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Culture is how the people shares, learn, deal with symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes and influences their perception towards the contemporary world. This research paper concerns the culture of the Mbuti of Zaire.
Mbuti are people living in the Ituri forest of Zaire. They were formerly called pygmies. They lived in hunting and gathering. The forest of Zaire provided a good environment for their livelihood as it emphasized the economic importance of gathering and hunting hence supporting their close subsistence. As any other hunter in the world, the Mbuti people are face by different problems. Most of them live in frontier areas and their hunting has been drifted to an economic system. This has lead them starting specialization thus exploiting certain items for market system. This has leaded them to starting technological way of hunting to increase their efficiency in hunting material.
The Mbuti community has modified their hunting way of live and gotten in the commercial hunting method. This has been brought up by the high demand for meat especially the antelope meat. The community around the forest has turned to the Mbuti to provide the meat especially in the outskirt of the Ituri forest. Entrepreneurs have increasingly provided the ready market for the meat as they transport them to the surrounding cities and town. Though the business has high potential due to the availability of the market, the hunting market has remained to be always small scale. The traders who come to get the antelope meat from the Mbuti camp in the forest makes temporary dwelling places where they trade cassava flour and rice for the antelope meat (Hart, (1978). The Mbuti community has not embraced technology in their hunting techniques as they still use the long established method of hunting using nets of made of plant fiber. The method nevertheless, produce surplus meat required for the barter trade market exchange. The Mbuti in their capacity do not solely depend on hunting alone for food. However, also the foodstuffs produced by the traders are staple food for most of the Mbuti family. They also engage on other methods of survivor when the market hurting is not available. Otherwise, marketing hunting only connect themselves with the traders and make their life easier. Marketing hunting has been termed as the main cause for diminishing game populations thus making the market hunting to be very uncertain business.
Mbuti Economic Organization
Between 1930 to 1960 Mbuti were around 20,000 to 40,000 in population. They were divided into two groups depending on the method they used in hunting. The first group that lived in eastern and northeastern part of the forest was called Anchers. This is because they used Ancher for hunting. While the group that lived in the southern, central and western part was called net hunter as they used the net for hunting. The community at time depended on hunting and gathering in the rain forest. They were living in the forest all their live but there were no signs of cultivation. However, over the years the Mbuti community has maintained close relationship with the agriculturalist thus adapting different technology and changing their subsistence food. This has made them use the agricultural tools in the hunting method. They have adapted such tool as iron spears, knives and axes (Tanaka, 1978). They have also integrated their livelihood method of living with the agricultural method altering their forest-based method.
Their relationship with agriculturalist has made the Mbuti to show some element of change towards the outside world. Because even after so many years of history, they still bring games meat and the gathered fruits to the farmers. They also engage themselves in garden labor in exchange of agricultural goods such as food, tobacco among others.
The Mbuti not only relate with the farmers in term of barter trade only. The farmers consider them the first people in the forest and they are convinced that they are derived from the forest itself. Therefore, they consider them ideal for religious purposes as they are considered to be close to spirit. So, the farmers involve them in their ritual ceremony, initiations and coronation. They help the agriculturalist in this and in return, they get produce as payment.
The bakbala, as the agriculturalist are termed, and Mbuti have a complicated dependency. Their business is not structured which do not form any system of the market that one can really explain. This is because, the trade between them is not defined and the transaction between them has no fixed value (Abruzzi, 1979). The bakbala do not want to formalize their dependency even when the Mbuti eat and drink at their expense, as they can leave at any time everything and go back to the forest.
In spite of a relationship that seems to be so confusing, bakbala do not want to get rid of the Mbuti. This is because more often than not, they play a major role in their lives. They appreciate the Mbuti's role in their religious functions, but they do not offer them any special status in their social system.
On the other hand, Mbuti do not hold the bakbala in any esteemed regard. They ensure that they as much as possible do not control them. They do this by sometimes evading their alliance and maintaining several alliances with different villagers around and ensuring that they shift their favor from one group to the other depending on who had better meet their needs. They make alternate trade stealing, begging and make wage demand on religious ground. They do this cleverly to ensure that they are not noted. The bakbala are always confused on the Mbuti allegiance and they are not sure about their possession. They then take the advantage of the whole confusion to maintain their independence as they get materials from the villages.
The Mbuti entirely interacted with Bakbala in a small-scale exchange. This was the only business that they both engaged. However, in the late 1958 to 1959, they interacted with bachuuzi traders who introduced to them new form commerce. The traders developed the towns around the forest as they traded game meat in large quantity (Tumbull, 1957). They wanted to have a regular supply of meat but the Mbuti community was less interested. They wanted to make business as the one that they were making with the bakbala. Therefore, initially they were very reluctant to engage on so intensive business. They did not want to accumulate much belonging, as they were nomads and they were getting almost everything they needed from the bakbala. The traders wanted to monopolize the business to ensure that they get regular meat supply. Thus, they built their wares close to the forest camps of the Mbuti and offered cassava flour and rice in exchange of the game meat. The commercial activity came to a stand still when the 1960 Simba Rebellion started and the forest was no longer safe. However, by 1970, the traders returned and they came even in large numbers and in 1973, they had gone so much to the interior. The business was booming and made more traders to troop toward the northern and western Ituri.
The Mbuti social organization
The marketing hunting of the Mbuti community helped in enhancing their communal life. Hunting was the basis of the Mbuti economy and the members of the family participated on it. Participating was diverse to a level where the children participated in it. They helped in the net weaving as they guarded the end of the circle during weaving. The hunting a part from being economical activity, it is also leisurely that old and mother with infants participate on it. After making of the net, the community get to socialize as they join Bimba, which is a group formed to share tobacco and fruit snacks. I general the hunting is more of a social event at the end of the day. The meat was distributed after the animal was killed. However, the distribution of meat was governed by certain rules that were put in place according to the relationship that people had among each other. For example, the animal that was captured using the communal net was distributed depending with the place the net was taken from. The meat gotten was incorporated with the starch materials that were gotten from the traders especially the bakbala. In their view, the Mbuti community regarded the barter trade between meat and farm produce so interchangeable because this was the only way they could get the starch.
How vegetation affects Mbuti's culture
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The habitat of Mbuti is in forested area where they have been hunting over the years. According to Tanaka (1978) cultural practices of people living in an area is highly influenced by the environmental vegetation and climate where they have in habited. In case of Mbati they been living in or near forest therefore, their lively hood and economic activities must have been supported by the environment where they were living. Mbuti used to hunt in Ituri Forest where they have been hunting animals and gathering plants. The region which Mbuti inhabit has abundance vegetation where there are many plants which are edible and also has medicinal value. They have also diversified hunting to fishing as well as a mode of subsistence.
The environmental region which Mbuti inhibit is along the equator where there is the tropical forest which has been their livelihood for long and borders the Savana which is a dry trench of desert (Tumbull, 1957). However, Mbuti had settled at the Congo Basin which is the most humid area in the African region. Hence, it has much vegetation of different species that has been supporting the community. The Mbuti pygmies inhabited the "Ituri" area along river "Ituri" which is just on the northern part of the equator which lies at the altitude of 600-1000m and has area coverage of 100,000 km2 where there are three main types of trees which is ever green in all seasons. The tree belongs to the dominant species of caesalpiniato Itani among others.
At the northern part of the river Ituri there is a forest known as Cynometra Alexandri while the southern part of the river there is Gilbertiodendron dewevreii while at the middle there is another forest Brachstegia Lairentii. The Congo forest forms a good habitat region for Mbuti Community to thrive in their hunting and gathering culture.
Hunting societies such as Mbuti generally live in small scale activities in hunting and gathering and it lacks tribal integration because they are mostly nomadic people who migrated depending on availability of animals to hunt and plants to gather fruits and vegetation. However, they have been able to form a flexible structure which has frequent intervals and customary which has made the society to be social structures which has many structures of the society that is not developed.
However, their hunting and gathering culture experiences direct confrontation with the natural environment and habitat which has increased the deterioration of the environment. The community is also solely dependent to nature therefore the community economic livelihood they live at hand to mouth as the resources in the forest are depleting much faster now than ever before and they can not be in a position to gather more than what they need.
For transport purposes they were dependent on human manpower therefore they can not be able to transport their gathering in bulk or at long distances as they are limited to what they can be able to carry on their backs for one trip (Harako, 1976). They had developed simple tools which have been improved with time to ease them on their hunting and slaughtering the animals which they get so they had few spears and knives which were being loaned or borrowed by those who need them.
Due to their nomadic nature they do not build permanent building instead they use locally available materials which do not need much processing. Such materials include plant stalks and logs which are locally available. However, there is limitation which is characterized by their nomadic culture which contributes to not investing many efforts on their houses as they will be required to migrate depending on availability of animals to hunt or plants to gather.
Mbuti were used to make plant materials as they could only have access to plants and animals. They used to use hides to make bags and clothing's while hides of large animals such as antelopes were used as bedding. While they used the land tortoise and ostrich eggs as container to store their goods. They were also using hides to make drums, bow decorations and quivers. While, they would also use thin fabric made from plants barks. For communication they would use ivory which was also used as flutes. The community has been over dependent on trees that almost of their tools were made of wood such as arrows, digging sticks and lance handles.
One main characteristics of Mbuti is being reflected in their forest livelihood even on medication by use of leaves, barks and roots of most of the plants for medicinal purposes. They also use large leaves as roofing materials, carrying foods and as warping materials to transport goods which they might be carrying. The creepers and herbs were also being woven in to baskets which are being used as containers of carrying goods.
Mode of Subsistence
Mode of subsistence of Mbuti is not only based on material culture but also cultural aspect and social organization which have been having a lot of influence. They have been practicing division of labor for both males and females who had different roles in their practices men would hunt while women would mostly be used to gathering activities. Therefore, men had perfected the monopoly of hunting while women were very good in gathering although sometime men would be involved in gathering activities which they would either gather fruits, roots and other plants which they were eating or for storage.
Hunting was the one which took much of their daily activities which they used to hunt in groups. Therefore, they were not involved in much gathering of the wild plants. However, their ancient traditional have changed over the years to be agriculturist and are producing cassava, potatoes, bananas and rice among other farm produce (Abruzzi, 1979). This gradual change of their earlier culture was characterized by over reliance of the forest whose recourses is getting depleted and change in life styles due to influence of their neighbors.
As their culture developed they started to trade on with meat for agricultural produce. Meat had higher value than the agricultural produce although the farm produce were more reliable as source of food. Therefore, they had been forced over the years to change their reliance on wild plants and start farming which they are currently relying on for their livelihood.
When hunting they used to do it in groups, some of the groups used arrows, bows and spears which were the basic hunting methods while others used nets. Use of bows and arrows was being successful by use of strong individual character which required strong individual character. While, use of nets required a lot of coordination and close cooperation's by the hunters. They were also practicing big game hunting by use of rope snares, to trap small antelopes or by use of bows and arrows, but its only on rare occasions do they involved less than two people in hunting (Tanno, 1976). The fundamental differences between the two hunting methods of use of bow and arrows as compared to net hunting is that net hunting was mainly used to trap small animals while use of bows and arrows they were using it to hunt big animals.
Hunting and social Group Units
Hunting was also being used as a social unit which people used to gather people who are living in the same locality for a social activity. What ever was being hunted was equally divided by those who were participating in the hunting and due to their migratory nature the culture discouraged development of materials.
In this society they smallest unit was the family which they divided their roles for men and women. The division of labor was being done mainly for the provision of food. The structure developed in the families developed social cohesiveness among the community which made it to sustain their cultural practices for long due to over dependence on each other.
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