I Believe an Update is in Order

Well, well, well…look who finally showed up to this dust-covered, moth-balled blog of ol’. That’s right, after an insanely long hiatus, we are back!

This extensive break from blogging was never supposed to last so long. In fact, finishing writing up at least the Africa part of our trip had been my New Year’s resolution for the past 2 years. But in the grand tradition of New Year’s resolutions, its come to nothing.

But alas, I am giving in another crack before the ravages of time further erode our memory of events. This blog, after all, is our attempt to record the memories of our grand adventure so it will serve as our memento of the trip and that time in our lives where we threw caution to the wind, worked and saved then lived out a dream of motorbiking the world.

For those of you who’ve stuck around, we issue a hearty, fond hello!

Perhaps a recap of what’s gone on since returning to Oz is in order before jumping back to our African travels.

After riding across Australia, we returned to our home base of Perth, Western Australia.


The timing of the end of our trip was near to ideal. It was the start of a big recovery in the resources sector that had started its downward slide at the time we left on our trip. Within a couple of weeks, I was working as a geologist in an underground nickel mine. Mick soon found himself running a gold mine in the Murchison region of Western Australia.

Our return coincided with a significant lull in the housing market in Perth. We stumbled into a house purchase. We weren’t really looking and bought the first thing we looked at and got a great deal on it.


I graduated from university for the degree I had been finishing on the road.



I conned Mick into a cool graduation present. He was given the following brief; second-hand, no more than AUD10K, Italian – but different from all my previous Italians. He nailed it!




Mick then got enticed by a previous boss to jump mining companies to take the underground manager position of a large mine in Kalgoorlie called Kanowna Belle. High tonnage, low grade, geologically complex, remnant mining, seismic – its a monster. There is some cool animation of the mine here to anyone who likes that kind of thing.


I joined the same company and worked at another one of their gold mines.



We had our 10th anniversary and celebrated with his and hers Husabergs. Now we were back working for ‘The Man’, adventure biking was out, and enduro biking was in. I got the 2012 FE390 while Mick got 2010 FE 540. True Husabergs with 70° engines.




Mick started to build a massive 2 story, 3-bay garage on our steep block with his dad. They did nearly the whole thing themselves. And it would have been bigger were it not for  the ‘oppressive’ condition I placed on it by not allowing it to be larger than the house.


Then, way out of left field, Mick was requested/told to relocate to Fairbanks, Alaska to be the mining manager at Pogo, a big gold mine that our company had purchased about a year previous. They needed us to move asap. So we did.


Anyone interested in big underground mines will enjoy this cool animation


So there we were smack bang in the Alaskan interior, transitioning from Australian summer (43C/110F) to Alaskan winter (-37C/-35F). Starting new jobs, finding a rental and filling a house, getting a car and finding someone to deliver the baby that was just 2 months off arriving into the world. It all got organised in time (got the truck just a few days before going to hospital.) And we now have a rad little dude to call our own.

Meet Maxwell. Max is a most excellent little man. Perhaps recognising we had no idea what we were doing, he’s taken care of much of the parenting heavy-lifting. He is very chill, sleeps like a teenager, feeds like a champ and is a happy, not so little legend. He’s got mum’s eyes, dad’s frown, and is rocking the 95th percentile for everything. We are naturally counting down the days till he gets his first motorbike.

So there you go. That’s what’s been going on. We are now set up in Alaska, slowly accumulating all the toys again for making the most of one’s time in the 49th state. We’ve signed on to stay for a couple of years but already feel we might stay a lot longer than that. And when it comes time to return to Oz, we are planning to do it by land. Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia still beckon us. Mick’s already mentally designing an Oka Camper for the job. Will be sure to have a mount for a dirt bike on the back.

Now to the blog update.

In the interest of actually getting this thing documented for posterity, it is going to be a bit of a half-arsed job compared to what we did in the past. Previously we dove deep into random insights of history, politics, culture and trivia we acquired along the way. We wanted to capture all we saw, experienced and learned. That took time, and we are a little short on that these days. Now, where were we? Ah yes….. Cameroon…..

Blog 74 by Tan: Adventures With Opera Jack – Part 3

After spending the day in the village, we decided to go ahead and stay another night in order to hear some of this singing we had heard so much about. We also wanted a little more time to see Jack nicely settled. It was a brave thing for him to be doing and we had just met we wanted to make sure he would be well looked after all the way out in the forest.

Morning breaks. Funny how closely our tent resembled the traditional dwellings.

Morning chill session.

Our trail back to the logging roads.

Jack informed us the BaAka enjoyed few things more than singing…. listening to themselves singing is one of those things. Jack also told us that Louis Sarno had told him the forest people he lives with also enjoy watching his DVDs. The standout favourite film in his village is The Terminator.

Jack playing songs of Aka from Central African Republic.

Child rearing is a communal affair and as is common throughout Africa, kids play a central role.

Here you can see this young girl has had her teeth filed.

Most places in African babies are strapped to the mothers back with a fabric like this one. However the BaAka method is to strap babies to their sides – this gives the baby more face-to-face interaction with the caregiver.

We spent the afternoon just chilling and dozing in the shade in anticipation of the night’s singing festivities. The men of the village were particularly excited as they were keen to ‘get on the turps’ as we would say back home. Jugs of local spirit were purchased and shared around, but not nearly as freely as everything else we had seen shared. And it was the men who were hogging the booze and the women had to argue before getting some for themselves.

We never did figure out precisely what this was, but we had seen it eaten in many places in Central Africa. The leaves are piled together then sliced very finely. They are then boiled for a long time. The taste is something we just couldn’t get used to. It tastes extremely bitter. To me it tasted like sucking on coins.

One of this little baby’s minders. BaAka are extremely indulgent to children in infancy. Babies are held almost constantly by multiple care-givers and babies are attended to immediately if they fuss or cry. Despite this woman not being his mother or (even a current mother to another infant) she had the baby suckling at her breast. The baby didn’t get anywhere with it but it was a matter of comfort. I later discovered that anthropologists have observed in the Aka, the extremely rare practice of “male breastfeeding” where male caregivers have been recorded offering their nipples to babies needing comfort when no female caregivers were around. The BaAka have been dubbed “the world’s best fathers” as BaAka fathers are within reach of their infants 47% of the time, apparently more than fathers in any other cultural group on the planet. That is what I read on the internet anyway.

A young girl helping with meal preparation. Apparently, by 3 or 4 years of age children can cook themselves a meal on the fire, and by the age of 10 BaAka children have sufficient subsistence skills to survive in the forest alone if need be.

I cannot stress enough how important music is to the everyday life of the BaAka. This made it extra special getting the opportunity to witness their reactions to Jack singing German and French opera. Note the young fella on the left covering his eyes to better hear the music.

It is hard to imagine that they had heard anything like it until that point.

When Mick and I heard Jack sing it was arresting and we are hardly opera aficionados. The reaction of the group was fascinating. They listened with such intensity, most with eyes closed, and looks of deep contemplation on their faces. One woman’s reaction was particularly strong. When Jack’s song was finished she had the look of a person who had been underwater and just surfaced for air.

Jack would be staying with the BaAka for a couple of months and would miss Christmas. We told him to write his family a message and we would deliver it by biker post “the world’s slowest and least reliable delivery service”. We sent a photo of his note and him writing it to his mum on Christmas day. This is that photo.

Dusk settled and groups of younger people from nearby villages started showing up. It seemed the children and adolescents would be dominating proceedings. A fire was lit. And we soon came to understand what all the fuss was about. Hours of singing ensued.

Here is Jack is belting out some opera tunes.

This lady had a particularly strong reaction to his singing.

After all the concern that this group of BaAka might have lost a lot of their singing traditions with increasing exposure to the outside world, it was so lovely to see singing traditions alive and well in all the young people there that night. Most BaAka music is famed for its complexity and its polyphonic nature where several melodies are sung simultaneously. The melody and rhythm are repetitive and accompanied by polyrhythmic percussion.

More of Jack’s singing. Here is some audio to go with that.

Most of the singing was carried out by the children and youths but several adults stepped in from time to time for what seemed their general enjoyment and coaching purposes.  Here you can hear some adults singing along. 

This young fellow was deemed by everyone to be the best percussionist around. A big fuss was made when he arrived.

The night’s festivities came to a disappointing end when a protracted fight broke out. By all accounts physical violence is quite uncommon amongst the BaAka with violence against women being especially rare compared to other societies including our own. It was hard to determine the cause and what was going on with no shared language, but it appeared a young BaAka bloke from a nearby camp was making a nuisance of himself and pushed things too far. We had observed the fellow being obnoxious and pushing other guys about, getting in people’s faces and just generally appearing desperate for a reaction. Those he hassled had exercised a lot of patience by just walking off and ignoring him. But he wouldn’t quit. He was getting in their way grabbing at their clothes until someone finally had enough and went at him.

People were obviously enjoying themselves.

And the older ones in particular loved hearing their singing immediately played back to them via Jack’s recording device.  Some songs will have little variation throughout but there is a lot of improvisation involved.

The most curious thing about it all was that he was easily knocked on his backside, scarcely putting up a fight. We all thought that was that but he just kept coming back and harassing people and getting knocked down. Then it became a bigger affair with more of the blokes involved. The instigator ended up copping a sound beating. At one point a woman grabbed a big log off the fire and smacked one of the guys in the back with it sending embers flying. I assume she may have been a wife or mother trying to stop someone close to her getting involved. Totally outsized and outnumbered the guy was dragged off somewhere else where we had no idea what was going on. It was an unpleasant end to the night and I found it quite sad and confronting. Not long after that we went to bed.

Mick and I was stunned to hear such complex music coming from such young kids.

The next morning we set about packing our things and trying to gleam what had happened the night before. I couldn’t imagine we would see the instigator again and if we did he’d not be in a good way. So imagine our surprise when we see him strolling around the camp the next day. I would have thought it would be the last place he wanted to be considering the strife he went to so much effort to bring upon himself.
We did notice that Jenga the chief watched him very carefully as he went by, and that one of the kids in this camp now had his sunglasses that he seemed so proud of the previous day. They were just the lenses of sunglasses that he affixed to his face by a piece of string. But they were a material item he had that others didn’t. At least until he caused trouble and lost them as a result.

The ladies time to hang out in the communal area.

Some kind old ducks. They seemed interested in my hair, skin and clothes.

I must have been one of the biggest women they had ever seen.

As uncool as the previous night’s fight was it didn’t really have us worried for Jack and his plans to stay in the village for the next couple of months. We were by this point sure he would be treated well but suspected he would get bothered by the Bantu villagers looking to extract money, gifts and favours. Some had already come and tried to tell him that he needed to travel to a larger village and get permission from them to be there. He’d have to pay for a moto taxi to take them there…and they could arrange one for him. Hmmm.
Call us cynical but that looked a lot like an attempted extortion exercise but such is the nature of travel in Central Africa, especially with the recent reports on it from Cross Chartering. Where poverty abounds, and corruption is endemic people will do what they can to get money from those who seem to have more than enough. Which relatively, of course, we do. After all this time in these parts it had started to play on my mind heavily. Each attempted extortion, be it a fabricated fine or an outright demand for money, I would get progressively more angry and resentful of it when it happened. Then I would have such periods of guilt for that anger and for having such wealth and security in life that I would be convinced we utterly deserve it.

But back to Jack – We were actually more concerned at how he would be able to physically hold up in the environment for that kind of time. I was worried about malaria or something waterborne and nasty not to mention skin conditions that were common in the forest environs. But he was a tough guy with a great attitude and would have people looking out for him. That is what we repeatedly told each other over the intercom after we had said our goodbyes and rode away. I had tears in my eyes and remarked how it felt if strange (if not totally wrong) to be leaving him there…even though that was the very purpose of this little trip of ours.
On the ride back we ruminated on the experiences we shared over the last few days. We were left feeling grateful for our mutual comfort of throwing plans out the window and acting with spontaneity when something and someone interesting presented itself. And Jack and his random solo quest certainly fit that bill. What a pleasure to have met him.

Here we were trying to communicate about tattoos and how they were done. Facial tattooing is common amongst the BaAka, particularly the women. I saw several ladies with lovely facial tattoos but was too shy to ask for a photo.

They were quite stunned at my tattoos.

Jenga and his son I am guessing.

We thought Jack would do well under his care.

The ladies.

The ride back to Ouesso was swift as we didn’t have to worry about breaking Jack and we knew where we were going. We were soon at the river loading the bikes and not long after that we were back and our favourite restaurant in town making up for lost meals. We’d been gone just a few days but it felt a great deal longer.

We asked if anyone wanted to get on the bike and this lady was keen.

If you look closely you can see some fine tattoos on her forehead.

We run PivotPegz footpegs which are an excellent Aussie product that I cannot recommend highly enough. At about $AUD220 a set I thought Mick was nuts to buy them. But I immediately fell in love and will never be without them. They are a wide and very sharp peg. When I put someone with barefeet on the bike I will always rest my boot on the peg and have them step on my boot and save their feet from the spikes. But this woman was so keen she beat me to it. Mick and I were shocked to see her stand barefoot on the sharp pegs like it was nothing. In this photo you can see Mick telling Jack to take his shoe off to get a sense of how tough her feet must be to have done that.

And here I am taking the big man for a spin.

He enjoyed it.

Showing one of the women how to use the camera.

So we could get a photo of our 3-man motorbike gang.

The ride out

The next day Mick serviced the bikes. Once again Mick dropped his oil and was greeted with unwelcome ‘glitter’ in the oil. He then cleaned out the oil cooler but didn’t manage to get much more metal out of it. Mick then got a long piece of hooked wire and pulled of the clutch cover off and went fishing for bits from the lunched clutch in DRC.

Before leaving Jack in the forest we recorded the GPS co-ords of the very spot he was camped. We then wrote his mum a message and left the co-ords with her. It was a small and simple act for us but we were to learn it meant a lot to her. It was a great demonstration that little gestures can mean the world to someone else. So do them at any opportunity.

Evidence of the butterfly massacre that was the ride out of the forest.

Mick could see some bits through the sump plug sitting underneath the oil which with difficulty he managed to extract. He was also able to see the sump plug thread has been damaged as a result of bits of clutch ali on the thread the last time he screwed in the plug. Not good news but that’s the way the mop flopped, he just had to be careful now on when tightening the plug.  After 3 flushings of the motor he got a fair bit of crap out of the sump and it was looking pretty good again.

With the power still out since the previous night in Oeusso, we hit the streets to escape the heat of our modest little hotel room. We returned to our favourite road side shack for dinner where we had a good feed of fried fish, plantains and rice, washed down with tolerably cool beer.

Into the belly of the beast once more

The next day saw more resting, organising and bike work. This time Mick pulled off the top of the motor and cleaned out more fine aluminium. He also pulled the stator cover off and determined it was ok in there. Mick got the bikes back together then we went to Nenophur restaurant for one last time. And just like that another day had passed in Africa.

Feasting after a few days of minimal food in the forest. Here is Mick rocking his new second-hand shirt.

Vegetables drowning in butter and grilled chicken. French African fusion.

This pic might not mean much to anyone else – but it shall be a life-long inside joke for us so must be included.

We met these lovely kids from China who were here working on the nearby big hydroelectric project. It was great chatting with them and getting their impressions of the place. They both saw working in Africa as a good opportunity for their careers but it was not without its difficulties. The young woman was a French translator. She bemoaned the corruption of the place and how the police were constantly showing up seeking money. She worried the unrelenting corruption would stop any progress being made in Congo. She pointed out that, “yes, there is corruption in China but we waited until we got richer first.” Not sure it that is exactly true but it was certainly how she felt.

Before leaving I broke Mick the inexplicably devastating news (for him) that his beloved principal riding shirt “Big Red” would not be joining us on the rest of our travels. His ride had ended. Mick’s clothing attachment issues had led to the shirt becoming outrageously indecent. Many Africans take a lot of pride in their appearance and when going out in public often dress impeccably. You can be in the middle of the jungle and find people in devastatingly white, perfectly pressed, long cotton dress shirts. And there we were in heavily worn motorcross gear. On the bright side few people asked us for money as the state of our dress deteriorated over time.

NSFW – Big Red’s last stand.

The reason we were sticking so doggedly to our clothing was that it was all expensive 100% merino wool. Merino is a wonder fabric and most of our on-the-road wardrobe (including our underwear) is made of it. The main benefit of wool is that it does not support bacteria, which is what makes you and your clothes stink. Provided your clothes are dry they can go weeks without a wash without smelling. Also, they keep you warm even if they get wet, unlike most other fabrics. This is why we didn’t want to get rid of them, as we would have to wash or cloths a lot more often in synthetic materials. But now….it just had to be done. Mick threw the shirt out, even though, as he reminded me many times since, “it still had a few more washes in it, easy.”

Mick grudging admitted its best days were behind it.

The next morning we finally set about leaving; more than a week after our planned 20 minute pit stop to the place. We packed up and said our goodbyes to the friendly Cameroonian caretaker that had looked after us. As I paid the bill I told him to keep the change thinking I was giving him a few extra dollars. Mick then informed me that no, I had given him $AUD10. It was an extravagant tip for these parts and it sent me stressing about money. Big time.

For us it is a delicate balance being conscious of spending whilst not allowing ourselves to fall into the void of stressing about money, expenditure and the real boggie man under the bed – lost income. It can become a slippery slope that sends you straight back to work and somehow into the arms of a gigantic mortgage and the feeling that you are safe and doing it all right.

Attempting to get fuel – hours and hours of getting nowhere in stifling heat and humidity.

My money thoughts were promptly high-jacked when we rolled up to the petrol station. It was mayhem and we quickly learned the reason was that the town had been without fuel for 3 days. The station had just started up again when we arrived. We waited and waited while the lines got bigger and more chaotic. We learnt some people had been camped at the station for days waiting. After 2 hours of the futility of lining up was painfully apparent. There was no order and most frustratingly the bowser operators were prioritising filling up the black marketers first who would give them a cutback and then take two steps from the bowser where they were trying to get double the price out of people. Annoyed with the whole state of affairs and sweltering in the heat I decided to go into the air-conditioned servo-shop and get some drinks and snacks.

Amongst the scrum at the bowser you can see the black market fuel sellers pushing in then creating more congestion and shamelessly selling the fuel at a remarkable price.

Inside waiting was a Chinese man who I got chatting to as I wasn’t one to miss the opportunity to practice my Mandarin. I found out that he was an engineer living in Ouesso with his father and brother and together they ran a construction firm. He said he didn’t mind it here, saying it was a good place to do business and that “China has just too many people.”

It turns out he was from Nanjing, a city near to where I had spent several years. After a nice chat I told him I had to return to the bikes and wait for a chance to get fuel. As I went to leave he became very thoughtful and said to me in a serious tone “because you speak my language, I feel that I must help you.” Then before I knew it he had ordered one of his workers to fill our bikes up with fuel from their black market stash. I told him it was not necessary but he was so serious that he ‘must’ help us. Afterward we tried to get him to take some money but he refused. He said the fuel was from the company and it is fine. I said, “but what about your boss”. To which he said “I am the boss”. In this part of Congo, 60L of fuel costs a not so small fortune. We were just stunned. Perhaps as the Cameroonian caretaker had been, but while my generosity (the extent of it at least) was inadvertent, this guys was not.

Our knight in shining armour.

We couldn’t get over his generosity.  Especially as it saved us more hours waiting in the sun.

Mick enjoying pointing out that he took me to Paris. Wrong Paris.

So half the day was over by the time we were fuelled and moving which made a border crossing unlikely for that day. On the bright side Mick had succeeded in getting his bike to run a bit cooler than before. But it was still outside the realms of the norm and running a few degrees hotter than mine.   We ended up making 275km for the day before finding a nice little auberge for the night in Souanke.

Tomorrow a new country awaited us.


Blog 74 by Tan: Adventures With Opera Jack – Part 2

The next morning we rode the short distance to the BaAka settlement and met Jenga, the village chief once more. As Jack had informed us the BaAka are considered by anthropologists to be one of the most egalitarian societies ever studied and considerably more so than our own western cultures. Sharing, cooperation, and autonomy are front and centre of BaAka core values.

More signs of malnutrition in these kids. Sad.

Quite a different look to the nearby Bantu village.

The dwellings were more rudimentary and easily assembled and disassembled when it came time to move on.

Having a designated chief is a relatively recent development and one thrust on them by the outside Bantu tribes. Formerly decisions were reached by consensus and there wasn’t an individual leader as such. However as the Bantu tribes came to dominate the BaAka group, Bantu traditions of having a single authority figure to serve as the point of contact have became the norm. Jenga, as chief, was the only member of the tribe with closed in shoes and corrugated iron on his hut. It was he who dealt with the neighbouring chief, but by no means was he on equal footing.

The BaAka camp was starkly different from the Bantu camp. The most obvious difference could be seen in the look of the children, who here showed greater signs of ill health I am sad to say.

Jack handing over the gifts he bought for the village who’d be putting him up for the next two months or so.

Mick and I also handed over some bits and bobs we carry as gifts like razor blades, needle and thread (always a big crowd pleaser) and lighters or matches.

Local Bantu bloke helping himself to the BaAka gifted cigarettes.

The first thing we did when we arrived was to present the gifts Jack had bought for everyone. Mick and I also handed over a few things to the Jenga. These would later be shared out between everyone. One of the ways the BaAka maintain their egalitarianism is through the practice demand sharing. This basically means that whatever someone has will be given up if requested by others. The idea of one person owning a fork to the exclusion of others even when it is not in use is something rather foreign to these guys. Whilst it does a lot to maintain the egalitarian nature of their society it is one of the reasons that the BaAka haven’t taken up farming with great enthusiasm. Demand sharing serves as a disincentive to invest the time and effort in crop cultivation when, come harvest time, everything is given away when relatives, friends and neighbours some calling.

The BaAka recognised the necklace given to Jack by some Aka from Central African Republic.

During all of this gift giving there was a young Bantu guy with us. He was there with us ostensibly to help translate as he spoke French and the BaAka language. But it seemed a lot more like he was there spying on what the BaAka were being given by Jack….stuff that they could later bully from them. We were really suss on the guy and took an instant dislike to him. Perhaps we were wrong but we picked up on unspoken tension between him and the BaAka and also noticed him skulking on his own around the BaAka village looking like he was up to no good.

After the gift giving we all went on a tour of Jack’s new home. We were taken on a walk to where he would be getting his water and where he would be doing his bathing. It sure was going to be an experience for him.

On a tour of the village. Here you get a sense of the small stature of the Forest People.

A bit of a walk to get to the water hole.

And there it is. Where Jack would be sourcing his drinking water. We were glad he had a filter with him.

These guys were really keen on a photo of them drinking water. They got me to take a couple.

We also met some more members of the village. These villagers recognised Jack’s Aka necklace from the Central African Republic and Jack explained it was a gift from when he met Louis Sarno. The BaAka, who refer to Louis as “Lu-yay” were overjoyed at the mention of his name. They recalled Louis from the visit to the village 5 years earlier. It was impossible to forget a big white guy speaking their language. Jack’s association with Louis made him all the more welcome and one older woman in particular immediately took to Jack. We soon referred to her as Jack’s BaAka mum and with him placed snuggly under her wing we knew he was going to be A-OK here.

Here we are on our way to the bathing spot.

At the dark shallow pool where Jack was told he could bathe.

These guys know the forest.

On his necklace was two pink plastic turtles.

While hanging around the village we were introduced to some of the hunting tools of the trade. The snares were pretty interesting but the big-ticket item was the hunting nets. The nets are all hand-woven and forest derived, 15-20m long and about a meter high. We were jealous to know that Jack would no doubt go net hunting with everyone over the coming weeks.

Jenga with one of their snares.

Me with one of the snares.

Showing us how it works.

The animal most commonly captured on these net hunts are duikers, which are small (and cute) deer like animals. The blue duiker is among the most commonly hunted animal for bushmeat in the Congo basin. Interestingly back in 1925, a market for duiker skins developed in France where they were used to make coats and chamois leather. The market peaked in the 1950s when 27,000 duiker skins per year were being exported from forest areas of Central Africa. The greater demand for meat during the forced labor period of the time combined with this boom in the European market for the skins prompted the Aka to adopt net hunting over spear hunting, which was until that time the primary hunting technique.

These guys really opened up at the mention of Louis. Jack was in.

Jack meeting his BaAka mum.

The net.

Jack’s BaAka mum loving everything he does.

Love the look on this guys face.

This orientation towards net hunting greatly altered the prevailing social order. The sharing of meat became less egalitarian and the influence of the nganga (the traditional healer who directs hunting rituals on the net hunt) increased. In a net hunt duiker meat is not divided among all members, but those that were in part responsible for the kill, such as the person who spooked the duiker into the path of someone who wrestled it to the ground and to the person who ultimately stabbed it. Elephant or hog meat on the othe rhand are typically spread among the village.

Chaos theory claims the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. In this case, a post-war fashion craze on the opposite side of the globe resulted in profound social change of a remote tribal group in the depths of the Congo forest. Whodda thunk it!

Some little kiddies.

This guy was such a handsome little kid. The sharp eyed may be able to make out his forehead tattoos

A motorbike toy fashioned from a thong (that’s a flipflop to any North Americans).

In a classic example of the danger of good intentions, foreign environmental groups, in their drive to protect wildlife and endangered species in the Congo have create a bad situation for the BaAka. In doing so have they have also worked against their own cause.

Some of the young men. The guy on the right is the one that makes trouble for himself later in the piece.

Here Jack’s BaAka mum is teaching him the BaAka words for parts of the body.

Due to Jack’s opera training he had a great proficiency for picking up foreign words and a great ear.

Learning the word for face. Love this photo.

Showing Jack how to light a fire.

Following instructions.

The little kid in the back of this photo had found a bit of plastic and was imitating me using the camera.

These kids enjoying the show…..possibly amused that a grown man was learning to light a fire – something they had mastered by 4 years old.

BaAka kids learn life skills very early on.

In many areas of the Congo forest the goal of protecting wildlife and natural habitats has led to Baaka being moved off their traditional lands as their millennia-old hunting practices are seen to conflict with conservation. But the fact is that no one knows the forest as well as the BaAka do and no one has a higher vested interest to protect it. Conservation is fostered through laws handed down from their ancestors. They have strict laws pertaining to sites and periods of hunting. For example, during the dry season, hunting stops as that is the period when animals give birth. And people are not permitted to set traps near waterholes where the animals go to drink. It is also strictly forbidden in BaAka to kill gorilla.

The kids had slowly become fascinated by the camera.

The boy on the right was a really happy little guy. The poor kid on the left had a massive swollen belly.

This gorgeous kid did lots of work around the camp.

Here she is looking after the new baby.

They were all extremely proud of the new baby.

As few as 1 in 2 BaAka children make it to 5 years old. This baby looked strong and healthy and loved. We hoped she’d beat the odds.

Meal prep.

The kids slowly got over their shyness with us outsiders.

The horrible irony of all of this is that in a number of places BaAka have been kicked off land for conservation reasons and that same land has been instead passed on to Bantu tribes who have no such connections to and dependence on nor qualms about shooting whatever might turn a profit. Often they pay displaced BaAka to shoot animals for them, providing them with a rifle, paying them a dollar for five day’s work or alternatively in booze. And you can guess how well all that works out.

Would you look at these bludgers!


There seemed to be a some kind of schedule of access to the shade structure. This time was the blokes time.

Everyone was taking it easy.

These two looked like brothers.

Here you can see the BaAka tradition of teeth filing. It is an obviously painful procedure that BaAka usually get done between 10 and 15 years of age. It is really down to the individual if they want it. We saw both boys and girls with filed teeth and both boys and girls without.

The practice is usually carried out with a thick stick to bite down on, hammer, chisel and plantain paste to sooth the broken teeth.

Add to this the rise of large-scale logging operations in the Congo Basin and you find many BaAka caught between two worlds, neither of which cared to stake out a place for them in it. Forest life is getting harder for many BaAka groups. The increased access to their areas and the rise of the bushmeat trade has severely depleted forest once rich in wildlife. Hunting (and therefore eating) is less assured, making traditional BaAka life untenable for many.  Others still have simply developed a preference for more modern comforts.

The adults also wanted in on seeing their image on the display.

Jenga’s wife and the mother of the new baby. This woman was incredibly hard working and we never saw her stop.

A boy with some seriously filed teeth.

Kung fu movies are incredibly popular in Africa. Somewhere along the line these guys had manged to see one…or hear about it from someone who had.

The encroaching modern world pushes them further to the brink through displacement by large-scale logging or national park establishment, forced settlement, not to mention the need to flee the violence of militia that occurs from time to time, especially in CAR and DRC. In the face of this some BaAka venture deeper into the forest trying to outrun the future, others see its already arrived and leave the forest in search of jobs. Such jobs might include working for logging companies, destroying the very forests they once called home. It is a sad state of affairs.

Part 3 to follow….