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Mbuti Culture

Tara Richards
ANT 101 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Instructor: Shaun Sullivan

Mbuti is a tribe most likely found around the equator in rainforest regions within Africa,
although it is unknown exactly how many reside across the globe today there is an estimated
15,000 left in the world. There are easily a lot of differences between their culture and our own
there is also quite a few similarities in our lives. Understanding other societies can help
everyone to see how much a like everyone is despite the differences. The Mbuti are one of three
Pygmy tribes, Tswa, Twa, and Mbuti. Of the three the Mbuti is said to be the only true pygmy
tribe due to their height and their loaner type of lifestyle. They are primarily a foraging
community and typically rely of the men and womens duties equally. The mens hunting ability
and the womens gathering skills is a large part of their resources, although the women do most
the fishing and this is their main food intake. The Mbuti are known to travel in nomadic bands
that do not have any political structure and their members and followers change frequently.
Because there tends to be no type of governing structure, most decisions are made by respected
older male figures within the band. They try to maintain relationships with their neighboring
villages based on their trading ability. The Mbuti commonly have a lot of meat or can obtain it
easily, they use these products to trade with the other communities for products from their farms
that their tribe doesnt have access to otherwise. Although most of their lifestyle wouldnt even
begin to make u see a connection, unlike other tribes, and bands the women in this group has a
lot more power, while they also have very close family values much like the society which we

Mbutis belief system is definitely something that would seem to set them completely
apart from what we were taught growing up. They believe that everything they could possibly
need in life is provided by the greatest forest guide (Muungu). They are often told a story of
Nyama Ya Mai meaning Water Animal, to them any type of accident that occurs in water is
caused by this creature, regardless of the incident. Another thing they strongly believe in is
Totemic Spirits, these are animal spirits whose looks or characteristics represent and entire
group, most commonly strong animals such as lions, wolves, and eagles will be used based on
the spiritual connects the men feel towards them. The tribe will use Magical rituals such as Anjo
to control the improvement of weather or hunting conditions. Sometimes they will hope for rain,
but other times they will perform rituals to hold off the precipitation until after then men are
finished all the hunting and gathering to provide for their society. Unlike our culture holidays do
not seem to be of great importance to the Mbuti, although they do have days that are important to
them and their society but they are nothing the holidays we celebrate every year. Much like us
they celebrate on the days they find important to them and use them as a reason to party so to
speak. The few things they will celebrate are a Boys Nkumbi which is his transformation for
childhood to manhood, the honey feast, and many other ceremonials activities including Anjo.

The social organization in this group is something taught at a young age that rarely is
changed as far as the main background passed down through generations. There are 4 major
areas that they try to avoid on a daily basis, they have found that this commonly keep them away
from useless fighting, arguing, and conflict. You are taught everything from a young age you
take in your surroundings. It has been stated and proven in studies that the way in which you are
brought will be a drastic part of the person you will become in the future. Your thought process,
beliefs, and judgments all stem from things that were taught to you. These children are taught
how to deal with Human Nature of competitiveness, and hostility. They teach them how to use
their confidence to be the best and most effective weapon again anyone trying to push you past
your limits. Jokes, Ridicule, and Laughter is what they use to get over any argument. Any type
of animosity within the community will be ridiculed by everyone involved until over a period of
time all parties will be laughing hysterically without the initial problem even on they mind,
making laughter and patience a necessity in this particular tribe. Their language is also different
from our own when talking to each other they will either be speaking Ekimi meaning quiet, or
Akimi to speak loudly, this of course would most likely be the start to one of their arguments
ending in laughter. Sooner than our culture, anywhere between ages nine and eleven the male
children will enter their Nkumbi and after ninety days he will be considered a man by his fellow
villagers. At this point he will most likely go out hunting with the men during the day instead of
spending the day with the women.

Kinship seems to be one of the things I feel they have somewhat similar values to us.
While their social structure in more based on age and knowledge over anything else, both men
and women and treated equally. Not only do they both contribute in the everyday survival of the
community, but when it comes to decision making no one gender has more say then the other.
Recognition within the family is commonly extremely important in bands and tribes, the Mbuti
only find that to be of importance when it comes to choosing a spouse. You may not marry a
relative from either side of your family as far back as the eldest living family member can
remember, this of course is not something that occurs very often in our society either. Age is
actually a large importance to this tribe, if someone were to marry outside of their age group it is
considered displeasing to the forest and is a disappointment to all family. Todays society give
children complete independence once they are out on their own again much like the adult
Mbutis. Although there is no formal marriage ritual for them the living arrangements pre and
post marriage have no restrictions. A divorce simply consists of one of the persons involved to
leave the dwelling they reside in and move somewhere else. At this point the marriage is
considered over yet any children conceived during the relationship now belong to the male.
Kinship is yet another bond they have formed to avoid violence and fighting; it is also a very
beneficial way to expand your social community. Every single person in their tribe is considered
to be important to the well-being of the community. This in turn makes it useless to assign rank
to any one person, instead of allowing them to work together and be a stronger community with
the same ultimate goal of overall survival.

In conclusion I feel there are things we can learn from the Mbuti and there are things they
could take from our society to better their own. As far as classifying people based on anything
from Race, Age, Sex, Career, Wealth, or Looks which many people do. In todays society these
seem to be the most commonly discriminated categories and sometimes people dont even do it
purposefully. Although more like us the men and women are considered to be equal in any
situation. While the elder members make decisions there is not a bit of favoritism in their
community and everyone does an equal part one way or another. Unlike many other tribes they
have the ability to make their own decisions when it comes to most issues. Yet another thing we
could take as a tip for them is the ability to laugh off the anger and avoid fights and arguments
resulting in violence. Our religious beliefs are very different, while we as a community have
multiple religions that are worshiped the Mbuti all believe the same religion, and stories. While
our society is very high tech their tribe is as far from our era as u can get. We are very
dependent on electricity and our cell phones to be connected to each other and the rest of society.
They do not have this privilege in their life and still seem to keep their community happy and
united together. For the most part I think every person is going to be skeptical about anything
they do not know, this includes courses, other cultures, other religions, and so on. With just a
little bit of research people can try to learn about some of the things they do not k now. Not only
will it help everyone to better understand each others religion, family, traditions, and rituals, but
it could increase unity throughout the globe.

Politics and History by Eleanor Leacock