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Yes, I salute you, you the sons of the sea, you who lie beyond the sea. I do not know you. I have not seen you with my eyes. You have not experienced me that you may know me, that you may realize that the people in this country speak a beautiful language (if I may say so to you, these Europeans catch and punish a man); so that you may also know that there are people living in this country. You do not know what nation we are. Listen, listen, just for once how they speak so that you should not again be ignorant. In turn I do not know your language as you do not know mine. I do not know your language you sons of the sea. Let me be happy, very happy. If you can do this you will be glad: actually there are people in that country. If you would say something, if you would write back, if you would write to these two Europeans a message for me. Yes, glad Europeans of the sea, if in turn you can give these Europeans a message, so that for my part I will be very happy about that matter. For this matter I beseech you. This, I don’t know about you. Today you will get to know me through my tongue. Although you cannot see me with your own eyes we may see each other through God in heaven. Thus far I shall speak.

Adapted from a translation by W. Haacke and E. Eiseb


Audio recording by Anthony Traill
Water Drums (Baka)
Rivers running through the rainforest are one of the Bakas' favorite instruments. Standing in the water up to their waists, they beat the river's surface with cupped hands. Often, several women will play the water drums together. Each woman plays a different rhythm, which, together, make up a melody.

Yelli (Baka)
This is a pre-hunt song performed by women in the dawn hours to enchant the rainforest and attract animals for a successful hunt. The melody echoes the chirping of forest insects.

Limbindi (Baka)
Only Baka women play the limbindi, a sort of rainforest violin. A strong, thin vine is used as the instrument's string. A flexible tree branch is used as the bow. To change the pitch of the notes, the limbindi player slides her chin up and down the string.

Hunting Song (Mbuti)
The Mbuti use these cries when hunting the iddi, a small forest antelope, to drive it into hunting nets. The Mbuti are a rainforest people who live in the Ituri Forest of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,

Abale (Baka)
The singing style of Abale is similar to that of Yelli, but everyone, not just initiated women, participates. Men and boys play cooking pots as well as drums, while the women's powerful voices communicate directly with forest spirits. This song is used both to welcome guests and to show off the Bakasi renowned musical skill.

The Bushmen are a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers who are believed to be descendents of the first inhabitants of South Africa, with records dating back 30,000 years. Also known as the San or Basarwa, the Bushmen are a unique group of people with a distinct culture, language, and lifestyle.

Life of the Bushmen
The hardiness of the Bushmen has allowed them to adapt to various changes. They have had to deal with the encroachment of modern civilization with its huge cities, large farms, and grazing cattle as well as the persecution of governments attempting to relocate and "educate" the Bushmen. This hardiness has allowed the Bushmen to survive in the harsh conditions of the Kalahari, where some still reside today.

Being hunter-gatherers, the Bushmen were mainly concerned with survival. They are renowned for being master trackers and hunters, using cleverly designed bows and arrows to kill animals. As trackers, the Bushmen are able to follow the tracks of an animal across virtually any terrain, and they are able to distinguish the tracks of a wounded animal. Traditionally, men hunted while the women gathered, but it is not uncommon for women to assist in the hunt and men to help in the gathering of edible plants.

Since the Bushmen lived off the land, they were unable to stay in one place. They needed to move constantly from one place to another, but they were never reckless in their wandering. The Bushmen carefully mapped out their annual route, plotting a course that would take them to areas where the food had recently ripened.

Woven within a tapestry of mystique and legend, the Bushmen have been known by many names throughout recorded history. This is an attempt to strip away some of the romantic notions and show them as a real people facing outside pressures in a very real and often harsh world. Although the most studied anthropological group in the world, there are still many misconceptions concerning them, not least of them the beliefs that they are just another African Tribe, that they are truly Nomadic (in the same manner as the Bedouin), that they all speak a common tongue and that those living in the deserts were driven there by white settlers. Many of these beliefs can be rooted in ignorance, prejudice & inaccurate observations by early settlers and explorers while many other misconceptions, although having some small underlying element of truth, are fundamentally misleading and inaccurate.

The Bushmen, often referred to as the San or the generic term Khoisan, are the remnants of Africa's oldest cultural group, genetically the closest surviving people to the original Homo-Sapien core from which the Negro emerged. They are small in stature generally with light yellowish skin, which wrinkles very early in life. Despite the later massive expansion of the pastoral and agrarian tribal cultures, those Bushman groups that utilised environments that were unsuitable for farming, survived until fairly recently with a high level of genetic purity.

They were hunter/gatherers, with traditionally about 70/80% of their diet consisting of plant food, including berries, nuts, roots and melons gathered primarily by the women. The remaining 20/30% was meat, hunted by the men, using poisoned arrows and spears. Their hunting & gathering economy and social structure had remained virtually unchanged for tens of thousands of years until very recently, a socio-economic culture that has sustained mankind universally during their evolution until the advent of agriculture. The Bushmen did not farm or keep livestock, having no concept of the ownership of land or animal.

Their social structure is not Tribal because they have no paramount leader and their ties of kinship are fairly relaxed. They are a loosely knit family culture where decisions are made by universal discussion and agreement by consensus. An individual's opinion is naturally weighted according to their level of skill and experience in the particular field of discussion.

Families within a clan would speak a common language but neighboring clans would usually speak a different tongue, although there would normally be a fair degree of similarity & understanding between them. As you will appreciate, the further afield the clans, the less commonality in language and vocabulary. Get a better idea from the Families & Clans Page, which explains the broad Khoisan language family groups.

Bushmen are generally nomadic within fairly limited boundaries, governed by the proximity of other families and clans. As a very loose guideline, the territory of a family may stretch to a 25-mile circle. Obviously, if there are no other bordering clans or other people these areas may stretch further, as far as is needed to ensure adequate food and water sources.

The roles of men & women were very distinct and rarely overlap, which is a characteristic almost universal amongst hunter/gatherers the world over. It based on survival needs encouraging the most efficient utilisation of available skills and resources. Despite what is often perceived as a very sexist society, the importance of women is very high within the group and their opinions often take precedence, particularly where food is concerned.

It is very difficult today to find genetically pure lines, but in some areas groups can be found which appear to have little or no interbreeding with other peoples and cultures. It is even more difficult to find Bushmen who still totally reliant on traditional methods of survival. The reasons for this are very varied and often the cause of much academic, ideological, economic and political conflict. Without pointing fingers I will try to explain the different forces that have impacted most heavily on these "First People" of Africa.

Pygmies of the Congo Rainforest



Since the Stone Ages, groups of native hunter-gatherers have inhabited Africa's rainforests. These people are commonly known as "pygmies," though this is considered a derogatory term. They share a short stature (less than 5" tall) and dependence on the rainforest eco-system. But this is not a monolithic group. Rather than "pygmy," these peoples prefer to be called by their tribal names: Mbuti, Efe, Aka, Baka, Twa Sua. There are some 200,000 - 250,000 native rainforest inhabitants spread across Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo. All have separate languages, religions and customs, and all are under threat from deforestation. The rainforest people featured in AFRICA are one of the most culturally distinct: the Baka, of southeast Cameroon.

The traditions of the Baka, Mbuti and other native tribes of the rainforest are firmly bound to the sea of green in which they have lived for thousands of years. The forest, for these groups, is not just a collection of trees, but a living being that must be treated with respect for the goods it provides. Since rainforest dwellers were originally nomads using perishable rainforest resources for their huts and personal possessions, preserving cultural artefacts is often a challenging task. As more of the African rainforest falls to the logger's axe, this difficulty only increases.
Mongolu are the temporary huts: made of cut tree branches are shaped like and igloos and covered with Banana tree leaves
Jengi spirit is lord of the forest: boys rite “kills” them and brings them back to life with full knowledge of the forest
Traditionally, people of the African rainforest had a rich variety of animals and vegetation to use as food. Today, not always living within the forest proper, rainforest cuisine is much less diverse.

The Bakas' daily meals are mostly starchy, using ingredients such as plantains and yams, or sometimes, boiled manioc. Honey is highly prized. Meat comes from Baka snares - a small antelope, cane rats or forest buffalo. Women also build dams of sticks to catch rainforest fish. These meats are either roasted over a fire or boiled. When a large animal is killed, it is usually boiled in a pot along with palm oil and scraps of chili peppers. Children sometimes use their catapults to kill lizards and small birds, which are roasted and eaten instantly.

Other foods and insects are available by season. In August, the Baka harvest large amounts of caterpillars, a great delicacy. In July, seeds from forest mangos are pounded and used to make a sauce.
Baka folklore tells spine-tingling tales of life in the rainforest. From crafty snakes to scheming chim panzees, animal life plays a central role. Others illustrate the Bakaís strong belief that the rainforest is not just a dense forest, but a place where powerful spirits roam. The rainforest itself also holds supernatural powers. The stories are all oral, handed down from generation to generation. Women play a key role in crafting these tales as a form of entertainment for their children. In this tale, the story is told of a clash with a forest spirit.
The Baka believe that when disaster strikes, the rainforest has gone to sleep. They use music to wake the forest back up. Baka music relies heavily on a capella singing, with improvised string instruments and "water drums." The sound of the water drum is created by slapping water in a stream or pond with the hands. Though their neighbors sometimes call the Baka loud, they have developed their sounds as a way to communicate amidst thick vegetation. The Mbuti, a rainforest people from Congo, share this trait. Like many rainforest people, both the Baka and the Mbuti have songs for almost every occasion, from a pre-hunt cry to welcome melodies for village visitors.

Water Drums (Baka)


Rivers running through the rainforest are one of the Bakas' favorite instruments. Standing in the water up to their waists, they beat the river's surface with cupped hands. Often, several women will play the water drums together. Each woman plays a different rhythm, which, together, make up a melody.

Yelli (Baka)
This is a pre-hunt song performed by women in the dawn hours to enchant the rainforest and attract animals for a successful hunt. The melody echoes the chirping of forest insects.

Limbindi (Baka)
Only Baka women play the limbindi, a sort of rainforest violin. A strong, thin vine is used as the instrument's string. A flexible tree branch is used as the bow. To change the pitch of the notes, the limbindi player slides her chin up and down the string.

Hunting Song (Mbuti)
The Mbuti use these cries when hunting the iddi, a small forest antelope, to drive it into hunting nets. The Mbuti are a rainforest people who live in the Ituri Forest of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,

Abale (Baka)
The singing style of Abale is similar to that of Yelli, but everyone, not just initiated women, participates. Men and boys play cooking pots as well as drums, while the women's powerful voices communicate directly with forest spirits. This song is used both to welcome guests and to show off the Bakasi renowned musical skill.


Mbuti


In northeast Congo, formerly called Zaire, there is a rainforest that lies beyond the reaches of modern society.  The people that currently live in this seemingly impenetrable forest are called the Pygmies.  One tribe whose people would be considered “pygmies,” is the Mbuti.

The Mbuti has a population of about 30,000 to 40,000 people.  They live in bands or tribes of 15-60 people.  These people have chosen to stay within the reaches of the rainforest for a long time.  The first written history of the Mbuti is Egyptian.  The Egyptians called the Mbuti the “pygmies” or the “people in the trees.”  This was written around 2,500 B.C.

Since the Mbuti have occupied the Ituri Rainforest for so long, they know the forest very well.  The Ituri Rainforest is 70,000 square kilometers, or about 43,496 square miles.  This is about the size of the state of Wisconsin.   The rainforest is their home, food provider and at times their antagonist.

Therefore the forest is an extremely large part of their lives, some might even say the forest is their life.  The Mbuti refer to the forest as “mother” or “father.”  After living in the forest, they have figured out how to utilize its gifts while keeping the antagonist in it as distant as possible.

They have devised methods of gathering food.  The men are the hunters and the women are food gatherers.  Along with being gatherers they drive game animals into nets that the men are holding.  The women also care for the children and build the homes. 

Since they hunt game, they have to move with the animals.  The homes are made of saplings with large leaves covering the round huts.  This non-sedentary lifestyle takes less time but allows for a more balanced diet.  The non-sedentary lifestyle gives more free time for stories and music.

Along with stories and music, the Mbuti perform rituals in order to keep the forest “spirit” happy.  The most performed ritual is called the Molimo.  This ritual is performed on many occasions including when there is death within a band, if there is reason for giving thanks and most of all to keep their lives in order.  The women and children of the band sit in the huts and close the doors.  The men sit around a fire and sing and dance.  At some point in the singing, the young men go and receive the Molimo, a trumpet made from wood, which is hanging hidden in a tree.  The young men wash the trumpet in a river to “wet its thirst.”  They return to the fire when the singing and dancing is at a peak.  The young men then sing into the trumpet and they all dance and sing together.

Since the Mbuti live within the rainforest, their contact with other cultures is limited. They trade meat with the Bantu villagers who live on the outskirts of the rainforest.  The villagers live a sedentary lifestyle that revolves around agriculture.  They trade crafts and food with the Mbuti.  Both of these cultures see the other as a population of heathens.

The Mbuti have managed to maintain stable society without an authority or a central government. If there is a disagreement they just argue it all out within their bands.  If they can't come to an agreement they may cast a member out of the band. 

The people of the rainforest have learned how to use the plants and animals of the rainforest without harming it. They have taught us about many of the foods and medicines from the rainforest that we use today. Through thousands of years of living in the rainforest, rainforest people have adapted to the rainforest climate. They don't need to drink a lot of water because they get so much water in the foods they eat. Rainforest people sweat less than other people

because the air is so full of moisture that sweating doesn't cool their bodies very well.

Some of the groups of people that live in the rainforest are called pygmies. They are some of the shortest people on earth. They are only about 4 feet tall. They are hunter-gatherers, which means they hunt animals and gather fruits and other plants to eat. The men hunt using spears, arrows and nets. The women do the gathering. They do not always live in one place, but move to other areas of the rainforest when food supplies are low.

The Mbuti are a pygmy tribe of honey gatherers. There is a bird called the Greater Honeyguide that flies to the bee hives and shows the Mbuti where the honey is. The honeyguides live on beeswax.




The Mbuti live in the Ituri forest in northeastern Congo/Zaire. They build their homes of branches and leaves. They wear little clothing because it is always warm in the rainforest. They make their clothing from leaves and things they find in the rainforest, too. Their way of life is in danger because of the destruction of the rainforest that they live in. The government has tried to teach them how to farm, but the Mbuti don't want to change the way they live. What will happen to the Mbuti if the rainforest is completely cut down?


1439

Portugal takes the Azores and increases expeditions along northwest African coast, eventually reaching the Gold Coast (modern Ghana). The Portuguese explorations were motivated by a desire for knowledge, a wish to bring Christianity to what they perceived as pagan peoples, the search for potential allies against Muslim threats, and the hope of finding new and lucrative trade routes and sources of wealth. Wherever the Portuguese—and the English, French, and Dutch who followed them—went, they eventually disrupted ongoing patterns of trade and political life and changed economic and religious systems.

1441

Beginning of European slave trade in Africa with first shipment of African slaves sent directly from Africa to Portugal. With the complicity and blessings of the Catholic church. the Portuguese would come to dominate the gold, spice and slave trade for almost a century before other European nations became greatly involved.

Slavery in Africa: It is true that African societies did have various forms of slavery and dependent labor before their interaction with Arabs and Europeans that invaded Africa, especially in nonegalitarian centralized African states, but scholars argue that indigenous slavery was relatively a marginal aspect of traditional African societies. Many forms of servitude and slavery were relatively benign, an extension of lineage and kinship systems. Slaves and servants were often well-treated and could rise to respected positions in households and communities. African social hierarchies and conditions of servitude were mitigated by complex, extended kinship relationships, based on community, group, clan, and family. Ethnic rivalries and hostilities did exist, as did ethnocentrism (a belief that one's group and its lifeways are superior to those of other groups), but the concept of race was a foreign import. Muslim conquests of North Africa and penetration in the south made slavery a more widely diffused phenomenon, and the slave trade in Africans—especially women and children--developed on a new scale. The adoption of Islamic concepts of slavery made it a legitimate fate for non-believers but an illegal treatment for Muslims. In the forest states of West Africa, such as Benin and Kongo, slavery was an important institution before the European arrival, African rulers seeking to enslave other African groups, rather than their own people, to enhance their wealth, prestige, and control of labor. However, the Atlantic Slave Trade opened up greatly expanded opportunities for large-scale economic trade in human beings--chattel slavery--on an unprecedented scale. Expanding, centralized African states on/near the coast became major suppliers of slaves to the Europeans, who mobilized commerce in slaves relatively quickly by tapping existing routes and supplies (adapted from Stearns, Adas, and Schwartz).

1480s

First Europeans (Portuguese) visit Benin (Edo*-speaking ruling culture) and arrive at east coast of Africa, increasing trade in gold, ivory, and slaves (*and thanks to Paula Girshick Ben-Amos for the correction). According to Microsoft Encarta Africana 1998, "[b]etween the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Edo ruled the powerful kingdom of Benin. Today approximately 1 million people consider themselves Edo."

1481-2

El Mina is founded on the West African "Gold Coast," the most important of the chain of trading settlements hat the Portuguese established here. African gold, ivory, foodstuffs, and slaves were exchanged for ironware, firearms, textiles, and foodstuffs.

late 15th c.

Kingdom of Kongo flourished on the Congo River (modern Zaire, now Republic of Congo), a confederation of provinces under the manikongo (the king; "mani" means blacksmith, denoting the early importance and spiritual power of iron working).
From Symbols of Royal Power: Stool (Detroit Institute of Arts' African, Oceanic, and New World Cultures: African Art)
http://www.dia.org/collections/aonwc/aonwcindex.html

Civilizations in Africa: The Forest Kingdoms (Richard Hooker, World Civilizations, Washington State Univ.) http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CIVAFRCA/FOREST.HTM

ca. 1500

Benin at height of its power. City-states, like Ife-Ife and Oyo, are ruled by obas (kings) with court societies supporting celebrated arts. Benin city (Edo) was founded around the 12th century and had ongoing political and cultural ties with Ife and other urban centers in the area; a second Benin dynasty began in the 16th century. "Dahomey, with its capital at Abomey, was the most important kingdom in Benin's history. A major exporter of slaves to the New World during the triangular trade between Africa, Europe, and the New World during the 16-18th centuries, it was a military empire feared by all its neighbors" (Kings of Dahomey, Tony Huchinson, http://www.concentric.net/~Jeffnaus/kings.htm ). The power of the Benin empire ended in the late 19th century when British troops destroyed Benin's capital city.) The Edo of Benin and the Akan of Ghana built underground tunnels that connected villages.

After 1550

Portuguese trade in Africa increasingly attracts rival European traders who, in the 16th century, created competing stations or attempted to capture the existing trade.

In western Africa the new trade had profound effects. Earlier trade routes were now reoriented from the Sahara to the seacoast, and as the states of the savanna declined in economic importance, states along the coast increased their wealth and power. Struggles developed among coastal peoples for control over trade routes and access to new European firearms.

African royalty valued European-imported beads and incorporated them into art.


1562

Britain begins its slave trade in Africa. Slave Trade increases significantly with development of plantation colonies of the Americas, especially in Brazil. Other countries involved in the European slave trade included Spain (from 1479); North America (from 1619); Holland (from 1625); France (from 1642); Sweden (from 1647); and Denmark (from 1697).

1570

Portuguese establish colony in Angola.

1652

Dutch establish colony at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa; and colonizing Boers ("farmers"), or Afrikaners, begin settling large farms at the expense of San and Khoikhoi, non-Bantu speakers of the region.

1700-
1717

Asante (or Ashante) Empire of Akan peoples is unified under Osei Tutu on the "Gold Coast"; dominates with control of gold-producing zones and supplying slaves in exchange for firearms (to 1820s).

1720s

Rise of Kingdom of Dahomey of Fon (or Aja) peoples, on the "Slave Coast" in the Bight of Benin, based on slaving and firearms (into the 19th c.). The Abomey plateau, an early center of Aja and Yoruba populations, became the capital of the Dahomey monarchy beginning in the 17th century.


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