The thin whisper of skirts dissolves into the Ituri rain forest as boys trail their elders on their way to a hunting camp. The Mbyte are one of several Pygmy groups still following semi-Nomadic traditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Part of the nKumbi manhood ritual involves young Pygmy boys learning survival skills. They walk single file on a path to meet net hunters wearing grass skirts while they train for five months before their initiation into manhood. At that time, they will be on on their own and will share adult responsibilities and feed their families.
From my journal:
I’ve made coffee for the chief and his brother. I think they hate my coffee but there is a sense of sharing a table with a foreigner that supersedes the coffee. I was trying to call Melissa on the sat phone under the stars with a pygmy group singing like crazy… and the chiefs all quietly pulled up their chairs into my little clearing to sit next to me.
Pygmy women haul water to the house and another pygmy is helping in the kitchen. I ask Paluku what the arrangement is… the chief’s wife says they work for her only when she has tobacco or money. Actually the best way to run a garden or have pygmy labor, Paluku says, is to have a small hidden dope patch. On our net hunting trip, Paluku saw Potolico had a little bit of pot. Pygmies will seed a hunting camp with marijuana as they leave and then quietly go back to harvest. Generally the wives of govt. officials who are above the law are the main engines for dope production.
Paluku tells me the reason there is one Bantu and many pygmies is that Potolico had one boy for the nKumbi—his sister’s fatherless child. He feels responsible for this child and he also feels responsible as Chief to continue the ancestral traditions.
There is a man close to death from diarrhea on my left and four teenage boys on my right dancing in feminine suggestive ways to a boom box with four ounces of electronics and four pounds of pulsating flashing lights. Of the three pygmy girls that were painted, only one knows what her full name is. The dying pygmy proudly states in Swahili that he knows his full name.
Paluku has a good job at CEFRECOF (Basically a WCS NGO) That is why he is in Epulu. He only has a secondary education, but he speaks four languages and is very smart—especially in how he handles folks in these communities.Buy This Image