Preservation and promotion of the culture of indigenous peoples: the struggle of Sorel Eta

In his defense of Aka culture, Congolese ethnologist Sorel Eta thinks that in addition to deforestation, acculturation, and ethnocentrism, there is another threat to this Pygmy culture: schooling. In fact, according to him, the educational system established to educate the natives carries within it the seeds of real destruction. The Bantus who support it through their associations, as well as the natives attracted to modernism, seem unaware of this. In other words, removing thousands of children from the traditional school, when they need it to perpetuate their culture, is a way of putting the cart before the horse. As a result, Sorel Eta is deeply concerned about the fate of future generations of indigenous children.

He admits that by attending a Western or modern school, Aboriginal children will learn to read, write and speak French. On the other hand, the misfortune lies in the time that this learning takes. By way of illustration, it is enough, she says, to imagine the years that a student spends, from the primary cycle to the end of the secondary cycle, to be convinced of this. “Under these conditions, one wonders when they will learn their traditions when we know that in the forest knowledge is transmitted from father to son and in a practical way. Not to mention that acquiring proper training in the forest takes time”he says.

If from the side of the modern school the formation requires a lot of time, the reality could not be different for the formation in the forest school. The limited time available to Aka students in Western schools is a real obstacle to learning about the world of trees and animals, says Sorel Eta. Adding that if in the western school the teaching is multidisciplinary, the opposite does not happen in the jungle school. Aboriginal students are called to acquire knowledge in botany, zoology, ethnology, ecology, music and shamanism, for some. They must also learn forest navigation. The need to know their subsistence economic activities, such as hunting and various gathering activities, is not minor. Added to this is the knowledge related to their belief. There are many things that a child must learn to claim in order to become a complete human being, capable of facing life. Therefore, it is difficult for an Aka child to follow both courses, at the same time and in a balanced way.

The school in the forest does not deserve to be destroyed

The Congolese ethnologist wonders about a certain number of aspects. From his point of view, he would favor the forest school for the Aka.. “Since the school is the mirror of a culture, it is necessary for an Aka child to learn about the forest, which is almost impossible at a later age. It is necessary to soak up these teachings from an early age. So experienced, even if we give additional teaching to an Aka, he will have already had a solid foundation. He will have immersed himself in his own culture, without which he cannot exist according to his values. The opposite, that is, educating him in a Western school from his childhood, leads to defeat. It is to ruin the possibilities of later assimilating the different disciplines that are taught in the forest school»means the ethnologist.

In short, Sorel Eta thinks that the forestry school, with its learning methods such as listening, observation and imitation, does not deserve to be destroyed but rather preserved and valued. Hence the validity of his mission to tirelessly investigate this school, to better appropriate the quality of the teaching provided. This is the goal that has been set to make one thing common mortals understand. “We will gain more by learning from these people than by leading them to live in our image. Defending this culture remains my stubborn goal. I want to make everyone understand the inestimable value of the university of the forest. For this reason, preserving and promoting the culture of the pygmy peoples is my struggle”he said.

Note that in the book’s foreword “ The University of the Forest » of Sorel Eta, Pr. Dominique Bourg, a great Franco-Swiss ecologist, stressed that among the fundamental points of this book is the insistence on the specific mode of production and exchange of knowledge that allows the Aka to live in the forest: it is neither science nor its dissemination by schools and universities. A mode that does not summon fewer spirits. Sophisticated knowledge of which polyphony is a dazzling manifestation.

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