The world has just celebrated indigenous communities who are the best guardians of the forest. This year, the celebration is titled ‘the role of Indigenous Women in the preservation and transmission of Traditional Knowledge’. In reality, the living conditions of indigenous women are devastating due to deforestation, making it  difficult for their mission to be achieved.

Pygmees women, building their house in the forest

I sleep in an open air, I didn’t have enough leaves to finish my house… It’s very hard for me.” That afternoon, the sun is at its zenith, Monique is carefully putting away some leaves cut in the forest.  The young woman in her early forties, tells us that she “will sell these leaves in the coming days to buy rice to feed her small family.” Those leaves are precious to the community as gold since it served as one of the main sources of income in the past. But in the midst of the continuous deforestation by the agro-industries, we have been in search of them and now walk hundreds of kilometers (two days) in search of it.” adds moniques, sadly. 

Like Monique, the life of the whole village has been turned upside down by the cutting down of trees by the agro-industries, whose plantations are just a stone’s throw from the village. In spite of themselves, they are obliged to westernise and learn to embrace the urban culture. But some habits are hard to change. Their gods, for example, are in the forest, as are the remains of their ancestors. They often go there to commune with them. But with the forest crumbling by the minute, this connection has taken a serious hit. 

A Baka pygmy, preparing food with vegetables from their forest

Yet this small village, which does not have a hospital, relies heavily on the forest to stay healthy, and that’s not all. “This tree heals the woman, it is what we use for her prenatal care. We use the fruits of the Moabi tree to produce oil, which we use in our daily lives or sell to earn a little income. The wild mangoes also allow us to earn some money to send the children to school and to manage other needs.  The forest here is all our wealth. I can go and kill my game, I buy a litre of oil for my wife who has given birth and some rice,” says Ndongo, inhabitant of the village Nkoelon. 

Pygmies children, happy for the constant connection with nature

A pygmy without the forest is no longer a pygmy

This is a people in an identity crisis, and for this reason and many others, they are worried about the future of generations to come. “Here are pygmy children, they can no longer hunt, because the practice is becoming rarer due to deforestation. What are we going to do, what is a pygmy without the forest?” exclaims Marie Thérèse Manzouer, a Bagyeli pygmy living in Kribi, in the South Cameroon region. The indigenous woman does not hide her sorrow for her brothers whose living conditions have become very difficult. “A few months ago, I saw the inhabitants of this village in a car, which had helped them to go to another village to find leaves to build their houses. But such opportunities don’t come every day, the rest of the time my brothers have to walk because there is no more Raphia around them, everything has been devastated,” adds  Marie Thérèse.

Women, living in harmony with nature

Deforestation is not only harming one village, it is humanity that will pay the heavy price. In those villages, people feel out of breath, and very far from Yaoundé, where the decisions are taken. The small village, lacking drinking water and electricity, accepts in spite of themselves, the new life imposed on them by deforestation, a real nightmare. And this year again, They will be celebrated everywhere in the world, but on the ground,  the reality is very difficult to endure.