Catholic Priest in Cameroon Says Logging Driving Pygmies into Heavy Drinking

Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon (kneeling) exchanges pleasantries with the leader of the Pygmies of Kribi in Cameroon. Credit: Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon

The Pygmies who inhabit the edges of the Atlantic Ocean in the Central African nation of Cameroon have lived under canopies of trees for the many years that Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon has known them.

But last year when the member of the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) serving in Cameroon’s Catholic Archdiocese of Douala visited the little people, he found them living in simple huts outside the tropical rainforest.

Pygmies who are said to have lived in Cameroon for approximately 5,000 years and have been shown to be one of the oldest inhabitants of Africa are being forced outside their natural homes and simple ways of lives amid heavy logging, Fr. Innocent told ACI Africa in a past interview.

The Cameroonian Priest who advocates for environmental conservation said that forced to live in unfamiliar territories, the Pygmies of Kribi, a town and port located in Southwestern Cameroon, have resorted to heavy drinking.

“The Pygmies have been known to live off forests. Their lives revolve around forests since it is from there that they get their food and live. But with the heavy cutting down of trees, the Pygmies have been deprived of their livelihoods,” Fr. Innocent told ACI Africa during the March 17 interview.


Credit: Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon

He added, “I have been with the Pygmies of Kribi and I found a community that has resorted to heavy drinking. All they do now is drink alcohol and sleep. They have also been forced to construct little houses outside the forests where they now live.”

Sharing the picture of a huge log that was being ferried on a truck outside the forest, Fr. Innocent blamed “big multinationals” who he said are responsible for the heavy logging in Cameroon.

“They have been deprived of their home and source of living by the rich multi-nationals. The sad thing is that no one cares about their existence,” he said in reference to the Pygmies of Kribi in Cameroon, and added, “We have a divine responsibility to respect and protect life.”

Pygmies are about 120 centimeters tall, with men measuring approximately 10 centimeters taller than their female counterparts. With their curly hair and fuzzy bodies, Pygmies differ from other groups and sport broad chins, flat noses, and large eyes.

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Credit: Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon

It is assumed that 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.

Smaller Pygmy groups are found also in Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zambia, Gabon, and Angola. Pygmies in Cameroon are separated into two groups, Baka and Bage Pygmies.

Baka Pygmies spend their life in the undiscoverable parts of the forests out of the public gaze, while Bage Pygmies live together with the Bantu people, who consist one of the largest tribes in Cameroon and live in areas near forestlands.

Credit: Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon


Living in small groups, Pygmies construct temporary cottages to live in by using bamboo trunks and large leaves they gather from other trees.

Still leading a primitive life, Pygmies spend most of their time hunting in the deep forests and gathering fruit plants.

Reports indicate that the Pygmies have been banned from accessing forests amid heavy logging. After the Central African nation gained its independence, the timber trade was valued as a major source of income, representing approximately 20 percent of the country's economy.

Credit: Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon

In the March 17 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Innocent said that the social integration process of the Pygmies should be well organized, and should include their empowerment and access to education.

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He expressed regret that with heavy environmental degradation and logging, most of the trees that provided fruits for Pygmies have already disappeared.

Credit: Fr. Innocent Akum Wefon

The vocal Priest who has initiated various environmental conservation initiatives, including the setting up of kitchen gardens to help clean the streets of Cameroon appealed for the support of the government in protecting the Pygmies who he said face major threats.

“A lot of resources go into the conservation of the environment yet the Church, which lives with the people and shares their pain is left out. It is the Church that is most sensitive to the needs of the people and we call for government support in our grassroots faith-based projects to protect the environment and the people,” he said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.