20061006

 

Social organization and mobility

Excerpt from S. Bauchet report: "...Among all Pygmy groups, the basic socio-economic unit is the camp. The camp provides the basis for the organization of collective activities, sharing and distribution. A camp is usually made up of about 10 huts, a restricted group of people (30 to 70 individuals). The group includes a certain number of closely related men (brothers or cousins) but also their wives' relations and sisters with their husbands. The eldest (father, uncle or elder brother) has moral authority over the others... Average size of Pygmy camps: Mbuti: 12-15 huts w/ 30 adults; Efe: 8 huts w/ fewer than 20 adults;
Aka: 8 huts w/ 12 adults; Baka: 7 huts w/ 14 adults...A variety of relationships link up the different groups with each other. Neighbouring groups meet up periodically, for major collective hunting expeditions, but also for many ceremonies and ritual dances. Conjugal families often visit their relations living in other camps for a few days or even a few months. On such occasions, visitors are involved in the camp's daily life and they continue living as they would in their own camp. This common practice makes for continual fluctuation in any single camp's composition : there is always a family off visiting or another that has come to stay. The choice of spouses in distant camps, and the tradition of "bride service" thus encourages more visiting (a husband makes a long-term visit to his wife's community). Camp mobility is the result of a subtle combination of different causes : food shortage, resources having been exhausted, size of the group, the requirements of visiting, proximity of neighbouring groups, and also social disruption or death. As months go by, communities come together and split up in a perpetual movement of fusion and fission. Hunting plays an essential role in the social organization. First of all because it is an activity that mobilizes the strength of all members of the community, and second because it is aroung hunting that evolve religious activities and the different stages of an individual's social development. There is a high level of interdependence between young people's ability in hunting, their aptitude for marriage and their participation in the big prestigious expeditions to hunt for large mammals (especially elephants). Several rituals surround hunting activities, both propitiatory and expiatory. Great symbolic value is attached to the second most important activity : collecting honey, the life-giving fluid. Collective rituals are carried out before they set out to collect honey the first time in the season (and this is the only gathering activity for which it is the case) ; among the Mbuti of Zaïre, the honey season is characterized by temporary dispersion of the group...

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