There are an estimated half a million pygmies inhabiting the African rainforests. They are scattered throughout Cameroon, the Congo and Uganda. The name pygmy is derived from the Greek word for dwarfish, which is a general name to cover all ethnic groups of short stature. For thousands of years, they have lived peacefully in Africa’s jungles by using primitive techniques to hunt for food. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “pygmies are the largest group of hunter-gatherers left on Earth.”
Although there are individual tribal names such as Bambuti, Aka and Efe, the general name for all tribes has remained pygmy. They maintain a symbiotic relationship with surrounding farmers where they trade valuable meat, honey and natural medicines in exchange for vital grains and other goods. “About half of their food is obtained this way,” according to the Rainforest Information Centre.
Within each settlement, pygmies divide the hunting territory among groups of adults. Around 40 per cent of their diet includes meat such as antelopes, gazelle, pigs and even monkeys, which are considered a delicacy. For tribes with settlements near rivers, fish is another portion of their diet. Fruits are usually gathered by the women and include honey, berries and fruit-bearing plants. They have a deep respect for the forest and consider it a kind and generous god, who chooses to supply them.
Rainforest tribes have highly skilled hunters and each group has its own specialised hunting technique. For example, the Efe people hunt primarily with bows and arrows while the Bambuti use a combination of nets and spears. Women also play a role in hunting by frightening ground dwelling animals into large nets where the men use spears to kill them. These large nets are formed in semicircles and can be as large as half a mile in length.
Modern Day pygmy Hunters
Pygmies have used the same hunting techniques for thousands of years, but today they have become commercial hunters. Their equipment is still primitive but includes updated additions for higher kill ratios. For example, the wooden spears have heavy iron points and the nets are even larger in length. Commercial hunting has become attractive for the tribes ever since the surrounding populations have offered more valuable merchandise in trade.
The rapidly growing population of the Congo is currently 70 million and with this growth comes a greater need for food and meat. Commercial hunting is a short-term solution for both the pygmies and surrounding population, but it is also emptying the forests at an alarming rate. According to the Washington Post, “Some have suffered 90 per cent drops in wildlife, stripped so bare, hunters have been reduced to eating their own hunting dogs.” The shortage of meat has also spread into illegal hunting on protected game reserves.