The Mbuti Tribe

Mbuti Terrence Walker Mbuti or Bambuti are one of several indigenous pygmy groups in the Congo of Africa. The Mbuti are a nomadic tribe hunters and gathers who live in small temporary camps in the southern and central parts of Africa, specifically in the Ituri rain forest of Zaire. Their population range from twenty to fifty thousand and the average Mbuti adult is no more than four feet, six inches tall. Researchers believe that pygmy peoples have lived in the rainforests of central Africa for more than 6000 years. The Mbuti are often referred to as “tropical forest forager. These forest dwellers have a unique culture, set of values, and lifestyle that are undergoing a transformation. Their adaptation to change may teach other cultures how to cope with radical disruptions to their societies due to the influx of modern society. (Pulford 2011) In many respects, tropical forest foragers represent the opposite of modernity. They possessed only the bare essentials for their livelihoods. They live in isolated groups with ten to twenty-five families in each camp. Today they have assimilated to adopt the language of the neighboring villages with which they have forged an economical and cultural link. Most Mbuti speak Bira, adopted from the neighboring Bira villages, as well as the regional lingua franca, KiNqwana. This the Fusion of Arabic and indigenous African languages evolved during the slave trade. ” (Ojo 13) The Mbuti share the Ituri forest with other groups of “short” nomadic people called the Efe. The Efe occupy the northern and the northeastern parts of the forest. Although they have different in language and hunting strategies, all of these peoples share a core culture. Collectively, the groups of the Ituri are called the Bambuti.

Researchers estimate that no more than twenty thousand pure-blooded Bambuti remain in the world. In the twentieth century, the Mbuti have been affected by the deforestation government policies and regional conflicts. “They are specialist at extracting resources from the forest and are experts at hunting game and gathering forest products such as fruits, nuts, and wild honey. ” (Diagram Group 74) To set up communities, the Mbuti clear a patch of undergrowth and build small huts made of branches covered with leaves with beds of sticks. After he camp is built, days are spent gathering food and hunting game. The Mbuti are skilled craftsman at making weapons, spears and nets. When foods become scarce they pull up stakes and move on. Present day Mbuti do not live in solitude as their ancestors. Today they trade forest products for iron tools, tobacco, salts and clothes with other neighboring communities. As stated before Mbuti are hunters and gatherers who hunt wild animals and gather wild fruits as a means of their subsistence. This has made this group of people to be organized in social groups that help them carry out this function.

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In the Mbuti community each camp has about 15 to 60 people. Among the Mbuti community, the father is the main provider of food and the mother provides wild fruits. In this case, the main subsistence method in this community is hunting and the work of hunting is usually performed by men. Within the family unit, the mother and the children gather fruits to complement the meat provided by the father. Children and their mother are supposed to gather firewood and fruits in the areas that are near their homes. The Mbuti hunt as a group.

This has helped the Mbuti community to share what they have to ensure each member of the community has something to eat. In a camp there is a leader who directs where they should go to hunt. “Despite the fact that the foods are equally divided to all families by the camp head, the heads of different families who conduct hunting has a right to have a bigger share of their hunts(King 2010). ” The Mbuti move from area to another in constant search of game and wild fruit. Even though they live in the forest, the Mbuti have developed social structure that resembles that of any other culture.

The camps are made up of closely related families which consist of siblings, cousins, in-laws and parents. Age is greatly valued and the elders are treated with great respect. Kinship is strong and revered. Everyone takes care of everyone no one is homeless, motherless or fatherless. The Mbuti society is patrilinear, which means it is traced through the male descendants. Marriages are not arranged, women can pick their own mates. Both men and women are given the opportunities to find their own way before settling down to marriage.

Marriage is based on a sister exchange; men from other camps exchange sisters or other females to which they have ties to like cousins or other bonds. There is no formal ceremony, a couple is considered officially married when the groom presents his bride’s parents with an antelope he alone has hunted and killed. Males are allowed multiple brides but not common. Women are responsible for doing the domestic chores of cooking, cleaning, weaving baskets while men make the hunting nets spears, bows and arrows. However, both are responsible for hunting and gathering food.

Women play a pivotal role in the traditional lifestyle of the Mbuti. Most cultivated foods are acquired by Mbuti women through reciprocity who in return provide forest products for the villagers or work in the villagers’ gardens. The Mbuti women hunt, gather edible plants, insects and fish from the forest, but the majority of their work time is spent in the village bartering with other villagers. Although the reciprocity which characterizes Mbuti subsistence has proven flexible in the face of development will change as the Mbuti face modernization.

While hunting and gathering of game has been their primary mode of subsistence horticultural is a close second. The Mbuti are not natural born horticulturalists so most of their cultivated foods is acquired by Mbuti women, who in return provide forest products to the village-living horticulturalists from villagers’ gardens. “This barter system has survived for thousands of years and occurs among all Pygmies in Africa except for those who have recently settled in villages and begun to grow their own food. (Cultural Survival 2010) While the Mbuti may not have been horticulturalist by nature the Ituri Forest provide the Mbuti with: Cordia Africana, used as eye medicine; Ipomoea Chrisochaeta, featuring roots that taste like sweet potato and berries used as wild candy; Dovyalis Spinosissima or Kei-apple, a plant whose fruit is made into musical instruments. The Mbuti do not domesticate animals. They survive mainly on the game they kill and on the food they gather from the forest. They trade their food surplus with the neighboring villagers, who grow food such as bananas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and pineapples. The Mbuti also supply the villagers with animals hides, feathers, ivories, sapling, and leaves for building their dwelling and bark for clothing. ” (Ojo 33) Besides fruits and vegetables, the villagers supply the Mbuti with iron tools, bowls and cooking pots. It is because of this relationship with other villages that the Mbuti had rejected becoming emerging agriculturalists until recently. In central Africa hunter-gatherer are now turning to agriculture as a way of life. Camps are exposed to common diseases that are susceptible to the moist and hot ecosystem.

Today, hunter-gatherers have to face an important and challenging transition due to modernization. Tropical rainforests have long been viewed, by the West, as an immense reservoir of biodiversity. Agriculture in tropical forests started more than 3,000 years ago, and botanists have shown how cultivation has modified these forests. Although game is an abundant source of food for the Mbuti, the human diet in this environment needs more. That resource is a vegetable called wild tuber, which are more important than animal protein in the human diet. Anthropologist Robert Bailey postulated in American Anthropologist in 1989 that life in this environment was impossible without cultivation of these tubers, and that Pygmies could maintain themselves only by exchanging work for food among agriculturalists. ” (Cultural Survival 2004) Nearly all the Mbuti have turned to agriculture during the last three decades, allowing them to sustain life for themselves. The Mbuti have lived a peaceful existence and hunt for necessity. In essence, culture is the sum of the ways in which they live. It includes their beliefs, behaviors, language and religion.

Mbuti believe that a spirit world inhabited by the souls of the dead presided over the forest. The forest is a living being and it is to be loved and respected. All of their rituals are devoted to this aspect. The Mbuti regard the forest as sacred. They believe in the existence of a benevolent deity that lives at the center of the forest and controls everything within it. The forest deity is considered to be the giver of life whether plant life or animal life. The Mbuti constantly strive for balance and harmony between themselves and the guardian deity.

They sing, dance, drum and mime for it, trying to honor and give thank to it for giving them shelter, food, clothing, warmth, and love. They call the deity their “father” or their “mother” in much the same way that other organized religions use terms of endearment in reverence of their divinities. They consider themselves to be part of their natural environment. (Ojo 30) They believe in a benevolent forest deity, and important occasions, including the maturity of boys and girls, marriage, and death, are marked by special songs designed “to rejoice the forest. (Mosko 2010) Mbuti music is complex in rhythm and harmony, but visual art is virtually nonexistent among them. Music, dance, and mime provide a means of reinforcing accepted values and form the basis of religious expression. The Mbuti celebrate “Elima; initiation rite for women and Molimo; initiation rite for men; Nkumbi; circumcision and initiation for men and Ekokomea; an erotic dance in men and women mimic each other. ” (Ojo 36) Life is a celebration which is done in song, dance, sharing and in the forest. Religions vary between the various groups, but the forest plays a central role in the worship and in the communities’ survival.

Many forest people believe in a spirit world inhabited by the souls of the dead and presided over by the spirit of the forest itself. To them, the forest is a living being that is to be loved and respected and most of their rituals are concerned with honoring it and the food that it provides. All forest people have healers and their own hunting rituals as well as ceremonies concerning the collection of honey. There are cultural and religious prohibitions against overhunting. Mbuti do not have a strong central political authority or distinct leader. Most decisions are made by majority rule.

There is no legislature or courts system. It is literally a system without a president or police. This form of political structure is called egalitarian. 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. The youth of the village play pivotal role in the camp because the elders consider them their future. However, if there is a disagreement among the tribe members it is settled by the person being banished, beaten, or publically scorned.

Lack of a strong political system and policed state has allowed for the Mbuti to lie prey to slavery trade. The Mbuti are vulnerable they have no legal rights to the forest. It is because of this vulnerability that the government worried that some of Mbuti’s neighbors might mistreat or exploit them. The president of Zaire gave them full citizen of Zaire which entitled them to some rights. Any Mbuti who wished to leave the forest and settle in the village could do so and was be given free housing, clothing, farming tools, and seed.

Many who took the offer did not last long they were not accustom to life outside of the forest. They returned to the forest blame the villagers for their upheaval. Fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over control of natural resources has had a devastating effect on the Mbuti. They have been killed, forced into slavery, rape extermination and even cannibalized by armed factions who believe that eating the Mbuti will give them supernatural powers. Aside from the effects migrating villagers, instability and civil war have taken a toll on the Mbuti way of life.

The Mbuti have been situated right where the bulk of the region’s bloody wars have been fought. Their way of life has been compromised by deforestation, gold mining, conservation and agriculture. There has been so much violence against all Pygmies by virtually all armed groups in the Second Congo War. So, the Mbuti are in constant danger. Not only from those fighting in the Congo but their neighbors as well. The major challenges today facing the Mbuti as well as all the dwellers of the rainforest of central Africa is the global effects of deforestation.

The loss of the tropical rainforest has consequences beyond repair. Global warming has deprived the rainforest of its ability to reduce carbon dioxide accumulation through its abundant of trees. The destruction of trees, plant life and animals that can only exist in the climate provide by the conditions that exist in the rainforest. Many of the crops on which we depend on for our survival are crossbred with wild varieties or modified with genes found only in tropical regions, including tropical rainforests. Deforestation is a threat to our resources as well. Nearly half our prescribed medicinal drugs we use from wild plants are found in tropical rainforest. ”(Diagram Group 82) For example, the bark of the Artabotrys vine, which is unique to Gabon; a state in central west Africa is used to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Farmers are not to blame for this problem, the economy and the world we live in is. The farmers are reacting to the needs of their surroundings and the abundant that the rainforests has to offer. It is not the intentions of the farmers to rid the dwellers of the rainforest of their home and livelihood but that’s what’s happening.

Fortunately, there are still many rainforests left Central Africa so conservation measures can be implemented. One way they can successfully preserve the forest is to take only what is needed, do not rape the land for profit. Cut down only mature trees leaving the young one to continue to grow. Replant trees each time you cut one down and be mindful not to destroy vegetation as you go. Sustaining the rainforest should be the responsibility of those who take from it. References Cultural Survival. (2004).

Do People Belong In the Forest. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from http://www. culturalsurvival. org/ourpublications/csq/article/do-people-belong-forest Cultural Survival. (2010). The Mbuti of Northeast Zaire. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from http://www. culturalsurvival. org/ourpublications/csq/article/the-mbuti-northeast-zaire Diagram Group. (1997). Peoples of central Africa. New York: Facts on File King, Max. (2010). Mbuti Pygmies. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from http://socyberty. com/issues/mbuti-pygmies/ Mosko, M. S. (1987).

The Symbols of “Forest”: A Structural Analysis of Mbuti Culture and Social Organization American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Dec. , 1987), pp. 896-913 Retrieved April 9, 2011, from http://drabruzzi. com/MOSKO_The%20Symbols%20of%20Forest. pdf Ojo, O. A. Ph. D. (1996). Mbuti. Rosen: New York: Rosen Publishing Group Pulford, M. and Turnbull, C. (2011). Efe and Mbuti: Introduction, Location, Language, Folklore, Religion, Living Conditions. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from http://www. everyculture. com/wc/Brazil-to-Congo-Republic-of/Efe-and-Mbuti. html

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