Here is the major written assignment I did on a group of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP). I chose the Efe pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo after I became aware of them from a guy named Justin Wren, who started Fight For The Forgotten, a non-profit with a mission to help the pygmies gain access to clean water, establish food production systems, and provide them with LOVE!
I would like to think there are only a few errors, as I put in a good amount of research, but please excuse any that are found. (Sidenote: I received an 85% — not too shabby! Also, I love when I get to cite The Joe Rogan Experience as a source! #POWERFUL)
A certain demographic of humans, significant because their direct lineage goes back tens of thousands of years, who face constant displacement and mistreatment, is the Pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A sort of perpetual group of IDP, the Pygmy people — also known as Efe, Mbuti, or Bambuti — are subject to social oppression and control from other people groups. Because they do not adhere to land ownership, they are, in many cases, forced to either move from their dwelling communities or work as cheap slaves for whoever buys or steals the land from them. As a result, many Pygmies have been mainly pushed to parts of the Ituri forest in the Northeast corner of the Congo near the border of Uganda. In environmental aspects, Pygmies have been affected by conservationist groups who have either bought up parts of the forest and displace them and condemned their hunting practices. Deforestation of parts the dense Ituri forest, for resource extraction purposes, has driven away the animals that these hunter-gatherer tribes hunt for survival, leading to further relocation. Although they are not usually involved directly in political issues, the Pygmies face a sort of ripple effect from political conflicts by rebel groups and certain tribes. These factors, this consistent obstruction to their lives and survival conditions, lead to the Pygmy people being accurately described as the worst bullying victims in history (Rogan, 2013).
In general, Congolese people have had to endure many hardships for many years. In the last century or so, colonization efforts by European countries like France and Belgium have disrupted and restructured the social ecology of the nation. A slave economy was implemented and genocides were committed when Belgian King Leopold II took control of the area from 1885-1908 (Findley & Rothney, 2011). But within the Congo, the Pygmy tribes were, and continue to be, mainly used as slaves by other Congolese civilians. More recently, there have been many examples of abuse against the Mbuti, including rape, torture, murder, and isolated instances of cannibalism (IRIN Africa, 2010). The Bantu people, who consider the Pygmies less than human, have been enslaving them for hundreds of years. Part of the reason for this inhuman characterization, and subsequent subjugation, is likely their physical stature. Pygmy, translated from Latin, means “height from the elbow to the knuckles”; the average Pygmy height is 1.5 metres. In the eyes of their slave masters, the Pygmies are easy to dominate and control. The forced labour mainly includes working in coltan, gold, and diamond mines for a small amount of food daily; this is to create a forced incentive to bring the Pygmies back the next day to work for more food. If you own a smartphone, thank a Pygmy. One of the main raw materials in that device, coltan, was probably mined by a Pygmy. All of the coltan mines in the Congo are owned by government troops or rebel groups and mined almost exclusively by the Pygmy people (Rogan, 2013).
The Pygmies are indeed the stalwart people of the Congo, without whom the nation would look very different. It is a “considered opinion that they are among the oldest inhabitants of Africa” (Turnbull, 1962). Consistent dwellers of the Ituri forest, including Virunga National Park, the Efe are considered “Forest People”, as described in-depth in Colin Turnbull’s book of the same name. They are known as one of the largest hunter-gatherer group on the African continent (Patin et al., 2009). Forest life usually lends itself well to this subsistence pattern; Pygmies are able to move quickly and quietly through the dense foliage to effectively track animals, they recognize habits of mammals of prey. They know when and where to most efficiently gather wild fruit (Haviland et al., 2013). These survival practices, however, have been systematically threatened and deteriorated throughout the last century or so. In the past few decades the influx of conservationist organizations, who buy up forest land in order to protect it, cause Pygmy tribes to be displaced. A sort of contradiction regarding this conservation program is that the efforts to conserve plant life is threatening the preservation of arguably the oldest people group in Africa and possibly the world. More recently, there have been many claims of other Pygmy tribes, the Baka for example, of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund abusing tribespeople for ‘poaching’ (Survival International, 2015). Certain animals have been deemed illegal to hunt by the WWF, with many of these sources of meat acting as the main forms of not only subsistence but trade as well. On the other end, European and Malaysian logging and mining companies constantly seek to deforest areas where Pygmies happen to inhabit since the 1990’s (World Rainforest Movement, 2007). Even tree removal near Pygmy camps causes the wildlife to scatter, leaving the tribe with scarce food sources at best. The factors of deforestation, ‘anti-poaching’ organizations, and forest conservation are all considerably troubling when taking into account the settling habits of Pygmies, who almost always set up camps near Sudanic or Bantu villages and trade their meat for plantation products such as grain and vegetables — doing so since at least the 1920s, when Reverend Paul Schebesta studied them (Turnbull, 1962). From this hunting devastation comes the decreased ability of the Efe to trade effectively, ultimately unable to do so at all, which then results in the weakening of their sovereignty. This transitions to outsiders seizing control of Pygmy camps and enforcing slave labour at the behest of the Bantu.
The Pygmy are generally outsiders to political issues in Congo and central Africa; they have no political representatives or state-recognized authority. Larger political crises within the Congo and neighbouring Rwanda have led to a flow of immigrants and other Congolese IDP that has pushed Pygmies farther into the Ituri and parts of Virunga as mentioned (Fitz-Henry). What leaves them perhaps more susceptible to displacement, aside from the perceived weakness due to biological factors, is the fact that they do not hold any legal land titles. In this overly legislated world, the Efe are self-proclaimed “people of the forest” with makeshift shelters and a highly traditional way of life. With forest areas either being reduced to flat land or declared off-limits for Pygmies, the saying of Pygmy elder Moke is closer to coming to fruition: “When the forest dies, we die” (World Rainforest Movement, 2007).
The Pygmies, though certainly not oblivious to the outside forces that lead to their displacement, are a people who have still managed to preserve their customs through oral tradition — perhaps more so than any other group in the world. A certain unsympathetic paradigm might cause them to have to adapt to a changing and increasingly globalized society.
Hope is certainly not lost for the Pygmies. Organizations like Fight For The Forgotten, a non-profit aiming to give the Mbuti tribes “radical love” in the form of resources needed to effectively survive in this new world while establishing and maintaining consistent living conditions. This is being done in a few ways. The Pygmies, often trapped in a slave labour situation due in part to decreased trading power from loss of food sources, are being provided with the resources to maintain a farm of animals like chickens and goats. This helps with trade and also with moving them closer to a self-sustaining society. In partnership with Water4, the non-profit is drilling wells and setting up irrigation to get clean water to the people and grow crops respectively. Many parasites are prevalent in these communities, particularly filarial worms, causing several deaths due to dirty water consumption. In addition, these organizations have been able to buy small plots of land on behalf of the Pygmy people. Lastly, they hope to provide good education in areas like agriculture, management, and practical water pump maintenance to help Pygmies sustain a healthier way of life. Fight For The Forgotten founder Justin Wren says of other NGO’s: “They’ll ‘Show Up, Blow Up, and Blow Out’ of there, leaving people worse off than when they came. You can’t just throw money at the problem. You got to build relationships with the people. Empower the locals. Teach them sustainable solutions” (Wren & Hunt, 2015). From this interactive relationship and resource establishment, the Pygmies could very well be starting a transition from a strictly hunter-gatherer subsistence pattern to a hybrid between that and an agricultural society, and through further education eventually can gain their own representation in political proceedings. It is generally not hard for one to feel empathy towards these displaced peoples, and one can only hope that they find their real, permanent home in the dense Ituri Forest.
Findley, C. V., Rothney, J. A. M. (2011). Twentieth-Century World (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Fitz-Henry, E. (n.d.). For thousands of years, the Efe… . Cultural Survival, 1.4. Retrieved from http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/voices/erin-fitz-henry/efe-people-ituri-forest
Haviland, W. A., Kilmurray, L., Fedorak, F. A., Lee, R. B. (2013). Cultural Anthropology (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Wadsworth.
IRIN Africa (2010). DRC: Displacement and discrimination — the lot of the Bambuti Pygmies. IRIN. Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/report/90354/drc-displacement-and-discrimination-the-lot-of-the-bambuti-pygmies
Patin, E., Laval, G., Barreiro, L. B., Salas, A., Semino, O., Santachiara-Benerecetti, S., … Kidd, K. K. (2009). Inferring the Demographic History of African Farmers and Pygmy Hunter-Gatherers Using a Multilocus Resequencing Data Set. Public Library of Science. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000448
Rogan, J. (Producer). (2013, Mar 13). Justin Wren [Episode #337]. The Joe Rogan Experience. Podcast retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWUDckvf2Lo
Survival International (2015). One year on: WWF fails to act against abuse of ‘Pygmies’. Survival International. Retreived from http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10708
Turnbull, C. M. (1962). The Forest People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
World Rainforest Movement (2007). DRC: Efe Pygmies deprived of their homeland and their livelihood. WRM Bulletin, 118. Retrieved from http://wrm.org.uy/oldsite/bulletin/118/DRC.html
Wren, J., Hunt, L. (2015). Fight for the Forgotten: How a Mixed Martial Artist Stopped Fighting for Himself and Started Fighting for Others. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/ebooks/app#reader/tkcjBQAAQBAJ/GBS.PP7
Here is a wonderful video from Water4 and Fight For The Forgotten about the Pygmies: