Gbaya people

Gbaya people distribution map (approx).[1][2]

The Gbaya, also Gbeya or Baya, are a people of western region of Central African Republic, east-central Cameroon, the north of the Republic of Congo, and the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo.[3] Numbering about 970,000 by the late 1800s, they originated in northern Nigeria. The Gbaya were known for their strong resistance to the French and slavery, and revolted against them or three years starting in 1928 when they were conscripted to work on the Congo-Ocean railway.

In rural areas, the Gbaya cultivate mainly maize, cassava, yams, peanuts, tobacco, coffee and rice, the latter two of which were introduced by the French. Today, many of the Gbaya people are Christians, though witchcraft is practiced, known as dua.


The Gbaya numbered about 970,000 by the late 1800s, after fleeing the holy war of Usman dan Fodio in the Hausa area of northern Nigeria early in the century. In what is now northern Cameroon they experienced conflict with the Fulani ethnic group. The Gbaya were resistant to the French colonialists in the early 20th century. In the early 1920s there was a strong backlash after many of them were enslaved as porters and labourers, and developed into a revolt in 1928-1931 when conscription was introduced in the building of the Congo-Ocean railway.[1]

The Gbaya people felt discriminated against in the political sphere, even after independence from the French. It was only in the 1990s that a notable number of Gbaya leaders began to be admitted into higher adminsitrative positions in government.[4] More recent estimates of the population differ markedly, from 1.2 million,[5] down to 685,100, of which 358,000 are native to Cameroon.[6]

Sub groups and languages

Gbaya throwing knife.

Subgroups of the Gbaya include the Bokoto, Kara, Kaka, Buli, and Bwaka. The Gbaya speak a language of the Adamawa-Ubangi subgroup of the Niger-Congo language family.[1]

Economic and cultural practices

In rural areas, the Gbaya cultivate mainly maize, cassava (staple food),[7] yams, peanuts, tobacco, coffee and rice, the latter two of which were introduced by the French. The diamond industry took off in the late 1930s and still remains important.[1] The agriculture method of Gbaya is called "swidden", a type of "slash and burn" farming where the forest is cleared, vegetation burnt on top of the cleared land, the farm used for a few years, then abandoned and the families move to a new area.[7]

The Gbaya make an alcoholic beverage prepared with honey which is known as kuri. Kam, is a Gbaya porridge made from cassava.[4] Today, most of the Gbaya people are Christians (50% Protestant, 33% Catholic), about 12% follows original indigenous beliefs, with only a minority of Muslims (3%).[7][8] Witchcraft is known to be practiced, and is known to the people as dua.[9]

Stories and rituals of the Gbaya people are a feature of everyday society.[10] The rituals employ martial arts equipment such as two edged swords and throwing knives.[11]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Gbaya". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  2. Kevin Shillington (2013). Encyclopedia of African History. Routledge. pp. 398–400. ISBN 978-1-135-45669-6.
  3. Burnham, Philip; Christensen, Thomas (1983). "Karnu's Message and the 'War of the Hoe Handle': Interpreting a Central African resistance movement". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. Cambridge University Press. 53 (4): 3–22. doi:10.2307/1159708.
  4. 1 2 Burnham, P. C. (January 1997). Gbaya. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 59–61. ISBN 978-0-8239-1995-6.
  5. Olson, James Stuart (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-313-27918-8.
  6. "Baya". Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 Molefi Kete Asante; Ama Mazama (2009). Encyclopedia of African Religion. SAGE Publications. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4129-3636-1.
  8. Rosander, Eva Evers (1997). Transformation Des Identités Féminines. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 206. ISBN 978-91-7106-403-5.
  9. Währisch-Oblau, Claudia; Wrogemann, Henning (9 January 2015). Witchcraft, Demons and Deliverance. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 144. ISBN 978-3-643-90657-1.
  10. Mudimbe, V. Y. (6 October 2016). Tales of Faith: Religion as Political Performance in Central Africa. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-4742-8137-9.
  11. Jacqueline Cassandra Woodfork (2006). Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic. Greenwood Publishing. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-313-33203-6.
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