From Subsistence to Commercial Hunting: Technical Shift in Cynegetic Practices Among Southern Cameroon Forest Dwellers During the 20th Century
Edmond Dounias, IRD; CIFOR
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Tropical rainforest dwellers, who are currently engaged in bushmeat trade, used to track game for their own subsistence. We investigate the technical evolution over the past century of bushmeat procurement by the Fang, a group of southern Cameroon forest dwellers who are renowned for their extensive cynegetic expertise. This investigation consists of a diachronic approach to assess Fang hunting and trapping technology by comparing firsthand data on bushmeat procurement collected in the early 1990s with detailed descriptions recorded in the early 1900s among the same populations by the German anthropologist Günter Tessmann. Other archive sources bequeathed by explorers in the twilight of the 19th century are also exploited. The comparison conveys a more dynamic view of hunting practices following the greater involvement of the Fang hunters in the bushmeat trade. Historical sources remind us that projectile weapons were initially destined for warfare and that trapping, mobilizing a vast panel of modalities, was the prominent means to catch game for domestic consumption. Net hunting and crossbow hunting, which used to be typical Fang activities, are now exclusively conducted by Pygmies; spear hunting with hounds has become anecdotal. If a large range of trap mechanisms is still functional, effort is now focused on snares, elicited by the banalization of twisted wire cable. The legacy of other remaining models is left to children who carry out a didactic form of garden trapping. The major detrimental change is the use of firearms, which were initially adopted as a warfare prestige attribute before becoming the backbone instrument of bushmeat depletion. Revisiting the past provides useful lessons for improving current hunting management, through the promotion of garden hunting and wildlife farming, and the revitalization of a collective and cultural art of hunting as an alternative to indiscriminate overhunting by neophyte and increasingly individualistic hunters.
bushmeat trade; Cameroon; diachronic comparison; Fang; Günter Tessmann; historical archives; hunting; rainforest; subsistence hunting
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