People of the World: The Mbuti of the Ituri Forest Essay Sample

People of the World: The Mbuti of the Ituri Forest

The modern world incorporates knowledge, traditions, and technology. These elements form different societies. In this context, the Mbuti of the Ituri Forest are a vivid example of a society that has unique features which reflect its genuine identity and history. The Mbuti represent a politically autonomous group that harbors a unique culture that exists today. Therefore, the issues of leadership, gender roles, and globalization should be discussed in order to establish the distinctive features of the Mbuti. It is stated that the Mbuti do not have explicit gender roles and authorities. This harmonious society is founded on the principles of egalitarianism and cooperation, which are successfully realized in practice. However, these social aspects are threatened by globalization. Thus, globalization has negative consequences on the accepted norms and activities of the Mbuti and may change the social models that distinguish the society from others.


The Mbuti are an African hunter-gatherers society that raises scientific interests particularly due to their leadership model. The Mbuti incorporate egalitarian principles (Fog, 2013). Therefore, there is no leader or chief in the group (Fog, 2013; Fielder & King, 2014). It was also noted by Douglas that the Mbuti are not affected by sex, age, kinship or other factors that could “order their behavior in strictly ordained categories” as reflected in modern leadership theories (Fielder & King, 2014, p. 120). This aspect may be discussed in relation to inner policies, the decision-making process, and social control.

The Mbuti are a group with poor political organization. It should be noted that the Mbuti as a society are divided into bands. These bands occupy vast territories of forest. Such division helps to avoid power centralization and maintain solidarity (Ichikawa, 1979). According to Ichikawa (1979), even though there is no leader, every member has responsibilities that correspond to his or her age. There are four main age groups such as children, including infants and juveniles, youth (13-17-year-old members), adults (18-40 years old), and old people (above 40 years old) (Ichikawa, 1979). The most respected people are the elders. They do not have any official influence but their opinions on different subjects are taken into consideration due to their experience. Another important factor that earns the Mbuti members respect is hunting skills. Thus, the most skillful and experienced person is called father (epa) (Ichikawa, 1979). He may lead others by example because he is considered “first among equals” (Fog, 2013, p. 52). His thoughts are valued, but he does no control others. In fact, the Mbuti give every participant an opportunity to voice his or her ideas. The most persuasive speakers have a power to affect decisions of the whole group. Their function as speakers is to resolve conflicts.

Conflicts are a social domain of every member. In the majority of cases they are based on anti-social behaviors, for instance, adultery (Fog, 2013). Theft and other crimes are not common because there is a lack of private property (Fog, 2013). Generally, conflicts are resolved with the help of group meetings where a collective opinion rules. In other worlds, everyone feels responsible for maintaining social control. Formal decisions are seldom made (Fog, 2013). Everyone can become a speaker in every matter because there is no other leadership organization than basic egalitarian principles. It may be said that for the Mbuti “the forest is the ultimate authority” (Fielder & King, 2014, p. 121). Everyone respects forest as the main provider and is involved in social activities such as hunting and gathering, which bring members closer via constant cooperation.

Nevertheless, some scientists describe the role of a headman as a leader of the Mbuti. According to Ichikawa (1979), in some cases, when a group needs to integrate with other groups, a headman is chosen. He is referred to as kapita (Ichikawa, 1979). Kapita is one of the respected adult males. It should be noted that kapita does not necessarily have a strong voice (Ichikawa, 1979). This role is not permanent, and a new headman may be selected for different occasions. However, kapita is not a representative of administration and is “never a chief who controls the band,” and his power is limited by his responsibilities (Ichikawa, 1979). Thus, it may be concluded that while the Mbuti function as an organized unity with no appointed position of a leader, a member may become a headman for a certain purpose that does not imply authoritative power.

Gender Roles

The principle of egalitarianism is applied in relation to gender roles and responsibilities. The social structure of the Mbuti is not focused on gender roles (Rogers, 1980). In his work, Colin stated that for the Mbuti “sex- or gender-roles are negligible” (Rogers, 1980, p. 9). The statement is supported by the fact that both genders participate in such activities as hunting and gathering. Moreover, women and men have the same influence on making decisions in addition to equal social status. The distinction of genders is slight. However, Rogers (1980) points out that the words “father” and “mother” are used to define different functions in relation to upbringing children. According to Fielder and King (2014), a “mother” and “father” have different emotional implications that are important for the Mbuti people. However, some contradictions may arise because there is no established leadership. Thus, a father is associated with authority, while the notion of a mother is related to love and food (Fielder & King, 2014, p. 121). Even though men may wash a baby or feed it and in such a way assist women, these activities are performed by females in most cases. Moreover, the society under consideration is a patrilineal group.

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Some distinction of gender roles may be seen in rituals and ceremonies. Thus, emotional associations related to “father” and “mother” are emphasized during a festival that is held to “rejoice the forest” with the help of the molimo fire and the molimo trumpets, which are ceremonials objects. These objects are believed to be the property of women (mothers) once that were stolen by men (fathers) (Fielder & King, 2014). The story suggests that the principles of egalitarianism are based on respect. Therefore, the idea of stolen items reflects a belief that with the help of women men “found the means to control the destructive forces” of forest (Fielder & King, 2014, p. 123). In this context, both women and men are viewed as productive members of the society, which results in approximately equal gender roles.

The relationships between women and men are defined by social organization. The principle of a basic human association finds its reflection in the notion of marriage. Women and men have equal marriage rights. The two genders are entitled to find their partners on a condition of getting an approval from parents (Fielder & King, 2014). Cases of divorce or forced marriage are extremely rare. Such situation may be a result of the practice of arobo (free love), which is popular among youth (Fielder & King, 2014). Up to the age of 18 years, members of the Mbuti may experiment with sexual pleasure and relationships (Fielder & King, 2014). Thus, people get an opportunity to explore their choices. It should also be noted that there is a different age for marriage for males and females. Thus, girls are allowed to get married when they are 16 years old, while boys take this responsibility when they are 18 years old (Fog, 2013). There are no conflicts between men and women in this area. However, men may select a wife to exchange sisters as compensation (according to an ancient tradition) (Ichikawa, 1979). Even though sexual morals are liberal among the two genders, marital infidelity is a rare occurrence. Thus, in addition to equality, the principle of monogamy is adhered to in most cases among men and women.

Nevertheless, differences may be discussed in terms of hunting. It is emphasized that women compliment men in the activities that involve hunting tents (Ichikawa, 1979). Firstly, hunting tents are owned by each married man of a band. Women seldom have tens. Secondly, men use tents to catch animals, while it is a task of women to drive prey into the nets (Ichikawa, 1979). Even though hunting is done by both genders, males and females perform different functions. Furthermore, hunting camps have a specific structure that serves for different activities which are performed by men and women. There is an area for public men gatherings in the center of the camp, while women are located near the outskirts and have their private space (Ichikawa, 1979). Women are free to explore the territory and do what they consider to be useful, but they “never gather the way the men do” (Ichikawa, 1979, p. 40). It should be noted that these features have not changed, and gender roles remained unaffected in the present. Hence, gender equality among the Mbuti contributes to a harmonic society.

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Effect of Globalization

The modern world creates tendencies that form a gap between the direction of globalization and the way of life that is accepted by the Mbuti. Scholars indicate that in about 2500 BC, the Mbuti were described by the Ancient Egyptians as “the people of the trees” (Fielder & King, 2014). In this context, the connection to trees is an integral part of the Mbuti and their identity for over 4,000 years. This connection is threatened by the increasing appetites of wood-based industries at the expense of forests. Industrial development affects the environment of the Mbuti. Therefore, measures to protect the Mbuti should be taken. However, before the official steps that can decrease the negative consequences of globalization are implemented at any level, it is worth mentioning that the Mbuti are able to adapt to various circumstances.

In the past, isolation of the Mbuti led to the fact that their original language was lost, but separate groups learned to use the languages of the nearby villages in an effort to establish communication. Presently, when the Mbuti are no longer outside the mainstream of economy and international politics, a similar pattern of adaptation might be applied. Even though it is doubtful that the benefits provided by nature can be substituted, the idea is supported by the tendency of the Mbuti to appreciate a financial system. These people are more engaged in obtaining money than their surrounding requires. It was noted that while the Mbuti and other tribes “continue to trade, today they are more concerned with having cash” (“Efe and Mbuti,” 2017). Perhaps, the Mbuti will become active participants of economy and not extinct representatives of a forgotten culture.

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The Mbuti are not able to avoid a tendency toward assimilation. In the past, they built relationships with villages located near forests. It is through these villages, which are currently incorporated into modern states, that the Mbuti overcame their cultural, social, and economic isolation. Considering the issue of deforestation and disappearance of forage as a result of such activities, the Mbuti may be compelled to abandon “a hungry land” and shift to another form of profit (Ichikawa, 1979). Thus, there is already a tendency to hunt more and cell meat to agricultural villagers for extra cash. Furthermore, even a stable institution of marriage suffers changes as men try to exchange money instead of sisters (as mentioned above) (Ichikawa, 1979). Such form of compensation is not unusual and constitutes one of the major effects of the market economy on the Mbuti. Presently, these changes are a matter of concern and are regarded as negative.

It is worth mentioning that the Mbuti do not have a written language to immortalize their ways of life. Therefore, the most important legacy of this society is the unity of all the members of the group and their connection to the forest. These aspects are threatened by globalization. While progress cannot be stopped for the sake of stability, history, and tradition, people should consider the Mbuti principles of life as a possible answer to the growing concerns related to democracy, ecological balance, and peace.


The Mbuti people are a hunter-gatherers group that is located in Africa. The Mbuti apply different principles related to leadership and gender roles. It is emphasized that the group adhere to egalitarianism. There is no leadership, and the Mbuti function as an organized unity with slight differences in gender roles. For example, the notions of a “mother” and “father” have a set of associations that characterize women as caretakers and men as dominant figures. However, these differences are mostly found in rituals and peculiarities of hunting activities. Even though gender roles and leadership are practically not affected by outside tendencies, globalization is a major concern. The impact of globalization may be found in deforestation. The Mbuti are compelled to participate in economic activities in order to gain more flexibility in marriage arrangements and product exchanges. The Mbuti remain a unique group; however, their future is not clear due to rapid changes in economic surroundings of African villages.

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