Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Pygmy Girls Use White Clay Body Paint | Epulu, Democratic Republic of Congo

Pygmy Girls Use White Clay Body Paint | Epulu, Democratic Republic of Congo

Pygmy girls paint each other in support of their brothers who are going through a manhood initiation ceremony. They have just hiked for two days to their hunting camp and they construct nighttime shelters in about two hours.  Women bend the branches to create a superstructure and then go off in the woods to get the right kind of leaves.  The forest hunting camps are about 10k apart, and 10K from where they string their nets.   Boys who are going through the end of the circumcision ceremony called nKumbi accompanied the adults to the camp and were housed off to the side.  They were whipped every morning and then sent off into the forest to hunt or fish.

From my journal:

The Bantu chief from town came with us, with the nKumbi (circumcision/manhood rite) boys in tow.  The chief owns 122 pygmies, but only the strong ones with their families are in this camp.  We are in the only clearing about 10km from the village… one of the few places you can see the sky.

Three of the pygmy girls have complete body paint with white clay in support of their brothers in the nKumbi.  They are not to wear clothes other than a loincloth… One cold morning when they try to cover up the older women admonish them.  One of the pygmy boys has partially developed breasts and likes to dress like the women in the morning in a sarong like cloth.  More than one of the men is wearing nail polish—including one of the chiefs.  Pygmies have their own gender-bender ways of doing things.

These boys only clothing is bark cloth loin cloths tucked under a vine that encircles their waist.  They make these clothes themselves in the woods.  It’s sad, but in the context of their lives it makes a weird kind of sense.  The boys dance a very feminine sensual type of dance and tomorrow as they are set free, they will come, one by one, down from their forest camp and dance the entire length of the village and be welcomed back into the community as men.  When they reach the end of the village they will climb a tree and hang their grass skirt around the trunk, signaling their manhood to anyone entering the village.

Life is hard for everyone here.  My fixer/guide/translator/motodriver, Paluku Raymond has a wife and four kids in Beni.  They are in Beni because there is a school there.  But he only sees them once a year for twenty days or so.  It would cost $100 each for his family to come by motorcycle to visit him… or $20 each to come on sacks of rice in the back of some transport truck.  He is excited that he will be guiding me to Beni, because he will see his family.

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