Congo Pygmies

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For short-statured peoples in general, see Pygmy peoples.
A map showing the distribution of Congo Pygmies and their languages according to Bahuchet (2006). The southern Twa are not shown.

Pygmies (also known as Bambenga or Bayaka) live in several ethnic groups in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia.[1]

Most Pygmy communities are partially hunter-gatherers, living partially but not exclusively on the wild products of their environment. They trade with neighbouring farmers to acquire cultivated foods and other material items; no group lives deep in the forest without access to agricultural products.[1]

It is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rainforest.[2] However, although Pygmies are thought of as forest people, the groups called Twa may live in open swamp or desert.

Etymology[edit]

The term pygmy, as used to refer to diminutive people, derives from Greek πυγμαίος Pygmaios via Latin Pygmaei (sing. Pygmaeus), derived from πυγμή a fist, or a measure of length corresponding to the distance between the elbow and knuckles. (See also Greek pechus). In Greek mythology the word describes a tribe of dwarfs, first described by Homer, and reputed to live in India and south of modern day Ethiopia.[3] European explorers and colonists used this term to describe the small-framed forest peoples they encountered in the Congo rain forest and the name has since stuck as an identifier for all such small-framed groups in the region.

The term "pygmy" is sometimes considered pejorative. However, there is no single term to replace it.[4] Many so-called pygmies prefer instead to be referred to by the name of their various ethnic groups, or names for various interrelated groups such as the Aka (Mbenga), Baka, Mbuti, and Twa.[1] The term Bayaka, the plural form of the Aka/Yaka, is sometimes used in the Central African Republic to refer to all local Pygmies. Likewise, the Kongo word Bambenga is used in Congo.

Groups[edit]

There are at least a dozen Pygmy groups, sometimes unrelated to each other, the best known being the Mbenga (Aka and Baka) of the western Congo basin, which speak Bantu and Ubangian languages; the Mbuti (Efe etc.) of the Ituri Rainforest, which speak Bantu and Central Sudanic languages, and the Twa of the Great Lakes, which speak Bantu Rundi and Kiga.

Categorization[edit]

The Congo Pygmy groups were regarded as a sub-race of the Negroid race by European anthropologists in the late 19th through to the first half of the 20th century.[5] The Congo Pygmy speak languages of the Niger–Congo and Central Sudanic language families. There has been significant intermixing between the Bantu and Pygmies.

The current racial or ethnic designation was conceived by European anthropologists to describe the various small-framed groups of the Congo rain forests that appeared to be related.

Early history and origins[edit]

Ancestral relationship with other Africans[edit]

A commonly held belief is that African Pygmies are the direct descendants of the Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer peoples of the central African rainforest, who were partially absorbed or displaced by later immigration of agricultural peoples, and adopted their Central Sudanic, Ubangian, and Bantu languages. This view has no archaeological support, and ambiguous support from genetics and linguistics.[6][7][8]

Some 30% of the Aka language is not Bantu, and a similar percentage of the Baka language is not Ubangian. Much of this vocabulary is botanical, deals with honey collecting, or is otherwise specialized for the forest and is shared between the two western Pygmy groups. It has been proposed that this is the remnant of an independent western Pygmy (Mbenga or "Baaka") language. However, this type of vocabulary is subject to widespread borrowing among the Pygmies and neighboring peoples, and the "Baaka" language is only reconstructed to the 15th century.[9]

Genetic evidence for origins[edit]

Genetically, the pygmies are extremely divergent from all other human populations, suggesting they have an ancient indigenous lineage. Their uniparental markers represent the most ancient divergent ones right after those typically found in Khoisan peoples. African pygmy populations possess high levels of genetic diversity,[10] recent advances in genetics shed some light on the origins of the various pygmy groups.

The transition from hunting and gathering to farming involved a major cultural innovation that has spread rapidly over most of the globe in the last ten millennia. In sub-Saharan Africa, hunter–gatherers have begun to shift toward an agriculture-based lifestyle over the last 5,000 years. Only a few populations still base their mode of subsistence on hunting and gathering. The Pygmies are considered to be the largest group of mobile hunter–gatherers of Africa. They dwell in equatorial rainforests and are characterized by their short mean stature. However, little is known about the chronology of the demographic events—size changes, population splits, and gene flow—ultimately giving rise to contemporary Pygmy (Western and Eastern) groups and neighboring agricultural populations. We studied the branching history of Pygmy hunter–gatherers and agricultural populations from Africa and estimated separation times and gene flow between these populations. The model identified included the early divergence of the ancestors of Pygmy hunter–gatherers and farming populations ~60,000 years ago, followed by a split of the Pygmies' ancestors into the Western and Eastern Pygmy groups ~20,000 years ago. Our findings increase knowledge of the history of the peopling of the African continent in a region lacking archaeological data. An appreciation of the demographic and adaptive history of African populations with different modes of subsistence should improve our understanding of the influence of human lifestyles on genome diversity.[11]

Short stature[edit]

Various theories have been proposed to explain the short stature of pygmies. Evidence of heritability has been established[12] which may have evolved as an adaptation to low ultraviolet light levels in rainforests.[13] This might mean that relatively little vitamin D can be made in human skin, thereby limiting calcium uptake from the diet for bone growth and maintenance, and leading to the evolution of the small skeletal size characteristic of pygmies.[14]

Other explanations include lack of food in the rainforest environment, low calcium levels in the soil, the need to move through dense jungle, adaptation to heat and humidity, and most recently, as an association with rapid reproductive maturation under conditions of early mortality.[15] Other evidence points towards unusually low levels of expression of the genes encoding the growth hormone receptor and growth hormone relative to the related tribal groups, associated with low serum levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 and short stature.[16]

Another study provided some insight into the role genetics plays in the short stature of the pygmies.

The short stature of Pygmy groups around the world has long intrigued anthropologists. It is generally accepted that their small body size is a result of genetic adaptation; however, which genes were selected, and the nature of the underlying selective force(s), remain unknown. The various hypotheses proposed include adaptations to food limitation, thermoregulation, mobility in the forest, and/or short lifespan. A recent study of the HGDP-CEPH populations identified a signal of selection in the insulin growth factor signalling pathway in Biaka Pygmies, which might be associated with short stature, but this signal was not shared with Mbuti Pygmies. By contrast, we found strong signals for selection in both African Pygmy groups at two genes involved in the iodide-dependent thyroid hormone pathway: TRIP4 in Mbuti Pygmies; and IYD in Biaka Pygmies (Fig. 7). Intriguingly, a previous study found a significantly lower frequency of goiter in Efe Pygmies (9.4%) than in Lese Bantu farmers (42.9%). The Efe and Lese live in close proximity to one another in the iodine-deficient Ituri Forest and share similar diets. Moreover, the frequency of goiter in Efe women living in Bantu villages was similar to that of Efe women living in the forest, and the frequency of goiter in offspring with an Efe mother and a Lese father was intermediate between that of Efe and Lese. These observations suggest that the Efe have adapted genetically to an iodine-deficient diet; we suggest that the signals of recent positive selection that we observe at TRIP4 in Mbuti Pygmies and IYD in Biaka Pygmies may reflect such genetic adaptations to an iodine-deficient diet. Furthermore, alterations in the thyroid hormone pathway can cause short stature. We therefore suggest that short stature in these Pygmy groups may have arisen as a consequence of genetic alterations in the thyroid hormone pathway. If this scenario is true, then there are two important implications. First, this would suggest that short stature was not selected for directly in the ancestors of Pygmy groups, but rather arose as an indirect consequence of selection in response to an iodine-deficient diet. Second, since different genes in the thyroid hormone pathway show signals of selection in Mbuti vs. Biaka Pygmies, this would suggest that short stature arose independently in the ancestors of Mbuti and Biaka Pygmies, and not in a common ancestral population. Moreover, most Pygmy-like groups around the world dwell in tropical forests, and hence are likely to have iodine-deficient diets. The possibility that independent adaptations to an iodine-deficient diet might therefore have contributed to the convergent evolution of the short stature phenotype in Pygmy-like groups around the world deserves further investigation.[17]

Reports of genocide[edit]

African pygmies and a European explorer.

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. In neighboring North Kivu province there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs ("the erasers") who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.[18] Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.[19]

Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognize cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.[20] According to Minority Rights Group International there is extensive evidence of mass killings, cannibalism and rape of Pygmies and they have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate a campaign of extermination against pygmies. Although they have been targeted by virtually all the armed groups, much of the violence against Pygmies is attributed to the rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, which is part of the transitional government and still controls much of the north, and their allies.[21]

Baka dancers in the East Province of Cameroon.

Culture[edit]

Music[edit]

Main article: Pygmy music

The African Pygmies are particularly known for their usually vocal music, usually characterised by dense contrapuntal communal improvisation. Simha Arom says that the level of polyphonic complexity of Pygmy music was reached in Europe in the 14th century, yet Pygmy culture is unwritten and ancient, some Pygmy groups being the first known cultures in some areas of Africa.[22] Music permeates daily life and there are songs for entertainment as well as specific events and activities.

Polyphonic music is found among the Aka–Baka and the Mbuti, but not among the Gyele (Kola) or the various groups of Twa.

Original Pygmy language(s)[edit]

See main article: Classification of Pygmy languages

An original Pygmy language has been postulated for at least some Pygmy group. Merritt Ruhlen writes that "African Pygmies speak languages belonging to either to the Nilo-Saharan or Niger–Kordofanian families. It is assumed that Pygmies once spoke their own language(s), but that, through living in symbiosis with other Africans, in prehistorical times, they adopted languages belonging to these two families."[23]

However, the only evidence that such languages existed is Mbenga forest vocabulary common to the neighboring Ubangian-speaking Baka and the Bantu-speaking Aka (there is no such common Mbuti vocabulary); if this does represent a common ancestral language rather than borrowing, the speakers may well not have been specifically Pygmies, but instead another of the several potential language isolates of (former) hunter-gatherer populations that ring the rainforest.[24]

A commonly held belief is that African Pygmies are the direct descendants of the Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer peoples of the central African rainforest, who were partially absorbed or displaced by later immigration of agricultural peoples, and adopted their Central Sudanic, Ubangian, and Bantu languages. This view has no archaeological support, and ambiguous support from genetics and linguistics.[6][7][8]

Some 30% of the Aka language is not Bantu, and a similar percentage of the Baka language is not Ubangian. Much of this vocabulary is botanical, deals with honey collecting, or is otherwise specialized for the forest and is shared between the two western Pygmy groups. It has been proposed that this is the remnant of an independent western Pygmy (Mbenga or "Baaka") language. However, this type of vocabulary is subject to widespread borrowing among the Pygmies and neighboring peoples, and the "Baaka" language is only reconstructed to the 15th century.[9]

Contemporary issues in society[edit]

Bantu enslavement[edit]

In the Republic of Congo, where Pygmies make up 2% of the population, many Pygmies live as slaves to Bantu masters. The nation is deeply stratified between these two major ethnic groups. The Pygmy slaves belong from birth to their Bantu masters in a relationship that the Bantus call a time-honored tradition. Even though the Pygmies are responsible for much of the hunting, fishing and manual labor in jungle villages, Pygmies and Bantus alike say Pygmies are often paid at the master's whim; in cigarettes, used clothing, or even nothing at all. As a result of pressure from UNICEF and human-rights activists, a law that would grant special protections to the Pygmy people is awaiting a vote by the Congo parliament.[25][26]

Deforestation[edit]

Raja James Sheshardi of the American University conducted a case study on the Pygmies of Africa and concluded that deforestation has greatly affected their everyday lives. Pygmy culture is threatened today by the forces of political and economic change. In recent times, this has manifested itself into an open conflict over the resources of the tropical rain-forest, it is a conflict that the Pygmy are losing.

Systematic discrimination[edit]

Historically, the Pygmy have always been viewed as inferior by both colonial authorities and the village dwelling Bantu tribes.[27] This has translated into systematic discrimination. One early example was the capture of Pygmy children under the auspices of the Belgian colonial authorities, who exported Pygmy children to zoos throughout Europe, including the world's fair in the United States in 1907.[27]

Pygmies are often evicted from their land and given the lowest paying jobs. At a state level, Pygmies are not considered citizens by most African states and are refused identity cards, deeds to land, health care and proper schooling. Government policies and multinational corporations involved in massive deforestation have exacerbated this problem by forcing more Pygmies out of their traditional homelands and into villages and cities where they often are marginalized, impoverished and abused by the dominant culture.

Today there are roughly 500,000 Pygmies left in the rain-forest of Central Africa.[27] This population is rapidly decreasing as poverty, intermarriage with Bantu peoples, Westernization, and deforestation all gradually destroy their way of life and culture along with their genetic uniqueness.

The greatest environmental problem the Pygmies seem to be facing is the loss of their traditional homeland, the tropical forests of Central Africa. In several countries such as Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo this is due to deforestation and the desire of several governments in Central Africa to evict the Pygmies from their forest habitat in order to cash in on quick profits from the sale of hardwood and the resettlement of farmers onto the cleared land. In some cases, as in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this conflict is violent. Certain groups, such as the Hutus of the Interahamwe, wish to eliminate the Pygmy and take the resources of the forest as a military conquest, using the resources of the forest for military as well as economic advancement.[27] Since the Pygmies rely on the forest for their physical as well as cultural survival, as these forests disappear, so do the Pygmy.

Along with Raja Sheshardi, the fPcN-Global.org website had conducted research on the pygmies. The human rights organization states that as the forest has receded under logging activities, its original inhabitants have been pushed into populated areas to join the formal economy, working as casual laborers or on commercial farms and being exposed to new diseases.[28] This shift has brought them into closer contact with neighboring ethnic communities whose HIV levels are generally higher. This has led to the spread of HIV/AIDS into the pygmy group.

Since poverty has become very prevalent in the Pygmy communities, sexual exploitation of indigenous women has become a common practice. Commercial sex has been bolstered by logging, which often places large groups of male laborers in camps which are set up in close contact with the Pygmy communities.

Human rights groups have also reported widespread sexual abuse of indigenous women in the conflict-ridden eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite these risks, Pygmy populations generally have poor access to health services and information about HIV. The British medical journal, The Lancet, published a review showing that Pygmy populations often had worse access to health care than neighboring communities.[29] According to the report, even where health care facilities exist, many people do not use them because they cannot pay for consultations and medicines, they do not have the documents and identity cards needed to travel or obtain hospital treatment, and they are subjected to humiliating and discriminatory treatment.[28]

Studies in Cameroon and ROC in the 1980s and 1990s showed a lower prevalence of HIV in pygmy populations than among neighboring ones, but recent increases have been recorded. One study found that the HIV prevalence among the Baka pygmies in eastern Cameroon went from 0.7 percent in 1993 to 4 percent in 2003.[28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Forest peoples in the central African rain forest: focus on the pygmies.
  2. ^ World Bank accused of razing Congo forests, The Guardian.
  3. ^ pygmy. Online Etymology Dictionary.
  4. ^ Hewlett, Barry S. "Cultural diversity among African pygmies." In: Cultural Diversity Among Twentieth-Century Foragers. Susan Kent, ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  5. ^ Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca; Menozzi, Paolo; and Piazza Alberto (1994) The History and Geography of Human Genes Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, p. 168, Table “A Summary of Hiernaux’s Classification (Hiernaux 1975) of the Sub-Saharan African Peoples"
  6. ^ a b R. Blench and M. Dendo. Genetics and linguistics in sub-Saharan Africa, Cambridge-Bergen, June 24, 2004.
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  8. ^ a b Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca (1986). African pygmies. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-164480-2. 
  9. ^ a b Bahuchet, Serge (1993) "History of the inhabitants of the central African rain forest: perspectives from comparative linguistics." In C.M. Hladik, ed., Tropical forests, people, and food: Biocultural interactions and applications to development. Paris: Unesco/Parthenon. ISBN 1850703809
  10. ^ Tishkoff SA, Reed FA, Friedlaender FR, Ehret C, Ranciaro A, Froment A, Hirbo JB, Awomoyi AA, Bodo JM, Doumbo O, Ibrahim M, Juma AT, Kotze MJ, Lema G, Moore JH, Mortensen H, Nyambo TB, Omar SA, Powell K, Pretorius GS, Smith MW, Thera MA, Wambebe C, Weber JL, Williams SM (2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans". The American Association for the Advancement of Science 324 (5930): 1035–44. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357. PMID 19407144.  Also see Supplementary Data
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  12. ^ Becker, Noémie S.A.; Verdu, Paul; Froment, Alain; Le Bomin, Sylvie; Pagezy, Hélène; Bahuchet, Serge; Heyer, Evelyne (2011). "Indirect evidence for the genetic determination of short stature in African Pygmies". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 145 (3): 390–401. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21512. PMID 21541921. 
  13. ^ O'Dea, Julian (December 21, 2009). "Ultraviolet light levels in the rainforest". 
  14. ^ O'Dea, JD (1994). "Possible contribution of low ultraviolet light under the rainforest canopy to the small stature of Pygmies and Negritos". Homo: Journal of Comparative Human Biology 44 (3): 284–7. 
  15. ^ Short lives, short size – why are pygmies small? « Not Exactly Rocket Science.
  16. ^ Bozzola, M; Travaglino P, Marziliano N, Meazza C, Pagani S, Grasso M, Tauber M, Diegoli M, Pilotto A, Disabella E, Tarantino P, Brega A, Arbustini E (Nov 2009). "The shortness of Pygmies is associated with severe under-expression of the growth hormone receptor". Mol Genet Metab 98 (3): 310–3. doi:10.1016/j.ymgme.2009.05.009. PMID 19541519. 
  17. ^ Price AL, Tandon A, Patterson N, Barnes KC, Rafaels N, Ruczinski I, Beaty TH, Mathias R, Reich D, Myers S (2009). "Sensitive Detection of Chromosomal Segments of Distinct Ancestry in Admixed Populations". PLoS Genetics 5 (6): e1000519. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000519. PMC 2689842. PMID 19543370. 
  18. ^ Clayton, Jonathan (December 16, 2004). "Pygmies struggle to survive in war zone where abuse is routine". The Times. 
  19. ^ "DR Congo Pygmies 'exterminated'". BBC News. July 6, 2004. 
  20. ^ "DR Congo Pygmies appeal to UN". BBC News. 23 May 2003. 
  21. ^ Peta, Basildon (January 9, 2003). "Rebels 'eating Pygmies' as mass slaughter continues in Congo despite peace agreement". The Independent. 
  22. ^ African Rhythms (2003). Music by Aka Pygmies, performed by Aka Pygmies, György Ligeti and Steve Reich, performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Teldec Classics: 8573 86584-2. Liner notes by Aimard, Ligeti, Reich, and Simha Arom and Stefan Schomann.
  23. ^ Ruhlen, Merritt (1994) The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. John Wiley & Sons, Inc: New York, p. 154, ISBN 0471584266.
  24. ^ Blench, Roger (1997) "The languages of Africa". In Roger Blench and Matthew Spriggs (eds.), Archaeology and language IV, Routledge, ISBN 1134816235
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  26. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (June 16, 1997). "As the World Intrudes, Pygmies Feel Endangered". New York Times. 
  27. ^ a b c d Sheshadri, Raja (2005). "Pygmies in the Congo Basin and Conflict". ICE Case Studies 163. 
  28. ^ a b c Deforestation in central Africa brings HIV/AIDS to indigenous communities, mainly women. fpcn-global.org. April 6, 2008
  29. ^ Ohenjo, N. O.; Willis, R.; Jackson, D.; Nettleton, C.; Good, K.; Mugarura, B. (2006). "Health of Indigenous people in Africa". The Lancet 367 (9526): 1937. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68849-1.  edit

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