Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Scarification is Part of the Pygmy Manhood Ritual | Ituri Forest

Scarification is part of the Pygmy Manhood Ritual | Ituri Forest

From my journal:    I had been prepped somewhat for the whipping part of the manhood ceremony, but not the scarification. Each boy was cut with razors around his chest with a half-inch incision about twenty times.  And then the chief rubbed black mud into the wounds.  One of the chief’s brothers is wearing a mask and bells on his legs and a tutu of leaves.  He leads the boys one by one thru the town with a basket guy to pick up the money people throw at the boys’ feet.  Five to seven men beating sticks in unique syncopation surround these three.  But these boys have to dance like crazy—one of them stops for a minute because the bells on his leg fell off.  As the men retie the bells, I look into his glazed eyes—he is completely at the end of his energy. I know that is the plan—pygmy boot camp—but I feel sorry for these baby boys.

Pygmies believe in the mystical rite of passage process and very few Bantus believe in it anymore.  The church has banned the practice and it’s heathen overtones.  There is also a health risk—these boys are circumcised with machetes, knives or under the “magic system” some of the old men use their teeth, according to Paluku.  They using teeth is a magical way to avoid infection.  Infection is rampant, however, and the blind boy was really badly infected and had to be hiked out to the nurse at the dispensary in town.  In general, the nKumbi only uses “leaf medicine” to deal with the boys wounds from circumcision, or whipping.

Since Bantu’s have a structured sedentary community that organizes the nKumbi and Pygmies don’t and now that most of the Bantus want a clinical-one-day-process at a hospital versus weeks of pain in the forest that is a many day walk to a clinic with a leaf wrapped infected penis—this tradition will not continue much longer.


Buy This Image