Human Ecology pp 143-154 | Cite as

The Wild Yam Question: Evidence from Baka Foraging in the Northwest Congo Basin

  • Hirokazu Yasuoka


In the mid-1980s, many argued that present-day hunter-gatherer societies had been marginalized and reconstructed under the enormous influences of macro-scale socioeconomic and political systems and thus could not be used as models of prehistoric human society. The so-called “Kalahari debate” concerning the San of the Kalahari Desert is of considerable importance because ethnographies of the San were often used for reconstructing prehistoric human society in the African savanna. A concurrent debate concerned the hunter-gatherer societies, which had long been thought to be the original inhabitants of tropical rainforests. Hart and Hart (1986), Headland (1987), and Bailey et al. (1989) questioned the viability of subsistence in the rainforest based solely on foraging, independent of agriculture. Tropical rainforests are known to be extremely productive with an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. Nevertheless, “revisionist” scholars found that in fact food resources for human subsistence are rather scarce, spatially dispersed, and seasonally variable, especially in terms of energy sources. Headland (1987) termed this the “wild yam question” as wild yams were thought to be the major energy source for humans in tropical rainforests but argued that even energy rich yams were insufficient for supporting foragers in the forests. Along with Hart and Hart (1986) and Bailey et al. (1989), he hypothesized that without access to cultivated food subsistence is not viable in tropical rainforests. Further, they argued that hunter-gatherers might not have lived in tropical rainforests until cultivated food had become available (nowhere earlier than 10,000 years B.P.).2


Rainy Season Tropical Rainforest Wild Food Congo Basin Total Capture 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Humanity and EnvironmentHosei UniversityTokyoJapan

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