The Forest Dwellers
"Children of the Forest"
The Mbuti Pygmies are people who seldom grow taller than 1.4 metres. They live in the Ituri rainforest in Zaire and call themselves "Children of the Forest". The forest is indeed their parent. When the Mbuti are at leisure, it offers their young children toys, such as tops from nuts and whistles from fruits. It inspires the adults to dance and to sing songs that theme "the forest is good, the forest is kind."
The forest provides the nomadic Mbuti with their daily needs. When they pitch their camps, the men will hunt for small wild animals, while the women will gather mushrooms, and edible fruits. After about a month when the "game" has become scarce and the nearby vegetation is inadequate for subsistence, the Mbuti migrate to find new "pasture".
The Mbuti are engaged in trade and social interaction with their neighbours. Although they have acquired habits like smoking from them, they refuse to integrate into the world beyond their forest and would wish to retain their identity as the forest dwellers. They insist, "When the forest dies, its children dies."
Right: A smoking Pygmy puffing tobacco with a banana stem pipe obtained from non-forest neighbours.
The Yanomamo Indians
In the dense forests that surround the headwaters of the Orinoco River in the Venezuela-Brazil borderlands live some 15000 Yanomamo Indians, a group of people whose subsistence is based on primitive agriculture. The Yanomamos cultivate 30 to 40 types of indigenous plant, such as the peach palm, as well as more than 25 varieties of non-native bananas that their economy is heavily dependent on. The tribe also grows cotton and tobacco, and learns the cultivation of yams and potatoes.
Until now, the Yanomamos, with their considerable aptitude for adaptation, have benefited by assimilating new elements brought in by government workers, missionaries, and neighbouring tribes. These visitors have brought with them diseases and weapons that greatly jeopardise the Yanomamos' existence in the forest. Although their cultural patterns have developed over thousands of years and remain unchanged, their population is growing smaller. One village lost 43% of its residents in one year due to a respiratory infection introduced by those visitors. This is further worsened by the inter-tribal feuds that inflict heavy causalities through the years.
Despite having a reputation for aggression, the Yanomamos enjoy a well-ordered social life in small villages, centred around food cultivation and gathering. While the males spend much of their time hunting and preparing for battles, they also assist the women in gardening and gathering wild fruits. Even when they are driven out of their villages by inter-tribal combat, families often return to collect food.
Right: Decorated youths displaying their stencilled skin markings, a style borrowed from neighbouring Yekwanas. The unclothed Yanomamos use skin decoration mostly to "dress up"
Constant feuding is a curious part of Yanomamo life, where the success of small raiding parties is usually measured in the number of women abducted. Women are so prized by the polygamous Yanomamos that the are often hidden during visits to friendly villages, and may be bartered to a hostile village to end a destructive feud.
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