THE FOREST VOICES TOUR
diary

March 11th 2014

This morning Andi and I went, with Pelembir and Mbeh (to represent Baka Gbiné), to the Sous Prefet's office at 8am. There was a whole welcoming committee. The head of the Gendarmes, the Commissar of Police (a nice man who seemed a bit embarrassed about the whole affair), the representative of the ministry of social affairs who was there to support Baka rights (who on previous meetings was obsessed about getting money from us to support a Baka man, [supposedly from Banana who we had never met, in his mid 20s and with family, but also very compliant to her wishes] to sponsor him through high school. We had a meeting with him where he said that he thought the Baka were better off leaving the forest, but we had agreed to help him through college until the government funds that we knew had been sent to the region for just such a purpose were released. - The officer of social affairs was very angry with Andi for even knowing about such funds - make your own judgement here). There was also other high standing local folk, as well as the head of an NGO for Baka rights (who we had had high hopes of working with to support the Baka) and "The Manager".

Before the meeting started I said to the Sous Prefet that I had been working here for over 20 years and had never had a problem with any previous Sous Prefet. His response was "but I'm more intelligent than any of the previous ones and can see through your game!".

We had to sit through 4 hours of being told that all white men were out to exploit Africa and that we were obviously there to exploit everyone. "The Manager" had told the Sous Prefet that we had been exploiting the Baka for years (ironic as he had originally made them sign a dubious document saying that they would give him 40% of everything they earned), and also made the preposterous accusation to the Sous Prefet that we smoked "hemp" at Gbiné.

Everyone had their say (except us), but most of the accusations were what other white people had done. At one point I had enough and was about to leave when the head of police gave me a dressing down for "disrespecting the office of the President". I apologised but pointed out that I had just been accused of being an exploitative, lying thief, to which he replied, "No, it was just all white people he was accusing." I pointed out the colour of my skin and sat down.

Michel, the Baka rights man, pointed out how Deep Forest had made a fortune from Pygmy singing and hadn't given any money, and how a group of Japanese film makers had "attached cameras to the bodies of dancers" (not sure what the problem was there), but no one could give any examples of how we had exploited the Baka.

4 or 5 hours later we left the office with the knowledge that we couldn't leave without various pieces of authorisation that would be impossible to obtain in Moloundou. We went to the local bar to relax and telephone all the people we could think of who might be able to get us out of the situation.

After having found that all the people who might be able to help us were away and not answering their telephones, I rang Messe, our well-placed Baka friend from Bertoua, who runs an NGO there. It was he who had given us our invitation letter for getting a visa and who was well behind the Forest Voices Tour. It also turned out, by one of these bizarre coincidences that keep cropping up when working with the Baka, that he is the son-in-law of the Moloundou Sous Prefet!

15 minutes after speaking to Messe he rings back telling us to go back to the Sous Prefet and that all is OK. We do that, and the Sous Prefet is all smiles, talking about his son-in-law, not a mention of the previous 5 hours grilling. He says that we don't need any papers and "bon voyage". The Baka magic is still working (we never doubted it for a moment).

We head back with the bus and pick everyone up at Gbiné. Being 5 hours late leaving, the biggest disappointment is that we don't have time to do a concert at Ayimbé’s village, Ngola 120. We stop there and explain why we're so late. They are disappointed, but accept the situation. We'll fit them in on the next tour for sure.

We sadly leave Ngolla hoping to reach Yokadouma, but the lights aren't working on the van so we have to stop in a small village where we find a shelter which we can all sleep under. We fall asleep to the sounds of the local Baka partying 'til dawn, the songs echoing out of the forest.

Martin


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