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How the Pygmies Can Instruct Americans

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Submitted By biancasingerb
Words 1339
Pages 6
Bianca Singer-Barber
Professor Brook
Cultural Anthropology
24 March 2014
How the Pygmies Can Instruct Americans

Anthropologists study cultures for many different reasons, one of which being to understand differences in the way that societies interpret the same concept. In “The Forest People”, Turnbull discusses several practices in Pygmy society that allow the small community to continue to flourish in spite of, what many of us would consider to be, severe disadvantages. The Pygmy’s basic trust in one another, understanding of the need to accomplish communal goals, and distribution of leadership and responsibility are all examples of aspects that may be present in American society but that the Pygmy’s could instruct us on how to improve on. One aspect of Pygmy culture that should more widely be practiced in the United States is the concept of basic trust within a culture or society. Trustworthy parental figures that act on the needs of children, with warm and calming resolutions, make for a positive world image. The Pygmy’s society is full of this kind of adult. For instance, the parents of everyone in the same age group are all referred to, by the children, as "mother" or "father,” while the older ones are called "grandparents." As far as pygmy children are concerned, all adults are their parents and grandparents, which gives the community a familial connection rather than the disconnection that is created when neighbors and community members isolate themselves. Due to this practice in pygmy society, there is always someone around to take care of children's needs; they are rarely without some form of physical contact or support. Additionally, unlike the stereotypes set in America, Pygmy fathers are actively involved in the direct care of their infants. They spend a large percentage of their day holding or within arm's reach of their infants. This intense care giving makes child neglect a rarity in the Pygmy culture and makes any child cruelty a serious violation of the laws in their society. It can be argued that the amount of care presented by each member of the Pygmy society has a strong influence on the trust within the society. This concept, as a whole, is one that should be implemented more heavily into American society because it would improve the holism of our society. As previously described, the amount of care and trust provided by the Pygmy people reduces the amount of child neglect and abuse that occurs, which promotes healthy and stable lifestyles for the growing children and within the community.
Due to the size of the Pygmies, compared to the size of America, a strong sense of communal responsibility is more easily accomplished for them and, therefore, cooperation is the key to the functioning of their society. Pygmies are "the people of the forest," as noted by the name of Turnbull’s ethnography about them. This forest provides them with all the necessities of life. In order to benefit from the bounty the forest can provide, they need to share common goals. For instance, hunting for meat is one of the major survival tasks for this population. Of course, a pygmy can take his bow and arrows and try to shoot a bird or a monkey on his own, which is often done by the naïve, but is not the most effective way of obtaining meat. The most effective way to hunt animals is through the communal action of hunting by driving animals into a net. This form of hunting cannot be done alone; it would impossible for a single hunter to cover sufficient territory to drive the prey, an antelope for example, into a net. Being that it is a cooperative affair, net hunting implies shared interests and a common purpose among the men, women, and children of participating families. This shared purpose encourages teamwork. For example, at the time of a hunt, the nets owned by each family in the group are joined together in a long semi-circle. Usually, the women and children drive the animals into the nets while the men stand behind the nets and kill the animals when they become entangled. Afterward, the meat is shared among the various participants according to a set of very specific rules. In pygmy society, teamwork is ineffective without mutually agreed upon goals and, thus, communication is vital to the process. If a goal is ambiguous or ill defined, the group will lack motivation and commitment to complete the task. Although teamwork and communication are goals among small communities within America, it is important for the country as a whole to understand the concept of common goals. In America, states are given the rights to make their own laws if a situation is presented vaguely, or not at all, within the national constitution. Additionally, the lack of unity between different beliefs and values of the people in the country influences our inability to compromise on topics of importance. The Pygmy society shows us an example of how effective working together can be and that, if we cooperated more with each other, we might be able to live a more leisure intensive, rather than labor intensive, society.
Pygmies are strong believers in the concept of "distributed" leadership.
Among the pygmies, it is difficult to talk about a single leader. Unlike other African societies, there is no person that has ultimate authority. With no real chiefs or formal councils, their behavior is extremely egalitarian and participatory. The Pygmy people, of the forest, believe in keeping everything good and balanced, a reason why they perform the Molimo to make something good out of a bad situation. Pygmies are not intimidated by rank, seniority, or status; all members of the group are empowered to make decisions. Respect and praise may be given to elders, but it is based not on wealth or status but on knowledge and expertise. Likewise, if certain people are listened to more than others in the making of a decision, it is because of their special ability or skill, be it bow making, hunting, or playing an instrument rather than their competition to obtain an office. Although some members’ opinions may be more valued than others, the concept of equality gives each member of the community the ability to challenge authority whenever he or she believes that the team effort is jeopardized. As a result, each team member is likely to accept ownership for the team's decisions. With this concept in mind, the pygmies have created a system of leadership where leaders are distributed throughout the community and everyone can be involved in decision-making. However, individuals who are accorded exceptional respect are expected to subscribe to a number of leadership practices that foster effective teamwork. If they fail to do so, the group reminds them of their obligation. In America, our country is broken down into 50 states with mayors, governors, and the ability to vote. We do practice a form of the distribution of authority but, due to corruption and the excessive desire for power, the “common” people have less of a say in decision-making than they should. Although we have obtained the right to vote and speak up to those who hold government positions, it is not uncommon for those office-holders to gain power because of wealth and status rather than capability and knowledge. The expression goes that “knowledge is power”. Unfortunately, even when presented with the tools, we don’t always know how to use them. In “The Forest People”, Turnbull provides us with a detailed account of life among the Pygmies. This information shows us the ways that societies, completely different from our own, can continue to thrive. From Turnbull’s documentation, and the lifestyle of the Pygmies, we should learn how to develop trust for one another, recognize our common goals, and promote the equality of decision making among all people within our society. Although there is evidence of these concepts, on a small scale, the lessons of the Pygmies could teach us how to work together rather than compete to survive.…...

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