Functionalist Perspective of Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People

Categories: Society

BaMbuti is a pygmy group of people found in the equatorial Congo forest. The community used to hunt and gather as their mode of life. Their economic importance included the exchange of their products with the neighboring communities. They used to exchange the animal meat derived from their hunting with farm produce given by their neighbors. They used to provide their neighbors with the prestigious Mbuti fruits and medicinal herbs. The Mbuti community was a nomadic pastoralist community that used to move from one area to another.

They thus used to supply their immediate neighbors with hides and skins from the forest.

Moreover, they used to provide their neighbors with building materials which they got from the bush (Torrance,1999). The Mbuti used to make porches, baskets, and belts woven from grass which they used to exchange for other commodities from their neighbors. Those who settled near the boundaries of the forest used to help their neighbors to clear and remove the harvest from the fields in exchange for food.

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Due to their settlement in the high humid and high rainfall areas, their environment was surrounded by many rivers and lakes. The Mbuti thus had good access to rivers and lakes where they went to fish.

The fish was used to supplement their hunting and gathering. The Mbuti used to acquire their products from hunting and gathering. In hunting, they used to construct nets. They could then chase wild animals into the nets, thus making their hunting easy. The chasing was done by members of the same band since each band used to occupy a specific part of the forest.

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This activity was facilitated by both men and women. Children also used to help in the chase. Women used to gather edible fruits and leaves from the forest which was a supplement to the hunting. In the gathering, they used to gather honey which was also used as food for the pygmies.

They also used to acquire meat from their livestock which they used to to substitute their hunt. They used to get their loin clothe from the inner back of the trees which was done by men by beating the bark until it was soft then making the loin cloth. After gathering all these products, they used to consume them and also distribute them in various ways. They held several ceremonies whereby they used their produce in the ceremonies. For example, during the Molimo, each family produced food which was used in the ceremony to celebrate the death of a prominent member of the family.

During the honey feast, they used to eat the honey that they had harvested in the forest. Some of the excess meat and fruits which they gathered was used in their trading with their neighbors in exchange of the farm produce. They used to trade in iron material and wooden furniture from their neighbors. In my own theoretical perspective, the Mbuti used to be a very productive group of people since they used to produce enough for themselves and trade the excess to their neighbors. This shows that they were a hard working group of people.

Further, it demonstrates that their behaviors were good to be copied by the other communities surrounding them. As per my own understanding, I can theoretically conclude that in each community, there are ways to relate with other communities even though the community may be seen to be very primitive, thus creating a good rapport with their neighborhood. It can be deduced that there is no community that can exist without the cooperation and help of another as the Mbuti used to get the materials they lacked from their neighbors. The Mbuti had no formal political governance since they did not have any formal leader to govern them.

They used to share the forest territory as per the bands whereby each band was composed of related families. They used to know the demarcations of the boundaries though there was no governmental authority to enforce the boundaries. Each band was led by the elders of the band and every member of the band used to term each other as father and mother since it was a family affair for them to stay together as a family. The society was organized into bands where each band consisted of family members and lived as a community of not more than fifteen families.

The families used to stay as a community and they used to do all their work together. They used to build their houses in one area and could help each other in the construction. The people who were initiated together made a brotherhood and thus used to live as a community and share economic centers and freedom amongst themselves throughout their life. They used to have hereditary relationships and their activities were conducted based on their relationships. A person acquired authority due to their age in the community as well as their character in the band.

If a person was well conversant with the treks in the forest, they were regarded as a leader since they used to lead the others sin the forest during hunting (American Anthropological Association, 1987). Such a person could give orders and the whole community could follow since the leader had the authority to guide the others in the forest. During their day to day life, conflicts arose amongst the members of the band or between communities and had to be resolved so as to ensure a harmonious coexistence. In the band, both men and women were coequal.

They thus used to openly table their views during conflict resolution. If a member was found guilty, they were ridiculed, reprimanded, or beaten by the other members. In weddings, they used to have fights amongst themselves because some would not get the girl they were mandated to marry since marriages were organized by close family relative. When there was conflict between the Mbuti and other communities, they used to find ways of resolving them. This was made possible by the good relationship created through intermarriage between them and other communities.

Such conflicts were easily resolved since the Mbuti use to have special courts amongst them. The village people used to resolve conflicts even in between the Mbuti, thus ensuring that they were alright. Due to their lack of political governance, they usually lacked all the personal rights since no one could get his or her rights if the leaders failed to establish the root cause of the problem. The kind of punishment was the poorest since the person punished could hold grudges with the law enforcers if the wrongdoer was excommunicated from the community.

The form of judgment thus had to be reviewed. Their kind of conflict resolution was the best since the erring groups had to be called together and a solution had to be devised in order to maintain the unity of the community. In their talks with the neighbors, the Mbuti used to create a good neighborhood. They were thus termed as part of the surrounding community. The Mbuti used to believe that the forest was their God. It was thus thought they lacked a religion. They used to relate with their supernatural by commemorating several ceremonies associated to the supernatural.

They used to observe the Molimo which was celebrated when there was death or when there was a crisis on the band. The Molimo was celebrated by men only while women and children remained in the houses. This ceremony was done to appease the supernatural powers so that the tragedy could be taken away from them. The Mbuti used to observe several rituals so that one can become a member of the society. For example, Nkubi was a ritual done to the males during initiations. This was to symbolize the brotherhood among the initiates.

They also had the Elima which was celebrated during the onset of the first menstrual flow of a young girl. This ritual was performed by women and was associated with the life of women from birth to death. They used to hold the Injo so as to appease their God so that the deity may give them ample time to hunt and not to allow storms during hunting period. In my theoretical perspective, these behaviors helped the Mbuti to live as a community and thus held them together. They used to act in a certain manner due to the belief of the supernatural.

By offering their sacrifices, they used to bind themselves with their God and could thus not do anything that could hurt the supernatural (Barnard, & Spencer, 1996). References Barnard, A. ; & Spencer, J. (1996). Encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology. new york: Taylor & Francis. Turnbull, C. M. (1968). The forest people. London: Simon & Schuster. American Anthropological Association. (1987). American anthropologist, Volume 89, Issues 3-4. washington, DC: American Anthropological Association. Torrance, R. M. (1999). Encompassing Nature: A Sourcebook. New York: Counterpoint Press.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Functionalist Perspective of Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from

Functionalist Perspective of Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People essay
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