou les prêcheurs ne sont pas considérés comme autochtones. Ces groupes manquent de "racines dans le sol," ce qui les rend moins sujets à l'autorité de l'état que les fermiers. De plus, en tant que société acéphale, la culture politique Baka ne peut pas être ajustée de manière satisfaisante à la structure hiérarchique de l'état et des institutions qui s'y rattachent. C'est pour cette raison que le statut autochtone problématique des Baka est moins une question de droits au sein de la structure existante de l'état-de droits civils-que de droits de l'homme. Malheureusement, cette question de droits de l'homme n'est sur aucun agenda politique, pas même sur celui de l'équipe travaillant à la première version de la déclaration des droits des indigènes de l'ONU.


This article concerns the autochthony of Baka hunter gatherers of southeast Cameroon. In that region they are considered so quintessentially "of the place" as to occupy a space that overlaps the human and natural worlds. Most commonly known as Pygmies, they are regarded locally and internationally as one of the world's most indigenous peoples, but within the present discourse of autochthony they have received little attention. In this article I explore this apparent contradiction. On the one hand, contemporary discussions of autochthony posit autochthony as the basis for access to rights as citizens within a state. On the other hand, a lack of autochthony is the basis for minimizing civil rights, or outright exclusion from citizenship altogether. In a growing number of studies dealing with autochthony, it has been shown that there are many different foundations on which claims of autochthony have been made, and autochthony has been used to justify a variety of appeals to special rights. In all of these cases, however, the discourse takes place within the context of the state. Autochthony is a kind of "magic of the state": not magic that the state exercises upon citizens, but the reverse. Autochthony is not a coherent body of principles on which rights are based. It is a mystification of ancestry, a method used for the purpose of magically extracting wealth from the state.

The problem that this presents for the autochthony of Baka is that they have a relationship to the state and citizenship that is fundamentally different from that of urban citizens or even the most remote village farming citizens. What this means is that while Baka may be the most autochthonous of peoples, their autochthony is in effect purely symbolic. One could say that Baka are not autochthonous at all, that they are indigenous but not autochthonous. …

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