people, or Bambuti
as they are collectively called, are one of several indigenous hunter-gatherer
groups in the Congo
region of Africa
. They belong to the Central Sudanic
subgroup of the Nilo-Saharan
The Bambuti are Pygmy hunter-gatherers
, and are one of the oldest indigenous people of the Great Lakes
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's. .
The Bambuti live in the forested region in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo
. Specifically, they sustain themselves by hunting and gathering in the Ituri
forest . 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.
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 poles that are placed in the ground and at the top of the poles, 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. Crabs, shellfish, ants, larvae
, snails, pigs, antelopes (such as the blue duiker), monkeys, fishes, honey, wild yams, berries, fruits, roots, leaves, and cola nuts are some of the assortment of food that the Bambuti collect . They have been specifically hunting the Giant Forest Hog
for food, as there have recently been an increase in the amount of confrontations between the two groups, as the hogs are driven into the Mbuti territory for food, and, in a few rare events, have ended up eating children from their cribs in the night. Other food sources yielded by the forest are animals for meat consumption, root plants, palm trees, and bananas ; and in some seasons, wild honey . Yams
, beans, peanuts, hibiscus
, and gourds
are consumed . The Bambuti use large nets, traps, and bows 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 .
Trading does exist between the Bantu
villagers and the Bambuti. The Bantu villagers produce many items that the hunter gatherers trade some of their products for. The village goods include iron goods, pots, wooden goods, and basketry . The hunter gatherers can trade meat, animal hides, and other forest foods in exchange . 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 .
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.
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.
There is no ruling group or lineage, and no overlying political organization. The Bambuti are an egalitarian
society in which the band is the highest form of social organization . An instance in which leadership may be displayed is on hunting treks . Men and women basically have equal power. Fire camps are where issues in the community and decisions are made by consensus, in which men and women engage in the conversations equivalently . There is not much political or social structure among the Bambuti. If there is a disagreement, misdemeanor
, or offense, then the person may be banished, beaten, or scorned .
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, the molimo ritual is noisily celebrated to wake the forest up in the belief that if bad things are happening to its children, it must be asleep. . The time it takes to complete a molimo, as for many Bambuti rituals, 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. 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 a significant amount of civil unrest in the country.
In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti Pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum 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 recognise cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.
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