The Baga people live in the coastal lowlands of Guinea. They belong to separate tribes sharing extensive cultural characteristics (from north to south of present day Guinea): the Mandori, the Sitemu, the Pukur, the Bulunits, the Kakissa (or Sobané), the Koba, and the Kalum. They are also closely related to the inland Landuma, to the Nalu of Guinea-Bissau and to the Temne of Sierra Leone with whom they share linguistical roots.
In addition to the Baga dialects (some linguistically unique), most of the Baga also speak the Mande language Susu, the regional trade language. Two Baga communities are known to have abandoned their language altogether in favour of Susu, namely the Sobané and Kaloum (needs citation).
The name Baga is derived from the phrase bae raka, “people of the seaside.”
According to Baga oral tradition, the Baga originated in Guinea's interior highlands and were driven by aggressive neighbors westward to the coastal swamplands. They were already settled there by the 16th century when Portuguese traders described them as a "secretive, hostile people, best left alone." (needs citation)
In the late 19th century, Guinea became a French colony and Baga culture began to erode under Roman Catholicism. The situation was aggravated after Guinea's independence in 1958, when the Islamic-Marxist Government confiscated and destroyed all Baga icons and outlawed non-Muslim religious practices. Only after Sekou Toure' death in 1984 did Baga culture began to reemerge as an affirmation of tribal identity.
Baga ritual art, such as the "D'mba" (or "Nimba") headress, has been widely shown in western museums.
- Mouser, Bruce L. (2002) “Who and where were the Baga?: European perceptions from 1793 to 1821,” History in Africa, 29, 337–364.
- Cotter, Holland "A Culture Ignored Except for Its Icons" New York Times, October 25, 1996
- For spirits and kings: African art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman collection, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on the Baga people