Forest People Reaction Paper
Turnbull’s entrance into the Ituri forest was shunned by the villagers but not by the BaMbuti. When Turnbull first visited the BaMbuti, they accepted him because they knew that he would bring plenty of tobacco, palm wine, and many other luxuries. The BaMbuti also considered him the father of all children. I personally have no basis for questioning his objectivity because of the manner in which the whole tribe accepted and respected him. It would be a difficult task for an author to fictionalize an account such as The Forest People. By allowing Turnbull to be present at the initiation in a way symbolized his initiation into the tribe. Turnbull stated, “But at the end of it all I knew something about the Pygmies, and they knew something about me, and a bond had been made between us by all the discomforts we had shared together as well as by all the fun.” By this, Turnbull has obviously made an impact upon the BaMbuti. Another factor which contributed to maintaining his rapport was the fact that he was able to learn their language quickly. This is extremely important because communication in any kind of society is essential to making and keeping a functioning relationship. Also, the BaMbuti accepted him as one of the forest people because he was not an animal like the negroe villagers. Simply put, he was able to keep up and run with the BaMbuti through the forest which meant a great deal to the tribe. This meant that he was part of the forest and not an “outsider”.
Based on the fact that he could move through the forest with ease and quietness, proved to the BaMbuti that Turnbull could function in their sociocultural system. For a society such as the BaMbuti, living completely dependent upon the forest meant being at one with their environment. The BaMbuti, the children of the forest, considered the Ituri Forest as their father and mother, provider of all that is good and bad. Influenced by long term customs and beliefs, they would always return to the forest after an extended amount of time in close relation to the outside world. At one point, when Turnbull returned for the second visit, he noticed some significant changes within the village. It was noted that some pygmies were physically working for the negroe villagers and adhering to their customs. Some of the BaMbuti also tried to domesticate by creating plantations in the forest, like the “animals” of the village. This completely went against the economic production element of the BaMbuti’s ecological base. They were strictly a hunter-gatherer society with the occasional trading for other goods, not pastoralists or horticulturists. Because the BaMbuti strayed from the path of their ancestors, the forest grew angry and took the life of one of their oldest matriarchs, Balekimito. Normally, the tribe has no need to domesticate and try to grow their own food when there is an abundance of food provided by the forest. The women know which vines to follow to discover a delicious root, which mushrooms are edible, and which leaves from which plant are the most delicious. The men are able to track even the smallest animal paths, such as from the sindula or the larger sondu. And on occasion, the forest provides an elephant for the tribe and meat is plentiful, so plentiful that it is shared with the “savages” of the village. In return the villagers exchange items like plantains, rice or even flour.
Everything the BaMbuti need is provided by the forest. The homes they build are from materials originating from the forest. The saplings for the frames, the mongongo leaves for the roofs, and even furniture is made from the forest. The bed they sleep on, the clothes they wear, and the decorations they wear all come from the forest.
The BaMbuti camp consisted of twenty-five to thirty families. In general, everyone was equal in wealth and in power. There was however a subtle social hierarchy within the tribe between the elders and the younger bachelors and kids of the tribe. The elders gain the most respect because they are the most knowledgeable and the most experienced with the forest. It is in this way that the tribe is distributed. Some older members like Njobo, would set up camp in a certain place, while other older members such as Cephu would set up in the same relative area but away from the main camp. The reasoning behind this is that Njobo has his extended family while Cephu has his. It is not that one dislikes the other, one just feels more at the head of their own family if slightly segregated from the other. Everyone still shares with each other whether or not they are related. In reality, everyone in the tribe is related in the way of intermarriage. On hunts some will be more successful than others. When the game is brought back to the camp, every person will try to claim a bit more meat on the account that he or she helped that person back then or gave them a pipestem or some long forgotten favor. In the end however, everyone comes away satisfied because everyone contributes to the hunt. There are those who obviously do the actual hunting and killing and there are women who beat the brush to chase the animals into the nets. For those not physically at the hunt, they prepare for the dinner that night and keep the camp attended. Every member works together to survive, and each member carries the same amount of responsibility as the next.
Each member of the BaMbuti is equal, but each member is distinguished by their physical attributes, hunting skills, cooking skills, building skills, accomplishments, etc. For example, Njobo is known as a great hunter because of the numerous hunts he has participated in as well as his success rate. He is especially known for the elephants he has killed. Members in the tribe offer different attributes and collectively the tribe gains a certain personality. Families within the tribe also accomplish the same thing. A certain lineage may develop from the head of the family such as a gift of singing in the molimo. Because one person may shine in a certain area, it does not mean that person is better in any way. It simply means that the particular person should specialize in what he or she does to make the overall tribe better. For example, the tribe will not send an inexperienced hunter out just because there is jealously on his part. The most experienced hunter will go out instead for the benefit of the survival of the whole tribe. The hierarchy that exists within the tribe is based upon age and the cumulative assets that the person has to offer. A strong leader will have all the qualities of not just age, but experience and wise decision making for the most beneficial outcome for the good of the tribe.
The BaMbuti will act in a certain manner when they are around the villagers. They will act in a meek and lowly way, as if they are less than the negroes. However, as soon as they set back into the forest, their natural environment, the BaMbuti revert back to their old selves again. They act as if nothing happened and are back to their humorous selves again. The BaMbuti have a strange way of solving disputes sometimes. The whole tribe will get involved, and at times the person that is wrong will get heckled and laughed at until the original problem is forgotten. It is clear to see that these free spirited people have many little quirks within their own sociocultural system. These have developed over time and have been reinforced through occurrence. The BaMbuti, children of the forest, hopefully maintain a boundary between them and the “outside” world. Their lifestyle is unique and one of great wonder for many people and should be appreciated for the time to come.