FEATURE-Forced from their forests, Cameroon's female pygmies bear brunt of alcohol abuse

Wed May 17, 2017 1:00pm GMT

By Josiane Kouagheu

DJIBOT, Cameroon, May 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - S porting patchy bruises on her forehead and right cheek, Maria moves gingerly as her four young children chase each other in their pygmie camp on the edge of a forest in eastern Cameroon.

"I spent all night fighting with my husband ... he came home very drunk," Maria told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the village of Djibot, constantly glancing over her shoulder.

"He asked me for food, which I had not prepared because I had morning sickness," added the expectant mother, who is in her late twenties. "He started to beat me, and I tried to not let myself get pushed around."

Alcoholism is a rapidly growing problem among some 50,000 Baka pygmies - nomadic hunter-gatherers who are usually less than five feet (1.5 metres) tall - living in eastern Cameroon.

Driven from their ancestral lands by logging and mining firms, and conservation efforts to save elephants and gorillas, and pushed into contact and conflict with forest-dwelling Bantu ethnic groups, many of the Baka are turning to alcohol to cope.

Most of the largely-illiterate Baka are living in huts made of leaves, bamboo and mud-baked bricks alongside southeast Cameroon's roads, just outside the protected reserves that they need permits to enter.

The women, like Maria, are suffering the most. Many say they are beaten regularly and badly by their drunk husbands, others are wrestling with alcohol abuse themselves, while some have turned blind or even died from drinking home-grown alcohol.

Struggling to adapt to life outside the forest, the Baka's problems of poverty, hunger and alcoholism are only likely to worsen, rights activists say.   Continued...

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