To know the Pygmies II: Colin Turnbull

In 1961, the anthropologist and musicologist Colin Turnbull published his book ‘The Forest People’ after a few long stays with the nomadic Mbuti. It is a personal account of his interests and adventures at the Mbuti in the Congo. It reads like a train. I highly recommend it. 

He describes the habits and the ways of life of the Mbuti, their relations with the outside world, their humour and the secrecy they apply to the rites, the beauty and richness of the music, together with the place he receives as their guest. Reading it made me live with the group and learn immensely on lots of details about this group of Mbuti, who are portrayed as very pleasant people who solve their conflicts in non-violent ways and who deal with the ‘tall blacks’, with whom they trade but who have the habit of ordering them around, with a subtle humour and strong independancy. The young Turnbull moved ably enough in the forest to be invited to join the hunting parties – something that not all anthropologists have achieved. A very funny story is when they offer him a woman – a beautiful and tall girl from a village. Turnbull reacts just as diplomatic and subtle as a Mbuti would; the whole night he invents stuff that prevents her from laying with him; for example holes in the roof; she gets up to repair it.

Reading The Forest People laid my base for all later literature about pygmies and thanks to it, I did not always believe what other people wrote.