The Baya or Gbaya people live principally in the Central African Republic (CAR) of Africa. Situated about 500 miles north of the equator, the CAR is a land-locked nation bordered by Cameroon, Chad, the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of Congo.
Population migration resulting from slave raids in the 18th and 19th centuries brought migrants into the area of the CAR. The CAR has more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the major ethnic groups are the Baya who account for 34% of the population, the Banda who account for 25%, the Sara for 7%, the Nabandi for 11%, the Azande for 10%, and the Mbaka for 5%.
The Baya culture, also known as the Gbaya culture, is a subset of Ubangian culture that makes up about 82% of the regional population, and there are many subgroups within the Baya culture. Although French is the official language of the CAR, Sangho, the language of the Baya, is a common language used for commerce and intertribal communication. Therefore, the role of Baya culture in the life of the CAR cannot be overemphasized.
Like most Bantu peoples living in rural areas, the Baya are mainly farmers whose staple food is cassava, and like most Ubangians, the Baya use a method of farming called swidden or slash and burn. It involves clearing the vegetation of a plot of land, spreading it over the area to be used for planting, and burning it. After about 3 years of use, the plot is abandoned for about 4 years as new plots are cultivated in rotation. The Baya use this method for mostly all of their farming needs. Cooperative labor enables the cultivation of large plots. Manioc, yams, millet, corn, and bananas are the main food crops. In modern times, the Baya attend to crops such as cassava, yams, and corn for their own needs, whereas crops cotton and coffee are grown solely for exporting.
Because of the hot and humid climate, the Baya live in hut-like homes made of dried bricks with thatched roofs that tend to keep the rooms cool during hot days and warm during the cold days of the rainy season.
Before the advent of the foreign religions of Christianity and Islam, the Baya had their own indigenous African or Bantu culture of which the religious aspect was based on the belief in the existence of spirits in objects, ancestral spirits, and gods that can be related to and pacified through various sacrifices and rituals. The religious culture of the Baya has been threatened by both Christianity and Islam, but it has been resilient enough to enable some of its aspects to be incorporated into the local practices of both Christianity and Islam.
The population of the entire CAR is supposed to be mostly Christians, accounting for 83% of the population, of which 33% are Roman Catholic and 50% are Protestant; around 12% of the population follows local original indigenous beliefs, and 3% are Muslims. Nevertheless, the ancestral beliefs and practices persist through integration with both Christianity and Islam.
Written by : Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle
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