Children of the Forest: Africas Mbuti Pygmies

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The dry season is relatively short, ranging from one to two months in duration. The forest is a moist, humid region strewn with rivers and lakes. Too much rainfall or drought can also affect the food supply. The Mbuti live much as their ancestors must have lived, leading a very traditional way of life in the forest.

SAGE Reference - Mbuti Pygmies

They live in territorially defined bands, and construct villages of small, circular, temporary huts, built from poles, rope made of vines, and covered with large leaves. Each hut houses a family unit. At the start of the dry season, they begin to move through a series of camps, utilizing more land area for maximum foraging. The Mbuti have a vast knowledge about the forest and the foods it yields. They hunt small antelope and other game with large nets, traps, and bows. There is no ruling group or lineage within the Mbuti, and no overlying political organization.

Demand for game meat takes toll on Central African forests

The Mbuti are an egalitarian society where men and women basically have equal power. Issues in the community are solved and decisions are made by consensus, and men and women engage in the conversations equally. Little political or social structure exists among the Mbuti. Whereas hunting with bow and arrow is predominately a male activity, hunting with nets is usually done in groups, with men, women, and children all aiding in the process.

In some instances, women may hunt using a net more often than men. The women and the children try to herd the animals to the net, while the men guard the net. Everyone engages in foraging, and both women and men take care of the children. Women are in charge of cooking, cleaning, repairing the hut, and obtaining water.

The cooperative relationship between the sexes is illustrated by the following description of a Mbuti playful "ritual:".

The tug-of-war begins with all the men on one side and the women on the other. If the women begin to win, one of them leaves to help out the men and assumes a deep male voice to make fun of manhood. As the men begin to win, one of them joins the women and mocks them in high-pitched tones. The battle continues in this way until all the participants have switched sides and have had an opportunity to both help and ridicule the opposition. Then both sides collapse, laughing over the point that neither side gains in beating the other.

Sister exchange is the common form of marriage among the Mbuti. Based on reciprocal exchange, men from other bands exchange their sister or another female that they have ties to, often another relative. Polygamy does occur, but is uncommon. The Mbuti have a fairly extensive relationship with their Bantu villager neighbors. Never completely out of touch with the villagers, the Mbuti trade forest items such as meat, honey , and animal hides for agricultural products and tools. They also turn to the village tribunal in cases of violent crime.

In exchange, the villagers turn to the Mbuti for their spiritual connection to the land and forest.

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Mbuti take part in major ceremonies and festivals, particularly those that have to do with harvests or the fertility of the land. Everything in the Mbuti life is centered on the forest; they consider themselves "children of the forest," and consider the forest to be a sacred place. An important part of Mbuti spiritual life is the molimo. The molimo is, in its most physical form, a musical instrument most often made from wood, although, in The Forest People, Colin Turnbull described his disappointment that such a sacred instrument could also easily be made of old drainpipe.

To the Mbuti, the molimo is also the "Song of the Forest," a festival, and a live thing when it is making sound. When not in use, the molimo is kept in a tree, and given food, water, and warmth. The Mbuti believe that the balance of "silence" meaning peacefulness, not the absence of sound and "noise" quarreling and disharmony is important; when the "noise" becomes out of balance, the youth of the tribe bring out the molimo. The molimo is also called upon whenever bad things happen to the tribe, in order to negotiate between the forest and the people.

There is darkness upon us; Darkness is all around, There is no light. But it is the darkness of the forest, So if it really must be, Even the darkness is good. First used by early Spanish explorers to the Philippines , the term Negrito meaning "little black" is used to refer to pygmy populations outside Africa: in Malaysia , the Philippines, and southeast Asia.


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Much like the term "Pygmy," the term "Negrito" is a blanket term imposed by outsiders, unused and often unheard of by the people it denotes, who use tribal names to identify themselves. Similar groups have been mentioned in Japan , Vietnam , Cambodia , and Indonesia , making it likely that there once was a band of Negritos covering much of Asia.

The Aeta, also known as Ati, Agta, or Ita are the indigenous people of the Philippines , who theoretically migrated to the islands over land bridges approximately thirty thousand years ago. Adept at living in the rainforest, many groups of Aeta believe in a Supreme Being, as well as environmental spirits that inhabit the rivers, sky, mountains, and so forth. They perform ritual dances, many connected with the hunt, otherwise there are no set occasions for prayer or ritual activities.

They are excellent weavers, producing beautiful baskets, rattan hammocks, and other containers. The Great Andamanese first came into contact with outsiders in when Great Britain established a penal colony on the islands. Since then, their numbers have decreased from 3, to little more than 30, all of whom live on a reservation on a small island.

The Onge live further inland, and were mostly left alone until Indian independence in Since , their numbers have also decreased, though less drastically then the Great Andamanese, from to Alcohol and drugs supplied by Indian "welfare" staff have become a problem amongst the Onge. In the interior and west coasts of southern Great Andaman, the Jarawa live a reclusive life apart from Indian settlers.

After a Jarawa boy was found and hospitalized in with a broken leg, contact between the "hostile" Jarawa and the Indians increased, but tensions grew, and in , the Jarawa realized that they were better off without "civilized society," and once again withdrew from most contact with the outside world. The Sentineli live on North Sentinel Island, and are one of the world's most isolated and least-known people. Their numbers are said to be about one hundred, but this is little more than a guess, as no one has been able to approach the Sentineli.

After the tsunami , helicopters sent to check on the Sentineli and drop food packets were met with stone throwing and arrows.


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  • Despite living on a group of islands, the Andamanese pygmies remain people of the forest. Groups that live along the shore never developed any strong connection with the sea, and never dare to take their outrigger canoes out of sight of land. Despite the abundance of seafood, it contributes surprisingly little to their diets, which focus mainly on pork. In Africa , the Pygmies are in very real danger of losing their forest home, and consequently their cultural identity, as the forest is systematically cleared by logging companies. In some situations, like that in the Democratic Republic of Congo , there exists a sad irony: civil war and uprisings that create a dangerous environment for the Pygmies and their neighbors are in fact responsible for keeping the logging companies at bay.

    Whenever a more peaceful situation is created, the logging companies judge the area safe to enter and destroy the forest, forcing resident Pygmies to leave their home and that which gives them their sense of cultural and spiritual identity.

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    In addition to the persistent loss of the rain forest, African Pygmy populations must deal with exploitation by neighboring Bantu, who often consider them equal to monkeys , and pay them for their labor in alcohol and tobacco. Many Bantu view the Pygmies as having supernatural abilities, and there is a common belief that sexual intercourse with a Pygmy can prevent or cure diseases such as AIDS ; a belief that is causing AIDS to be on the rise among Pygmy populations.

    Perhaps most disturbing of all are the stories of cannibalism from the Congo; soldiers eating Pygmies in order to absorb their forest powers. Although this is an extreme example, it graphically illustrates the attitude that Pygmies are often considered subhuman, making it difficult for them to defend their culture against obliteration. New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation.

    Efe and Mbuti

    To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats. The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:. Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed. Nursing goes on long after a child can walk and talk.

    Mothers often swap and adopt children of their sisters and close friends. The Efe live in small camps of fewer than fifty residents. Mbuti camps usually have two to three times as many people because net-hunting, which the Mbuti practice, requires communal participation. Individual households are nuclear families endu consisting of a husband, a wife, and their children.

    Families are patrilineal, meaning they trace their lineage through the male line to a common male ancestor. Marriages are exchanges between families. Mutual affection can play a part. However, generally a man offers a sister, niece, or cousin to his wife's brother or male relative. Divorce is common. A women often initiates divorce simply by packing her things including small children and moving back to her family's camp. If she has boys, they return to their father when they are old enough to hunt. The typical marriage is monogamous because women are scarce.

    Tropical forest foragers wear loincloths.