Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Pygmy Boy Examines Scarring after 5 Months of Whipping | Ituri Forest

Pygmy Boy Examines Scarring after 5 Months of Whipping | Ituri Forest

Pygmy Boy Examines Scarring after 5 Months of Whipping | Ituri Forest

From my journal:

We’ve come back to Salate for the end of the nKumbi.  I hear the music of beating sticks and chanting boys in the forest.  Tomorrow is their last day before being set free.  This is the only education they will get their entire lives.  This education is all about what leaves to pick for various tasks, what bark to peel, how to fish and hunt and survive in the woods.

They’ve been whipped every morning for five months.

This morning the sole Bantu boy ran away because the men said that tomorrow—their last day—they would beat them severely.  The entire village looked for this boy and found him hiding late in the afternoon.  The chief was very upset, but not upset enough to stop the whipping the following day.

We went up to the nKumbi ground to photograph the next morning.  One group of boys is painted and sitting on their little circle of logs.  Another group of three are still painting each other… they are also singing—being led by the adults.  The adults are singing and twisting limbs to soften them and make them more effective whips—one boy on the bench is shaking so hard that he can barely sing—other boys are shaking, but not as hard.  Some of the other boys just seem resigned to their fate.  If they are shaking after five months of beating, I guess it really is going to be severe.

The first boy gets in position to be whipped.  They allow them to hold a log toward the whip to take the initial blow.  The Bantu chief, Potolico Putnam, whips the first three and the pygmy chief whips the next group.  Even the blind boy is led to the whipping spot.  Each boy is whipped twice and then drops the log and marches away without tears.

The truth is these boys are just babies—they have little stick arms and distended stomachs.  But they have to be tough and they have to be tough early in life.  It’s a full time job just to eat.  All of these towns are hungry and have very little protein.  Even in Epulu at “Le Palais” I am eating mostly leaves (Sombe) and rice because the town is so hungry and the other options just don’t appeal to me.  My lovely hosts are used to scarcity of food, it doesn’t seem to bother them—but Eric Ellen and I aren’t used to it—so I buy fish from the pirogue that docks at the base of the camp here.  And Ellen and Eric periodically go for bread or dough balls fried in palm oil.  But people in Salate have very little.  I’ve told the chief’s wife that I really like white beans and rice, because it is the best of all the options for protein.  I don’t like the local meat (blue duiker), I’ve seen it caught and thrown on top of a leaf hut for a couple of days before it is smoked over a fire and then it sits for whatever time you like before it is eaten…

But, like I said, these boys are babies and they have to be hard to live in the forest most of the five months of this rite… Their little penises are cut and then covered with salt and then wrapped in leaves—and that’s the least of it.  If an adult snaps an order, they’ve been so well trained that they just run off in their little grass skirts and cut down piles of the sticks necessary to strip bark and make clothing or weave into cord or whatever task is important to the men at the moment. They do it without even speaking.  Often, not speaking is part of the deal—they have an apparatus that is sticks and a big leaf that they put in their mouth so they can’t talk.

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