A STUDY OF THE MARGINALISED FOREST PEOPLE: THE PYGMIES OF THE CONGO

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A STUDY OF THE MARGINALISED FOREST PEOPLE: THE PYGMIES OF THE CONGO

A STUDY OF THE MARGINALISED FOREST PEOPLE:  THE PYGMIES OF THE CONGO

In order to transform the lives of the marginalized super minority groups, social responsibility must be given its rightful place by all responsible persons and organizations worldwide.

ADVOCATING FOR DIGNITY TO ALL HUMANITY

SAMUEL MURAGURI MWANGI

Article, 

The author is an independent researcher who has done a research among the pygmies in Congo forests and is the author of “The Pygmy World: The Endangered Bambuti of Congo”   He holds a bachelors degree from Jomo Kenyatta University (JKUAT) and a Masters degree in Divinity from NEGST.  He can be can be reached through:

pymies3

smmwangi@yahoo.com

INTRODUCTION

The paper on the pygmies of Congo is an articulate inspiring voice for the oppressed pygmies in Congo forests.  The author presents with shocking yet admirable skills the plight of a “small” community deeply buried in an abyss of civil strife and grave social-economic challenges which are yet aggravated by cultural stereotype that pygmies are semi-human.  The paper explores the forest life of the shortest people on planet Earth-The pygmies.

The author of this paper brings to us a wealth of anthropology research among the indigenous forest people as he highlights the devastating dark side the pygmies find themselves in as they leave their forest world to the unknown. This paper is a groundbreaking contribution to the knowledge of the little known yet earliest ancient settlers in the war torn vast country-DRC.

The author explains how the skills of  these “forest-specialists”, can be enhanced for maximum productivity by giving them equal opportunities and participation both in economic and political arena.

DEFINATIONS

In sociology, marginalization is the social process of becoming or being made marginal.  This means relegating or confining an individual or a group to a lower social standing.   It is a situation where one is pushed to the outer limit or the edge.

Marginalization can also refer to trends within society whereby those perceived as lacking desirable traits or deviating from the group norms tend to be excluded by wider society or ostracized as undesirable.

The most common result of marginalization is material deprivation.   Material resources like food, shelter, water are unfairly dispersed in a society.

The pygmy community in Congo has over the years experienced a community form of marginalization.  They have been excluded from meaningful participation in society.  This is a community that has lost their land, lost their source of income, excluded from the labour market and there are now slowly loosing their culture and values through forced assimilation as their slowly move from the forests to try their luck among the so called civilized society.

Considering the pygmies as a marginalized minority, this paper becomes relevant in looking for practical solutions to the nagging issue that has been talked about for long with little action.

WHO ARE THE PYGMIES

The pygmy people are described as the smallest or shortest people on earth. The average height for a man is four feet, eight and a half inches tall and four feet six inches tall for women.

In trying to describe the pygmies’ people, Duffy, puts it this way, Try to imagine a way of life where land, shelter, and food are free, and where there are no leaders, bosses, politics, organised crime, taxes, or laws. And to this the benefits of being part of a society where everything is shared, where there are no rich people and no poor people, and where happiness does not mean the accumulation of material possession. Put all this together and you have part of the traditional life of Africa’s hunting and gathering Mbuti pygmies who live in the Ituri forest of Zaire. In my opinion and as a result of my research, this definition only gives us an idea of the pygmy community in the forest but the reality as I found out in my research work has changed over the years. The land, food and other utilities are no longer free. Indeed they are neither available nor affordable. The government of Congo has pushed the pygmies out of the forest without offering any alternative. Today, the pygmies have nothing to share as opposed to having everything to share and they are actually poor beggars. In few years to come the pygmies will no longer be referred as hunters and gatherers. This definition will no longer fit them for they will have nothing to gather or hunt. They will not be referred as children of the forest or forest people and may just be referred as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the Congo forests.

WHAT IS THE PYGMY POPULATION 

Unofficial records indicate that, there are about 250,000 pygmies, divided into four groups: the Binga along the Atlantic coast, including the Beku, Bongo, Jelli, Koa, Kola, Kuya, Rimba, and Yaga; the Twa in the high regions surrounding Lake Kivu; the Gesera and Zigaba in Rwanda and Burundi; and the Mbuti, Aka, and Efe of the Ituri forest in Northeastern Congo – Kinshasa (Eder, 1987).

Since there has never been an official demographic census among the pygmies, it is impossible to give an accurate estimate of their total population. Estimates therefore range between 200,000 to 250,000 in these forests. If 40,000 pygmies live in the Ituri forests as guessed by Turnbull, then the remainder are scattered in the expansive Congo forests. Similarly, it is not exactly clear how many pygmies are in the deeper parts of the forests, if at all there are any remaining. Since pygmies are scattered in small groups in different places, it becomes extremely difficult to give statistics of their population.

It is obvious that the pygmy population has had no growth at all. Any recorded change has been a decline in growth rather than population increase. The decline is due to the many social and economic challenges they have to go through including sicknesses. With high child death rate and no medical attention, the pygmy population has declined over time. Some of the pygmies I have talked to said they left other families in the forest when they started moving out and they have not gotten in touch with them again.

WHERE ARE PYGMIES FOUND

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The Bambuti tribe of Congo forest commonly referred to as pygmies is the earliest ancient settlers in this expansive country. Until recently, the pygmies lived predominantly in the forest where their livelihood was based on hunting and gathering from the forest resources. The forest provided all the basic necessities and was their home for years.  In the recent years, the government of Congo declared Congo forests as its national parks, the pygmies were forced to vacate their only known world and home for years. The pygmies had no choice but to leave the forests to nowhere. Today they live as beggars, squatters and displaced persons in their own country.

The pygmies have left the forests as hunting and gathering has become near impossible due to the factors below:

  • Animals in the forest have reduced significantly due to deforestation.
  • Establishment of parks and conservation areas has drastically reduced the forest resources.
  • Government has restricted “poaching” in the forests declaring it illegal. Anyone found hunting faces the music including death.
  • Increased number of Interahamwe soldiers in Congo forests causing them sleepless nights. Soldiers take them to work for them in the deep forest. They kill them and eat them for medical purposes.
  • Similarly, fruits have ceased and many forests have been destroyed due to charcoal burning or farming.
  • There has been consistent rise in commercial logging
  • The land in most parts of Congo has increasingly been repossessed by the King (Mwami). It is important to note that every region has a king or a chief who claims the land is his. The rest of the people can either be given land by Mwami or they can buy land from him.

PYGMY EXPLOITATION AND SUFFERING

(A CASE OF FURTHER MARGINALIZATION)

Over the years, the pygmies have gone through devastating experiences.  Some have been raped and others killed in the forest.  The worst experience is that pygmies are said to be eaten by the Interahamwe soldiers (the soldiers who fled Rwanda after 1994 genocide).  The soldiers believe that the pygmy flesh is medicinal.

Similarly, the pygmies are exploited by their neighbours-The “Bantus” in their trading of goods.  Their hard earned forest meat is exchanged with a day’s meal. Women have to work in the neigbours home only to get a kilo of floor at the sunset.  Pygmies have no access to education, food, clean water and habitable shelters. They have suffered great marginalisation and victimisation. Everyday they continue to be pushed into deeper levels of poverty. They are fragile habitats who are now feeling isolated from the rest of the society and keep looking for some little things to put in their mouths. They feel let down since those with resources have held them back and are left without any help but reduced to beggars. They feel separated from the wider community and have no intention of being incorporated unless their plight is addressed as a matter of urgency.  This isolation and marginalization keeps the pygmies away from any reasonable participation in the society.

PYGMY SOCIAL NEEDS-MAJOR CONCERNS

The pygmies are very clear about their felt social and economic needs. They mention specific needs over and over again. Particularly, lack of land for farming and settlement, lack of food, lack of educational facilities, lack of access to medical care, poor housing, lack of clothing and lack of clean water top the list of social needs. Other needs observed that affect the pygmies in their struggle to live fulfilling lives include; poor sanitation, poor hygiene and poor balanced. These social needs hinder participation of the pygmies in the wider society and community activities directly or indirectly.  They feel unworthy to mix with the clean, smart and learned civilized people.  There self esteem is low and they refer to the neighbours as “Wenye akili” meaning those with brains.  They are perceived as semi-human and they have accepted that situation.  With hungry stomachs to feed, no education and no clothes, the pygmies occupy themselves in trying to get food and meaningful life and thus have not time for social interaction and participation in social or government activities in the society.

THE PYGMY WAY OF LIEE

The pygmies have been hunters and gathers over the years.  They hunt for birds, monkeys, antelopes and wild pigs and gather for wild fruits.  More adventurous people would keep guinea pigs (domestic rats) which provides a delicacy meal.  Women work for the villagers in exchange for food. Due to illiteracy and ignorance, pygmies’ poor hygiene is a major cause of many diseases among the pygmies. In places the author visited like Katana and Idjwi Islands, no toilets were available for use by the pygmies. In Idjwi, they had dug a two feet trench which serves as the toilet. The author observed children playing near the trench as a normal affair. The author could hardly take two seconds at this site which was not only stinking but full of flies of all types. This situation is what the pygmies confront each day as they relieve themselves. Yet due to ignorance they do not see any danger in what they do. After visiting such a trench they will simply push on with life without washing their hands. It is a pathetic situation that such simple hygienic measures have not made much sense to them. With no one enlightened among them, this is the daily and normal dangerous life. Many preventable diseases could be avoided if simple measures were keenly and deliberately taken. With little effort, the mess done by such a site could be a gone issue. The need for basic hygiene and sanitation is paramount. They lack preventive measures and simple information is rare.

LEADERSHIP

Although pygmies do not have formal leadership like chiefs, they do recognise some of them as their leaders. In Idjwi there was the village leader and village teacher. The teacher is seen as the one who guides them in spiritual walk in his own understanding. The leaders do not attract any special attention or earnings and live basically like other pygmies. In our visits, the leaders take responsibility of calling people together and they also help distribute any gifts and food stuffs to their followers. They answer most of the question posed to the group. They are the official spokesmen.  Women similarly had their leaders. In most places the wife of the villager leader takes the role of the woman leader. She will be charge of women and children as well. There is however not much of leadership roles as each family tries hard to put food on the table. During times of death and mourning, the leaders guide the rest through mourning and burial. Normally a pygmy will be buried a few hours after death. Young children and older people are the greatest victims of death. In social activities like death, or celebrations the men and women leaders come together and agree way forward. Thus the pygmies have some simple leadership structures which operate in an informal way. Having lived in the forest for years, the pygmies do not quite understand the structures of government. The only thing they seem to understand is that there is a big town where the rich men who rule the poor men stay. That big city is called Kinshasa. During the countries general elections in 2006, they were updated about the political situation with some pygmies being allowed to vote for their preferred candidate. Those who voted had no much choice but to choose the preferred leader who the Eastern Congo and the Idjwi Island was in favour off. It is this experience that made them know about President Joseph Kabila (Incumbent President of DRC) and his government. They also know that it is the same government that forced them out of the forest without giving them an alternative place to stay.

Their main concern however is not so much about the government but about better life. They do not think in terms of help from the government since the idea of the government is neither here nor there. They keep hoping that one day a good Samaritan who could be you or me will come their way and settle them down. The government on the other side has little if any to do with this minority and almost none existent group of small people who have no political influence or representation at all.

POLITICA AND SOCIAL PARTICIPATION 

In an all inclusive society, different communities find it easy to participate in politics, economic development and other social related issues.  Nevertheless, in a situation of exclusion, marginalization and oppression, some communities are relegated and lack necessary facilitation to the said aspects.  One reason that further puts the pygmies’ community into jeopardy is illiteracy.  Pygmies have lived in the forests for most of their lives.  In the recent past, the government gazetted all forests in Congo as national parks sending pygmies out of their land without giving them any alternatives.  They now live under the mercies of “good Samaritans”.  The pygmies are always on the move more like pastoralists only without cattle.  There are no educational facilities for them.  Without basic education, the pygmies are therefore unrepresented in the society.  Their voice is never heard and their participation if any is mere minimal.

IMPLICATION OF PYGMY MARGINALISATION 

We note that social problems are indeed connected with larger structures in the society.  Oppression and marginalization is a systematic problem that must be addressed in our generation.  In marginalization, some members are considered valuable in the society while others are not.  When individuals or groups lack necessary opportunities for self-reliance they become dependent on charity and welfare.

In this case, the pygmies in Congo rely on good will of others to survive.  Although they have skills and can access necessary resources, they are not given the opportunity to utilize these skills.  They beg with their children.  They cannot afford to take their children to schools thus locking them from meaningful job opportunities in future or societal representation.

The pygmies are bitter with the government and their neigbours as well.  They feel let down by the systems. Adults who should be making good use of their time are now moving from place to place begging for food.  The otherwise health children are dieing every day from curable diseases like malaria which is prevalent among the pygmies.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GROUPS INVOLVED OR WILLING TO GET INVOLVED WITH THE PYGMY PLIGHT

  1. Take a firm stance on forces; whether government, individual or structures that confines communities like the pygmies to a lower standing thus leading to marginalization or further marginalization.  These dominant forces that suppress the oppressed must be silenced by all means possible. There is need for advocacy for political good will.  The Congo government and such other governments by extension must be put to task to address this plight.  Silencing the ruled by their rulers must become the thing of the past.
  1. Create and raise awareness and consciousness about these subjective realities and the plight of the pygmies in Congo forests and such other marginalized groups.   Many people have never heard of marginalized groups and as such awareness would open doors for necessary assistance.
  1. Come up with ways to empower or increase the strength of these groups so that they can obtain basic opportunities like education.  Encourage and develop their skills for self reliance and sufficiency.  They can be encouraged to form their own non-profit organization to address their felt needs which they know better and act as their voice.
  1. Advocate for laws that prohibit marginalization.  Many schools in Congo would not admit a pygmy in their institution.  A civil rights Act should be formed that prohibit discrimination in schools based on race or tribe or other physical factors.
  1. There is great need to radically redefine affirmative action to address marginalization of minority groups.  For example, an affirmative action that encourages development through business and trade or sustainable exploitation of available resources among the pygmies. Fair trade should be encouraged to avoid exploitation. Stake holders can help improve quality and marketing for the pygmy products.
  1. There is need for the formation of an organization or use existing organizations with direct focus to reducing the poverty, suffering and deaths of the pygmy people the Great Lakes region as a result of lack of food, clean water and shelter.  The goal of such an organization would be to raise, mobilize and disburse funds and other resources for the promotion of pygmies and other marginalized people in the Great Lakes region.

To achieve the above the following are important considerations:

  1. Help acquire land for resettlement of hundreds of pygmy families scattered in

different places.

  1. Train adult pygmies in modern farming techniques and assist them to acquire managerial and entrepreneurial skills.
  2. Establish or assist in the establishment of educational and medical centers.
  3. Establish an endowment fund to receive grants, donations, gifts and other assistance in any form whatsoever from Congo and other sources to meet the object of reducing the abject poverty among the pygmies.
  1. Mobilizing professionals in area of agriculture, food production and processing, marketing and other areas that would empower a pygmy farmer thus becoming self reliant and self sufficient.

In order to transform the lives of the marginalized super minority groups, social responsibility must be given its rightful place by all responsible persons and organizations worldwide.

ADVOCATING FOR DIGNITY TO ALL HUMANITY

SAMUEL M. MWANGI

AUTHOR: THE PYGMY WORLD: THE ENDANGERED BAMBUTI OF CONGO

SPEARHEADING RESETTLEMENT & DIGINITY AMONG THE BAMBUTI PYGMIES OF CONGO

A STUDY OF THE MARGINALISED FOREST PEOPLE: THE PYGMIES OF THE CONGO Reviewed by on January 16, 2015 .

A STUDY OF THE MARGINALISED FOREST PEOPLE:  THE PYGMIES OF THE CONGO In order to transform the lives of the marginalized super minority groups, social responsibility must be given its rightful place by all responsible persons and organizations worldwide. ADVOCATING FOR DIGNITY TO ALL HUMANITY SAMUEL MURAGURI MWANGI Article,  The author is an independent researcher

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