The Mbuti Tribe
The way of life in a distant African rainforest where harsh climate and availability of resources were common, the Mbuti tribe were foraging society that hunt and gather and live in a band of 10-50 people. Their environment influenced their modes of subsistence, cultural aspects and lifestyle in a deep-seated system. A culture normally describes a method of concepts, outlook, beliefs and language, which examines the way of life of a specific group of people with similar interests.
The cultural system defines and forms necessary activities, views, opinions and interactions among people and their cultures, as well as their surrounding. The central African Mbuti or Bambuti tribe comprised an indigenous people who live within and on the border of the Congo basin rainforest in the Central African Republic of Congo. Their language falls into a classification of the Nilo-Saharan phylum. These groups of indigenous people, primarily settles in the Ituri forest. The forest is a component of a vast tropical rainforest within the Congo basin.
This region receives higher precipitations each year, ranges between 50-70 inches amount of rain. The long duration of rain are interrupted by short periods of dry season for two months. The region is wet and humid all year round, and has various lakes and rivers. The community experienced difficulties such as diseases, which is prevalent due to humidity and plenty of rain that contributes to the scarcity of their food supplies. The rapid spread of diseases claims people and animals, and as well as shortage of food.
Tsetse flies limit the breeding of large animals, which causes sleeping sickness. The inhabitants of the Bambuti tribe is roughly 30-40 thousand people. The Mbuti were the oldest inhabitants of the central African region. The Ituri is a rainforest and does not produced adequate food all year to support the Mbuti tribe. The Mbuti are hunters and gatherers. They believed that the forest is everything to them. They consider it as their God, parent, and provider. They perceived themselves as the children of the forest (Mosko,1987).
According to Mosko, all other tribes that were not Mbuti live outside of the Ituri forest. The Mbuti do not practice any recognized type of kinship patterns in their social organization (Mosko,1987). There are recognitions of kinship in some practices; for instance, in rules of exogamous marriage or when setting up camp. The huts are laid out according to patrilineage, for mutual support, but no acknowledgement of kinship is given (Mosko,1987). The Mbuti hunt and gather resources such as meat, honey, fruits, nuts and mushrooms in the forest.
They trade either labor or wild resources from their hunting and gathering for products from horticulturalist societies to supplement their diets (Bailey, Head, Jenke, Owen, Rechtman and Zechenter, 1989). And in return, the Bambuti receives agricultural foods, salt, cloth, pots, pans, axes and blades, and other items not available in the forest. Mainly, the subsistence occupation of men consists of hunting animals and gathering wild honey. Like the other foraging societies, the Mbuti were very close to nature.
The Mbuti believed that the forest is their God, and possessed all the qualities of a god, parent, and partner (Mosko,1987). They believed that all living things have a spirit and are equal (Mosko,1987). The Mbuti considered their tribe as one family and they are all related biologically, to some extent. They call each other by names of close family members; if they are the same age, they call each other brothers and sisters (Mosko,1987). The older people are called Father or Mother and the elders are described as grandparents.
Aside from the nuclear family settling in the same hut, there is small number of areas in which the tribe expressed acknowledgement of biological kinship. This is contrary to most foraging societies, where kinship system are the bases of social structure (Nowak & Laird, 2010). The bands relocate from one place to another in search for resources. Cooperation is also a valuable asset, since hunting and gathering is a cooperative effort. More common to foragers is the belief in the spirituality of nature (Nowak & Laird, 2010).
Infectious disease in the forest lived on plants. Diseases are scarce enough that the community cannot create immunity. Malnutrition is uncommon and if found, it is mild (Fabrega, 1997). Hunter gatherers normally benefit from healthy diet. Sickness is usually a spiritual problem (Fabrega, 1997). The Mbuti considers the Ituri forest has a center. The round huts, in which the Mbuti nuclear families live, has a center or sphere. They store foods in a round shaped baskets. The arrangement of the family hut is a smaller depiction of the organization of the Mbuti tribe.
The place of each band camps form a sphere, with the forest in its center. The Mbuti have an uncommon outlook of kinship and lineage, which are usually a determining factors in the social structures of other foraging societies, as well as horticulturist (Nowak & Laird, 2010). The Mbuti community do not know their lineage, which is evidenced in the way the camps are each laid out (Mosko, 1987). Marriage is exogamous to the band to which a person lives. They cannot marry their kin because all are biologically related, that’s why they produced an exception to the kinship policy.
Living elders who recognized the common ancestors of the band involved, then they are related. However, if the ancestors are no longer living before the living elders recognized them, then the band becomes unrelated. This rule permits the Mbuti community to preserve their rules against marrying relatives and outside marriages. The Mbutis are separated into age groups. Age together with knowledge is important. The elders have the most knowledge, which gives them the authority. However, their authority can sometimes over-rule by the younger adults.
Because they all have the same parent which is the forest, and do not cooperate with any kinship organization because they are all equivalent. The Mbuti lives mainly in the Ituri forest, it is their God and parent. All foraging societies have a special reverence for nature (Nowak & Laird, 2010). Hunting and gathering bring the tribe together and makes them closer to nature. They respect the forest and nature. Ownership have no importance because of their way of life, they move from one place to another. Personal traits and cooperative attitude are more important (Nowak & Laird, 2010).
They have a healthy selection of food, which helps them to fight diseases. Each feature of their way of life is nature-oriented and it all points out to their environment. The Mbuti is a complete culture that supports each portion of its survival on the forest, which is the cause for the subsistence technique from which they exist.
- Bailey, R. C. , Head, G. , Jenike, M. , Owen, B. , Rechtman, R. , & Zechenter, E. (1989). Hunting and gathering in tropical rainforest: Is it possible? American Anthropologist. New series 91(1) pp. 59-82. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. rg/stable/649276.
- Fabrega, H. Jr. (1997). Earliest phases in the evolution of sickness and healing. Quarterly. New series 11(1) pp. 26-55. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org/stable/649276.
- Mosko, M. S. (1997). The symbols of “Forest”: A structural analysis of Mbuti culture and Social organization. American Anthropologist. New series 89(4) pp. 896-913. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org/stable/677863
- Nowak, B. , & Laird, P. (2010). Cultural Anthropology. San Diego, CA. Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from https://content. ashford. edu/books.