From the National Geographic Explorer in Africa

Apr 08, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer

A dugout “piroque” journeys up the forested Lobe River
Young Bagyeli performer

Kribi, Cameroon

On our voyage northward along the coast of western Africa we headed eastward this morning toward the rising sun en route from Principe to the southern coast of Cameroon. Along the way we encountered a large group of pantropical spotted dolphins that hurried to our bow to ride the pressure wave ahead of the ship.

Soon we arrived at our anchorage off of the town of Kribi, Cameroon. From here we rode Zodiacs ashore to find our buses waiting for our various outings. We visited a small school dedicated to teaching English to many local children. The founder of the school, Phelexine Bola Nkwenti, spoke to us about their programs and the challenges of finding funding for their endeavors.

Southward along the coastal road, we paused to visit the waterfalls along the Lobe River close to where it spills into the sea. The short trail was mostly washed away by the high tides, so only the hardy walkers braved the waves for a glimpse of the falls. Others chose to remain by the parking area for a bit of shopping or a cold local beer. We were told that Cameroonians love of soccer is only equaled by their love of beer, so a few cold ones were enjoyed amid the tropical heat.

The highlight of our visit to Kribi was journeying up the forest-lined Lobe River by dugout canoes, or “piroques,” to visit a group of the Bagyeli people. The Bagyeli are a group of forest dwellers commonly called “Pygmies,” though that is a term has been historically used to describe a variety of hunter-gatherer tribes that have traditionally inhabited the forested regions of what is now southern and eastern Cameroon. It was challenging getting out of the piroques and up the mud banks where we were led into the forest. We soon came to an opening in the forest where there were a few small huts woven with palm fronds. This group of Bagyeli still live deeper in the forest, but come to this place to drum and dance for visitors such as ourselves, though groups like ours are few and far between in this unusual place. Smoke rose from behind the huts, adding a mystical ambiance to the music and flailing dancers. Singing vocals were backed by the driving rhythms of their drums and other percussionists beating rapidly and rhythmically on two long trunks of bamboo laid across the ground.

Sadly, the Bagyeli and other related forest tribes have historically been dominated by the many other groups that have immigrated into this region or colonized it. Today they continue to be driven out of their traditional forest homes by logging and mining interests, oil pipelines, as well as the formation of new national parks across their homelands where they are no longer welcome.

After our visit, we were paddled peacefully back down the river with throngs of swifts passing joyfully overhead. The final group that returned to the port well after sunset was treated to a dark and bumpy Zodiac ride back to the ship, yet another wild adventure on our epic journey.

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