Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Urbanization in the Ituri Forest | Mineral Extraction Towns | DR Congo

Urbanization in the Ituri Forest | Mineral Extraction Towns | DR Congo

Disruption of the traditional Mbuti-Bantu relationship is occurring in all but a few isolated areas of the Ituri.

An academic paper by Robert Bally:

When new agriculturalists move into the area, however, the Mbuti is understandably tempted to shift away from his long-term exchange partner in order to seek the highest possible price for his forest products. As the Mbuti turns to this broader market, his villager no longer views him as a reliable exchange partner worthy of credit and is consequently less likely to come to his aid in a time of crisis. While the Mbuti has gained an independence rarely attainable under the traditional system, he has lost a great measure of the security that same system provided.

Disruption of the traditional Mbuti-villager relationship is occurring in all but a few isolated areas of the Ituri resulting both from the establishment of coffee plantations and the increased demand for meat from the populated districts on the edges of the Ituri forest. A commercial meat trade has developed whereby traders from town travel to Mbuti forest camps with cultivated foods which they exchange for meat. This trade bypasses local villagers altogether and puts severe strains on relations between the Mbuti and villagers. Even more disturbing in the long term is the strain the commercial meat trade puts on the forest mammal populations and therefore the Mbuti subsistence base. Game populations cannot sustain the levels of cropping demanded by the commercial traders. Already in many areas near the edges of the Ituri the meat trade has collapsed because the forest animals have been so depleted and the Mbuti have either moved to less populated districts where sufficient areas of unexploited forest remain, or they have shifted out of their traditional subsistence culture to become agriculturalists and laborers on the plantations.

The Mbuti subsistence culture has shown great resilience at many points in the past, but it cannot withstand excessive pressure on the forest and its resources. Evidence has shown that the Mbuti fare best where populations of agriculturalists are present, but where these populations are neither too sparse for effective production of starch, nor too dense for the maintenance of sufficient forest resources.

In many areas throughout Central Africa Pygmy populations have been adversely affected by exploitation of the forest habitat. The Tsua of central Zaire, the Twa of Rwanda, and many others have intermarried with the Bantu, turned to agriculture and day labor, lost most of their cultural heritage and retained very little of their independence. This has not yet happened in most of the Ituri where Mbuti can still exercise choice in their contacts with outside populations because they still retain command over valuable meat resources. However, there are significantly large areas of the Ituri where Mbuti subsistence culture has completely disappeared – particularly in the northwest near Isiro and Wamba – and it is very unlikely that it can long withstand the growing populations pressing on all sides and already reaching into the center of the forest. As more resources are extracted from the forest, increasing numbers of Mbuti will have no choice but to adopt a more generalized agriculturally-oriented subsistence. Unless sufficient areas of forest are set aside, a unique subsistence culture based on hunting and gathering forest resources will be lost in the Ituri and throughout central Africa forever.

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