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Forest hunter-gatherers and their world: A study of the Mbendjele Yaka pygmies of Congo-Brazzaville and their secular and religious activities and representations

Forest hunter-gatherers and their world: A study of the Mbendjele Yaka pygmies of Congo-Brazzaville and their secular and religious activities and representations
JEROME LEWIS

2002

Department of Social Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, London WC2A 2AE, UNITED KINGDOM.

ABSTRACT

This thesis is about a forest hunter-gatherer people, the Mbendjele Yaka Pygmies of northern Congo-Brazzaville. The thesis is based on field research carried out between 1994 and 2001.

I begin by examining certain key terms used in the thesis and by situating my research within the existing literature. Research methodologies are presented and the fieldwork experience described. I provide an overview of the historical, political and economic context of the research including an outline assessment of the main historical reconstructions of regional history.

Conservationist and loggers’ models of the forest are juxtaposed with Mbendjele ways of representing landscape and the forest environment. I discuss the significance of the forest in Mbendjele social experience and its role as the ideal environment for social life. I examine the way the Mbendjele classify animals and the cosmological significance of hunting and killing. This theme is continued with a presentation of ekila, a complex set of practices and beliefs that regulate the interactions of people with animals and express a complex relationship between human fertility and the correct handling of prey animals.

I continue the analysis of Mbendjele collective representations with a presentation of the activity of massana. The link between children’s play and adult rituals implicit in the use of this term is analysed. I then build on this understanding to present an analysis of aspects of two ritual associations, Ejεngi and Ngoku, central to men’s and women’s power in society.

The thesis is brought to a close by moving beyond the forest to examine Mbendjele relations with and conceptualisations of outsiders and property rights. New technological developments and financial incentives are increasingly transforming the Mbendjele forest into faunal and floral assets for distribution to international organizations.