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Unformatted text preview: The BaMbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Forest Colin Turnbull's book The Forest People is the author's account of his experiences and findings while living with and studying a group of BaMbuti pygmies in the Ituri Forest of the Congo. Turnbull's personalized study of the Mbuti pygmies gives the reader significant insight and knowledge concerning the pygmy society and its key elements. The importance of the Pygmies' environment, economic production, and demography are explored along with other aspects of the BaMbuti society. Friction and strife, which is inevitable in any society, is also examined. The Forest People is written in a personal first person perspective and therefore successfully communicates the difficulties of ethnographic fieldwork Turnbull had to endure in order to establish and maintain rapport with the pygmies. Though The Forest People is an anthropological account, Turnbull does not always appear objective in his romanticized view of the Pygmies . Despite Turnbull's slightly skewed approach, The Forrest People is considered a classic and remains a main source for information concerning the Pygmies of the Ituri forest. Turnbull makes it evident within the first chapter of his book that Pygmies' home in the forest is incredibly important and serves as a major factor in shaping the life of the Pygmy. Understanding a society's environment, the first element of the ecological base, is essential to properly understanding the society and its ways as a whole. The forest has been the BaMbuti's true home for thousands of years. While some find the forest forbidding, the Pygmies love and know it well. They intimately know the location of every trail and river as well as the inside of their palms. The BaMbuti are a nomadic hunting and gathering society. They have no need to farm or cultivate crops because the forest provides all the food they need. The BaMbuti hunt with nets, made of the forest's vines, that stretch for many yards. The forest also provides the Pygmies with all the supplies needed to create an adequate shelter. The huts the BaMbuti live in are made with staples and leaves from the surrounding trees. The Pygmies clothing, softened bark, is also made from the forest trees. The Pygmy's friendly view of the world and religion also revolves around their forest home. The Pygmies believe the forest is God and good because it provides them with everything they need. If a tragedy befalls the Pygmies, they believe the forest must be sleeping and sing to wake it up. As already stated, the Pygmies find all their food in the forest with the exception of small village trades. The Pygmy women forage by gathering roots, mushrooms, editable berries, leaves, and honey. The men hunt game like antelope and even elephants with nets and spears. Women and children often help with the hunting by driving the game into the nets. The Pygmies set up camp and maintain it for approximately five weeks before abandoning their huts and moving on to another location with a fresh source of game. The BaMbuti occasionally trade with the Negro villagers for things they cannot get from the forest like plantation products such as bananas. The BaMbuti in return give meat to the villagers, which they cannot easily access since the do not know the forest well making it full of danger. A Pygmy's average height is around four feet, but such a short height, though scoffed at by others, suits them because it allows them to run swiftly through the forest under branches and avoid other obstacles in their path. The BaMbuti live in bands of fifty to sixty people and move every five to six weeks. Family is essential in Pygmy life. Most members of a band are somehow related, even if distantly. When children are being raised, they often refer to any adult male as father and any female mother though they have a particular affection for their true parents. There is no centralized authority or existence of chiefs in Pygmy bands. The BaMbuti operate with a group consciousness. Disputes are argued out and settled. On rare occasion, when a dispute cannot be settled or is too offensive, the guilty Pygmy is sent to live in the forest alone where he will not be able to survive. The BaMbuti also have a religion which revolves around the forest and all its gifts. Rituals that pay their gratitude and celebration of the forest include the molimo. Other rituals or practices include the elima and nkumbi, though the latter is more of a village tradition. The molimo occurs after a negative event such as death to return to the natural order of things and wake the forest up because if something bad has happened, the forest must be asleep since it is good. Molimo is also the name for the trumpet that accompanies the men dancing and singing around the fire at night when celebrating the Molimo. An elima is a celebration of a girl's entrance into motherhood and the nkumbi is a similar tradition for boys. The song and dance of the Pygmies is an aspect of their society that must not be forgotten. Singing and dancing are usually a key part of rituals or celebrations, not to mention every day life. All the components of the ecological base of the BaMbuti society are indirectly related. If one changes, they all will change. As in any society, strife and friction exist in the tight-knit BaMbuti community. Such friction often escalates to a dispute which is usually settled rather quickly by ridicule and without overwhelming consequence. Turnbull witnessed several disputes over the time he spent with the BaMbuti. A minor dispute occurs when a Pygmy commits a misdemeanor. An example of such a conflict in Turnbull's book was when the lazy Pygmy Pepei was caught after stealing for sometime in the old woman Sau's hut. Pepei was beaten by the men and youths in the band and Pepei ran off into the forest for a day or so before returning to the camp. The next day when Pepei returned he acted normally and his fellow Pygmies gave him food so he would no longer have to steal. (Page 120, 121) Another dispute occurred after Aberi's wife Tamasa offended his brother Masalito by insulting him when she would not give him one of her husband's new pipe stems. The argument escalated to a fight between Aberi and Masalito. Aberi threatened to spear his brother and attempted to to an illustrative dance but fell on his face. Aberi, who was much less popular than Masalito, was ridiculed for the following weeks. Masalito was also punished for trying to name all the family names that supported him and therefore splitting up the camp. Masalito was then ridiculed. After several days the brother were on good terms once again. (Page 116 118) Disputes or arguments are usually settiled quickly with the focus on keeping peace in the camp. In order to complete a successful ethnographic field study, it is essential for the anthropologist to gain and maintain rapport with the people of his study and Turnbull was no different. An anthropologist can establish rapport by learning the language of the people being studied, gaining the people's trust, being objective, and participating in the daily activities and rituals of the people. ...
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This homework help was uploaded on 04/09/2008 for the course ANTHRO 106 taught by Professor Greene during the Spring '08 term at Eastern CT.
- Spring '08
- Cultural Anthropology