In the Aka tribe of Central Africa, fathers spend more time with their children than most parents in industrialized societies. Aka fathers have their infant within arms’ reach 47% of the time and make physical contact with them five times as often per day as fathers in some other societies.
A worldwide study by Fathers Direct, a British national information centre on fatherhood which included 156 cultures around the world found that fathering had a low status in most countries. Only 20 per cent of the cultures studied promote men’s close relationships with infants, and only 5 per cent with young children, the study published in the centre’s journal, ‘FatherWorld’ said.
The Aka tribe according to the report, is one of the very few cultures where men take advantage of every opportunity to be in close contact with their infant. Aka fathers often take the child along when they go drinking palm wine or during other social activities. They may hold the baby close to their bodies for a couple of hours at a time.
Aka fathers even commonly offer their nipple to their crying babies to suck, a method perfectly suited for soothing them until it can be fed.
They typically spend more time in close contact to their babies than in any other known society. Aka fathers have their infant within arms’ reach 47% of the time and make physical contact with them five times as often per day as fathers in some other societies.
The Aka Tribe
The Aka or Bayaka are a nomadic Mbenga pygmy people. They live in southwestern Central African Republic and in northern Republic of the Congo and are related to the Baka people of Cameroon, Gabon, northern Congo, and southwestern Central African Republic.
The Aka have developed ways of life which are largely self-sufficient and extraordinarily diverse. They are also widely known to foster close ties within families and communities.
There is a sexual division of labour in the Aka community – women are the primary caregivers, while tasks and decision-making are largely shared activities, top jobs in the tribe invariably go to men: the kombeti (leader), the tuma (elephant hunter) and the nganga (top healer) in the community are all male.
Aka men are also known to slip into roles usually occupied by mothers, without giving it much thought and without any loss of status as there’s no stigma involved in the different jobs.
One thing that’s crucial in the raising of the young in the Aka tribe is the importance placed on physical closeness: at around three months, a baby is always in constant physical contact with either one of her/his parents or with another person.
There’s no such thing as a baby cot in an Aka camp because it’s unheard of for a couple to leave their baby lying unattended.
That’s certainly how it seemed to Professor Barry Hewlett, an American anthropologist who was the first person to spot ‘male breastfeeding’ among the Aka Pygmy people of central Africa after he decided to live alongside them in order to study their way of life more closely.
There’s a big sense in our society that dads can’t always be around and that you have to give up a lot of time with your child but that you can put that right by having quality time with them instead,” he said. “But after living with the Aka, I’ve begun to doubt the wisdom of that line. It seems to me that what fathers need is a lot more time with their children, and they need to hold them close a lot more than they do at the moment. Hewlett was quoted by The Guardian.
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