A Reflection on the Mbuti tribe
November 15, 2010
A Reflection on the Mbuti Tribe
There are those who welcome and embrace change, and then there are those who do not want change to occur in their lives. Change is not in the vocabulary of the Mbuti tribe of the African Congo region, formerly Zaire. These pygmy hunter-gatherers, also known as the Bambuti, are decedents of Egypt and now a part of a seemingly impenetrable rainforest that lies beyond the reaches of modern society (Ronnei 2008).
They are a peaceful people, who find their home, the rainforest, as a sacred place. The use song as a way of rejoicing, and to show devotion to the forest and their home. This devotion is directed toward the forest as their home, and as a support for the human environment. Below their jungle canopy, the Mbuti men are hunters and their women are food gatherers and care takers of the children of the tribe. Swiftly, they navigate the dense forest in search for food, either by naturally growing fruits or netting animals for meat. The have continued to thrive without much change for many decades, and as long as the Mbuti’s forest is not destroyed by the world’s greed for money, they will more than likely remain there for decades to come (Duffy, 1996).
The rainforest the Mbuti know as their home is the Ituri forest. It is in the northeast Congo region of Africa. This region, formerly known as Zaire, covers about 70,000 square kilometers of land. Below the canopy of trees, in the filtered sunlight, and punctuated with the sounds of birds and animals, the Mbuti live in relative comfort. The rainforest gives them a consistent temperature with plenty of rainfall and moist air that keep the soil below rich and fertile for growth (Suroviak, 1996).
... to the people of the forest. The company began foundation to help save the homes of the tribes that help them in their ... . Health and the Environment. Pergamon, 1990. Colins, Mark. The Last Rainforest. Oxford, 1991. Dasmann, Raymond. Environmental Conservation. 5 th ed. Wiley ... Lost" Time. 19 July 1990: 50-51. Leo, Robert. "The Changing Forest." Scholastic Update. 2 Sept. 1992: 20. Miller, G. T. Living ...
This allows the tribe to partake in traditional forest hunts and gathering of garden vegetables for most of the year. Trading their take from the hunt with outlying villagers for crafts and other foods is part of the limited contact with other cultures the Mbuti have. (Ronnei, 2008).
As a foraging people, they collect items of nourishment from the jungle floor. An assortment of food from the rainforest can include fish, snails, ants, and larvae. They hunt the larger animals using nets. Driving the wild antelopes, monkeys, and pigs into the nets is their form of hunting. The carrying of bow and arrows is the weapon of choice on the hunt. They choose to only hunt when meat is needed for consumption or trade. When the catch is for consumption, the hunt, done by the men of the tribe, is shared with the rest of the group. As the forest produces the nourishing food and vegetation for their survival, the Mbuti, consider their jungle home the mother and father of the tribe. “They share a belief that the forest is the center of their existence and the source of all that is good in their lives” (Turnbull, 1961).
It is a peaceful place to live and is referred to with reverence and adoration. Praise for the forest is done by song and serves as a belief that their song keeps the forest happy and free from evil. These ritual songs extend further to the children and their upbringing in the tribe. The mothers will develop lullabies for their unborn babies. The special songs for the children are used as reassurance, and tell the growing child of the world they are about to enter and their abundance of their forest. Before the children are born to the group, a tribal marriage must occur. The Mbuti follow a patrilineal descent system, where they belong to the father’s lineage. Marriage takes place soon after puberty. In the Mbuti lifestyle, puberty is culminated by the boys leaving the camp to attend a circumcision school. For the next three or four years, the boys live with others their age and are circumcised as a group. Each class is given a name derived from their initiation. Anyone from another class is considered a stranger and they introduce themselves from the name of the class (Turbull 1983).
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To further the marriage customs of the Mbuti, they practice a sister exchange form of marriage. Bride wealth is not customary and there is no ceremony. When a boy presents the parents of a tribal female with a gift, typically a kill from a hunt such as an antelope, the couple is officially married.
Politically, the Mbuti is an egalitarian society. In this type of society, all the people of the tribe are considered equals. The women have as much say as the men in tribal conversations. Equal power is shared and conflict is settled quickly, usually with punishment to the offender. Other than the occasional ostracization of an individual, the Mbuti have no formal methods for resolving disputes (Suroviak, 1996).
They maintain a stable society without authority or a central government (Ronnei, 2008).
Economically, the Mbuti trust the forest to provide their needs and material comfort and wealth are not important. From their weapons to their clothes, all the jungle has to offer is all the Mbuti will ever need and they only take what is necessary at the time to survive, leaving the rest for future hunts or gatherings. They move with the animals and this is made simple by living in homes made of saplings and large leaves covering round huts. Traditionally they would live away from other cultures and only see other peoples when making trades, but today, they need for cash is of slightly more concern to the tribe. This has made them more competitive with each other to get the most from their hunts for the better sales (Pulford, 1993).
With all the changes in cultures, the Mbuti have been able to maintain their society with very little change for more than 6000 years. Their ever-growing population of villagers is causing depletion of the once rich animal numbers of the rainforest and outsiders are coming into the jungle as gold seekers, which are causing the Mbuti to adapt to some traditional ways of life. Government pressures on the Mbuti are pushing them from their forest home and placing them among villagers (Suroviak, 1996).
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However, among all the challenges of today, the Mbuti are still looked upon as one of the great tribes of the last ten-thousand years and their accomplishments are studied and discussed among scholars and historians as their story is told to other cultures with the hopes of understanding the long lost way of life in the African rainforest.
Ronnei, John, Mbuti. Retrieved from 2008
Duffy, Kevin, Children of the Forrest. Waveland Press, INC. 1996
Suroviak, Cathy, Peoples of the World. Retrieved from 1996
Turnbull, C.M., The Forest People. New york: Simon & Schuster. 1961
Turnbull, C.M., the Mbuti Pygmies: Change and Adaption. New York: CBS College Publishing. 1983
Pulford, Mary H., ed. Peoples of the Ituri. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1993.