Pygmies


Pygmy groups are scattered throughout equatorial Africa, from Cameroon
in the west to Zambia in the southeast. In Zaire, there are three
main groups of Pygmies: the Tswa in the west, the Twa between Lake
Kivu and Lake Tanganyika, and the Mbuti (also referred to as Bambuti
or BaMbuti) of the Ituri Forest. According to Schebesta, the author
of the earliest reliable reports, only the Mbuti are true Pygmies,
i.e., under 150 cm. in height and relatively unmixed with neighboring
peoples. The other groups are referred to as Pygmoids, being highly
intermixed with other peoples both physically and culturally (Turnbull
1965A: 159-B). The following summary refers only to the Mbuti Pgymies
of the Ituri Forest in Zaire.
The Mbuti are located at lat. 0 degrees-3 degrees N and long. 26 degrees-30
degrees E. Their territory is a primary rain forest. The Mbuti have
conventionally been divided into three groups, which are distinct
from each other linguistically, economically, and geographically.
Each of the three groups speaks a different language (which corresponds
to the language spoken by neighboring villagers), practices different
hunting techniques, and is territorially distinct. The Aka speak the
Mangbetu language (Sudanic family), hunt primarily with spears, and
live in the north. These spear-hunters have not been extensively studied.
The Efe speak the Lese language (Sudanic family), are archers, and
are located in the east. The Efe were studied by Schebesta. The Sua
speak the Bira language (Bantu branch of the Benue-Congo family),
hunt with nets, and live to the south. They were studied by Putnam
and Turnbull.
The most profound difference between the three groups, the linguistic
difference, is, according to Turnbull, of recent origin and is purely
accidental (Turnbull 1965B 22-23). Furthermore, in spite of the
fact that the three languages are very different, there are enough
similarities in intonation to make it possible for Pygmies to recognize,
if not comprehend, each other.
All of the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest recognize themselves by the
term Mbuti, and the only political identity they have is in opposition
to the village cultivators. The Mbuti as a whole are clearly distinct
from these village neighbors both racially and culturally, and, Turnbull
says, the economic differences between the three Mbuti groups mask
a basic structural unity (Turnbull 1965B: 22-23).
Since there has never been an official demographic census, it is impossible
to give an accurate estimate of the total Mbuti population. From discussion
with missionaries and administrators and from his own experience,
however, Turnbull guessed that the population was approximately 40,000
in 1958 (Turnbull 1965B: 26).
The Mbuti live in territorially defined nomadic bands. The membership
of these bands is very fluid. Bands have no formal political structure;
there are no chiefs, and there is no council. An informal consensus
among old respected men is the basis of decisions affecting the entire
camp.
In spite of Turnbull\'s insistence on basic structural unity, the
differences in hunting techniques aqppear to have considerable effect
upon the nature of the band organization. Net hunting is a cooperative
venture, requiring the cooperation of the whole band, including the
women and children. Archery, on the other hand, is primarily a family
venture, requiring only two or three men. The most obvious distinction
resulting from the economic differences is that of band size. Archer
bands average about 6 huts per band, while net-hunting bands average
about 15 huts.
The Mbuti maintain relationships with surrounding village cultivators
whose languages the Mbuti have adopted. Many accounts indicate that
the Mbuti are highly acculturated and have adopted many features of
villager lifestyle beyond language, such as the clan system and certain
religious observances. Turnbull feels that these features are quite
superficial, however.
The relationship between the Mbuti and the villagers is maintained
on several different levels, centering around trade. The Pygmies bring
the villagers honey and meat in return for plantation products. This
economic exchange can occur on several levels: between the band and
the village as a whole (capita/chief), between lineage and lineage
(lineage elder/Kpara), or between individuals (kare/kare). The first
type of relationship does not occur very often, exchanges being more
easily conducted on an interpersonal basis. The lineage relationship
is hereditary on both sides. The kare brotherhood is established in
nkumbi initiations. In the nkumbi initiation, male villagers and Mbuti
are circumcised. The relationship established in the initiation is
continued throughout life and centers around economic exchange.
The religious life of the Mbuti is not at all clear. Early reports
state that they had no religion at all, and later reports dwell on
whether or not the Mbuti relationship to the supernatural structurally
constitutes religion (usually defined by belief in one supreme being)
or magic. In any event, there appear to be two ceremonies of importance,
both of which