Children’s daily activities and knowledge acquisition: A case study among the Baka from southeastern Cameroon
Gallois et al. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
Children's daily activities and knowledge acquisition: A case study among the Baka from southeastern Cameroon
Sandrine Gallois 1 2
Romain Duda 2
Barry Hewlett 0
Victoria Reyes-García 2 3
0 Department of Anthropology, Washington State University , Vancouver, WA , USA
1 Museum national d'Histoire naturelle , Paris , France
2 Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona , 08193 Bellaterra , Spain
3 Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA) , Barcelona , Spain
Background: The acquisition of local knowledge occurs through complex interactions between individual and contextual characteristics: as context changes, so it changes the acquisition of knowledge. Contemporary smallscale societies facing rapid social-ecological change provide a unique opportunity to study the relation between social-ecological changes and the process of acquisition of local knowledge. In this work, we study children's involvement in subsistence related activities (i.e., hunting and gathering) in a context of social-ecological change and discuss how such involvement might condition the acquisition of local knowledge during childhood. Methods: We interviewed 98 children from a hunter-gatherer society, the Baka, living in two different villages in southeastern Cameroon and assessed their involvement in daily activities. Using interviews, we collected selfreported data on the main activities performed during the previous 24 h. We describe the frequency of occurrence of daily activities during middle childhood and adolescence and explore the variation in occurrence according to the sex, the age group, and the village of residency of the child. We also explore variation according to the season in which the activity is conducted and to the predicted potential of the activity for the acquisition of local knowledge. Results: Baka children and adolescents engage in subsistence-related activities (i.e., hunting and gathering) and playing more frequently than in other activities (i.e., traditional tales or schooling). Gender differences in children's subsistence activities emerge at an early age. Engagement in activities also varies with age, with adolescents spending more time in agricultural activities, modern leisure (i.e., going to bars), and socializing than younger children. When conducting similar activities, adolescents use more complex techniques than younger children. Conclusion: Subsistence activities, which present a high potential for transmission of local knowledge, continue to be predominant in Baka childhood. However, Baka children also engage in other, non-traditional activities, such as modern forms of leisure, or schooling, with a low potential for the transmission of local knowledge. Baka children's involvement in non-traditional activities might have unforeseen impacts on the acquisition of local knowledge.
Cultural transmission; Embodied knowledge; Ethnoecology; Hunter-Gatherers; Learning
“It is not of no little importance what sort of habits we
form from an early age - it makes a vast difference, or
rather all the difference in the world” (Aristotle in
Ochs & Izquierdo [
The acquisition of local knowledge occurs through
complex interactions between the individual and her
contextual characteristics [
]. Among these contextual
characteristics, daily life experiences are essential
determinants in the acquisition of cultural knowledge as they
shape not only the kind of knowledge being learned, but
also the way such knowledge would be learned along the
]. In this sense, scholars have argued that
the acquisition of knowledge occurs through a process
of embodiment, or enskillment, which is directly linked
with the practical engagement of the individuals in their
surrounding environment [
], including both the
physical and the social settings [
]. Furthermore, four
decades ago, John and Beatrice Whiting  proposed
that cultural aspects, and specifically local maintenance
systems, shape where children go and with whom (i.e.,
their physical and social setting) and -therefore- what
and how they learn. In other words, the way in which
children spend their time is largely dependent upon the
needs of parents to do particular subsistence tasks, and
children learn from these culturally established settings
]. An empirical validation of such ideas, focusing on
the discussion of how cultural setting affects the
acquisition of local knowledge, can be found in recent work by
] with the Ngandu and the Aka in Central
African Republic. In this work, he shows how the
knowledge of children living in the same environment but
from two different societies with different subsistence
patterns largely differs.
Given that the acquisition of knowledge occurs
through complex interactions between various factors
which occur “both within and without the individual,
and of the spatial and temporal arrangements in which
these interact” [
] (pg.S5) and in which both the mind
and the body are involved [
], the analysis of context is
of great importance for understanding the acquisition of
knowledge. With such premise, the question we ask here
is: how the process of acquisition of knowledge changes
as context change? If the process of knowledge
acquisition is largely dependent on context, in situations of
rapid change such process might be largely affected.
In this work, we address the question by analyzing
involvement in daily activities among children from a
contemporary small-scale society facing rapid social-ecological
change. Specifically, we explore the variation in activity
occurrence according to the sex, age category, season, and
village of residency of the child. Then, we discuss how
such involvement might condition the acquisition of local
ecological knowledge (LEK), or the knowledge, practices
and beliefs related to the environment, during childhood.
The Baka hunter-gatherers from the Congo Basin
represent an ideal case to study such problematic as they have
faced several drastic social-ecological changes since the
middle of the last century, with resulting changes in their
livelihood. We focus on children because several scholars
have reported that -in small-scale societies- most cultural
knowledge is acquired before adolescence [
sometimes even before 10 years of age , thus suggesting that
childhood is a key period for the cultural knowledge
acquisition. We focus on children’s involvement on daily
activities as such behavior might provide insights into the
nature of knowledge acquisition. Given the trade-offs in
the acquisition of different types of knowledge [
involvement into particular activities might help
understand how the process of knowledge acquisition
operates. Moreover, the way in which children invest
their time might be critical to understand preferences
for the acquisition of different types of knowledge
] and can therefore potentially help predict
changes in the transmission of different bodies of
knowledge. Additionally, we chose to emphasize local
ecological knowledge, as such knowledge systems are
an essential component of human societies, especially
for the subsistence and the wellbeing of
huntergatherer societies [
The Baka are one of several hunter-gatherer groups living
in the tropical forest of the Congo Basin. Their
population, estimated at around 30.000 people, spreads across
four countries: most Baka live in Cameroon, but some
groups are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Gabon and Central African Republic. The Baka have been
extensively studied (see for example [
]), so, rather
than providing a complete ethnographic description, in
this section we provide a brief general overview of the
Baka and then focus on describing Baka childhood.
Until recently, the Baka were highly nomadic, moving
between several forest camps and living on forest
resources and on the exchange of products with Bantu
speaking neighboring farmers. However, over the last
50 years, the Baka have experienced several important
social changes. First, new outsiders, including missionaries,
poachers, logging and mining companies, and members of
international organizations representing conservationists’
interests, have arrived to the territory occupied by the
Baka. While interests vary from actor to actor, for the
Baka, their arrival to the area has resulted in a gradual
reduction in access to forest resources in general and to
game and wild edibles in particular. Second, as a result of
their reduced access to forest resources, Baka began to
leave their forest camps, a shift reinforced by the influence
of missionaries and government promoted sedentarization
programs which, since the 1950’s, led many Baka to
establish themselves in settled villages [
Consequently, today most Baka settlements are found along
logging roads, some of them in proximity to Bantu
speaking villages. Moreover, many Baka have started to engage
in agricultural work, both by opening their own plots and
by providing casual labor to neighboring Bantu villagers
. A third important change relates to the increase of
school attendance, facilitated by sedentarization. Schooling
was first made available to Baka children by the
missionaries and non-governmental organizations. As a result of all
these changes, many Baka nowadays have adopted a mixed
forager-horticulturalist subsistence strategy.
Differently from Western views of childhood, but similar
to how childhood has been described in other small-scale
], Baka children are highly autonomous
from an early age. In a way, Baka children receive the same
treatment than adults, even if it is understood that they
are in a learning process. For example, Baka children have
the freedom to make their own decisions, but they are also
considered responsible for the consequences of such
decisions. Baka children are also expected to participate on
daily household chores such as fetching water, bringing
meals to neighboring households, or collecting firewood.
However, very few obligations are imposed upon Baka
children, and physical punishment is rare. Another
important element during Baka childhood is allo-parental care, or
the acting as parents of individuals other than the parents.
Thus, it is common that older siblings, grand-parents or
other adults take care of a child [
]. Moreover, among
the Baka, it is assumed that older sisters are the secondary
caregivers of infants [
]. Since Baka mothers restart
productive activities soon after giving birth, but since Baka
infants are mostly held, it is common that children-specially
girls- as young as 6 years of age are asked to accompany
their mother to help taking care of infants. Due to the
importance of allo-parental care, Baka children witness a high
degree of physical and emotional intimacy with others,
including older siblings but also adults outside their nuclear
Our study took place in several Baka communities of the
department Haut-Nyong, in southeastern Cameroon, where
we collected qualitative and quantitative data during
18 months, from February 2012 to May 2014. We obtained
free prior and informed consent in all the villages from
every individual participating in this study, as well as the
consent of all the parents of the children we worked with.
This study adheres to the Code of Ethics of the
International Society of Ethnobiology and has received the
approval of the ethics committee of the Universitat
Autònoma de Barcelona (CEEAH-04102010).
Intensive field work was conducted in two communities,
comprising 264 and 410 individuals, of which 145 and
208 were children (or people <16 years of age). Both
communities differed in their proximity to the village of
Bantu-speaking neighbors- the Nzime- and in the type
of school. The first village is settled on the prolongation
of the Nzime farmer’s village and Baka children have the
opportunity to attend a public national school, together
with Nzime children. In contrast, the second village is
located at approximately 2 km from closest Nzime
neighbor village and has a private school managed by a
local institution promoting schooling among the Baka.
The sample for this research included all the children
between 5 and 16 years of age willing to participate. The
upper limit was fixed at 16 years of age because at this
age, the Baka generally start a separate household and
are thus considered adults. Although evidence exists that
the transmission of local knowledge starts earlier [
the lower limit was fixed at 5 years of age because
younger children were generally too shy or too unreliable to
answer interview questions.
Over the whole period of data collection, the two first
authors lived in the two selected Baka communities,
following Baka socio-cultural norms and participating on
the daily life of neighboring households, e.g., while
washing clothes, cooking, taking care of children,
accompanying them on fishing, hunting and gathering expeditions
and to their forest camps and agricultural plots.
Participant observation was conducted among adults and
children and with as many households as possible.
Qualitative data collection
During the first 6 months of fieldwork, we observed
children’s daily life. Additionally, we conducted
spontaneous discussions and semi-structured interviews with
adults and children about children’s daily activities.
Initially, most interviews were performed with the company
of a translator. Eventually, we learned enough Baka to be
able to communicate directly with informants. To get a
better understanding of children’s daily life, we followed
groups of boys and girls of different ages in their daily
activities. During such observations, we noted the
composition of the group of individuals, the location of the
activity, and the total time invested in the activities
performed. We beware of following groups of girls and boys
of different ages. The qualitative information collected
with such method provided us an overview of Baka
livelihoods and of the main patterns of children’s activities.
Moreover, in addition to being at the basis of our
questionnaire design, information collected with qualitative
methods has been largely used in the discussion section
to interpret our findings.
Quantitative data collection
Quantitative data collection methods included a census
of all the individuals living in both studied villages and a
questionnaire on children’s daily activities. The census
included the name, age, clan, kinship data, and level of
education of all children in the sample. As most Baka
cannot recall their date of birth nor have birth records,
we used kinship information (i.e., order of birth) to
estimate the age of children in our sample.
To assess children’s involvement in daily activities, we
used a systematic interview protocol consisting on
asking children whether they had performed a set of
selected activities during the 24 h previous to the
interview. First, we established a list of the activities
most frequently conducted by children. The list was
constructed using etic and emic inputs: we used
information from semi-structured interviews and participant
observation to identify the activities performed by boys
and girls between 5 and 16 years of age. We then
grouped these activities into 15 clusters of similar
activities. For example, we clustered together different types
of hunting or fishing with different techniques. Then,
during the systematic interview, we asked children to
report all the activities they had performed since the
previous day at the time of the interview and coded the
activities listed in one of the 15 clusters of activities.
After children had finished spontaneously listing
activities, we asked whether they had also performed any of
the other activities pre-defined in our list. We conducted
a total of 232 interviews with 102 children, 53 boys and
49 girls, which represents 34 and 64 % of the children in
the selected range age in the studied villages.
As the main goal of this work is to discuss children’s
involvement in daily activities in relation both to the process
of LEK acquisition, we grouped the 15 categories of
activities in three different clusters: a) subsistence-related
activities that may favor the acquisition of LEK; b) activities
indirectly-related to subsistence but that might favor the
acquisition of LEK through norms, values and cosmology;
and c) activities recently introduced in Baka livelihoods,
which are unlikely to favor the acquisition of LEK. We are
aware that the notion of subsistence is disputed [
for the purpose of this work we included in the category of
subsistence-related activities those activities that procure
essential elements for living, including both nutrition and
shelter. We also included activities related to the
procurement and processing of resources. Consequently, our first
cluster includes household maintenance, hunting,
gathering, agricultural work, fishing and handicraft and considers
both work-playing and actual work. Our second cluster
includes traditional singing and dancing, storytelling,
maintenance, and playing, but only when the games were not
related to subsistence activities from the previous cluster.
Finally, our third cluster includes activities which have
been mostly introduced more or less recently, i.e., in the
last five decades. Such cluster includes activities like
attending school, playing football, listening to music, alcohol
drinking and socializing with Nzime people (see Table 1).
It is worth highlighting that the performance of any of
the listed activities might contribute to the acquisition of
local ecological knowledge. Indeed, as all the activities a
child performs are embedded in the Baka’s culture and
environment, they can potentially contribute to local
aThis category only includes leisure play not related to subsistence activities;
plays related to subsistence or work-playing are part of the first cluster
ecological knowledge acquisition. However, given the
content of the different activities listed, we assume that
some activities are more likely to improve the
acquisition of LEK than others. For example, activities directly
related to subsistence, in addition to be developed in
Baka social and environmental context, require the child
to use her skills and put her knowledge into practice.
This largely contrasts with other activities, such as
listening to modern music, where the child would be less
likely to involve ecological knowledge and skills
necessary to subsistence activities.
We aggregated data on children’s daily activities by
computing the frequency with which each of the 15
categories of activities was reported by each child. To avoid
the potential biases derived from the overrepresentation
of children who were interviewed more than others, we
randomly selected one observation per child (n = 102).
Frequency was coded as 1 (if the activity was
performed) or 0 (otherwise), independently of whether
the activity was performed more than once during
the 24-h recall (i.e., if a child reported hunting with
traps and hunting with bows and arrows we only
coded hunting as 1).
Using census data, we analyzed Baka children’s
engagement in different activities by sex and age. Age
categories were determined drawing on bibliographic
] and our own interviews with Baka
adults and consisted in i) middle childhood (>5–9 =
<years-old), ii) pre-adolescence (<9–13 = < years-old),
and iii) adolescence (<13–16 > years-old). We also
compared involvement in the different activities from
children in the two studied villages. Then, since our data
were collected during two different seasons - the major
dry season (from beginning of February to mid March)
and the minor rainy season (from mid March to the end
of June) - we also analyzed seasonal variation.
To assess differences in children’s involvement in daily
activities by sex, village and season we calculated the
difference of proportions [
]. For that aim, we first
calculated the relative proportion of each cluster of activities
(i.e., the number of observations reported by children in
each cluster of activities from the total amount of
observations reported) and for each of the groups of analysis
(i.e., girls/boys, village closest/furthest to neighbor’s
village, and major dry/minor rainy season). We then ran
two-sample test of proportions at the level of 95 % of
confidence, to evaluate whether spotted differences were
statistically significant [
]. We tested for significant
differences across age categories by running Fisher’s
exact tests for each cluster of activities. In a final
analysis, we used multivariate logistic regression models to
analyze the association between sex, age category,
seasonality, and village of residency with each of the 15
types of activities.
Children’s main daily activities
The cluster of subsistence-related activities emerges as
the one with most commonly performed activities.
Moreover, several subsistence-related activities are
performed every day by about half of the sample. Activities
indirectly related to subsistence and recently introduced
activities were less common (Table 2).
Among the subsistence related activities, household
maintenance was predominant. Children mentioned
having conducted household maintenance in almost 95 % of
the interviews. Other common activities in this cluster
included hunting and gathering, reported in 45 and 49 %
of the interviews. Agricultural work was reported in
31 % of the interviews, fishing in almost 26 %, and
handicraft in 12 %.
Among the non-subsistence related activities, playing
appears as the most frequently mentioned activity,
reported in almost 59 % of the interviews. Overall, playing
is the second most frequently cited activity, after
Finally, among the recently introduced activities,
listening to music was reported in 45 % of the interviews,
whereas attending school was only reported in 22 % of
Gendered involvement in daily activities
Boys and girls show different levels of involvement in
most, but not all, activities (Table 2). Although
household maintenance is very common for both, we still
found statistically significant differences between boys
(almost 91 % of the interviews) and girls (100 % of the
interviews). A more detailed analysis suggests that there
are also important differences in the specific activities
performed (Table 3). Thus, fetching water was listed in
71 % of the interviews conducted with girls, but only in
58 % of the interviews conducted with boys; similarly
cooking was mentioned in 92 % of the interviews
conducted with girls, but only in 13 % of the interviews
conducted with boys.
Statistically significant differences also exist in the
frequency with which boys and girls perform hunting and
fishing activities. Hunting appeared as a male orientated
activity, with 70 % of the boys but only 18 % of the girls
reporting hunting (Table 3). In contrast, fishing is a
girloriented activity, with girls reporting fishing twice as
often as boys (35 vs.15 %). In the same line, but to a
lower extent, gathering tends to be more a girl- than
boyoriented activity (cited in 57 % of the interviews with girls
and in 41 % of the interviews with boys). From all the
activities in the cluster of subsistence-related activities, the
only one that seems to be reported with similar frequency
between boys and girls is agricultural work.
Girls and boys seem to engage with the same frequency
in activities indirectly related to subsistence, with one
exception: girls report performing traditional songs, tales,
and dances more frequently than boys (12 vs. 6 %; Table 2).
Regarding recently introduced activities, the only
statistically significant difference between girls and boys relates
to playing football, a male-oriented activity in the study
area (23 % for boys vs. 2 % for girls) (Table 3).
Variation among age-sex categories
Given the magnitude of the gendered differences found,
we kept the sample of boys and girls separated to
analyze children’s involvement in daily activities by
agecategories (Fig. 1a). Overall, the analysis shows
differences in time investment as girls and boys move from
middle childhood to adolescence. Among the activities
related to subsistence, both girls and boys perform more
hunting activities but play less frequently as they grow
up. In contrast, they spend more time performing
nontraditional activities, such as socializing, listening to
music and drinking alcohol. As girls move into
adolescence, they invest less time in fishing, (27 % of
adolescent girls’ interviews vs. 50 % of middle childhood girls)
(Fig. 1). In the same line, adolescent girls invest even less
time in hunting than middle childhood girls do (13 vs.
20 %). Contrarily adolescent girls are more frequently
involved in agriculture (47 vs. 40 %) and in gathering (67
vs. 50 %) than middle childhood girls.
Although the differences on the frequencies of
activities between age categories appear higher among girls,
we only found statistically significant differences in the
sample of boys (Fig. 1b). Thus, as boys enter
adolescence, they become less frequently involved in hunting
(reported in 44 % of the interviews with adolescent boys
vs. 80 % of the interviews with middle childhood boys).
Differently to girls, as they grow up, boys are less
frequently involved in household maintenance activities.
Also in contrast to the pattern found among girls,
adolescent boys allocate less time than younger boys to
gathering (38 % for adolescents vs. 67 % for middle
Differences also appeared when comparing the
activities of children from different age categories (Table 4).
Overall, relatively easy tasks, like fetching water,
firewood collecting, or gathering easy target edibles are
mostly performed by children from middle childhood.
Such practices tend to become more complex as
children grow up. For instance, it is only after reaching
adolescence that the Baka start using spears, setting cable
snares, gathering honey, and processing edibles, such as
palm wine and fruit’s oil. It is also at this age that they
start opening and managing their own plot.
Differences between villages
Overall, we found few differences between the two
studied villages: the only statistically significant differences
appear in agricultural activities, school, and alcohol
drinking (Table 5). Children in the most isolated village,
reported engaging in agriculture two-times more often
than children from the other village (almost 43 vs.
16 %). Children reported drinking alcohol more
frequently in the village further to Nzime’s village than in
the other village (19 vs. 2 %). In the same village, where
the school is run by missionaries, children also attend
school more frequently than in the village closer to the
Nzime village, where the school is shared with the
Nzime (almost 28 vs. 14 %).
Children’s involvement in different activities does not
seem to largely vary between the two seasons when data
were collected (Table 6). Nevertheless, we found
statistically significant differences for two subsistence activities
that were more frequently performed during the dry
than during the minor rainy season: hunting and
agriculture. Hunting was mentioned in 63 % of the interviews
conducted during the dry but only in 33 % of the
interviews conducted during the minor rainy season.
Likewise, agricultural work was listed in 44 % of the
interviews conducted during the dry but only in 23 % of
the interviews conducted during the rainy season. To a
smaller extent, gathering and fishing were also more
frequently performed during the dry season (54 vs. 46 %
for gathering and 29 vs. 23 % for fishing).
Some activities indirectly related to subsistence show
seasonal differences. Playing was reported more
frequently during the minor rainy than during the dry
season (62 vs. 54 %), a seasonal distribution that probably
relates to the higher frequency of subsistence activities
conducted during the dry season. Interestingly, children
also seem to perform more frequently maintenance
activities during the dry than during the minor rainy
season (32 vs. 20 %). Finally, whereas children tend to
perform recently introduced activities with the same
frequency during both seasons, alcohol drinking is almost
three-fold more frequent during the dry than during the
rainy season (20 vs. 7 %).
Correlates of children’s involvement in daily activities
Logistic regression analysis mostly confirms results from
bivariate analysis (Table 7). Namely, a set of multiple
logistic regressions with the frequency of performance in
the different categories as dependent variables show that
differences between both sexes are statistically significant
for most activities included in the cluster of subsistence
related activities. Hunting is a boy-oriented activity (odd
ratio = 13.6. p < 0.001), whereas gathering (odd ratio = 0.5.
p > 0.1) and fishing (odd ratio = 0.37. p < 0.05) are
girloriented activities. Since all girls performed household
maintenance, we cannot compute a coefficient for this
activity. Boys are much more frequently involved in football
than girls (odd ratio = 14.75. p < 0.05). The variable sex is
not statistically significant for the other activities.
Multivariate models also confirm the importance of age
in explaining children’s involvement in daily activities.
Thus, older children engage less frequently in household
maintenance (odd ratio = 0.72. p < 0.1) and hunting (odd
ratio = 0.86. p < 0.1). Age is also negatively associated to
play (odd ratio = 0.83. p < 0.01), but positively associated to
alcohol drinking (odd ratio = 2.06. p < 0.01), socializing
(odd ratio = 1.63. p < 0.5) and, to a lower extent, listening
to music (odd ratio = 1.13. p < 0.1).
Finally, multivariate regressions also show that there are
some differences between both villages but not between
seasons. Thus, children from the village closest to Nzime’s
village tend to be less engaged in agricultural work (odd
ratio = 0.32. p < 0.1), play (odd ratio = 0.35. p < 0.5),
traditional songs and dances (odd ratio = 0.45. p < 0.1), and
school attendance (odd ratio = 0.34. p < 0.1) than children
from the other village. In relation to the season, the only
Traditional songs. tales and dances
Listening to music
Frequency (n = 41)
statistically significant associations found were a lower
frequency of hunting during the dry season (odd ratio = 0.2.
p <0.01) and a higher frequency of play during the dry
season (odd ratio = 2.34. p < 0.1).
It is worth noting that most multiple logistic
regressions explain a relatively small fraction of the variation
found (between 3 and 45 %), which suggest that other
variables not accounted for in our model do affect
children’s involvement in daily activities. The two models
with higher predictive power are the model for hunting,
which explained almost 30 % of the variation found, and
the model for alcohol drinking (45 %).
We organize the discussion around two main results
derived from our analysis: a) differences in children’s
involvement in daily activities according to sex and age-category,
and b) the relative importance of different activities in
relation to their potential for LEK acquisition.
Variations in Baka childhood activities
A main finding of our work is that, irrespectively of their
sex and age category, most Baka children engage in
household maintenance, a finding that has also been
reported among other small-scale societies [
from the earliest age, Baka children are expected to
participate in household chores, for example helping their
mothers with tasks such as collecting firewood, fetching
water, and taking care of younger children. But,
differently to what has been reported in farmer societies ,
Baka children are not expected to participate in
income generating activities (although some of them
do, especially after reaching adolescence). While such
situation that has led some researchers to coin the
notion of ‘children in paradise’ [
], Baka children do
frequently engage in productive subsistence activities (i.e.,
hunting, gathering, fishing, and agricultural labor). Our
ethnographic observations suggest that Baka children
perform these subsistence activities mostly out of enjoyment,
especially as these activities are often embedded in games
]. However, it should also be noticed that such activities
seem to provide an important part of children nutritional
intake during parental absences (for similar results in other
settings see [
]). Thus, from early age, Baka children
hunt birds or rodents and gather sub-spontaneous tubers,
all products which typically are immediately cooked and
eaten by the children themselves.
An important finding of our work relates to gendered
differences of Baka children’s daily activities, a finding
that dovetails with other studies both in farmer [
and hunter-gatherer  societies. The finding, however
contrast with at least one study reporting few differences
in the activities performed by girls and boys among the
Aka, another hunter-gatherer group from the Congo
]. Baka children do tend to reproduce adult’s
same-sex activities. Thus, as Baka women, Baka girls are
more involved in children caretaking, cooking,
agricultural work and fishing than Baka boys. Similarly, as Baka
men, Baka boys are more often involved in hunting than
In addition to gendered differences in frequency of
engagement in certain activities, our results also suggest
that there are additional differences in the way activities
are practiced. For example, girls occasionally hunt. But
they only hunt little mammals using their hands, the
machete or, during adolescence, unearthing game with
smoke. Boys, however, not only hunt more frequently, but
they also use a broader diversity of techniques, such as
bow and arrows, slingshot, spear and snares. Contrarily,
fishing is more frequent among girls, who typically engage
in collective fishing expeditions, in which a group of girls
and women elevate dams in shallow rivers and extract the
water to catch the fishes with their hands. Differently,
although boys also fish, they are more likely to use poles or
ichtyotoxics, techniques practiced generally alone or in
small groups (for a similar finding see [Díaz-Reviriego I.
et al., under review]).
It is worth noting, however, that while some activities
are clearly gender-oriented, there are not strict gender
exclusions in the performance of most activities. Thus girls
and boys, as women and men, occasionally perform
activities most commonly performed by people from the
opposite sex. The flexibility in activity performance, beyond
standard gender roles, is a common, but seldom noted
distinction of hunter-gatherers versus farmers [
The study of children’s involvement in daily activities
also shows that preferred activities change as children
grow up. As Aka children [
], Baka children tend to
spend less time playing and more time in productive and
specifically in income generating activities (i.e.,
agricultural wage labor or commercial hunting and gathering)
as they move into adolescence.
In sum, consistent with the Whitings’ [
the descriptive analysis of Baka children’s daily activities
suggests that such activities are largely shaped by their
specific cultural settings, although the sex and the age of
the child are important factors that pattern children’s
involvement in activities.
Knowledge acquisition through daily activities
We devote the second part of the discussion to
analyze how the frequency of performance of different
activities might shape LEK acquisition and to describe
how such acquisition varies according to the age and
the sex of the children.
First, as mentioned, subsistence related activities are
predominant during Baka childhood. Additionally, most
of the activities Baka children perform through all their
childhood occur in their natural environment. We argue
that the performance of such activities might directly
contribute to local knowledge acquisition, and more
specifically to the acquisition of local ecological knowledge. For
example, during their youngest childhood, boys spend a
considerable amount of time hunting and girls invest time
fishing, allowing them to embody hunting and
fishing knowledge. Time involved in both activities
decreases once they become adolescents; however as
knowledge is already embodied, adolescents are able
to practice these activities even if they do so more
Thus, an important aspect to consider when discussing
LEK acquisition and the performance of daily activities
relates to the variation, across the lifespan, in the use of
techniques and practices of different complexity. Overall,
the number of practices and the complexity of tools
children use during their daily activities increases with age.
Take the case of hunting. From the earliest age, children
play various hunting-related games, such as shooting
wheels or throwing spears to easy-to-target objects and
animals. Then, during middle childhood they start to
use popular hunting tools, such as the , or
small replicas of the common snare with cable used by
adults (called ). Differently, adolescents prefer
hunting with spears or the collective hunting of small
mammals using smoke. The case of gathering of wild
edibles is similar. Even young children gather tubers of
spontaneous agricultural plants, such as
(Ipomoea batatas), and (Xanthosoma mafaffa), which
typically grow around Baka villages. Differently,
adolescents gather the leaves of (Gnetum africanum), an
important component of the household consumption, or
other forest products, such as mbalaka (Pentaclethra
macrophylla), (Baillonella toxisperma), or payo
(Irvingia excelsa) which can be sold in local markets.
Although gathering does not require many tools and
techniques (except for some specific products such as honey
and yams), effective gathering requires the acquisition of
knowledge related to observation, the capacity to identify
wild edibles, and the ability to navigate the landscape,
abilities that also evolve across the lifespan. In sum, the
analysis of children’s activities suggests that LEK acquisition
seems to follow a ‘multi-stage learning model’, according
to which children would first acquire basic knowledge and
abilities that would allow them to progressively acquire
more complex skills and knowledge [
One more point requires attention. Although the
predominance of activities related to household
maintenance might apparently underscore our argument of the
importance of subsistence-related activities for LEK
acquisition, we argue that the performance of these
activities are key to obtain the cultural bases of adult’s
livelihood and, therefore for LEK acquisition. Indeed,
activities such as fetching water, collecting firewood,
cooking, sharing meals, or even taking care of younger
siblings, are considered by parents as key elements in
Baka children’s learning process. Additionally, it is worth
noticing that while conducting such household chores,
especially those that take place in the forest, children
also engage in other activities such as hunting birds, fishing,
or gathering mushrooms. Adults clearly know that those
tasks let children learn and practice on their own, alone or
in groups of peers, skills that they would later need.
Our final point relates to the engagement in activities
not traditionally performed by the Baka, such as
schooling or listening to recorded music in bars [
Consistent with previous studies, both among the Baka [
and among other hunter-gatherer groups [
found that school attendance was very limited, but
existent. Thus, for the school year 2012–2013, 54 % of the
schooled-aged children were registered at school.
However, school attendance was low, irregular, and decreased
as the school year advanced. Reasons for this low
attendance do not differ from those highlighted by Kamei [
(i.e., teachers’ low level of commitment) and largely reflect
the lack of fit between the national educative system and
Baka’s livelihood. Our data also show that new leisure
activities, i.e., listening to recorded music, were increasingly
common among Baka children. From our ethnographic
experience, we know that Baka children generally listen to
African popular music during the evening when they
might also drink alcohol. These activities, generally very
common among all the Baka, are now included in the
standard use of time of adolescents and young adults, as
they seem to have become the new way of socializing and
even of potentially finding a partner [
As such activities are new in Baka repertoire, we have
no way to assess how their performance might affect
LEK acquisition. Studies focusing on the impact of
schooling on LEK have found that schooling might have
a negative impact on LEK acquisition, unless schooling
is adapted to the local social-environmental context [
One could speculate that the case would be similar for
the Baka. The work presented here, however, brings to
the light that not only schooling, but also
nontraditional leisure activities might impact the process of
LEK acquisition. For example, activities that are mostly
conducted at night, such as listening to recorded music
in bars, might displace other cultural activities such as
the performance of tales, songs and traditional dances,
many of which begin as night falls [
none of the previous studies on the erosion of LEK have
addressed the impact of children’s involvement in new
leisure activities in LEK acquisition. Such neglect is
worrisome, especially if-as results from our study
showchildren devote more time to modern forms of leisure
than to schooling.
Results from this work bring new elements to enhance
our understanding of hunter-gatherer children’s daily life
and of how those activities relate to the process of
knowledge acquisition. Our results suggest that further
research on LEK acquisition and children’s daily life
should analyze data disaggregated by children’s sex and
age, as these two characteristics seem to largely shape
children’s choice of activities. Moreover, such research
might be enriched by increasing the attention to
understudied aspects, such as children’s experience and
embodiment of basic knowledge and skills.
Playing more attention to the study of children’s daily
activities can help predict changes potentially affecting
small-scale societies, as for example the involvement in
new leisure probably predicts less knowledge acquisition.
However, longitudinal data would be needed to properly
evaluate the long-term impact of activities that are new
in Baka livelihood (see for example [
]). In that sense,
data presented here constitutes a valid baseline for
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
SG conceived of the study, carried out data collection, data analysis, and
drafted the manuscript. RD helped with data collection. VRG participated in
the design of the study and helped in data analysis and drafting the
manuscript. BH helped with data analysis and drafting the manuscript. All
authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European
Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/
2007–2013) / ERC grant agreement n° FP7-261971-LEK. We would like to thank
Ernest Simpoh and Appolinaire Ambassa for assistance with data collection, and
Christian Leclerc, Isabel Ruiz-Mallén and Serge Bahuchet for their useful
comments. We thank all the Baka communities we have lived and worked with
for their warm welcome, their patience and their joy of life.
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