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