MOLOUKOU, Central African Republic — Beneath the forest canopy, Lucien Maka steps out of a clearing and into his element.
He darts over the shaded undergrowth and finds a cluster of mushrooms, deftly wrapping them in a bundle of leaves. His friend hacks apart a thick branch and gulps down the clean water stored within. They pocket several caterpillars — a local delicacy — and point upward to a bees’ nest swollen with honey, before slashing another tree’s bark to release soaplike sap and wash their hands.
For the outsider, the rain forests of the Central African Republic are an intimidating confusion of vines and towering trunks. For Mr. Maka, whose fellow Bayaka “pygmies” have lived here in the Congo Basin for millenniums by hunting and gathering, this lush wilderness is as convenient as a downtown deli.
“The forest has always provided everything we need,” says Mr. Maka, who is in his early 30s although unsure of his exact age.