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Mbuti or Bambuti are one of several indigenous pygmy groups in the Congo region of Africa. Their language belongs to the Central Sudanic subgroup of the Nilo-Saharan phylum.

Overview

The Bambuti are pygmy hunter-gatherers, and are one of the oldest indigenous people of the Congo region of Africa. The Bambuti are composed of bands which are relatively small in size, ranging from 15 to 60 people. The Bambuti population totals about 30,000 to 40,000 people. There are four distinct cultures, within the Bambuti. These are the Efé, which speak the language of their neighboring Bantu tribe (the Balese or Mamvu), the Sua, who speak the language of their neighboring Budu (BaBudu), the Mbuti, who speak the language of the neighboring Bila (BaBila), and a small subgroup of the Aka who speak the language of the neighboring Mangbetu tribe . (The majority of the Aka likely migrated to the western Congo basin thousands of years ago).

The term BaMbuti therefore is confusing, as it has been used to refer to all the pygmy peoples in the Ituri region in general, as well as to a single subgroup in the center of the Ituri forest.

Around 2,500 BC, the Ancient Egyptians made reference to a "people of the trees". That could be the Mbuti. .

Location

The Bambuti live in the forested region in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congomarker. Specifically, they sustain themselves by hunting and gathering in the Ituri Rainforest . The Bambuti escape many influences and pressures from the national government by living a traditional way of life in the forest. Civil war and violation of human rights has affected the lives of many of the Bambuti. Some of the hunter-gatherers choose to move into modern-day villages instead of retaining the customary Bambuti life, due to pressure from the government. If there are disputes or wrongdoing from an individual, the Bambuti usually take matters into their own hands by either banishing, beating, or in smaller incidences, ridiculing . They were first seen by Europeans in 1456.

Environment

The forest of Ituri is a tropical rainforest. In this area, there is a high amount of rainfall annually, ranging from 50 to 70 inches (127 cm to 178 cm). The rainforest is 70,000 square kilometers. 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. Several ecological problems exist that affect the Bambuti. Disease is prevalent in the forests and can spread quickly, not only killing humans, but plants, and animals, the major source of food, as well. One disease, carried by tsetse flies, is sleeping sickness, which limits the use of large mammals . Too much rainfall as well as droughts can greatly diminish the food supply.

Zaire's Ituri rainforest is also the home of the okapi.

Settlement architecture and organization

The Bambuti live in villages that are categorized as bands. Each hut houses a family unit. At the start of the dry season, they leave the village to enter the forest and set up a series of camps . This way the Bambuti are able to utilize more land area for maximum foraging. These villages are solitary and separated from other groups of people. Their houses are small, circular, and very temporary. Unlike many modern architects, they do not use blueprints, but instead trace the outline of the house into the ground . The walls of the structures are strong sticks that are placed in the ground and at the top of the sticks, a vine is tied around them to keep them together . Large leaves are also used in the construction of the huts.

Food and resources

The Bambuti are primarily hunter-gatherers, foraging for food in the forest. The Bambuti have a vast knowledge about the forest and the foods it yields. They collect an assortment of food, including crabs, shellfish, ants, larvae, snails, pigs, antelopes (such as the Blue Duiker), monkeys, fishes, honey, wild yam, berries, fruits, roots, leaves, and cola nuts. While hunting, they have been known to specifically target the giant forest hog. The meat obtained from the giant forest hog (as is the meat from rats) is often considered kweri, a bad animal which may cause illness to those who eat it, but is often valuable as a trade good between the Bambuti and agriculturalist Bantu groups. There is some lore that is thought to have identified giant forest hogs as kweri due to their nocturnal habits and penchant for disruption of the few agricultural advances the Bambuti have made. This lore can be tied to Bambuti mythology, where the giant forest hog is thought to be a physical manifestation of Negoogunogumbar. Further, there are unconfirmed reports of giant forest hogs eating Bambuti infants from their cribs in the night. Other food sources yielded by the forest are non-kweri animals for meat consumption, root plants, palm trees, and bananas; and in some seasons, wild honey. Yams, legumes, beans, peanuts, hibiscus, amaranth, and gourds are consumed The Bambuti use large net, trap, and bow and arrows to hunt game. Women and children sometimes help out by trying to drive the animals into the nets. Both sexes gather and forage. Each band has its own hunting ground, although boundaries are hard to maintain.

Trade

The Bantu villagers produce many items that the hunter gatherers trade some of their products for. They often obtain iron goods, pots, wooden goods, and basketry, in exchange for meat, animal hides, and other forest foods. Meat is a particularly frequently traded item. They can also trade to obtain agricultural products from the villagers. In market exchanges, prices are usually arbitrary, and people usually try to bargain for prices or trade one good for another.

Labor

Hunting is usually done in groups, with men, women, and children all aiding in the process. Women and children are not involved if the hunting involves the use of a bow and arrow, but if nets are used, it is common for everyone to participate. 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 women and men both take care of the children. Women are in charge of cooking, cleaning and repairing the hut, and obtaining water. The kin-based units work together to provide food and care for the young. It is easier for men to lift the women up into the trees for honey.

Kinship and descent system

The Bambuti tend to follow a patrilineal descent system, and their residences after marriage are patrilocal. However, the system is rather loose. The only type of group seen amongst the Bambuti is the nuclear family . Kinship also provides allies for each group of people.

Marriage customs

Sister exchange is the common form of marriage . Based on reciprocal exchange, men from other bands exchange sisters or other females to which they have ties . In Bambuti society, bride wealth is not customary. There is no formal marriage ceremony: a couple are considered officially married when the groom presents his bride's parents with an antelope he alone has hunted and killed. Polygamy does occur, but at different rates depending on the group, and it is not very common.

Political structure

Bambuti societies have no ruling group or lineage, no overlying political organization, and little social structure. The Bambuti are an egalitarian society in which the band is the highest form of social organization. Leadership may be displayed for example on hunting treks. Men and women basically have equal power. Issues are discussed and decisions are made by consensus at fire camps; men and women engage in the conversations equivalently. If there is a disagreement, misdemeanor, or offense, then the offender may be banished, beaten or scorned.

Religion

See Bambuti mythology.
Everything in the Bambuti life is centered on the forest. They consider the forest to be their great protector and provider and believe that it is a sacred place. They sometimes call the forest “mother” or “father.” An important ritual that impacts the Bambuti's life is referred to as molimo. After events such as death of an important person in the tribe, molimo is noisily celebrated to wake the forest, in the belief that if bad things are happening to its children, it must be asleep. As for many Bambuti rituals, the time it takes to complete a molimo is not rigidly set; instead, it is determined by the mood of the group. Food is collected from each hut to feed the molimo, and in the evening the ritual is accompanied by the men dancing and singing around the fire. Women and children must remain in their huts with the doors closed. These practices were studied thoroughly by British anthropologist Colin Turnbull, known primarily for his work with the tribe.

"Molimo" is also the name of a trumpet the men play during the ritual. Traditionally, it was made of wood or sometimes bamboo, but Turnbull also reported the use of metal drainpipes. The sound produced by a molimo is considered more important than the material it is made out of. When not in use, the trumpet is stored in the trees of the forest. During a celebration, the trumpet is retrieved by the youth of the village and carried back to the fire.

Major challenges today

Unfortunately, the land that the Bambuti live on is threatened for various reasons. It is not protected by the law, and the boundaries that each band claims are not distinctly marked out. They are no longer allowed to hunt large game, so they have to trade with nearby Bantu villages. Due to deforestation, gold mining, and modern influences from plantations, agriculturalists, and efforts to conserve the forests, their food supply is threatened. There is also much civil unrest in the country.

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti Pygmies, told the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers. Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognize cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.

See also

  • Twa (Batwa) people


Notes

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References

  1. DR Congo pygmies 'exterminated'
  2. DR Congo Pygmies appeal to UN


External links

  • The Mbuti of Zaire, uconn.edu
  • Stephanie McCrummen, "Lured Toward Modern Life, Pygmy Families Left in Limbo", The Washington Post, 12 November 2006
  • 'Erasing the Board' Report of the international research mission into crimes under international law committed against the Bambuti Pygmies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; Minority Rights Group International, July 2004
  • http://foragers.wikidot.com/mbuti More information about the Mbuti on a site that is devoted to the scientific study of the diversity of forager societies without recreating a myth.
  • http://turnbullandthembuti.pbwiki.com/ a critique of Colin Turnbull's The Forest People



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