The Aka people, also known as Bayaka, are an indigenous population living in the Likouala region of the Republic of Congo. Despite their rich cultural heritage, the Aka have faced numerous challenges and obstacles.
As part of the Ordre de Malte France's (OMF) programme in Likouala, it was proposed in 2018 to carry out a vast health awareness campaign for the Aka using an innovative method adapted to the constraints of the territory. Solar audio players have been used by the Audiopedia Foundation since 2016 to improve health education among illiterate women in rural areas. The French anthropologist Romain Duda proposed to adapt the Audiopedia approach to the Aka culture. The player has many advantages, allowing autonomous (solar) awareness-raising work and adapted to great mobility.
This autonomous dissemination of health messages in the Aka language is an effective way of training the population in simple gestures, while at the same time complementing the primary health care system set up by the Order of Malta and being attentive to and respectful of certain indigenous skills. By relying on a participatory methodology, the broadcasting of messages recorded by the Aka, and for the Aka, allows for the valorization of testimonies on their own situation, an essential aspect since the reader also aims to transmit the content of the Congolese law of 2011 on their own rights.
During the missions of February-March 2018 and October-November 2018, the tool was systematically presented in the villages visited, explaining its interest in the dissemination of medical knowledge complementary to local knowledge. In each village, listening sessions of previous recordings took place in order to motivate exchanges and potentially new recordings in situ.
The central idea of the project is that the recordings do not produce a relationship of power or knowledge for the listener, but rather that they promote the identification and appropriation of the discourses. It is not a question of simply translating a prescriptive text written by a medical team into the Aka language, but of going back and forth between a scientifically correct statement and its popularised version adapted to the target audience, allowing the Aka to appropriate the knowledge and then to talk about it in their own terms, using their own modes of expression (frequent repetition, quotations from real-life examples, etc.).
The format chosen favours awareness-raising messages on health or rights, alternating with health education songs (based on traditional musical structures), and personal testimonies on diseases or rights. In addition, the Aka were given the opportunity to record songs and music from their own musical heritage, unrelated to health, so that the audio player could also serve as a tool to enhance and transmit their own culture and identity, which is largely based on their musical heritage. This reinforces the appropriation of this tool by the Aka and the important "attractive" effect of these audio players.
The method used differs according to the theme. For the rights promotion messages, the recordings consisted of:
- meticulous translation of a selection of articles from the 2011 Congolese law on the rights of indigenous people;
- recording of testimonies and awareness-raising messages by volunteers.
With regard to health education messages, the first step was to organise discussion sessions on various topics (parasitosis, malaria, vaccination, leprosy, etc.) in order to identify the need for understanding and the local terminologies, aetiologies and nosologies. In order to confront and support the exchanges, this work was supported by continuous back and forth between the Aka encyclopaedia (Thomas et al., 1981-2018), the OMF team of nurses (notably Dr. Cyriaque and César) and Dr. Alain Epelboin (CNRS- MNHN).
The main difficulty encountered in creating the health messages was to find a balance between biomedical rigour in the messages and the importance of allowing the Aka to express themselves with their own vocabulary, expressions and representations of illness. The lack of correspondence between biomedical and Aka terminologies, nosologies and etiologies was obviously a challenge to reconcile these two forms of discourse. To overcome this constraint, numerous round trips had to be made between the first versions (French or Aka), the recordings (sometimes in several takes), and their final translation into French (this document). If, following the translation into French of the recording, certain passages were found to be irrelevant or to contain inappropriate additions or "mistakes", these passages were cut out during the final audio editing.
Summary of key messages
The content of the audio player consists of five parts (or folders) and is available on the Audiopedia Cloud:
- hygiene and health,
- rights of indigenous people, and
- traditional songs, music and stories.
The content is divided as follows:
- Number of contributors: 12
- Speaking time for women: 48 minutes Speaking time for men: 1 hour and 46 minutes Duration of content by theme
- Awareness of health, diseases: 1h13
- Rights awareness: 1h06
- Songs, tales and traditional music: 1h53
The first track (file A) of the player consists of an introduction, instructions for use and recommendations to users of the audio player. It specifies that the objective is to share vital information for the Aka, that the player remains the property of the Ordre de Malte France in order to make the person who receives it aware of his or her responsibilities, and insists on the attention to be paid to the object (track A01/1).
File B contains mainly health education messages about the link between hygiene and diseases or parasites. It alternates spoken and sung messages (B01/1 to 4). Emphasis is placed on the importance of hand washing in order to avoid bacterial contamination, diarrhoeal diseases, conjunctivitis, etc. The importance of regular washing of clothes is also mentioned in connection with skin problems.
Concerning diarrhoeal diseases, some traditional remedies (bark decoctions) are mentioned. The authors also mention the importance of drinking clean water to avoid stomach aches and diarrhoea. Concerning the infestation of many children with ticks (Tunga penetrans), parasites that can deform children's feet if not removed quickly, a short message urges parents to watch over children's feet and the importance of removing them quickly (using the traditional technique, which is proving effective) (B01/5).
A traditional tale, comical and sung, featuring an individual infested with fleas is inserted following this message (B01/06). A script addresses the problems of malnutrition by communicating the importance of feeding children a variety of foods and indicating some of the symptoms of malnutrition (B01/7). The next message makes listeners aware of the importance of quickly cleaning every wound (with soap) before it becomes infected. A traditional remedy with supposedly healing properties is suggested (B01/8).
File C deals with more serious diseases. The series begins with a message (followed by a song) about the importance of participating in vaccination campaigns, the fact that vaccines can prevent certain diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, meningitis and tetanus. In order to bring modern medicine closer to the representation of healing in the Aka, the vaccination process (penetration of a substance into the body through the blood) is compared with the traditional Aka therapy based on on the application of ointment to scarification marks, and was aptly named 'vaccines' in local French.
A long message deals with malaria (C02/1): prevention, diagnosis and reactions to symptoms. The central idea of the message is to clarify that malaria comes from a species of mosquito (as the relationship between malaria and mosquitoes is rarely made locally). On prevention, the author of the message insists on the places and times when Anopheles bites: evening hours and the danger of keeping puddles of stagnant water in the rainy season. The message stresses the need for a minimum of prevention with the mosquito net, especially for children. A detailed list of symptoms is mentioned. Following this message, one can listen to the famous Congolese song "Moustique" which insists on the relationship between malaria crisis and mosquito (C02/2).
One track (C02/3) deals with the different situations that can cause respiratory diseases: not protecting oneself against the morning and night cold, especially in the rainy season, or not protecting oneself against dust (logging trucks, sweeping yards). Next, the author of the message raises awareness about the dangers of over-consumption of tobacco, especially industrial cigarettes, and the relationship with coughing and other lung problems. He insists on the importance of setting an example for children by mentioning their ability to imitate their parents. The economic argument (cost of cigarettes in the face of the Aka's low income) was also put forward.
For leprosy, the message (C03/1) is that treatment is available and that people should report at the first sign of symptoms. These symptoms are described. The message stresses the absolute necessity of continuing the treatment every day until it is completed, and that there are no effective traditional remedies. The message also motivates listeners to take care of lepers, not to isolate or stigmatise them, but rather to accompany them in their treatment. However, the message also tells people who are in daily contact with lepers some basic rules to avoid contagion. The message is followed by a long testimony (C03/2) from one of the few lepers in the area who has overcome leprosy through good compliance with his treatment. He talks about the importance of not running away from the hospital and of respecting the dosage and length of treatment.
File 4-D deals with rights in general, and more specifically with the relationship with Bantu neighbours, the importance of reconciling school with traditional knowledge and practices. The section on rights begins with an introduction on the existence of a national law dedicated to indigenous people since 2011 (D01/1). This is followed by a song about how the Aka are treated in Enyelle (D01/2).
The central part of this dossier is the translation of Law 05/2011 on the protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous populations of Congo (the translation concerns the most significant articles of the law). The different themes detailed in the law are respected: right to citizenship, right to health, culture and tradition, labour law, land law (D02/1 to 16).
The following section brings together various testimonies on the situation of the Aka of Likouala with regard to their rights. These are spoken or sung messages. There is a long message advocating fair economic relations between the Aka and their neighbours, and the importance of treating the Aka well (D03/1), and a text on the importance of preserving traditional knowledge and Aka identity (D03/2). On one of the tracks, a man speaks about the role of schooling for the future of Aka children (D03/4), then a group of men sing about the freedom to hunt and move around in the forest (D03/5). Finally, we discover two songs improvised by a young Aka artist to modern music (the 'coupé-décalé'): the first deals with the conditions of monetary exchange between Aka and 'Bantous' (D03/6), the second discusses the need for young Aka to reconcile school knowledge with knowledge of the forest (D03/7).
Recording folder 5-E brings together a range of songs, music and stories from the Aka folk tradition. The tales make up a large part of this section, taking the form of nightly sessions in which a storyteller tells the story of individuals with human forms but animal names through their social interactions in a mythological time.
Some songs and tales from the Baka of Cameroon were added at the request of several Aka. These songs and tales, with their similarities (rhythmic, musical, structural) but without inter-comprehension, also contribute to an awareness of a shared identity among the indigenous people of Central Africa.
Proposal of procedure for distribution of players
- Fully charge a series of audio players via the USB port. The fastest and most practical way is to charge between 5 and 10 at the same time.
- Once plugged in, in order to access the contents of the player, perform the unlock combination on the player. The LED changes colour.
- Delete all the default content on the player.
- Empty your computer's "recycle bin"
- From the computer, select all the folders containing the recordings and copy them to the audio players, leaving the pre-set folder and sub-folder names (folders A-B-C-D-E) unchanged.
- Once the transfer is complete, eject the devices and switch them off with the green button at the top left.
- Mark each audio player in the series with a number to be entered in the player distribution table (write the number with a large marker on the red part of the device)
- The audio players should be distributed as a priority to those who have contributed to the recordings or to the community relay aka
- Finally, in the remaining villages the readers should preferably be given to Aka women with status in the community (wife of the clan chief, matron).
- Eventually, only one player should be distributed per village, emphasising that the person receiving the audio player is not the owner, but the person responsible for it. He or she must ensure that the player circulates in the community and does not remain only in the close family circle (this is explained in the introduction, on the first track of the player).
- When visiting villages, nurses should ensure that the distributed player is still in the village. If the player is no longer in the village, they should notify the head of mission or his assistant, who will report the current status of the player in the audio player status sheet (player number, village, status: broken/moved to the forest/moved to another village/received by a 'Bantu'/stolen...)