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The Forest People
Transcript of The Forest People
The Forest People
Background On The Forest People
a. The forest is a core element around which traditional Pygmy life flows
b. Forest is a great protector and provider
c. Mbuti are one of the oldest cultures of indigenous forest people
d. Social Organization is based on kinship, sex, and age
i. Men and women have equal power
ii. Women gather food, and men hunt.
e. Built their culture around flexibility and communication
i. These ideologies dictate how they behave and agree on issues
ii. Try to live in harmony and avoid violence
f. Molimo -> after events such as death, molimo is a noisy celebration to awake the forest
i. If bad things are happening the forest must be asleep
a. Tropical Rainforest
b. Located on the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
c. 50-70 inches of rain annually.
d. When it is raining Pygmies believe it to be very depressing because they think about all the animals they could be hunting while they are stuck inside their hut.
How Subsist in Environmental Context
• The Pygmies, smaller than their Negro relatives, have short leg spans in relation to their body size. Their small size are optimal for their hunting strategies.
• BaMbuti tribe has about 25 families living within it, about an even sex-ratio. Every time a man or woman wants to take a husband or wife from the village they must give a brother or sister in return, this is called giving a “sister-wife”.
• No birth control practice, the larger the family the more prosperous you are. Located in the Ituri forest in the Belgian Congo. They are semi-nomadic and posses a detailed knowledge and understanding of the forest. The pygmies speak a dialect of the Bantu language, having lost their own language through acculturization.
• The pygmies are semi-nomadic, living in a series of camps consisting of quickly built houses, which are effective shelter for a number of months.
• The location of the camps depends generally on a yearly cycle of nutritional and social needs. The timing of the shifts between camps is not rigidly set but can be triggered by the tribe’s reaction to events.
• They settle in open fielded areas near a water supply, close or next to a densely packed forest for hunting purposes.
• Men are the hunters, women and the gatherers and rear the children and build the houses, cook, clean and do most of the household chores.
• There are hierarchies and these roles can be switched, women can hunt and men can be gatherers.
• Men will discover the new settlement area and drop their hunting tools where they want their new houses to be built. Men take over the ritual responsibilities such as the molimo, which is a large metal tube that they use to play their forest song.
• Cephu is the closest thing that the BaMbuti have to a chief. He refers to himself as the chief but he does not settle near the rest of the group nor does he hunt effectively with them. Hunting for the Mbuti is very group-driven, the group is just as important as the individual.
• The villagers view themselves as teachers and guides in their relationship with “their” BaMbuti. As a result of this attitude, they control and direct any ritual carried out together and also encourage the Pygmies to copy them and establish their own “plantations”, which do not prosper as well as the Villagers.
• The pygmies pretty much do as they are told and generally maintain a passive, submissive attitude in the presence of the villagers. However, once the pygmies are alone, they explain they are “playing the part”. They abandon the village ways and steal from the villagers’ plantations rather than make the effort to farm.
• The BaMbuti consider the villagers inferior since they are not “of the forest”. Both the Villagers and the pygmies have different interpretations of death, the Villagers believe no death is natural while the pygmies believe in many types of death and that it is natural.
a. Some have moved because of the incessant fighting of militias and armies
b. They now have laboring jobs in the city.
b. Generally formed into patrilineal groups from 10-100 individuals
c. Rainforest provides basic needs- food, fresh water, fire wood, clothing
d. Live in hut composed of sticks covered in leaves. Live there for a few months and then abandons it.
e. Have no chiefs or any formal councils of elders
i. Settle disputes by general discussion
Ituri Forest of the eastern Congo.
a. Live in small bands that vary in composition and size throughout the year
• Because there are no chiefs or formal councils, each dispute is settled as it arises.
• 4 ways of punishing offenses
o Bringing supernatural retribution: Must commit something really terrible
o Attacking hut of culprit: Extremely rare
o Sound Trashing: Commit theft
o Arguing out the case or engaging in a mild fight: less serious offense
• Two attitudes they use:
• Disputes are generally settle with little reference to the alleged rights and wrongs of the case
o Intention is to restore peace into the community
• Everything settles itself through lack of organization
• Everything that goes on in a negative perspective like fighting or seriously offensive camp members, is solved by the whole camp in a cooperative manner.
• Four examples of fights in this chapter however, they end the same exact way; with the group stopping the fights or an elder complaining of the noise
o It’s almost like the two Pygmies forget about the fight as though it never happened
o Turnbull describes the Pygmies as always having very carefree attitudes
• “We are people of the forest. The forest, the great provider, is the one standard by which all deeds and thoughts are judged; it is the chief, the lawgiver, the leader, and the final arbitrator”
• “In the forest life appears to be free and easy, happy-go-lucky. Reaching everywhere is the firm, controlling hand of the forest.”
o The forest keeps control of the people and sets down a fundamental law of order and peace.
• Children call everyone in the same age group their “father” or “mother.” Those that are older are called “grandparents” or “brother” and “sisters” for the same age.
o The Pygmies see their community as a family.
o Pygmy camp is much less formal than most African societies.
• All adults are considered parents or grandparents.
o Equally likely to slap a child for doing something wrong
o But a child has a special affection for his/her real mother and father.
• Fathers make bows and arrows for his son while mothers and their daughters will weave mini carrying baskets.
• Boys begin practicing hunting at a young age by chasing frogs or having their grandparents act like antelopes running around huts and trees until the child can trap them.
• While children are playing, women are making bark cloth, the main clothing of Pygmies.
o Easy to make and costs nothing
o There are many fashions in bark cloth, they can be colored or decorated
• Women usually work in twos or threes for company. Spend hours making the elaborate belts, which hold the bark cloth in place.
o A single belt takes several weeks
o Vine has to be collected, dried, and shredded.
o The most beautiful part about the creation of their garments is the simplicity and the earthiness that represents their belief in the forest to provide for them and keep them safe and clothed.
• Women also partake in net-making, which is a full time occupation.
• Few occupations are strictly reserved for either men or women.
• The hut is considered to be the woman’s property, so she does changes and alterations.
o Everyday there are new leaves that need to be added to avoid leaking
o If there are visitors, the hut has to be rebuilt to be bigger or expanded.
o By expanding the huts it ruins the dynamic of the village and entrances must be changes. This can cause some conflict in the village.
• The most exciting time at camp is when the hunters return. Story-telling represents a huge part of their culture, and it shows off their wild and vivid imaginations; something that the Pygmies really like about themselves.
o They deposit meat on the group, and the camp gathers to make sure all division is fair.
o Most men and women dance immediately afterwards.
o Although if the hunt is not good, the men say they are too tired and camp remains quiet.
• Turnbull describes the full effect and significance that the molimo has in the Pygmy society. As well as the significance of women in the Pygmy society.
• Pygmies believe there is a benevolent deity or supernatural power, which they identify with the forest.
o This deity will regulate society in some sense
• They believe it is not so much the act itself that counts, but the thought that goes with it.
• This chapter also depicts changes in society starting with Turnbull living with the Pygmies, women have always been restricted from seeing the molimo
o The molimo represents one of the things that the men have authority over and one of the things that the men take control of.
o In the Pygmy culture, women and girls are forbidden to see the molimo, the whole illusion would spoil if the women saw its true form.
o When two visitors come into, it was completely different and it clearly displays its utter difference from normal celebration nights.
• The women sang and took control of the molimo.
• Unlike other African cultures, women are seen as important figures in the society; they have authority and significance. Supposedly, women were actually the one who found the molimo, but the men stole it from them.
• However, women are regarded as highly important figures, because in Pygmy history, they were the ones that took the fire from the monkeys, giving the Pygmy’s one of the most important assets of their culture.
Pygmy vs. Villagers
• Turnbull discusses the differences between the Pygmies and the villagers, specifically the differences in their economy and religious tendencies.
• Villagers tend to focus on their economy and their business, while the Pygmies life revolved around a spiritual lifestyle. Villagers find the forest impenetrable and inextinguishable and therefore feel rather frightened by the Pygmies because of their seemingly unconquerable home.
o The forest represents an indomitable and literally immortal force because it is always there and it always reclaims its lost territory.
• For example, when there is a forest wildfire and it seems that the part of the forest that is burned is completely gone, but the forest grows back. The forest is always there; it is an inevitable force that never gives up and never dies. However, even though the Pygmies look upon the forest in a sense of goodness, truth, life, and soul, sometimes the forest’s continuous inescapability and inevitability make it daunting and intimidating; this concept is exactly what the villagers think.
• They believe that nothing on this earth can withstand cutting, chopping, and killing and still return, stronger than ever.
o This is the edge that Pygmies have over the villagers, and therefore, this is the concept that gives the Pygmies their main source of economy.
o Pygmies believe that the constant fighting between the villagers are because of the lack of forest worship.
o Ex: Story about villager getting sick.
Elima and Coming of Age
• The villagers believe that the first blood of a girl is evil and that it represents death, sickness, disease, and grief.
o In order to purify the girls of this evil spirit and cleanse them of this omen, a series of degrading processes ensue.
o The girl brings anger, jealousy, irritation, and loneliness throughout the camp; representing the girl’s role and significance in their community as basically nil.
• In the Pygmy camp, the girls are seen as important, strong, powerful, intelligent role models who participate in the success of the society and who enrich the culture, both physically and mentally.
o Their “cycle” symbolizes happiness, growth, maturity, joy, and responsibility as well.
o The girls are seen as the most important people during the time of the elima,
o Represents some of the happiest times of a girl’s life- the transition from young, naïve girl into a fully-grown woman.
• When the girls are ready, they begin the ritual of gathering boys.
• They come out of their seclusion, obtain long whips and spend a couple days roaming around the camps, plotting out strategy plans, and thinking together in order to sneak up to a boy of their specific choice and whip him a couple times.
o This beating means that the specific boy is bound by the Pygmy custom and honor to get into the elima house during the ceremony, however, even though it might seem simple, they have to fight their way in, dodging the angry mothers.
-The Forest People’s kinship heavily relies on the male figure of the family
-If father dies the next in line is son
-The prospective husband is expected to bring gifts to girl’s family (The bigger the gifts, the better as it shows the man’s ability to support a family)
Ceremony where the girls in the Pygmy society transition from young children into respected adult women with responsibilities and obligations
Ceremony with many villager-oriented restrictions that, over a period of months, transform the Pygmy/Village boys into men through a series of torturous and cruel tasks
-Ancestors vs the Living:
Pygmy accept the fact that it is important to honor their past ancestors, but also believe that the living are just as important as the dead
* Ancestors represent a whole
other world of superstition and
-One with the Forest
“The forest is our home; when we leave the forest, or when the forest dies, we shall die. We are the people of the forest”
1. In chapter one we are introduced to Kenge, Turnbull’s right hand man and assistant. He is from the BaMbuti tribe but works in the village in one of hotels and considers himself very highly and to be a jack of-all trades.
a. The BaMbuti who inhabit the Ituri forest are perfectly adapted for what it takes to survive in the forest without additional plantation or farming. They have found the forest to be a source of everything they desire for life to offer.
2. Physically the BaMbuti people are of petite build, which allows them to travel stealthily through the undergrowth, and remain almost invisible. Yet, despite their humble stature, they are powerful hunters. They are known to kill animals as large as elephants.
3. As far as dress goes, as is mentioned in this chapter, it is common for them to wear simple, practical loincloth made from the bark of a tree. Women modify this clothing so that it hangs much longer in the back because it is aesthetically pleasing when performing dances.
a. Their clothing, their dances, and their singing are all methods through which they express themselves, and all interact together to create meaning for the group. Their singing and dancing is often performed out of reverence for their god of the forest, and the way that they decorate themselves makes this more pleasing for those partaking in the expression.
4. It seems that physical alteration ritual is necessary for a male member of the group to be considered of age. The ceremony that was performed on Turnbull gave him a status and a place within the tribe. Three hunters carved marks into his forehead and then rubbed in a magic ash into those cuts. These marks not only labeled him a hunter, but an eligible bachelor, and permanent member of the group. This ceremony ties each member of the group to one another, and to the forest, which is their lifeline.
5. The second chapter describes an interesting way in how they deal with death. Two deaths are prominent in this chapter; that of a young girl, and that of an older woman, Balekimito.
a. These deaths are both very similar and very different in the ways that the BaMbuti people handle them. In this chapter, each death was both a tremendous happening, and a normal part of everyday life.
6. It was interesting how the BaMbuti would mourn their losses in accordance with the Negro customs only so far, and then they would abandon all pretext and return to their state of indifference, or even humor.
a. It was also interesting also to note the role that humor seemed to play with regard to processing death, or other negative occurrences among the tribes people. In many instances, the delivery of bad news was received with a joke and a laugh rather than concern for those being directly affected by the circumstance. However, this humor only went so far.
7. In the death of the young girl, Cephu's daughter, humor was the most prevalent coping mechanism. Followed by a song to the molimo, despite their distance to the forest.
8. Following Balekimito's death however, humor was not an option. The tribe was struck much more deeply by this death.
9. Mourning was expressed in very obvious ways, and nearly everyone in the tribe took part in the mourning process, which is apparently not a customary process for the BaMbuti, unless they were in close proximity to the Negro tribe.
a. It seemed clear, and the author continually stated this, that when in the forest, outside the influence of the Negro people, the BaMbuti do not mourn the loss of their dead. They do not try to understand the causes and reasons for it. They simply accept it. It is a natural part of life, even though it is the absence of it. Instead of mourning, they choose to celebrate with a gigantic feast, singing, and the molimo.
10. The third chapter describes the journey of the BaMbuti people from their village dwelling to the new camp deep within the forest near the Lelo River.
a. Reaching this destination required a day's journey through the forest, followed by an evening of camp preparation upon arrival.
11. They don’t travel completely together as a group, which would be contributed to the functional aspect of their adaptation.
a. They travel instead in packs, which allows for safety of numbers, but divide themselves by gender and family. Additionally, by traveling according to groups of men versus women, the women are free to travel as slowly as necessary to gather food along the way, while the men are free to hunt whatever game they may encounter on their journey.
12. As they travel through the forests, they sing their songs, both to give back to the forest and to make loud noises as they travel.
a. Singing is a very practical way of expressing adoration. It is common practice in most world religions. They finally find a glade by the river in which to start their camp. Upon arriving at the camp they came across a sondu, which is a highly coveted type of antelope. They killed it and pronounced it a good omen that they had killed before even setting up camp. In honor of Balekimito death they were going to have the molimo festival and for the first time Turnbull was invited to carry the molimo along with the other adult men.
13. The chapter begins with a journey to find the molimo, which is supposedly an animal of the forest with strong ties to this tribe.
a. The molimo is a representation of the forest itself and it can take on almost every animal form and comes into their presence when they summon it through their festival.
b. To begin the festival, a collection is performed every morning of food for the molimo. Then a portion of fire is taken from each hut to make the central fire in the camp, the kumamolimo.
c. When night falls, the women and children all shut themselves into their huts, and the men sit around the hearth of the fire singing for the molimo.
i. If any man is found sleeping during this time, he is killed and dead forever. Sleeping during this time is the greatest crime committable. They sing to summon the molimo, and dance to it and to the forest.
d. Then the molimo is heard in the trees, surrounding them, making the sounds of its presence.
i. The molimo is actually a large metal pipe filled with water and blown into to make the sounds of the forest. It is kept and hidden in water until the end of the festival for a very simple reason; it was the easiest place to hide them. The molimo trumpet is then taken back to its “sleeping” place high up in the trees.
14. The molimo is used because when big things go bad like death or illness, the BaMbuti believe it is because the forest is asleep and not looking after its children. So they use the molimo to sing to the forest to wake it up so their world has happiness again.
1. When getting ready for the hunt, men will help other men with their hunting nets, uncoiling them and helping them to set up.
a. The individual is only as prosperous as the group; since whatever people catch is communally shared hunting is a co-operative event.
b. Women carry baskets on their back to help carry the hunters’ kill.
2. The “Fire of the Hunt” involves the lighting of a nearby tree on fire, which they believe secures the blessing of the forest to provide good game for the hunt. The pygmies regard fire as the most precious gift of the forest and by offering it back to the forest they are acknowledging their debt and their dependence.
3. Cephu, the self-proclaimed leader of the group, did not regularly participate in group activities and tended to stay with his own family farther from the main part of camp.
a. During the hunt Cephu was unfortunately unlucky and the longer the day went on the louder his cries of frustration became. The other hunters became very annoyed by his cries, since it was scaring off the hunt and not the BaMbuti hunting way.
b. Cephu, having not caught anything, set up his net in front of the other hunters’ nets, which was extremely disrespectful and disgraced the entire tribe. They threatened to disband the camp altogether and move on from their site since the forest no longer was pleased to have them their because of Cephu’s actions.
c. The tribesmen refused to give him and his family any of their kill until Cephu’s cries became so loud that one of the elders gave him a plate of food. Cephu then rejoined the group around the fire and began to sing with the rest of the group, thus reuniting them once again.
The Pygmies are one of the few remnant hunting and gathering cultures that still exist in the world today. They provide a living example of a non-agricultural culture with the special characteristics:
small groups whose small size is optimal for forest hunting
detailed environmental knowledge that help them possess their food and keep them from danger.
flexibility of gender roles and a social hierarchy
relatively simple ritual life
highly cooperative groups with leadership based on individual capability.
-opposing views of marriage between the Village people and the Pygmies
-The Pygmies do not consider the marriage ceremony according to Village custom to be fundamental
-what women stand for in both societies
-Kenge's wish to marry Maliamo
*complications in marriage
• Talks of travels of Kenge and Turnbull as they voyage to other villages throughout the African forest and search for the influential families and relatives of other Pygmy tribes
-• For Turnbull the trip was mainly work: visiting different groups and taking copious notes about each
-• For Kenge it was an experience where he was able to meet other groups of his fellow BaMbuti, and many different tribes of villagers, but he also saw different kinds of Europeans
• Turnbull and Kenge travel to Beni, more specifically to the Ishango National Park
• no tress, but were surrounded by snow-covered mountains, lakes and rivers and animals that Kenge had never seen
• Kenge is amazed at what he experiences and states, “This God must be the same as our God in the forest. It must be one God.”
• Kenge and Turnbull are asked to retell their stories about their adventures
• Pygmies grow suspicious of certain tales (such as the treeless landscape and plantations)
-Importance of Honey Season
• Turnbull realizes on his last walk through forest that the forest represents life, strength, beauty, strength and immensity in everything it holds
*where a boy becomes a man through a series of tasks
-kare blood brotherhood
• Talks of travels of Kenge and Turnbull as they voyage to other villages throughout the African forest and search for the influential families and relatives of other Pygmy tribes
• For Turnbull the trip was mainly work: visiting different groups and taking copious notes about each
• For Kenge it was an experience where he was able to meet other groups of his fellow BaMbuti, and many different tribes of villagers, but he also saw different kinds of Europeans