Cameroon is using the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to educate indigenous communities who have preserved their ways of life and their own cultures despite external influences to respect barrier measures so as not to be infected by COVID-19.
Pygmies, Mbororos and Kirdis sing in Yaounde to invite their peers to make sure COVID-19 does not get into their communities. Cameroon’s indigenous people are taking part in activities marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Populations.
Grace Bulami of the non-governmental organization Indigenous Rights is one of the organizers of the activities. She says it is imperative to stop the coronavirus from getting into their communities. She says certain traditional practices can favor fast transmission should a Pygmy, Mbororo or Kirdi be infected.
“They have this tendency to always want to hold hands and shake hands with each other and so we went out to sensitize them that it is dangerous for themselves and their loved ones to continue to shake hands because the pandemic spreads through that method. We try to sensitize on the importance of wearing face masks, washing their hands and social distancing," she said.
A study carried out by Indigenous Rights, the Yaounde based Center for Environment and Development, and the Mbororo Cultural and Development Organization, MBOSCUDA, indicate that no indigenous person has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The first case of the coronavirus was reported in Cameroon on March 5. Since then more than 18,000 cases have been officially confirmed.
Jaji Manu Gidado, honorary president of MBOSCUDA says indigenous people have been free from the virus because they hardly mix with non-indigenous communities.
"They live in very difficult and isolated areas. Indigenous people live in ecosystems that provide them with a lot of traditional herbs that they use to prevent and even to cure minor illnesses," said Gidado.
This year's indigenous populations day was observed under the theme “COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience.” Angelica Bih Mundi Ambe, director of social protection in Cameroon’s ministry of social affairs says the government also used the opportunity to donate hand sanitizers, water basins, soap and face masks to indigenous people.
"When we talk of resilience it means capacitating these people to fight COVID-19," she said. "These people don’t have access to the information that we [non-indigenous people] have, the sanitary and barrier measures and so this year, emphasis is being laid on this COVID-19 to see how these people who are excluded can be mainstreamed and make the fight against COVID-19 a success."
Cameroons National Institute of statistics reports that the central African state with a population of 25 million people has 2 million indigenous people. Most of them live in places that are difficult to access for non-indigenous people.
Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated around the world and marks the date of the inaugural session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations at the United Nations in 1982.