People of the Congo Rainforest’s I Jittered with uncontainable excitement as I lay down to sleep for the last time in my luxurious suite at the Lake Kiev Serene Hotel. So far, our excursion, my parent’s and l, into central Africa has been extremely comfortable; we were experiencing first-world luxury in the Rwanda resort town of Ginseng. It was almost surreal, living in a hotel with five-star accommodations on a lovely sandy beach with the Virginia Volcanoes in the distance providing the perfect backdrop to an idyllic scene.
This luxury, of course, was not the epitome of our excursion; it was only the beginning of an ambitious Journey to delve deep into the Congo rainforest’s and observe the lives of the pygmies. That night marked our last few hours in a modernized town, before our journey into the true, untouched wilderness of Africa. I say “untouched wilderness” with a slight reservation, however. The Congo region has long been romanticizes by the adventures of Livingston and others. Although the raw beauty of the Congo remains breathtaking today, deforestation efforts and widespread civil strife has devastated forests and displaced forest dwellers.
It is a place associated with ethnic violence and the oppression of minority groups. We are embarking on this Journey into the Congo rainforest’s to learn about the daily lives of one such marginalia group, the pygmies. Anthropologists define a pigmy as a member of an ethnic group whose average height is unusually short; adult men are on average less than CACM (59 inches) tall. The term is best associated with peoples of Central Africa, such as the Aka, Fee© and Ambit. These African pygmies live in several ethnic groups, residing mostly in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRY), the Republic of Congo (ROCK).
Most Pigmy populations dwell in rain forests and are digitized as hunter-gatherers, although some tribes trade with neighboring farmers to acquire cultivated foods and other material items. Various theories have been proposed to explain the short stature of pygmies. Some studies point to their adaptation to living conditions in the rainforest’s as the cause. Low ultraviolet light levels in the forests result in relatively little vitamin D made in human skin, therefore limiting calcium uptake for bone growth and maintenance. This eventually led to the evolution of a smaller skeletal size to accommodate for their dense forestry environment.
Other conditions in the rain forest have also been suggested to attribute to their short stature, including: lack of food, adaptation to heat and humidity, mobility through dense Jungle. The pygmies have a distinct lineage and unique cultural values that have placed them in a dangerous position in the recent few decades due to modernization efforts and ethnic warfare. Genetically, they are extremely divergent from all other human populations. This indicates that they are of an ancient indigenous lineage and that they’ve been largely isolated from the rest of the world throughout history.
Traditionally, pygmies have immense respect for their environment. They migrate through the rain forest frequently, setting up temporary shelters that leave minimal damage, and hunting only enough game to sustain their community. In the recent years, modernization efforts have led to mass deforestation and continued eviction of pygmies from their homes. Logging and other intrusions nave resulted in scarce game tort them. In most Tirana states, pygmies are not considered citizens and thus aren’t granted legal land titles.
The evicted pygmies are either shuffled into villages and cities, a form of forced assimilation, where they face coordination, or into national reservations under the Jurisdiction of the government. In addition to facing eviction from their traditional homes and the degradation of their culture, pygmies have also been enslaved and murdered during ethnic wars. However, because the African states haven’t extended citizenship rights to the pygmies, their unfortunate plight are gravely underrepresented in the media and largely overlooked by the rest of the world.
The group of pygmies we planned to visit was the Ambit or Bambini, who are indigenous to the Uteri Forest, a tropical enforces in the north/northeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The particular community of the Ambit we interacted with resides in The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a World Heritage Site in the Uteri Forest. Due to the relatively little knowledge of the pygmies as a group and the difficulties of transport to their villages, our itinerary was a relatively unpopular one.
We woke up early in the morning and were transported to Coma, a city contiguous with Ginseng Just across the DRY border. From Coma, we took a short flight to Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRY. At Kinshasa, a long drive of approximately 5. Hours to the Pull Station in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve awaited us. This long drive left the large and modern city of Kinshasa behind as we traveled on dirt roads through dense forestry to the Pull Station. During the 5 plus hours, our native tour guide gave us a thorough overview of the Ambit culture and history.
All these details were kept in the back of my mind as we arrived at Pull. I was curious to observe how the Ambit are adjusting to their daily lives in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Are they saddened by their loss of traditional homes? How are they coping with the recent genocides of their people? On our first sighting of the village, what struck me immediately was how naturally their dwellings blended into the rest of the forest. Almost everything in the village was structured using raw materials. The ground and the surroundings were minimally disturbed in the making of their community.
The huts were built using pliable saplings, crisis-crossed to from a domed-lattice framework. The entire structure was held in place by strands of vine tying this framework together at the top. Shingled tree leaves are then woven into the frame, creating overall a dome-shaped hut sheltered by large leafs. The clothing of the men, women, and children in the village appeared to be manufactured threads, typically products of exchange with neighboring Bantu villages. The clothes were old and withered, usually second-hand and often ill-fitted, especially for young children.
T This community of Ambit resides on a reservation, and thus has options of obtaining food and clothing by more modern meaner. However, they still rely partially on their tradition of hunting and gathering, with the men and women shouldering equal responsibility. The main portion of their diet consisted of berries, wild yams, TTS, leaves, roots, honey and small animals. Men take on the task of hunting with bow and arrow, and women help chase animals into the nets to capture game. Products of hunting and vegetation are often traded with nearby Bantu villagers for modern items such as iron goods, pots, basketry, clothing, etc.
The Ambit people appeared very eager and happy to see us as they chatted excitedly among themselves. Both the adults and children appeared to be bright-eyed, well- nourished, and energetic. Some of the children crowded around us and examined our outfits and cameras with the utmost curiosity. A few leader figures in the village adhered everyone around as they made the suggestion to welcome us with music, dance, and a show of archery. The entire community cheered in unison and each family excitedly headed back to their huts to prepare.
The show of archery displayed the skill and strength of the men in the village; they stood dignified and grand as they released each arrow with grace and ease. The children of the village, holding bows and arrows that were almost the same size as them, were also surprisingly capable. Although not all arrows hit the target, the determination and focus evident in their eyes indicated promising futures. After the show of archery, the adults of the village gathered around the children and began the music festival. The song started off slow and mellow, with long and smooth notes filling the air.
Slowly, the beat of the song strengthened and the notes shortened, interjecting each other until they reached a fervor pitch in mid-air. Accompanied by a tenor voice, the music was lively and energetic, each note striking an accord with the beat of one’s heart. The adults and children swung their head and their limbs to the rhythm of the song, happily expressing themselves. It was very difficult for bystanders to resist in Joining this rueful and moving dance. In that moment, one could sense the pride and vibrancy of the village; however simple their lifestyle, these people truly enjoyed their lives to the fullest.
Given their history of being oppressed and marginalia, it wasn’t my expectation to witness so much livelihood and Joyfulness in this village. I was curious about their current lifestyle on the reservation and how they’ve coped with eviction and the loss of culture. I asked our native tour guide to relay my questions to an elderly Ambit woman. Although she had laughing eyes and a gorgeous smile, her face clouded with rankness and concern as she answered us. She spoke of a time, when she was a child, the Ambit people lived a free nomadic lifestyle, and the rich spiritual culture they had.
She then spoke of the dangers her family experienced during tribal warfare, and how the forests are disappearing, along with Ambit culture itself. She says that life is generally well at the reservation, not what she is used to, but her people are healthy and content. However, she is afraid of her tribe losing their traditions and culture, and afraid of the modernization efforts that are pushing them to change and assimilate into modern society. She doesn’t understand why her people are being forced to change their ways.
She doesn’t understand why her people are targeted in warfare that doesn’t concern them at all. She says they are just trying to make the best of out their current situation, and looking for Joy and happiness in their daily lives. We were welcomed to stay overnight in the village alongside the Ambit people. That night, as I lay in the makeshift tent neighboring the native huts, I felt a sense of admiration and respect for the Ambit people. They’ve always been a peaceful and reclusive group, sticking to their simple routine of living ay by day, without making any demands from the rest of the world.
Although outside tortes nave tried to eliminate their homes and their culture, twenty sat strong as a community and kept their sense of livelihood. I also felt a sense of resentment towards the modernized, technologically advanced, and presumably more civilized society I grew up in. Are the profits from logging and other deforestation acts worth the sacrifice made by these people, who are as humane as us? Should the UN and the African states ignore their plight in the recent Congo civil AR, where they were being cannibalized by both sides, because these people have no political standing?
Should they be withheld of citizenship status because they aren’t adapted to the same lifestyle as the rest of the world? Questions burned my mind as I thought about the injustices done against these innocent people who are just trying to protect their way of life. Much can be done to help the Ambit and the other pygmies, but only if we re-define the values we hold close to us today. Is the supposed advancement of our society more important than preserving the lives of people?