Cameroon’s Pygmy Muslims – A Small Community with a Rich and Fascinating History

The Pygmies In Cameroon are one of the oldest inhabitants of Africa. Today, there are about 120,000 Pygmies in the world. Most of them live in a forested area, close to the Atlantic Ocean, in Cameroon, but also in Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Gabon and Angola.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Kamerun'da Müslüman Pigmeler

The word ‘Pygmy’ comes from Greek mythology, which means dwarf. This surname has been given to them due to their height, they are generally between 120 and 150 cm tall. They attract the attention with their lifestyle, which is very traditional and premodern. They gradually started to accept the outside religions and cultures. One of them is Islam.

The Pygmy’s lifestyle

Gerelateerde afbeeldingPygmies have a very simple and enjoyable lifestyle. They live in temporary cottages, built with bamboo trunks and large leaves, which they collected from the trees. They spend most of their time hunting in the deep forests and collecting fruits. They don’t use any form of money, instead they interchange products with other groups.

The Muslim Pygmies

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Mosque for pygmies in Cameroon

The Muslim community is very small, living in a wooded area near Cameroon’s Kribi city. There are two mosques located there. It all started with the visit of Muslims in 2004. Before that, they had no knowledge about the monotheistic religion, as they have no close contact with the outside world.

Living and knowing the forest by heart, is one of the many powerful characteristics of the Cameroon’s pygmy, however, their residential area is shrinking because of foreign industrial interests, the BBC stated in an article “It’s not just nature’s larder, but pharmacy, too. One plant, gouga, when boiled with water, is claimed to cure malaria; another, pando, purportedly soothes pain when rubbed on the skin.This way of living in the forest seems to outsiders to be primitive, but it’s in fact extraordinarily sophisticated,” An interviewee says in the article, “It’s almost a zen-like affluence they have, because all the resources they need for their lives are around them.”

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Kamerun'da Müslüman Pigmeler

 

Critique

While looking for information about the Pygmies, one can’t help but notice that many of the sources speak of them, and other traditional people, in a derogatory way. One source states that “before they embraced Islam, they were living naked hunting wild animals but after Islam they were introduced to the civilized life”. But what does ‘civilization’ mean and why should we be the ones who can determine if people are ‘civilized’? It’s the same critique that we use when Westerners describe third world people as ‘primitive’ and ‘uncivilized’. Regardless of the entry of Islam in that region, the Pygmies have always been a people with a rich history and culture.

Written by Hind Channa

Hind Channa

Hind Channa is an intern student at Mvslim.com. She's a Moroccan Belgian communication strategist and loves new challenges, to get completely out of her comfort zone, and travelling.