copy of a phd thesis, coffee and note-taking

The Importance of Public Speaking, Ridicule & Play in an African Egalitarian Society

This page aims to give you a brief chapter-by-chapter summary of my PhD thesis — results of an 18-months socio-anthropological research among Congo-Basin hunter-gatherers.

Chapter 1: Introduction

a. Culture is transmitted through various social learning processes — processes that contribute to one’s learning through social interactions with others. This thesis presents what do people —  in this case BaYaka hunter-gatherers —  consider as important means of social learning. In other words, what do BaYaka think about how their culture should be transmitted?

b. The people I stayed and worked with emphasised that their specific forms of public speaking, ridicule, and play are crucial for reproduction of their culture, because they contribute to "ripening" of people.


According to BaYaka, ripening refers to human development; maturing; growing up, transition from being immature to being mature, becoming more intelligent, "less hard", "fuller", "bigger", "sweeter", "redder"...

c. The main objective of the thesis is to look closely at the BaYaka public speaking, ridicule, and play to see what sorts of social learning processes are employed as well as what is being learned (taught).

Chapter 2:  Ethnographic Setting

  • This section discusses historical, economic, ethnic, and cultural characteristics of the study area and people.​

  • Studied group: Mbendjele BaYaka. "BaYaka" is an equivalent to academic, but derogatory term "Pygmies".​

  • Where: Likouala Department, Congo-Brazzaville.​

  • I also discuss colonial history, languages, and BaYaka relationships with others —  particularly village-dwelling fishermen and farmers — who are called Bilo.

Chapter 3: Fieldwork Methods & Challenges 

  • Participant observation & free non-structured interviews were my main research methods. "Participant observation" is based on mimicking of what the people do. It also includes mastering the language they speak and learning about their main daily activities —  in my case it was orienteering in the rainforest, hunting & gathering, participation in ritual activities, etc.​

  • This section addresses what sorts of strategies I employed to collect specific sorts of data as well as how I had to behave in challenging situations  — misunderstandings during interviews, how they perceived my daily activities and what strategies I employed to deal with these conflicts.

Chapter 4:  How Humans Ripen?

  • BaYaka maintain an intimate relationship with the forest. It is seen as abundant, peaceful, cool, and helpful in conceiving children. It is an ideal place to share secrets, to make love, or to give birth. As the metaphor of "ripening" indicates, the forest is an underlying inspiration, in reference to human development and becoming wiser.

  • This chapter exemplifies on the metaphor of ripening in more detail: In what contexts people use it? How ripening relates to teaching & learning? What are the (in)appropriate ways of teaching & learning? What does it mean to be unripe? How can one become "ripe"?

Chapter 5: On Mbendjele Life-Cycle

  • This section gives you a general idea about what it means to be born & growing up in and Mbendjele Yaka society. I discuss distinct characteristics of Yaka life-stages as observed in the field and answer such questions as: What are the beliefs about conception & birth? What it means to be a good parent? What is theYaka perspective on marriage & divorce? The main message of this chapter, however, is to show how Yaka system of taboos called èkílà simultaneously shape and justify the beliefs concerning the human life-cycle.

Chapter 6: Mòsámbò 

  • Mòsámbò is how Mbendjele Yaka call their form of public speaking. Almost every morning & evening there is someone who gives this speech to share his or her opinions, wishes, plans, or uses it to complain about others. This is particularly important for a healthy functioning of the group. Mainly, if we realise that they are egalitarian — they have no chiefs, bosses, or kings — there is no hierarchy.

  • In this chapter I look closely at the speeches I witnessed to see what people learn from them. Primarily, I focus on the mòsámbò that were addressed to children, adolescents, and young adults and complaints about their behaviours.

Chapter 7: Mòádʒò 

  • BaYaka believe that it is better to resolve conflicts by laughter instead of open criticisms, disputes, or fights. They also claim that mòádʒò — a specific form of mocking theatre — motivates others in becoming better and wiser individuals.​ This chapter examines how is mòádʒò used and what these theatres teach about.

Chapter 8: Màssánà

  • In Western societies, playing is often considered as children's activity. This is not the case for BaYaka. Play, or as they say màssánà, is their "religion". Màssánà involves singing, dancing, drumming, children's games, and adult ritual activities. In this chapter, I analyse màssánà activities and their potency in teaching & learning distinct BaYaka values. I am looking at what and how people learn through engaging in and within màssánà.

Chapter 9: Contrasting "Ripening" with ORA

  • ORA means Observe, Think, Act! It is a schooling project that aims to prepare Congolese hunter-gatherer children for state schools. For example, by teaching maths, or speaking, reading & writing in French. Children in my research locality attended this school. Despite good intentions, the philosophy of outsider-imposed schools often clash with the indigenous views on how children should be educated.

  • This chapter contrasts practices employed in this school as I observed them with the Yaka way of teaching their children — the "ripening".


  • The research was financially supported by Leverhulme Trust Fund.

  • Full citation of the thesis:

Bombjaková, D. (2018) The role of public speaking, ridicule, and play in cultural transmission among Mbendjele Bayaka forest hunter-gatherers, Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Doctoral. UCL (University College London). Available at: