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Mbuti Culture

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The Mbuti Culture

ANT101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

The Mbuti Pygmy Culture

The Bambuti are a foraging group that are scattered throughout equatorial band of Africa. This area they live is primarily the rain forest. Mbuti have a unique culture, set of values, and lifestyle that are all undergoing great change.
The Bambuti have been classified into three groups, which differ from each other linguistically, economically and geographically. The Aka people speak the Mangbetu language, hunt mainly with spears and live in the north of Democratic Republic of Congo. The Efe speak the Lese language, practice archery and live in the east of the country. The Sua speak the Bira language, usually hunt with nets and live in the south. Mbuti are the hunter-gatherers of the Ituri Forest. The Mbuti culture is more than 5,000 years old, and today's Mbuti live much as their ancient ancestors did. Roaming the forest in groups of no more than 14, they keep dogs and nets for hunting but otherwise have few material possessions.
Their existence is harsh, and their average life span is short; many Mbuti die before they reach the age of 20, and very few of them live to see 40. Mbuti are primarily net hunters, although they also use bows for shooting arboreal monkeys, and spears for hunting bush pigs, buffaloes and other big game. Mbuti net hunter groups have been involved in commercial meat trading since the early 1950s. They obtain agricultural food either in exchange for meat with traders or villagers, or in exchange for cultivation and related manual labor in the village. Mbuti and villagers have formed interdependent relationships based on pseudo-kinship, in which exchanges traditionally take place in a form of gift-giving.
The Mbuti do not have a centralized social organization and their social integration is still at a low level. There is no strong motivation for reinforcing cultural homogeneity. The experiences of individuals are of course talked about. For example, people talk in the evening around fires, and share their experiences with other members of the group. In particular, practical information on the use of a material is quickly transmitted. On the other hand, some knowledge such as medicine and ritual is apt to remain more or less at an individual level. For example, individuals have often different knowledge of the plants that are used for some diseases or bringing a hunting luck.
Pygmies depend on an intimate symbiosis with their environment. They traditionally live deep in the woods; often in remote camps located several days' walk from any road or village. Their livelihood, medicinal practices and culture depend entirely on the forest. The Mbuti people not only hunt but gather also. They gather plants berries and roots that can be found through out the rain forest. The plants are used for food; while a considerable part of their present diet is comprised of cassava, plantain banana and other agricultural crops obtained from the agricultural villagers, each Pygmy group still uses dozens of wild plant species for food. Some of them are highly prized. These include various nuts with high lipid contents, starchy food like wild yams which are an energy source, sweet and sour fruits which are a source of vitamins and refreshment, and narcotics like cola nuts. Some are even sold for cash at a local market. Many plants are used as medicine for curing diseases, or as poisons for hunting and fishing. More than 200 species have so far been recorded from the Ituri Forest for such medicinal and poisonous uses. Also important is the use of plants for material culture. Traditional material culture among the forest people is quite simple, consisting of less than 100 items in total, including, for example, small hemispherical huts, simple beds of logs, leaf mats, chairs, baskets, equipment for hunting, gathering, transporting, cooking and dining, and material for decoration. Many plants are used in multiple ways. Raffia palm is a good example. The sap is used for palm wine, leaflet ribs for arrow shafts, midribs for making stools, beds and other furniture. When the sap is exhausted, the dry wood accommodates the larvae of elephant beetles that are highly prized by the hunter-gatherers as well as the farmers. The large leaves of Megaphrynium
Macrostachyum of Marantaceae family provides another example. Beside the seeds that are eaten roasted, the stems are used for binding and the leaves for thatching, wrapping, making sleeping mats, and so on. One of the common local recipes is liboke, in which fish, insects or other food are wrapped with the Marantaceae leaves with palm oil, salt and red pepper, and cooked in the hot ashes. The food is thus added with an excellent flavor of the leaves. In addition to those plants directly used, hundreds of plants are useful in indirect ways, as a nectar source and as the food of animals that are hunted, fished and collected by the hunter-gatherers. Many tall trees are important sources of honey which is one of their most favorite foods. Pygmies also like to eat various insects and their larvae which feed on the forest plants.
Their diets are composed primarily of nuts, fruit, melons, and berries gathered by the women. The women are the primary gatherers and are responsible for contributing nearly 80 percent of their diet. Men, the hunters, provide the remaining 20 percent of the diet in the form of meat. The Mbuti live in one of the most marginal environments in the world but find it only necessary to search for food just two or three days a week. Women can collect enough food in one day to feed their families for a full week, while men hunt two or three days a week. The rest of the time is spent in leisurely pursuits: visiting, playing, sleeping, and just enjoying each other’s company When it comes to marriage in the Mbuti tribe, kinship recognition only becomes important when choosing a spouse. An Mbuti youth is prohibited from marrying kin on their mother or father’s side. It I also considered inappropriate to marry outside of one’s age group as this is considered displeasing to the forest. A marriage is recognized once the couple moves in together. The Mbuti have no prescribed rules for post-marital residence. Where the young couple chooses to live depends on the economic concerns of the band. There is no formal marriage ritual there for any formal divorce. When one spouse leaves and takes up residence elsewhere, the marriage is terminated. Either spouse has the freedom to end the marriage.
The Mbuti do not have many material items, but they are satisfied with what they have; their wants are few and are easily satisfied. Foragers do not constantly strive for more. They have sufficient food, and they have lots of leisure time to do what they would like to do. Mbuti live an immediate return system where consumption of food and other resources occurs immediately. This time is often spent with family, sharing stories and playing games. The stories may be related to the week’s hunts or stories passed down from generation to generation.
One of the facing Mbuti tribe is the risk of being driven from their land, which is the source of their livelihood, their heritage and often their identity as a people. Many communities have been closely bound to a particular territory for centuries. Yet once their land is earmarked for "development"--such as dams, mining, the timber industry, oil or tourism, they are all too easily evicted with little or no compensation. Removal of communities from their land, and mass displacement of people, is one of the worst consequences of "development" projects that fail to understand or to recognize indigenous peoples' rights. Development projects such as hydroelectric or agricultural ventures that require large swaths of "virgin land" are notorious examples. Equally, the designation in recent years of areas as national parks or wildlife sanctuaries has entirely disregarded the rights and needs of minorities living on the land. In many cases, international pressure or funding may endorse or finance these projects.
The right of indigenous people such as the Mbuti to reclaim their property is regularly denied. Once outside of their ancestral land, the denial of the right to property is frequently used to stop them returning. Displaced minorities such as the Mbuti, often lack written evidence of ownership. Their land rights are seldom recognized or documented. Although indigenous communities have occupied their lands for centuries, long before the current states may have existed, their practice of collective ownership and lack of documentation is often held by governments or outsiders to mean that they have no rights.
The Bambuti people have faced, and overcome diversity in many ways since their existence. They have developed a lifestyle that works them with the resources that they have and continue to survive in one of the least desirable places to live. With that said their existence is facing an uncertainty with the expansion of growth and the tapping in of undiscovered resources. Only the future will tell how the Mbuti people will overcome these difficulties

(Sep 1991). Why Do Mbuti Hunters Use Nets? Ungulate Hunting Efficiency. American Anthropologist.

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