The 1950s Mbuti:

A Critique of Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People



Alex Liazos


Table of Contents




Introduction    p. 2



1. Rethinking The Forest People   p. 5                                       

        A.  The Forest People in Our Lives                               

        B.  How this Book Came About                                       

        C.  My Argument                                                     



2.  On Turnbull’s Field Notes   p. 19                                 

        A.  Contents of the Field Notes                                    

        B.  Turnbull’s Time with the Mbuti                         

        C.  Observer Effects and Biases                                      

        D.  Newton Beal and Anne Putnam                         

        E.  Conclusion, and Looking Ahead                        



3.  Mbuti Lives – Field Notes and The Forest People p. 53  

        A.  Poetry and Scenes in The Forest People             

        B.  The Joys of Mbuti Daily Life                                      

        C.  The Molimo                                                               

        D.  The Elima and the Nkumbi                                       



4. Persecution, Conflict, and Violence in Mbuti Life  p. 74 

        A.  The Persecution of Sau                                      

        B.  Mbuti Women – Equality?                                 

        C.  Children’s Lives                                                 

        D.  Arguments, Conflicts, and Violence                   


5.  A Gathering and Hunting Society?   p. 101                            

        A.  Brief History of Mbuti-Villager Relationships  

B.  Forest and Village Worlds                                  

        C.  Dependence on Grown Food                              

        D.  The Presence of Money                                      

        E.  Villagers in the Forest                                        

        F.  Other Outside Influences on the Mbuti                      

        G.  Emerging Leaders?                                            



6.  The Forest People as a Work of Art   p. 126                            

        A.  A Summary of the Findings                               

        B.  Is The Forest People Unusual?                           

        C.  The Forest People as a Projection into the Past  

        D.  Some Final Thoughts                                        

        E.  The Last Word to Turnbull                                

Appendices    p. 135

Bibliography    p. 138                                                                       


Copyright 2015, Alex Liazos


It gives me the greatest pleasure to thank some people and institutions that have been immensely and graciously helpful to me.

All people I met at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, of the College of Charleston, in Charleston, SC, where most of Colin Turnbull’s papers are, have been supportive, friendly, and helpful in every way possible.  Georgette Mayo, Processing Archivist when I visited in November 2007 and Director in July 2008, made me feel so at home during both my visits there.  She and Harlan Greene, Director of Archival and Reference Services, answered all my questions and gave me access to all documents.  They made me a complete copy of Turnbull’s field notes, and allowed me to copy any other document I wished.  Because I had those documents with me at home, I was able to read them four times and find much information I had missed during earlier readings.  I could never thank them enough for their professional courtesy and friendly reception.  Without their assistance and hospitality I could never have carried out the project.

Many thanks also to two other collections libraries.  The Houghton Library at Harvard University contains the papers of Anne Putnam, where I found many of her letters and other relevant material, and also some of Turnbull’s letters.  All the staff have been exceedingly helpful and friendly during my many visits.  The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University holds Turnbull’s papers from his last few years, including two unpublished manuscripts.  Their staff also was very helpful.

To the people of all three places, I will always remain grateful.

Richard Grinker (Turnbull’s biographer), David Witke, Joan Mark, and Barbara Dowds encouraged me, provided advice, and were supportive during the course of my research.  I am very thankful for all their help.

My friend Dave Slaney read the first draft very carefully and made extensive comments and suggestions for changes and corrections.  I followed almost all of them, and I am very grateful to him.  He is not responsible for how I followed his suggestions and for those I did not follow. 



Copyright 2008 – Alex Liazos




This is not a book I ever planned, wanted, or hoped to write.  I am retired and enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and serving on community groups and issues.  I was not looking for projects to fill my time.  When I began this project in November 2007, I did not set out to disprove, dispute, discredit, or disagree with The Forest People.  I wanted to see the field notes for a book I admired, loved, learned from, and taught in my courses for four decades.  I also hoped to learn more about the lives of women and children than what the book reports.  Once I read the field notes, however, I came upon much material that casts a different light on the book.  I feel an obligation to communicate with other readers and admirers of the book, and tell them that the Mbuti of the field notes led more complex, difficult, and different lives than did the Mbuti of The Forest People.  The Mbuti did not live in the idyllic paradise the book presents.

Once I began reading the field notes, I could not let go of this project.

The field notes, which Turnbull took in 1957-58 while with the Mbuti, show a people troubled by conflicts, persecution of an old woman, and other serious problems.  The idyllic and egalitarian gathering-hunting society presented in The Forest People exists only in part in Turnbull’s own field notes.

  • There is the persecution of Sau, an old woman who is accused of being a witch.  For five and a half months, she is harassed constantly, often beaten, and shunned, until she is finally forced to leave the group.
  • There is Turnbull’s implied and stated claim that the Mbuti are a gathering and hunting people.  They are not.  They rely as much or more on grown food from village plantations as they do on food they hunt and gather.
  • A strong impression in The Forest People is that the Mbuti live primarily in forest hunting camps.  They do not.  Dates in the field notes show that they live as long or longer in the village next to the forest.
  • Turnbull says that the molimo celebration of a beloved old woman who died while he was there lasts for three uninterrupted months.  It does not.  Turnbull’s dates and descriptions of people coming and going show that on many nights there is no molimo celebration.  On many other days and nights many, often most, people, including Turnbull, are in the village, not in the forest.
  • Turnbull seriously misrepresents where and how he spends his time with the Mbuti.  The Forest People takes place mostly in forest camps, giving the impression that the Mbuti live primarily in the forest.  But during his major stay, September 1957 to October 1958, he lives in forest camps with the Mbuti a total of at most three months.  While in forest camps, he never stays more than two consecutive weeks in any one of them.



There are other problems and conditions the 1950s Mbuti of the field notes faced that Turnbull mentions only in passing in The Forest People, understating their seriousness.

On the other hand, the notes, like the book, do report dancing, singing, fun, and some living in forest camps.  It is not that Turnbull lies in The Forest People, but he omits, ignores, and misrepresents problems and conflicts that the Mbuti face which are described in detail in the field notes.  The idyllic Mbuti of the book are not the people we find in Turnbull’s own field notes.

The Forest People may best be seen as a work of art.  Turnbull may be imagining how the Mbuti may have lived when they were gatherers and hunters.  If so, we may need to judge the book on those terms, not as a realistic description of the 1950s Mbuti.



The Forest People is a book many of us have loved.  Writing this book has been hard, even if unavoidable and necessary.  I hope that some people who read it are inspired to visit the Avery Research Center and read Turnbull’s field notes and other material themselves, and challenge, debate, and disagree or agree with my conclusions.  Those of us who loved The Forest People owe it to ourselves, and to Turnbull, to have a long, spirited, and honest debate on the relationship between the book and the field notes.







Chapter One – Rethinking The Forest People



A.  The Forest People in Our Lives

Colin Turnbull's The Forest People has been a beloved and influential book since its publication in 1961.  It presents a gathering and hunting people, the Mbuti pygmies of the Ituri forest in the Belgian Congo of the 1950s, living in peace and harmony with their environment.  (Unlike the common usage, I use “gathering” first because by many accounts these societies get most of their food from gathering, not hunting, a point Turnbull makes about the Mbuti in the field notes.)  They see the forest as Mother and Father, and themselves as its children.  Turnbull writes that their life, "with all its hardships and problems and tragedies, [is] a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care" (p. 26).  At camp Lelo in the forest, "one day followed the last in this happy-go-lucky way as though this was all there was to life" (p. 144).  Describing the evenings of the molimo celebration (detailed in chapters 3 through 8 of the book), he writes: "It was as though the nightly chorus were an intimate communication between a people and their god, the forest" (p. 92).

Many of us have been inspired by Turnbull's message that a simple and peaceful life is possible, one where social equality, communal sharing and cooperation, and carefree living are possible.  In a 1984 interview, Turnbull tells of young people walking through the Ituri carrying their copy of The Forest People as if it were their bible.  During the 1971-72 stay in the Ituri forest area, "I found students coming through with copies of The Forest People in their hands, feeling it described something they wanted out of life that was too good to be true" (Turnbull, 1984).

The writer for Omni magazine, who interviewed Turnbull in 1984, wrote in the introduction to the interview:  Turnbull's "first book, The Forest People, published in 1961, vividly describes the idyllic existence of the primitive Mbuti, who live together in a harmonious spirit of mutual cooperation and for whom the forest is an all-benevolent deity that unfailingly supplies their needs" (Turnbull, 1984).

In October 1985, 88 fifteen-year-old San Francisco high school students sent Turnbull loving and admiring letters after they had read the book for their class.  Introducing the student letters, their teachers  wrote that "every year, our students react with joy and excitement as they discover the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest" (Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture – henceforth ARC - Joseph Towles collection- Colin Turnbull papers, box 4, folder 25).  The following are comments from a few of the letters.

"You have a way of writing about the Pygmies which is not only funny and entertaining, but also educational."

"The pygmies live in a dream world, somewhere that you only fantasize about living in, because their world is so peaceful and wonderful, unlike ours which is violent and full of poverty.  The most interesting parts of the book were when you described the Ituri Forest and when you described the ceremonies that take place among the pygmies like the molimo, elima, and the nkumbi.  It must have been great watching each of these rituals being performed with all the song and dance that's involved in each of them.  I wish one day to visit the pygmy camp..."

"It was truly beautiful that a person can survive with no influence from the outside world and in some ways lead better lives than if they were in society."

"The thing that I don't understand is why would you want to leave? That place is everything the United States isn't.  There is always happiness and love."

Turnbull responded on May 25, 1986.

"I will always cherish them [the letters] and re-read them many times ... they represent something very important not only to me but, I believe, to our society.  Every one of them seems to express not only a recognition that there is, somewhere in this crazy world, a 'good' society (though I hope none of your students think it is perfect!), but also a wistful longing for our own society to achieve those same human values that we share in common, but sometimes seem so unattainable....

"I think your students have the right idea.  They know goodness and beauty when they see it, and they would like to see more of it in their own lives.  Our own world is also full of goodness and beauty, but like that of the Mbuti it is not perfect.  We have much to learn from each other.  I know that my life has been made immeasurably richer by having been lucky enough to spend so many years in the Ituri."

Richard Grinker, Turnbull's biographer (see Grinker, 2000), writes that The Forest People and Wayward Servants  (the scholarly book on the Mbuti) have become "standard reading in anthropology classes all over the world" (Grinker, 1994, p. 5).

I have been one of probably hundreds of thousands of people who have loved and praised the book.  From 1971 to 2007, when I retired from teaching, I used it every time I taught a course in cultural anthropology (the only anthropology course in a sociology department).  Periodically I also used it in some sociology courses, such as introduction to sociology and community.  After we had begun discussing the book, I passed out the following summary of the book.



My observations, summary, and conclusions of

The Forest People

1.  Cooperation and sharing are fundamental to their lives.

2.  Their relationship to the forest shapes all their experiences.

3.  There are no leaders and no social classes.

4.  There is no private ownership of the land, no inheritance of it from parents to children.

5.  Thus, at birth, all children begin equal.  None of them own any land or other major property and all can learn whatever they wish from any adult in the group.

6.  Thus, there is equality, but not sameness - each Mbuti is very much a distinct individual.

7.  There is communal raising of children.

8.  There are no courts, police, and government, and the community as a whole gets involved in settling disputes.

9.  The Molimo and the Elima festivals are important.

10.  Women and men have equal status, according to Turnbull.  Why does he say this?  Do you agree?  Why are women excluded from the Molimo?  What does it mean that women "tie up" the men at the end?

11.  For many years since I first read the book in 1961 [actually 1963], I did not pay much attention to the violence described in later chapters (especially against Kenge's sister by Kenge and their mother).  A student in 1990 argued that such violence against women indicates a lower status for women.  What do you think?

12.  I was and still am moved by the book.  The Mbuti are not perfect, by any means.  But they live in relative harmony with their world, have close social relationships, and have no major social problems.  They find security and they value people, family, the forest, community, sharing - not material possessions.



These stories may indicate the pervasive and deep influence The Forest People has had over the years.  It continues to sell and be read by many people. 



B.  How this Book Came About

Before I began using The Forest People in my courses, I met Turnbull twice in the 1960s, and we exchanged letters a few times, the last time in 1971. 

I was first introduced to Turnbull when I read The Lonely African, which came out in 1962.  In 1963, I read The Forest People, which came out in 1961.  In 1963, when I was a student at Clark University in Worcester, MA, I invited Turnbull to speak to a Clark civil rights group (because of his book The Lonely African).  That speech did not happen, but in April 1964 he did speak to a cultural anthropology class I was taking (at the invitation of Philip Olson, the teacher, after my recommendation).  In a diary I was  keeping at that time, I wrote that I was disappointed not to hear much more than what was in the book.  I have two memories from that evening.  In response to a question of why he did not record any  molimo music and songs that took place in the forest, he said he tried but failed each time: the equipment did not work, or, a storm made it impossible, or, some other difficulty arose.  In response to a question how he spent his time, he said he was often at a loss of what to do with much down time in his hands.  (After reading his 1957-58 field notes four times, I see no boredom there.  Indeed, on many days he seems to be working hard to follow the Mbuti and write his notes.  Also, in some letters he wrote during that year, he seems frantic and exhausted.)

Then, in 1967, while I was a graduate student in sociology at Brandeis University, I invited Turnbull to speak to a colloquium of faculty and students.  I remember nothing from that presentation.  At the end of the day I drove to the New York City area to visit family, and I gave Turnbull a ride to his apartment in the city.  I have two memories from the four hours of talking in the car.  When I said he was English, he immediately corrected me that he was Scottish.  At another time I complained of the bumpy ride of the VW I was driving, and he said he was used to bumpy rides, which I understand now that I read his biography and field notes that refer to many bumpy rides in Africa.

When we arrived at his apartment, he introduced me to a young black man, whose name I had forgotten for years, who I assumed then, was his roommate.  It was not until sometime in the 1990s that I learned that the man was Joseph Towles, his long-time gay partner.  (For details of their relationship, see Grinker, 2000.)

I never saw Turnbull again.  In 1971 we exchanged letters twice.  In Sept. 1971 I was about to teach a course in cultural anthropology at Regis college for the first time, and looking for suggestions on books, I wrote Turnbull at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was when I saw him in 1967.  The letter was forwarded to him in the Congo, where he was with Joseph Towles.  He sent me a lovely typed reply (some of which I cite in closing this book).  I responded with an admiring and thankful six-page response, and he wrote back with a handwritten note, much of which I still cannot read.  In his papers at Avery Research Center, I found both letters I wrote.  There were no copies of his replies, so I donated both his letters to the collection, keeping copies for myself.  (See copies of the four letters in the appendix.)

I never saw or spoke with Turnbull again.  In 1986, when my daughter Melissa was 12, I decided to give her a copy of The Forest People for a present.  (I have given it as a present to some people through the years, including an imprisoned Vietnam war protester in 1970 who told me he passed it on to other prisoners.)  I wanted Turnbull to autograph it, so I sent it to him at an address I do not remember (probably George Washington University, where he had taught).  I now know from Grinker’s biography that Turnbull had left that university by then.

The Forest People continued to be very much part of my life.  In addition to using it in my courses, I used material from it in three sociology texts I wrote in 1982, 1985 (second edition 1989), and 2004 (see bibliography).  It has been an inspiration for my vision of a humane, egalitarian, and caring society.  My socialist values (see 1989, pp. 22-23) were inspired more by Turnbull than Marx.  Every year or every other year, whenever I used the book in my courses, I read his poetic and lively description of Mbuti lives.  I would tell my students that The Forest People is an example of clear, poetic, and engaging writing.  (Having read it twice again in the last six months, it is still very lyrical and engaging.)  From 1999 to 2003, when I wrote my text on families, I repeatedly turned to the book for examples of communal child rearing, family life, and other subjects.

The idea to read Turnbull’s field notes and other papers came to me in 1997 or 1998, for a sabbatical leave I was to have in Fall 1999.  At the last minute, however, I decided to write a sociology family text instead.

As I was considering retiring in 2007 and looking forward to a different life, one project I planned was a visit to the Avery Research Center in Charleston, SC where most of Turnbull's papers are (those from his last few years before he died in 1994, including two unpublished manuscripts, are at Boston University).  I had no specific goal in mind, except to see the field notes and other material that led to a book I admired and that had been an inspiration to me.  I also wanted to learn more about women's and children's lives than what is found in The Forest People. 

So on Nov. 5, 2007, I arrived at ARC to look through and read Turnbull's papers in the Joseph Towles collection.  Turnbull was with the Mbuti three times: in 1951, for which visit there are no notes in the collection; in 1954, for which there are some notes at ARC; and in 1957-58, for which there are many field notes.   I began with folder 1A in box 1, the 38 pages of field notes from Turnbull's 1954 stay with the Mbuti.  They focus primarily on the boys' initiation ceremony, the nkumbi.  In an hour or so, I came across an incident that seemed familiar.  Turnbull describes Kenge, an Mbuti youth who became his friend and assistant, dancing alone in the forest by moonlight.

"NIGHT.  Bright moonlight filtering through the trees and lighting up fairy clouds of mist hanging low over the ground....  Kenge, with a flower in his hair, wearing cloth, is dancing exceptionally; like the young antelope he is named after he is so graceful.  Gazes up at the moon as he dances, all by himself, unconscious of anything else.  Then gazes down at the ground, then left and then right"  (July 15, 1954).

That seems to be the famous scene reported in The Forest People.

“One night in particular will always live for me, because that night I think I learned just how far we civilized human beings have drifted from reality.  The moon was full, so the dancing had gone on for longer than usual.  Just before going to sleep I was standing outside my hut when I heard a curious noise from the nearby children’s bopi [playground].  That surprised me, because at nighttime the Pygmies generally never set foot outside the main camp.  I wandered over to see what it was.

“There, in the clearing, splashed with silver, was the sophisticated Kenge, clad in bark cloth, adorned with leaves, with a flower stuck in his hair.  He was all alone, dancing around and singing softly to himself as he gazed up at the treetops.

“Now Kenge was the biggest flirt for miles, so, after watching a while, I came to the clearing and asked, jokingly, why he was dancing alone.  He stopped, turned slowly around and looked at me as though I was the biggest fool he had ever seen; and he was plainly surprised by my stupidity.

“But I am not dancing alone,” he said, “I am dancing with the forest, dancing with the moon.”  Then, with the utmost unconcern, he ignored me and continued his dance of love and life” (p. 272).   

  Grinker quotes this scene on p. 3 of his biography of Turnbull.  Through the years of teaching the book, I stressed it to my students as an example of the Mbuti's connection and relation to the environment, and our alienation from it.  But the field note version is not nearly as poetic as the one in the book.  There is nothing there of Turnbull asking Kenge why he is dancing alone; and it takes place in 1954, not 1958, which the context in The Forest People implies.  (I found no similar event in the 1957-58 field notes.)

It's quite possible that Turnbull did not write down the question and answer from the event but remembered it later.  Taking liberties to change the time of the event may also not be an issue.  But it was these differences between the field notes version and The Forest People one that first alerted me to look for more differences between the field notes and the book, and began the careful and repeated reading of the field notes that led to this book.

Another event in The Forest People   but missing from the field notes is Turnbull's reaction when he first saw the molimo in the forest in the fall of 1957.  As described in the book, it was a metal drainpipe, not the traditional trumpet made from bamboo.  "I suppose I had expected an object elaborately carved..." (p. 75).  Again, he may have simply not included his disappointment in the book and remembered it later. 

These two items missing from the field notes alerted me to more discrepancies between the field notes and the book.  And, as I went on reading the field notes, I had more questions and doubts.  Here are two comments I wrote during my first reading of the field notes while at the Avery Research Center:

"Reflection while reading p. 13.  Having read his [1954] initiation notes, and some pages of this longer collection [1957-58 notes], I wonder how he wrote that poetic, moving, touching, insightful book.  These notes are mostly boring, some ... tough to focus on."  While reading p. 103, I wrote: "If I had never read FP, I would never guess what he says there from these notes.  Never."



C.  My Argument

As you will see later, in time I changed my mind to some degree.  The 1957-58 field notes include considerable information that supports much of what Turnbull wrote in The Forest People.   The Mbuti dance and sing and tell jokes often, sometimes daily.  The children play in the rain and lead happy lives.  Story telling is a main form of entertainment.  There is joy and community in their lives.

But there is also so much in the field notes missing from the book.  This information changes for me the idyllic portrait of the Mbuti found in The Forest People.  Most of the problems and conditions I found in the field notes are mentioned in the book, but only briefly and in passing, and readers simply do not notice or focus on them.  As one of the San Francisco high school students wrote, The Forest People is "funny and entertaining."  Turnbull's writing is beguiling - enchanting, charming, captivating, entertaining, diverting, and delightful (all synonyms of beguiling).

What am I saying?

Let me first make it clear what I am not saying.  Turnbull did not invent or create the Mbuti of the book.  With the exception of the two incidents I describe above, and a few others, all that is in The Forest People   is found in the field notes, much of it in great detail.

But many serious problems and conflicts that abound in the field notes are not in the book.  Those missing realities and conditions of Mbuti life in 1957-58 lead me and force me to conclude that their life is not as idyllic, carefree, and satisfying as Turnbull describes it in The Forest People.

Not necessarily in order of importance, here are the major issues I will discuss in the next four chapters.

First is the amount of time Turnbull is in the field, and how he spends it.  The book leads one to believe that he lives with the Mbuti in forest camps most of the time.  Careful analysis of his own notes shows that most of the time he lives in the village outside the forest camps.  The book contains many other misleading and untrue statements about his time with the Mbuti.

The book clearly indicates, and Turnbull wrote explicitly about it in other places, that the Mbuti live primarily by hunting and gathering.  The descriptions of their lives in the field notes show otherwise.  They spend much time living in the village outside the forest.  Even though they do hunt and gather, they depend as much, perhaps even more, on grown food: plantains, manioc, rice, and other plants, which they get in exchange for meat, buy with money, or steal from the villagers' plantations.

The Forest People takes place mostly in forest camps.  A close examination of the field notes, which I read four times, shows that much time is spent in the villages of non-Mbuti people living next to the forest.  Indeed, even when they are in forest camps, they often go to the village to get food and on other errands

In The Forest People, Turnbull mentions the use of money in passing.  But his field notes show that the Mbuti very much partake in a money economy, and money is mentioned in the field notes for most days.  They often go hunting to get meat to sell to villagers and Europeans.  They give money for wedding presents and use it in many contexts.

There is more violence in their lives than the book indicates.  That includes violence of men against women, some against children, and some between men.  Generally, there are more conflicts and arguments, which reveal considerable tension in their lives.

The most upsetting revelation from the field notes is the persecution of Sau, an older woman accused of being a witch.  Even though at times she is allowed to live with the group, far too often she is excluded, banished, accused, persecuted, and sometimes beaten.  Turnbull mentions her in The Forest People, but only in passing and almost jokingly.  But reading the many entries of mistreatment and accusations is very sobering.  They do not show an idyllic place.  In chapter 4, I will present extensive data from the field notes to support my disagreement with Turnbull's version of Sau's life in the book.

In short, in The Forest People Turnbull understates the seriousness of some conditions prevalent in Mbuti lives, conditions prevalent in his own field notes.  He omits and changes some other events and conditions.  These realities found in the field notes modify his account of the Mbuti in the book, but they do not negate their love of the forest, their attachment to it, their frequent dancing, singing, and joking.  They are children of the forest.  But they are also troubled by conflicts and violence; they are no longer a gathering and hunting society.  The Forest People   leaves people thinking "that a people can survive with no influence from the outside world," as a San Francisco high student wrote to Turnbull in 1985.  Turnbull's field notes show otherwise.  In the late 1950s, the Mbuti are struggling to keep their gathering and hunting traditions and economy, but only with partial success. 



























Chapter 2 - On Turnbull's Field Notes



We are fortunate that Turnbull left his field notes and much other material for others to read. 

The material relevant to The Forest People   is found in three boxes at the Avery Research Center.  Almost all of it is in box 1, which has 39 folders.  The major source is the 1957-58 field notes in box 1, folder 1a.  The rest of the box has extracts from Anne Putnam's notes and from Patrick Putnam's writings and notes; many topic folders (Elima, Molimo, sex, camp, and others), which are cut and pasted from copies of the field notes in folder 1a; some unpublished papers, including his 1956 paper for the diploma from Magdalene College; and various other folders.  Box 2 has three folders (3-5) of correspondence from and to various people from 1957 to 1959.  And finally, in box 4, folder 25, I found 88 letters from high school students praising The Forest People, sent to Turnbull in Oct. 1985, and his May 1986 response.

I open this chapter with a few observations on and explanations of the 1954 and 1957-58 field notes, primarily the latter.

NOTE: all references to the 1957-58 field notes will use page numbers and dates of the set; 1957-58 will be implied.



A.  Contents of the Field Notes

At ARC, the folder with the 1954 field notes (box 1, folder 1) is entitled "1954 Pygmy field notes; Elima, and Nkumbi circumcision ritual."  It contains 38 pages, arranged somewhat out of chronological order.  There are entries for 51 days from July 1 to August 22 (some days are missing), and five entries for Sept. 11 to 15.  Also, there are a few undated entries.  They vary from five lines for some days to two pages for a few others.  Most entries are about a page.  Most pages are devoted to the Nkumbi initiation that Turnbull observed closely by living with the young boys as they went through the ritual.  They contain little material that I use in this book (but Turnbull uses much of it in the book).

Folder 1a is entitled "BaMbuti ethnographic field notes, pages numbered 1-442.  Dates: Oct. 15, 1957 - Aug. 23, 1958."  It's unclear who paginated the notes.  Page numbers 1-238 are handwritten, the rest are typed.  But even though the folder cover has a last date of Aug. 23, there are later entries.  Pp. 420-25 are dated "Aug. 18-23/58;" p. 425 also has a date of Sept. 17, followed by entries for Sept. 20 (426), Oct. 26 (427), Sept. 20-Oct. 20 (432), and Oct. 1, 3, and 4 (434), in that sequence. 

After p. 442 there are 16 more pages of undated and non-paginated notes, with the exception of the first two pages that are entitled "Essumba" with a May 26, 1958 date.

The 1957-58 notes have no entries for some days; some entries are out of chronological sequence; and on pages 69-74 both Thursday and Friday are noted as Nov. 29, and there are some other inconsistencies and confusions. The entries vary from one line (2-3 of them), some of five lines, and some of five pages.  Most are about a page or two.

I read the notes four times.  The first time I read every page, and the second, third, and fourth I skipped the pages of notes (for example, pp. 262-309) on the two (possibly three) month-long trips Turnbull took to see neighboring groups, away from the group presented in the book.  During the second, third, and fourth readings I also scanned some pages whose contents were obvious from the first reading.

Many notes are difficult to focus on.  They are tedious, detailed descriptions of who was present at various events, who came and went, dancing, and so on (see below for examples).  Thus, it's quite possible that I missed some items that would be relevant to some of the issues I discuss here.  Other readers may well find such items, and even more, and they may notice issues I missed.

Single-spaced, the notes were typed on thin paper, commonly called onionskin in those days.  In places the print is weak, and in a few others almost unreadable, as the ribbon may have worn off before it was replaced.

Turnbull never explains his note taking and note typing.  Much of it reads as if notes were being taken while the action was going on or very soon after.  He describes actions, people's decorations, arguments, and so on in great detail.  He could have done so only if he took notes on the spot.  (See discussion on observer effects, below.)  Some notes he took as others related events to him.  He writes that he took notes from Anne Putnam "as she relates it."  We find a clue on his note taking in Anne Putnam's notes.  She wrote that when Turnbull and she were observing at the same time and place, he "kept going into the house and taking notes all along the line while I waited till hours later to jot down things" (Anne Putnam notes, ARC, box 1, folder 2b, p. 102, Feb. 4, 1958).

One of the difficulties of reading the field notes is that most of the names that appear there do not appear in the book, and most book names are not in the field notes.  A few names appear in both, primarily Kenge, Moke, and Sau.  Faizi, who appears often in the field notes, is Njobo in The Forest People.  The Mbuti must have had different names in different social contexts, and Turnbull must have used names from one context in the field notes, and from another in the book.  (On July 24, 2008, after the four readings of the field notes, I accidentally discovered a list of names in Anne Putnam’s copy of The Forest People, giving people’s names in the book and their names in the field notes.  It’s written in pencil, on the page before the back cover of the book.  See appendix.)

Another problem I face is that Turnbull uses many words and phrases, and some sentences, from the language the Mbuti use without translating them.  Eventually I learned the meaning of some of them, from glossaries in The Forest People, Wayward Servants, and The Mbuti Pygmies.   Others became clear from their contexts.  Many I never learned.  Thus, it's possible, or even likely, that I missed some things.

In many places in the notes, Turnbull writes the exact time of events, especially when he describes activities such as dancing.  For example, one day he notes the times of 5:30, 6:45, 7:05, 7:06, 7:10, 7:17, 7:19, 7:22, 7:24, all in the a.m., as he describes people's movements and actions (pp. 148-49, Dec. 28).  In longer intervals, notes of the passage of time are found in most entries.  I was surprised by Turnbull's time consciousness.  He also observes "Pygmies can always tell the time within fifteen minutes (I set my watch by their estimation of mid-day when we came here [at camp Lelo], and have kept it there ever since) during the day time.  At night they may be one or two hours off" (p. 82, Dec. 3).  Reading The Forest People   would not lead one to suspect such focus on the passage of western time.

Most notes are detailed descriptions of:

-- Dancing: how they dance, and who is and is not present.

-- Singing: who is singing and the songs they sing.

-- Who is present at various events.

-- Arguments: reasons for and participants.

-- How they make and use nets for hunting.

-- Children playing and women working.

-- The Molimo, the Elima, the Nkumbi and other activities.

A few passages may give a flavor of the notes.

Turnbull describes a dance that takes place in the village:

"At 5 p.m. the singing starts again with a full baraza, the women continuing their ordinary work, some still making grass skirts.  Then Mukabasi get a hyrax skin from one of the baskets and holding it in front of him leads a dance around the baraza.  In his other hand he has a stick.  The drummers get up and join him….  The dance goes around the baraza getting more excited and drawing more men from the baraza - then it goes down to Andakala's end of the village and by the time it gets back nearly all the men have joined, certainly all the young ones.  Also by the time it gets back the women have come up to one of the baraza posts and grabbed - and been given - ndizi [plantains].  They then approach the men and pretend to push the bananas up the men's backsides.  The men continue advancing to the other (road) end of the village, by which time all the women are in the dance, and force the men slowly back to Andakala's end, sex gestures going on everywhere.  At the end there is violent sex dancing, and then the men advance on the women.  By this time a large crowd of negroes [villagers] has gathered at the road end and is watching" (p. 37, Nov. 13).

In the next passage, the Mbuti and Turnbull have moved to a forest camp.  The passage describes some aspects of daily life there.

"6.30 Rain falls moderate - to light; people stay out chatting, [the molimo] horn is heard trumpeting, comes close but nobody pays any attention.  Hunting cries.  Women go inside....  The Essumba [molimo] group sits about the fire for half hour more, talking about the Okapi, the hunt, and anything else of immediate interest, then breaks up.  No singing at all.  Someone called to Mukabasi, but he said he was not coming out in the rain, he would sing in his hut, and he did, quietly to himself, for a couple of hours.  In other huts people just talked and told stories" (p. 57, Nov. 22).

Net hunting is prominent in The Forest People, and also in the field notes.  Turnbull describes the making, preparation, and use of the nets in many places.  Here is an example from the notes.

"The nets are spread out on the ground, then steps are retraced to hook the nets on branches that are bent back to break their strength ... and fasten securely to the preceding net.  Some do this casually; others do a machine stitch holding the two nets tightly together, but easily separated.  A good net hunter when retracing his steps will not have any twists in his net.  A net section is as long as can be made with any one batch of vine available, made as above, added to one end of the net, usually about 5' long.  Nets seem to be anything up to 100 yards long.  Takes long time to stretch all nets there are so many.  Everyone says this is a good thing.  Women pass by at 10.05, when nets are just about set....  First cries heard at 10.10.  Clapping tells what animals are seen - makale or harmless.  Hunting cries sound very unenthusiastic to start with, but warm up as they get nearer.  Seem to pass by going west; stop twice, dead silence broken by voices which seem to shout instructions to change the direction of the beat" (p. 72, Nov. 25).

The following is a description from the field notes of who sits with whom during a molimo, and is typical of groups of men sitting together.  (It is of the molimo described in The Forest People.)

"Take sits with the Andre group, but nobody seems to be talking to him, at the Fazi ya Essumba.  With him are the two Andakalas, Ageronga, and two kids.  At my fire are Andre, Maipe, Mausa, Kelemoke, Asuku, Kenge.  At Faizi's fire are Faizi and his and Asuku's family.  At Moke's are Moke, Sale, two Capitas [chiefs], Makelele, Alafu, Masumongo, Alufani, Pangia.  Betuli is often with him, but just as often at his own fire with his family.  Masalito Take is usually there.  This is the usual set up.  Njelu is usually by himself with Batuli (their huts ajoin), sometimes he comes over to Maipe's hut.  Maipe and Mausa are usually at Maipe's fire; Ausa is usually in front of his own house, but that is practically the Fazi ya Essumba" (p. 78, Dec. 1).

The notes include descriptions of how the Mbuti make various objects.  This one is of making honey whistles.

"TOANGBE is a small tree whose branches are use to make honey whistle.  A six-8 inch section is cut off, the bark peeled off half way down, the upper end bored for an inch or so, then smeared with nkula [red powder made from the nkula tree].  When blown in the honey season it attracts the bees.  Avion is apparently the expert, he shows me the tree secretively, and cuts a piece.  Kenge carefully wraps this in a leaf and carries it into camp.  There it is opened wide for anyone to see and Avion carves it openly" (p. 244, Mar. 15).

On June 30, Turnbull devotes two pages, 100 lines of typing, to a detailed description of a honey dance.  Here are some excerpts.

"Amabosu seems to lead the men dashing about with a marked limping step which is imitated by some of the others and by children.  He holds a spear and has white pembe smeared on his face.  Mrs. Salumini, holding a smoldering ember, leads the women in a separate line.  The men, such as Isa, pretend to be chopping honey from a tree, smacking their foreheads as though they were being stung by bees (rhythmically).  The other women have knives.  They creep up on the men with a stealthy dance step, and the men chase them....  The dance goes on for fifteen minutes or so…

"Soon the drumming began again, a varying number of drummers standing around the tree stump, all beating on the two drums....  The women started dancing in a line again, opposed to the men.  The men were imitating, it seems, the honey gatherers, the real live pygmies.  They imitated the search - looking up and pointing in dramatic style; following the flight of bees with their eyes, listening to the sound; then the cutting of the tree, the taking out of honey, throwing it to those below and eating it” (p. 371, June 30).

Passages cited throughout the rest of this book will show in greater detail the contents of the field notes.

Generally, the field notes focus much more on men's than women's lives and activities.  Turnbull writes more, and longer, observations on men.  Here are two on women.

"Women pound rice in small mortars either squatting or sitting on log or pygmy chair.  Hold mortars between knees or feet" (p. 142, Dec. 26).  Later that day he writes:  "A number of women brought in firewood this afternoon, but there is still only a small fire" (p. 144).  These observations are two lines each.  Descriptions of men singing and dancing during the molimo, men making nets, and men's actions and movements are many times longer.  For example, just above, on pp. 143-44, there are three paragraphs, totaling 34 lines, describing a group of men talking and arguing.

Sex, lovemaking, and affairs are mentioned throughout the field notes but get only passing reference in The Forest People.  (For example, see pp. 197 and 245 of the field notes.  For some affairs Kenge had, see pp. 168, 223, 245, 246, 362.)  In a letter to Evans Pritchard, his dissertation advisor, Turnbull writes:  "And I confess I find the pygmie's tremendous enthusiasm for sex in any shape or form is difficult to cope with.  It will be even more difficult to write about!...[but[ can hardly be avoided" (Dec. 21, 1957; ARC, box 2, folder 3).  But it was largely avoided in The Forest People.

For some periods of field notes - April 1958, July 7-27, 1958, and probably some other times, since I cannot always determine where Turnbull is for many entries - Turnbull travels away from the Mbuti group that is the focus of The Forest People  (the group he calls "our pygmies" throughout the field notes).  He visits other Pygmy groups and other villages to compare their lives and conditions to "our group."

The field notes include some observations I find puzzling.  The most notable one is Turnbull's discussion of Mbuti "rationality."  After he describes how he and his friend Newton Beal (see below) make crutches so that Elizabethi, a crippled ten-year-old girl, can walk and move about, he writes that the "idea of crutches seemed a surprise" to the Mbuti.  "Pounding creases in bark cloth is another puzzle concerning rationality of pygmies.  They can see that the bark cloth gets holes where it is pounded along the crease, yet they carefully fold it again and again and hammer the creases.  And it is unnecessary.  They seem oddly stupid or unreasoning in ways they have plenty of opportunity to develop.  Or DO THEY ONLY DEVELOP BY IMITATION?  WITHIN LIMITS OF EXPERIENCE?  i.e. NOT RATIONAL?  So having never seen anything like crutches can not think of the possibility.  No new ideas, imagination, therefore stagnation.  Original ideas there obviously have been.  Probably bark cloth, unless that too was copied.  But that could have been seen in thin pieces of fallen or rotten bark.  But the hammering of it can hardly be an imitation, unless of Bantu?" (p. 366, June 13).

I cite this passage, in its entirety, to give a flavor of the variety of observations and reflections found in the field notes, many missing from the book.  What does it mean?  What does it say about what Turnbull thinks of their intelligence?



B.  Turnbull's Time in the Field with the Mbuti

In The Forest People, Turnbull gives two impressions:

a.  That he lived with the Mbuti for a total of about three years.

b. That much of that time was spent in long, uninterrupted stays in camps in the Ituri forest.

Both are misleading.  (A) is very exaggerated, and (b) is untrue.

First, let me emphasize that it has been very difficult to determine where and for how long Turnbull is at all times.  The following discussion is my best effort, after four readings of the field notes, to understand the length and nature of Turnbull’s stay with the Mbuti.  There may be some mistakes and some items I missed.  But as a whole I think it is an accurate account.  (Some more details are found in chapter 5 here.)

There are no notes or any other information at ARC about Turnbull's 1951 visit to Camp Putnam and the Ituri forest.  According to Turnbull's biographer, it is a two-month stay (Grinker, 2000, p. 73).  Joan Mark, in her biography of Patrick Putnam (who introduced Turnbull to the Mbuti), refers to a 120-page outline of this trip that Turnbull wrote and sent to Pat Putnam, which she found in Putnam's collection at Houghton Library, Harvard University.  As of July 2008, the staff and I have been unable to find it again.  (See Mark, 1995, pp. 208-209.)

According to Grinker, Turnbull's 1954 stay lasts five months (Grinker, 2000, p. 90).  The 1954 field notes at ARC cover 2.5 months, from July 1 to Sept. 15.

For his longest stay, the field notes have entries from Oct. 15, 1957, to Oct. 26, 1958.  Grinker has that trip begin in Sept. 1957, when Turnbull and Newton Beal (a close friend; see below) arrive in the area.  Thus, the total of his three stays varies from a possible maximum of 20 months, using the longer periods (two months, five months, and thirteen months), to 16.5 months (2 months, 2.5 months, and 12 months).  Included in these times are periods during which Turnbull is not with the group described in The Forest People   (see chronology below).

Following is a detailed outline of Turnbull's 1957-58 stays in the village near the forest, in forest camps in the Ituri, and visits to other pygmy and other villager groups.

Grinker writes that Turnbull arrived in the area in Sept. 1957, with no exact date given (Grinker, 2000, p. 102).  The field notes, however, begin on Oct. 15, 1957, and end with a date of Oct. 26, 1958 (it's very unclear where he is on that last date) (ARC, Colin Turnbull collection, box 1, folder 1a).   There are days with no entries, and the notes often do not indicate where Turnbull is on that day.  I had to make certain assumptions from preceding and following days.  To make sense of the outline, I am grouping entries by periods that make sense to me.  They are my divisions, not Turnbull’s.



1.  October 15 - November 18, 1957

During this period, Turnbull and "our pygmies" are staying in a village next to the forest.  But for three days, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, he and some Mbuti from the group take a trip to a forest camp of Kaweke, a villager who lives and fishes in the forest.  (For an account of that trip, see pp. 177-183 of The Forest People.)



2.  November 18 - December 15, 1957 - Camp Lelo

On Nov. 18, most of the group and Turnbull move to camp Lelo in the forest, where the most moving and poetic passages found in The Forest People   seem to take place (see especially chapters 2 and 3 of the book).  But during that period both Turnbull and the Mbuti take trips to the village and other places.

On Nov. 20, just two days after they set up the forest camp, Salumini goes to the village and "is back and has added another bunch of ndizi [plantains]  (he was down to the village with one other today....)" (p. 51).

On Nov. 23, five days after they move to camp Lelo, Turnbull writes: "Leave for village at 1 p.m." (p. 58).  He returns to the forest next day at 3 p.m. (p. 59).  Some days after that return to the forest he goes to the village again (I did not find the date for this trip to the village) and on Dec. 9 writes "back to the village in the rain" (p. 98).  On Dec. 12, three days later, he leaves the forest at 6:30 a.m. and arrives at the village at 8:15 a.m. (p. 104).



3.  December 15 - December 28, 1957 - Camp Mahoko

It seems that Turnbull stays in the village until Dec. 15, when he rejoins his group that moves to another forest camp, Mahoko.  On Dec. 18 he takes a day trip back to camp Lelo (p. 112).  On Dec. 22, "I leave camp at 6.45 [a.m.] for the village.  Andre comes as well" (p. 128).  He does not say when he returns to the forest, but on Dec. 24, we read, "hunt is off shortly after seven [a.m.], then I leave for village" (p. 139).  Next morning, Dec. 25, "back to hunting camp after early lunch" (p. 140).  This forest camp ends on Dec. 28 when Turnbull and everyone return to the village.  "Camp starts striking at 6.45 after quick breakfasts."  At 8:50 he arrives at the village  (pp. 148-149).  There is no explanation why the group returns to the village.

Thus, for forty days, "our pygmies" live in two forest camps. Turnbull is with them most of the time, but he takes at least five trips to the village.  Many Mbuti also go to the village to shop and for other reasons during this period.  (For more details on Mbuti trips to the village, see chapter 5 below.)



4.  December 28, 1957- May 22, 1958

Except for periodic visits, during these five months Turnbull does not seem to live in a forest camp.  Various groups of the Mbuti band do, and it is these groups Turnbull visits in the forest (see details below).  Also, Turnbull, with Kenge going along, is away for the month of April, visiting other groups of pygmies and villagers outside the area of the Mbuti group he lives with in forest and village camps.

On Jan. 13, he visits nearby villages and stops "for lunch in the village of relative of Alili" (p. 178).  Next day, he is "sitting at bar in Nia Nia hotel."  During the next few days, he is driving through other areas, collecting information on other pygmy groups (pp. 179ff).  I cannot find out in the notes when he returns to the village of his group from this trip.  But on Jan. 22 he writes "return to C.P. [Camp Putnam] mid-morning," so by then he has returned to the village (p. 190).  He must still be in the village on Feb. 4, when he writes, "As soon as we arrive back at C.P. about 11 a.m..." (p. 216).  On Feb. 6 he is still in the village, as he notes. "There is a little meat coming in from the small group out at Lelo" in the forest.  Later that same day he says that there 14 men are in the forest, while the rest stay in the village (pp. 221-22).

On Feb. 11, some more men move to the forest, and some others join them in the next few days (pp. 225-29).  Twelve days later, Feb. 23, all but ten Mbuti from the group leave for the forest.  Apparently, Turnbull remains in the village (p. 231).  He is still there on March 2 when he writes "In from the woods today are" three people, and adds that there are six "non-forest men" (p. 233).  On March 8 and 9, Anne Putnam sends Turnbull news of a forest camp.  So on those days Turnbull and some Mbuti are still in the village, whereas other Mbuti are in two forest camps (p. 241).

On March 14, he leaves the village "for short visit" to one of the forest camps (p. 242).  He returns to the village next day, as he writes these observations about the village: "back in village the ruins of Sau's (Abeli's) house is used for firewood for cooking" (p. 245).  Apparently still in the village, he writes on March 19 that "some hunters are in from the forest and are staying overnight" (p. 248).  Obviously, many (most?) Mbuti are out in the woods, hunting, while Turnbull and some other Mbuti are in the village.

Two days later, March 21, Turnbull is still in the village, as he writes: " Moke and Andre are now saying they want to go to the forest - they are thoroughly fed up with the village" (p. 249).  While on March 23, "Lots of pygmies are in from the forest, back at C.P. [Camp Putnam, which is near or part of the village]" (p. 253).  And two days later, "Woman arrives from forest with basket on her back" (p. 256).  Finally, on March 26 in the morning, "All pygmies return to the forest" (p. 258).  Apparently, however, Turnbull stayed in the village, for two days later he says "Lots of pygmies in from forest today" (p. 259). 

Then on March 30 Turnbull and Kenge leave for a month-long trip to neighboring groups of Mbuti and villages.  "Leave Epulu 12 noon for Bafwako" (p. 262).  The notes on pp. 262-308 (March 30 to May 1) relate to these other groups.

In The Forest People, Turnbull seriously misrepresents the timing of the start of that trip.  As he is ready to leave on March 30, he says "I had been with the one hunting group for a year..." (p. 231).  Assuming that he arrives in mid-September, the time Grinker gives in the biography, from then to the end of March is only 6.5 months, not a year.  It's only 5.5 months if we start when the field notes do, October 15, to March 30.  Why does Turnbull exaggerate his stay with the Mbuti?  To indicate that he spends more time with the group than he actually does?  What implications does this misrepresentation have for our assessment of The Forest People?

He returns on May 1, and writes that his friend Newton (see below) "reports that while I was away he was out at Apa [camp] Kadiketu" in the forest, where some Mbuti are making preparations for the honey season (p. 309).  There are no notes for May 2-5, and only three lines on May 6.  On May 12 he takes an injured man to a nearby hospital, with Newton, Kenge, and others (p. 312).  He is away from the village for five days and returns on May 17, and says that "The pygmies are all at Apatoangbe" in the forest for the honey season.  But apparently not all are in that camp, some are in another one.  "Partly because of honey trees, lots [of Mbuti are] around Kadiketu" (p. 319).  Turnbull himself is still in the village.  He writes:  "The majority are already off at [camp] Toangbe, it is only the Sale/Andre group here" (p. 320).



5.  May 22 - July 7, 1958

On May 22, Turnbull moves to a forest camp where one segment of the Mbuti group he has been living with is.  "I join the rest at [camp] Kadi Ketu.  Kenge had gone in advance, with great eagerness" (another group is at camp Toangbe) (p. 323).  Then on May 28, six days later, he moves back to the village for two days.  "Start striking camp early, all ready to move by 7 a.m., I leave before for village, say I'll follow on Friday," May 30 (p. 335).  According to some notes at the end of the field notes folder, Turnbull is in Bafwako May 28-30.

Back to another forest camp May 30.  "Pygmies in early to collect Newton and myself, say camp is good, is ready, our houses built.  We leave after early lunch" (p. 336).  The very next day "I leave with Sefu to visit his camp, an hour away to the west-north" (p. 338).  During this period, the Mbuti seem to be camping in the forest for the honey season in three different groups (p. 349).

During the period from May 30, when Turnbull joins a camp in the forest, to June 30, he is in the forest on many days.  There is much traveling between camps, to the village, to a place called Bunia from where he returns on June 16, and so on (p. 368).  Short of dedicating months to research his movements and the geography of the area, for this period (and other periods) I cannot determine where Turnbull is on most days.  At least some days he is in forest camps, and some in the village.  There are no entries for June 23 and 24, and June 26-29. 

In mid-June he is in a forest camp, which he says is his last forest camp (The Forest People, p. 266).  We know it's at least June 13 because he reports in the field notes that on that day he and Newton make crutches for a girl in a forest camp (p. 364), which is reported in the book right after the statement above.

Then on June 30, Turnbull goes "to Kadiketu where the Salumini-Moke-Ekianga group have camped" (p. 371).  He apparently stays there for a few days.  (If so, then his statement about his last forest camp on p. 266 of the book is wrong.)  The field notes then become confusing.  There are entries for June 30, July 1 to 4, July 8, July 9, July 12, and July 6, on pp. 371-387.  On p. 387 appears an entry entitled "July 7th-27th" that goes through p. 389, with notes on Initiation, Sex Relations, Pythons, Anyata, and other matters.  Nothing indicates where he is all this time.



6.  July 28 - October 26, 1958

If we are to believe the field notes and the book, Turnbull does not stay in any forest camp during these three months, with the possible exception of short visits.  He is in a village or traveling.  For much of his time in the village an nkumbi (boys’ initiation) is taking place.

On July 29 he writes: "Sefu has gone back to the woods, so have a number of our pygmies" (p. 392).  Turnbull himself is off to another trip Aug. 4: "Lese hospitality.  With Kenge I arrive at Nduye in the late afternoon" (p. 397).  Aug. 5 he is visiting other groups of pygmies, and continues to do so for some days, until Aug. 15 at least.  On p. 419, there are brief entries for Aug. 16, 17, and 18, with no indication where he is.  Then on p. 420 there is an entry for "Aug. 18-23/58" with notes on various topics, "reflections," Anyota, initiation, and so on.  It ends on p. 425, where also the next entry appears, for Sept. 17.  What happens between Aug. 24 and Sept. 17? 

There are brief entries for Sept. 17, 18, and 20 (pp. 425-26).  At the bottom of p. 426 he writes: "Am away for a month at Bukavu: see note following later."  The next entry; on p. 427, is dated "Sunday Oct. 26th. 1958."  It is the latest date anywhere in the notes.  Pages 432-33 have notes dated "Sept. 20-Oct. 20 '58."  On pages 434-35 we find entries for Oct. 1, 2, 4, and 5, apparently about groups other than "our pygmies."  It seems confusing, and I don't know who paginated and organized the notes, but that is what they say.

Thus, for this long period of three months, Turnbull is not in any forest camp, and for most of it he seems to be away from the village where the Mbuti group lives.




This detailed outline of Turnbull's whereabouts is tedious and long.  I undertook it to explain and justify my suspicions that he overstates and misrepresents his time with the Mbuti.  It may also convince readers of my conclusions.

In summary, the total time in the field, in various contexts, is 12 months, from Oct. 15, 1957 to Oct. 26, 1958.  Some of that time is unaccounted for.  For these twelve months when Turnbull is in the field, he spends at most nine months with the Mbuti group he calls "our pygmies."  Of those months, about three are spend in forest camps, but even during these camps he often visits the village and makes other trips, as we see above.  Actual days in the forest may be fewer than 90.  Finally, he devotes about three months to traveling to carry out research on neighboring Pygmy groups and villagers, and probably also for relaxation and other reasons.

What does Turnbull say in The Forest People and other writings about the length of time he is with the Mbuti?  In The Forest People, he writes that he "spent most of my time with them away from Negro [villager] influence" (p. 20).  This cannot be so, for he is with the Mbuti group in forest camps, away from the villagers, for at most three months of the 1957-58 stay.  Without access to any field notes or other evidence, I cannot tell about 1951.  The 1954 nkumbi takes place in the village.  Thus, it cannot be true that most of his time with the Mbuti is away from villagers.

He says that camp Lelo lasts a month (The Forest People, pp. 22, 87).  According to the notes, it lasts 28 days, which is about a month, but for some of that time he is back in the village.

Most tellingly, he writes: "I had been with the one hunting group for a year, moving about the forest with them, coming in on their trips to the village, returning with them to their hunting camps" in the forest (The Forest People, p. 231).  First, as we saw above, it has been only about six months, not a year, when he takes the April 1958 trip.  Second, it is at most nine months that he lives with the group, with at least three months away on trips.  Third, he does not always move about the forest with them.  Indeed, he is more often in the village than in the forest camps of the Mbuti (where they are in one, two, or three groupings at various times).  Fourth, he often takes trips to the village by himself while staying in forest camps (and the Mbuti also take many trips to the village, as we shall see in chapter 5).  And fifth, he often does not return to the hunting camps with them.

Turnbull also exaggerates his time with the Mbuti group when he writes in Wayward Servants  (1965), the more scholarly publication of the material found in The Forest People, that he followed one band "living in every camp it established during the course of some fourteen months" (p. 9).  The evidence from the field notes shows that this cannot possibly be so.

He exaggerates even more when he tells an interviewer in 1984 that he lived with the Mbuti "in intimate circumstances in a small village for two years" (1984, p. 55).  The total time of all three visits is at most 20 months, and for at least three, probably more, he is not with the group.

According to Grinker, "Well before he would return to the Ituri forest in 1970, he claimed, and his book jackets claimed," that he lived with the pygmies for three years (2000, p. 108).  That's what I had thought for years, though I can't remember why I did.  Perhaps it did come from the book jacket of The Forest People, which does say that Turnbull "lived among them [Mbuti] for three years."  The book jacket to Wayward Servants, however, refers to a year.  "The author of this book lived among a band of net-hunting pygmies for about a year" (I assume referring only to his 1957-58 field work).

Does it matter that Turnbull did not study the Mbuti as long as he says?  Or that he only lived about three months in forest camps?  Or that he took long trips away from the group?  Why did he mislead, exaggerate, and misrepresent his field experience?  Whatever his reasons, do they change the findings in The Forest People?

I will show in chapters 4 and 5 that there are more serious problems with The Forest People, far more serious than the misrepresentation of Turnbull's time and activities in the field.  In the late 1950s, the Mbuti are no longer the gathering and hunting people Turnbull presents in the book.  Also, there are severe and deep conflicts, there is violence against women, and there is the very troubling persecution of a "witch."  Conditions are not as idyllic as the book tells us.



C.  Observer Effects and Biases

In Wayward Servants, Turnbull explains in some detail how he lived with the Mbuti.  The following paragraph gives a flavor of his life with them.

"Integration [into the Mbuti society] demanded a number of things, one of which was that I should at all times be as fully mobile as any Mbuti.  This cut down on belongings that I could carry with me; a blanket, a single change of clothes, a typewriter, paper and pencils.  With a bundle of this size on my back I was able to travel as fast as was necessary whenever the band moved from one camp to another.  It meant that I was economically dependent upon the band, however, so some kind of equilibrium had to be reached.  I was not successful as a hunter, being too large and clumsy, and I did not carry a gun nor did I wish to acquire food in this way.  When within easy reach of the village, then, I would acquire supplies of village foods, such as plantains, beans, rice and peanuts, at the same time the Mbuti got their supplies.  Instead of barter or theft I used currency, but bought only comparable quantities of exactly the same food as the Mbuti...." He thinks that living as much as possible as they did, he was accepted by them  (1965, pp. 11-12).

His identification with the Mbuti band is partly indicated by his repeated reference in the field notes to "our pygmies."  Talking about a dance in the village, he writes:  "All our ps., male and female, are there" (p. 192, Jan. 25).  Even more revealing is the following observation during the trip he takes with Kenge in April 1958:  "Last night Kenge heard singing from the sultani's village and said that the pygmies were dancing and singing.  Asked if it was the same as our dancing and singing he said 'no - yes - the sound is the same but the language is different' " (p. 268; April 6).  A few days later during that trip he writes: "On the trail I heard similar sounding shouts to our pygmy trail shouts" (p. 278, undated).  References to "our pygmies" are sprinkled throughout the field notes.

The opposite of his identification with the Mbuti was his apparent dislike of the Bantu villagers.  Throughout The Forest People he shares the Mbuti view of them as gullible, he includes long Mbuti stories of the Mbuti manipulating the villagers, and so on.  He allies himself with the Mbuti in their disputes with the villagers.  He thinks there was no choice, if he wanted to study the Mbuti: "I was quickly forced by purely practical considerations to take sides" (1965, p. 10).  Anne Putnam (see below) writes the following in her copy of The Forest People:  "Colin is surely anti-Bantu". 

Despite his identification with, admiration of, and love for the Mbuti, Turnbull could not escape the political context of his fieldwork.  The Congo of the 1950s is a European colony, the Belgian Congo.  Europeans control and exploit the land and the people.  They have the power to make life and death decisions.  Besides being considerably taller than the Mbuti, Turnbull is a European white man.  He has money, a car, connections, acceptance, all things they do not have.  They cater to him (see below), and at times he feels empowered to intervene in their lives to settle disputes and make other decisions.  For example, one time an Mbuti tries to sell secretly some meat to a villager.  When Turnbull discovers this, "I tell Salumini he has done bad to get so much meat [to sell for himself] and not giving any to his relatives, so that I am taking all this to divide between Masisi and Sefu.  He seems to think that quite fair" (p. 340, June 1). 

In many ways, the Mbuti band acts to accommodate Turnbull and his needs and desires.  The 1954 Nkumbi, which has only Mbuti and no villager boys, had been scheduled for February, but at Anne Putnam's request, it is moved to July so that Turnbull can observe it (1954 field notes, p. 8).

The Mbuti often work for Turnbull.  "Work in the morning was on my house, finishing the mudding, and preparing for the afternoon's furahi.  This started just after mid-day with the men of the Lusumba [molimo] sitting in my baraza singing, with three drums" (p. 45, Nov. 7).

As they are building his house in the village, they are also considering when to move to the forest for a molimo (described in chapters 2, 3, and 4 of the book).  But they want to also accommodate him.  "I said that he should not think about [finishing] my house - he could leave it as it was and go off anytime he wanted.  He said, no, there is no hurry, we'll finish your house definitely, you sleep there two nights and then we'll go.  And you'll see things in the forest you won't see here.  It is good in the forest.  We like it there but we don't want you to get tired of it, say when you are tired.  We want to stay a long time though.  It is good there" (p. 27, Nov. 10).

Thus, his presence affects what the Mbuti do.  Here is another example.  Early in his stay, Turnbull accompanies a group of Mbuti who visit a villager they like who has a fishing camp in the forest.  After a few days, "they talk of returning [to the village] on Sunday.  Would [they] stay longer if I was?"  (p. 18, Oct. 31). 

Even more revealing may be the evening when a group goes on singing because Turnbull is there.  After a long night of singing, "everything was dying down by 11.30, and only a handful were left, and Moke asked how long we were staying, suggesting that everyone wanted to pack up but were keeping on just as long as we were there we left" (p. 33, Nov. 11; dots in the original).  One wonders how often Turnbull affects what people did by his presence.

Perhaps the most serious example of observer effects concerns the molimo, the central event in The Forest People.   Anne Putnam thinks that the Mbuti stretch the molimo to three months for his benefit (see molimo discussion in chapter 3).  She writes in her copy of the book that the molimo lasts no longer than a month, and the Mbuti were "stringing [Turnbull] along" (p. 159; Anne Putnam collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University, folder 225).  Thus, the Mbuti desire to please, or to exploit (or both), Turnbull shapes what they do for three long months.  The molimo is clearly stretched out, whatever the reasons, for the Mbuti often consider and discuss ending it long before the three months.  (See molimo discussion in chapter 3.)

Turnbull's constant note taking also affects and possibly interferes with Mbuti lives.  At least some notes he takes in their presence, on the spot as events happen.  (For two examples, see pp. 148 and 174-77.)  They become aware of his note taking early.  As the Mbuti are rushing to finish his house before it rains, "Salumini is running about from one side [of the house] to the other saying 'And he's going to write here, and he's going to write there....'; others like old Sale come to inspect it and chuckle their approval.  Fortunately the idea of 'writing' appeals to them because they are used to Pat [Putnam] doing it all the time, and they associate it with good results rather than anything else" (p. 35; Nov. 12).  On Dec. 21, 1957, Turnbull writes Evans Pritchard (one of his teachers) about his writing:  "Fortunately, very fortunately, the pygmies have taken to the idea of my writing a lot.  I have explained that I can get money by writing, and in that way can afford to buy them cigarettes and palm oil.  There is one who gets quite annoyed if he tells me something and I do NOT write it down" (ARC, Colin Turnbull collection, box 2, folder 3).

That last sentence should worry us.  To what degree do they tell him stories, or explain things, just so that he can write them down?  Do they invent, exaggerate, and prolong what they say, and do, for his benefit,  and their benefit, if in the future they receive money or materials?  Did he pay them then?  Later?  In the field notes sometimes he suspects that they are taking advantage of him to provide cigarettes and other items.  After Masumongo complains that others are taking material advantage of him, Turnbull writes: " So he is - and I'm glad someone else knows the feeling!" (p. 91, Dec. 5).  Reading The Forest People many times over 40 years, I never considered the possible implications of his note taking. 

Nor did I guess that his stay was challenging and difficult, despite his passing comments in the book of some difficulties, like walking the paths in the woods.  Singing, celebrations, joking, and hunting are the things that stand out in my mind.   Life in the forest, and in the village too, was challenging and hard for Turnbull, which may explain why his stays in the forest are short and why he goes on long trips away from forest and village.  In that same letter to Pritchard he writes that "a pygmy camp is the last place on earth to find peace and quiet, and privacy at any time of the day or night is unthinkable.  And since I have arrived there has been one thing happening after another, which is all very well for my field note-book, but upsetting to my soul - it is distinctly disturbed!"



D.  Newton Beal and Anne Putnam

One of the clearest differences between the field notes and The Forest People   is the constant presence of two people, Newton Beal and Anne Putnam, in the field notes, and their absence from the book.  Anne is mentioned in the acknowledgments as Patrick Putnam's wife, but that totally ignores her contributions to Turnbull's fieldwork.  Newton is never mentioned by name.  He may be in the acknowledgments as the "one who prefers to remain anonymous but who painstakingly read and reread every page."  He probably is the one when Turnbull writes: "But I would never know the next [forest] camp, so I made the most of my last home in the forest, sharing it as always with a good and constant friend" (The Forest People, p. 276).  But that does not tell us anything about Newton, nor does it indicate his contributions.  (For biographical information on Newton Beal, see index references to his name in Grinker, 2000.  For Anne Putnam, see index references to her name in Grinker, 2000, and chapters 9-13 in Mark, 1995.)

Turnbull met Newton Beal while they were in India (Turnbull was there in 1949-51).  They became friends, and Grinker says they "were almost certainly lovers" (2000, p. 61)  Newton is with Turnbull on his return trip from India in 1951, which incidentally takes them to the Congo and Camp Putnam, where Turnbull meets Pat and Anne Putnam, who are their hosts for two months.  It is then and there that Turnbull first meets the Mbuti.  Then in 1957 Newton takes a leave from his teaching to be with Turnbull for the 1957-58 stay.  They sail for Africa on Aug. 14, 1957, and arrive at Camp Putnam sometime in September.  Anne Putnam has arrived before them and greets them.

Turnbull never mentions Newton by name in The Forest People because, Grinker thinks, he "wanted to give the impression that he had been alone in Africa, broke, isolated, without western influences, as integrated as possible into Pygmy culture" (2000, p. 75).  (For their 1951 trip to the Congo, see Grinker, 2000, chaper 6; Mark, 1995, chapter 11.)

Newton spends the entire 1957-58 year with Turnbull, as we see in the field notes, and as Turnbull says indirectly in the book.  Grinker says "Newton's specific whereabouts during most of his year in the Ituri are a mystery" (2000, p. 108).  Close and repeated readings of the field notes, however, do give us some information about his life during that time.  Turnbull mentions him 35 times in 27 days of notes.  At least twice we see that Newton has his own hut at the same camp where Turnbull stays (pp. 66 and 336).  Also, even though Turnbull writes in the book that he makes a pair of crutches for "crippled Lizabeti" (a ten-year-old girl), we read in the field notes, "Newton and I fix crutches for Elizabethi" (p. 364, June 13).  She soon learns how to use them and get around with them.  In the book, Turnbull writes that Lizabeti "had never walked but had spent her ten years crawling around on her buttocks."  In her copy of The Forest People, Anne Putnam comments next to that passage, "Lizabeti had walked and got polio at the same time as William."  (p. 265).

In his field notes, Turnbull includes notes written by Newton, or told to him by Newton.  For example, "see later notes as given by Anne and Newton" (pp. 29-30, Nov. 11).  Some notes refer to events where both Turnbull and Newton are present, others refer to days when Turnbull is away.  Newton shares Turnbull's interest in music, and some of the references to him are about comments he makes on Mbuti music and songs.

Let us look at a few of the references to Newton.  The Mbuti men "seem more willing to let Newton see the things they let me see without question, but very strong feelings against Anne seeing them" (p. 27, Nov. 10).

On Nov. 22, four days after they move to camp Lelo, someone 'built a cabinet [toilet] 8' behind his house for Newton and I" (p. 57).  (I did not notice the significance of that short sentence until the fourth reading of the field notes.)

During the molimo, in the mornings young men carry the horn and attack homes of people who seem to commit offenses.  Newton is such a victim.  "They also went into Newton's hut and blew pages around there ... because he is sitting with lamp writing down" (p. 66, Nov. 27).

On Jan. 16, "At 7.45 [a.m.] Go over with Anne and Newton to Dar es Salaam..." (p. 183).

On Feb. 2, a group of men are talking.  "Newton comes and group breaks up" (p. 212).  There is no indication why they do so.

To a marrying couple, "we give a large souffelier" for a wedding present.  The "we" may refer to Turnbull and Newton, or to Turnbull and Anne Putnam, or to all three (p. 235, March 4).

In his notes for the April 1958 trip, Turnbull writes that "Newton says Elephant songs are similar to Essumba [Molimo]" (p. 296).  Upon his return on May 1, Turnbull writes that "Newton reports that while I was away he was out" at a forest camp where preparations were being made for the honey season (p. 309). On May 12, "Newton, Kenge and I go to Admin. and get intro. to Bera chief" (p. 312).

On May 28, Turnbull observes: "Newton always thought that Moke was not friendly to Salumini, so is surprised at the new alliance" (p. 335).  We can infer then that Newton must be around much of the time, and the two of them must have frequent discussions about conditions, events, and people in the forest and village settings.

On May 30, "Pygmies in to collect Newton and myself, say camp is good, is ready, our houses are built [in the new forest camp].  We leave after early lunch" (p. 336).  Next day, "when it rains in the afternoon I am in Newton's house; he goes into mine and sits down" (p. 339).  Finally, on June 20, "Kenge and Maliamo [Kenge's wife] are in my hut, Mbaaka is in Newton's…" (p. 369).

(For anyone who may wish to check the field notes, here are the 35 pages I found where Newton's name appears: 8, 11, 25, 27, 29, 30, 32, 57, 66, 95, 96, 106, 129, 132, 156, 183, 212, 227, 235, 252, 296, 309, 312, 314, 335, 336, 337, 339, 342, 353, 360, 364, 369, and 428.)

These examples of Newton's presence, and Turnbull's notes on Newton's actions and comments, suffice to show that Newton Beal plays an important role in Turnbull's life and field work in 1957-58.  The role may not be indispensable, but it is substantial.  As even Turnbull says indirectly in the book, Newton was a "good and constant friend."  The two of them live near to each other much, if not most, of the time.  They discuss conditions and people.  Newton provides Turnbull with some additional notes and another set of eyes. 

So why does Turnbull leave Newton out of the story in The Forest People?   The possible reason given by Grinker, that Turnbull wanted to promote an image of himself as an anthropologist alone in a difficult and challenging situation, is, if true, unacceptable and inexcusable.  A more charitable explanation may be that Turnbull wanted to protect Newton from possible problems were Newton's homosexuality to be suspected somehow from being mentioned in the book. In 1961, when the book came out, it was still a harsh and punishing world for gay people.  Whatever Turnbull's motives for keeping Newton Beal out of The Forest People, we need to make him part of the story.

Anne Eisner Putnam's role in Turnbull's life and work is critical and essential.  She is there, with Patrick Putnam, in 1951 to welcome and encourage Turnbull and Newton; she makes possible much of his 1954 research, partly by persuading the villagers and the Mbuti to postpone the nkumbi from February until July when Turnbull is coming; and in 1957 she makes her plans to return to the Ituri from the U.S. to coincide with Turnbull's stay.

Anne Putnam "was a talented painter who had largely abandoned her promising career for Patrick" Putnam when she moved to the Ituri in 1946 and married him in 1948 (Grinker, 2000, p. 71).  She wrote Madami, a book about her life in the Ituri.  She also wrote an article in the National Geographic (Putnam, 1960).  She died of cancer in Jan. 1967.  (She did do some paintings in and of the Ituri; see McDonald, Images of Congo: Anne Eisner's Art and Ethnography, 1946-1958,  2005.)

Anne is mentioned at least 64 times in the field notes, on 47 entries.  There are at least 15 times when Turnbull either includes notes from Anne, or refers to them.  Anne is ever-present in the field notes.  At ARC, there are two folders in box 1 with notes and other material from her.  Folder 2b is entitled "Anne E. Putnam pygmy field notes 1957-58, (includes correspondence with CMT), pages numbered 2-166 (some missing)."

Perhaps her greatest contribution to Turnbull and The Forest People   are her notes on the Elima festival for girls.  As a man, Turnbull is not allowed to stay inside the Elima house.  Anne is, and she regularly makes reports to Turnbull.

Let us look at some details.

"Anne is invited to sleep in the Alima house" (the spelling is Alima throughout most field notes) (p. 96, Dec. 8).

Anne tells Turnbull that some girls have had sexual intercourse before the Elima ceremony (p. 104, Dec. 12).

Anne makes various observations of activities within the Elima house, including who sleeps in what room (p. 105, Dec. 12).

Sometimes Anne dictates to Turnbull her Elima observations.  "Taken down as she relates it when she arrives fresh from a sleepless night - 8.45 a.m." (p. 129, Dec. 22).

"Anne's Elima notes" (p. 139, Dec. 28).

More such references are found throughout the field notes.  Turnbull could not have written the chapter on the Elima with the depth and details it includes without Anne's contributions.  It's inexcusable for Turnbull not to acknowledge her contributions.  Even more, it is puzzling and unacceptable for him to write that what went on "inside the [Elima] hut was best left to the imagination" (The Forest People, p. 197).  Anne's margin comment next to that statement is restrained: "I lived in the house and gave C. a detailed report."

Turnbull makes another claim in the book that annoys Anne.  He writes that before him "other Europeans had ... only seen the Pygmies either in Negro villages or in Negro plantations," meaning he is the first outsider to spend time with the Mbuti in the forest, away from villager and European influence.   Anne writes next to this claim: "How about Pat, me, the sisters of Beni among others?"  (The Forest People, p. 20).

Anne makes other comments on the margins of the book that show she thinks he romanticized some aspects of Mbuti forest life.  (See examples in chapters that follow.)  Some of her other comments show that she agrees with some of Turnbull's statements.  Where Turnbull writes that Kenge "was as unpredictable as any Pygmy, and just as disinclined to do anything he did not want to do," Anne adds, "how true" (p. 30).  When Turnbull sees his first molimo, a stolen water pipe, he is disappointed it's not made of wood.  The Mbuti tell him, "What does it matter what the molimo is made of?  This one makes a great sound, and, besides, it does not rot like wood.  It is much trouble to make a wooden one, and then it rots away and you have to make another."  Anne comments that this is "true pygmy philosophy" (p.76).

Next to a paragraph where Moke describes the reasons for the molimo, Anne writes: “Beautiful description of Moke and very Moke like” (p. 92).

Even though Grinker says that Turnbull tried to stay away from Anne as much as possible (2000, p. 103), and there do seem to be periods in the field notes when she is absent, she is present and active on many pages and entries.  At times she travels with Turnbull (see pp. 9 and 183 for two examples).  Many more times she shares thoughts and observations with him (in addition to the field notes she provides him).  For example: "Anne says she has not seen wailing like this for a stranger before" (p. 23, Nov. 7).  "Mukabasi confirmed to Anne that the fight was as I had described it" (p. 126, Dec. 21).  Such references are sprinkled throughout the notes.

Finally, the notes show that Anne, like Turnbull, is actively involved in the lives of the Mbuti group's members.  She drives people to the hospital and other places; she helps settle disputes; and in one case she says she stopped an old woman from killing herself (see discussion of Sau the "witch" in chapter 4).

Thus, given all these contributions that she made to his research and his stay with the Mbuti, the inscription he writes on The Forest People copy he gives her is inadequate and unappreciative. 

"To Anne and to the memory of Pat, both of you wonderful friends, with sincere thanks for all your help and encouragement.  I hope this book will help you recall the days of happiness at Camp Putnam, and the kindness and understanding that Camp Putnam stood for.  With much love, Colin, New York, September, 1961."



E.  Conclusion, and Looking Ahead

What can we conclude from this discussion of Turnbull's field notes?  They contain much information on many topics, such as dancing, building of huts, making of nets, hunting, storytelling, and more.  They tend to focus much more on men than on women.  They tell us that Turnbull kept hidden the contributions made to his work by Newton Beal and Anne Putnam.  They force us to question how much time Turnbull spends with the Mbuti, especially in forest camps.  As we shall see, they show serious Mbluti problems and conflicts that Turnbull mentions in passing and minimizes in the book.  But they also tell of joy, fun, singing, dancing, children playing.

In the next chapter, I present these happy realities of Mbuti life as described in the 1957-58 notes.  In chapter 4 and 5, I explore the Mbuti problems he left out of the book that show life was not so idyllic among the Mbuti.

 [A reflection-question: Did anyone read Turnbull's field notes in the late 1950s, or even later?  Anyone where he received his degrees?  Has anyone read them since?  Grinker told me that he did go through them looking for information for the biography, but he said he did not read every word.  I read every word once, and three more times most of the notes.  Am I the first person to read them carefully in their entirety?  In 1967-68 I carried out field research in a home for juvenile delinquents.  I kept notes that my dissertation advisor read and we discussed them regularly.  I don't get the sense that Turnbull ever did so.]

Chapter 3 - Mbuti Lives - In the Field Notes and The Forest People



Richard Lee, an anthropologist who studied the !Kung (now called Ju/'hoansi), recommends that part  of our study of any people should be a careful and systematic attempt to look for evidence that contradicts our argument, hypothesis, or theory.  For Lee, evidence of conflict and violence among the Ju/'hoansi seemed to contradict the general description of them as "harmless people" (the title of an earlier book on them; see Thomas, 1959).  So Lee "decided to make a systematic study of conflict and violence.  My reasoning was as follows: because a body of evidence contradicts my a priori belief is precisely the reason to investigate it.  (This advice, given by Charles Darwin in the introduction to The Origin of Species… by the way, is good advice for all scholars to follow.)"  (Lee, 1984, p. 92)

This chapter is an attempt to honor Lee's advice.  After I had read the field notes the first time, I was convinced that Turnbull had romanticized the Mbuti and had ignored many negative aspects of their society.  This view differs considerably from The Forest People   I had read and believed in for forty years.  Then, at some point before I began the second reading of the field notes, I decided to also search for evidence that supports the portrait of the Mbuti presented in the book.  I found much such evidence.  Most of this chapter is devoted to showing the Mbuti leading the lives Turnbull describes in The Forest People. 

They do sing, dance, tell stories, joke and laugh, love and are close to the forest, hold a molimo celebration with beautiful music and songs, live as a close community.  They enjoy life and are a happy people.  These are the realities I present in this chapter.  The next two chapters show the problems Turnbull leaves out.



A.  Poetry and Scenes in The Forest People.

In chapter 1, I offer a brief summary of the book.  Here I add to that summary by citing some of Turnbull's poetic, lovely, and lyrical passages.  It is these words that make the book enchanting.

He describes the forest as a "cool, restful, shady world with light filtering lazily through the tree tops that meet high overhead and shut out the direct sunlight" (p. 12).

"There are a multitude of sounds [in the forest], but most of them are as joyful as the brightly colored birds that chase one another through the trees, singing as they go, or the chatter of the handsome black-and-white Colobus monkeys as they leap from branch to branch, watching with curiosity everything that goes on below.  And the most joyful sound of all, to me, is the sound of the voices of the forest people as they sing a lusty chorus of praise to this wonderful words of theirs - a world that gives them everything they want" (p. 13).

"The men started singing, and after a while I heard their song echoed from far off in the forest and recognized the wistful sound, hollow and ghostly ... [Later] There was a slight movement beside me and I heard the molimo almost in my ear.  The sound was gentler and a little sad ..." (p. 45).

As they walk into the forest, "the world was alive with dancing shadows as the breeze rippled the leaves" (p. 59).

As some Mbuti and Turnbull approach the camp, "We could hear the Lelo [river] swishing below, and in the far side of the river voices from the camp floated lazily across us, as though we were gods and they were mortals, infinitely far away" (p. 77).

Amabosu "went up to Ausu and took the molimo from him and gently filled the forest with strange sounds - the rumblings and growls of buffalos and leopards, the mighty call of the elephant, the plaintive cooing of the dove.  Interspersed were snatches of song, transformed by the trumpet into a sound quite unlike the song of men - richer, softer, more distant and unapproachable" (p. 78).

" 'The forest is father and mother to us,' [Moke] said, ' and like a father or mother is gives us everything we need - food, clothing, shelter, warmth ... and affection.'...

" 'So when something big goes wrong, like illness or bad hunting or death, it must be because the forest is sleeping and not looking after its children.  So what do we do?  We wake it up.  We wake it up by singing to it, and we do this because we want it to awaken happy.'...

"All this I had heard before, but I had not realized quite so clearly that this was what the molimo was all about.  It was as though the nightly chorus were an intimate communion between a people and their god, the forest...." (p. 92).

"At Apa Lelo one day followed the last in this happy-go-lucky way as though this was all there was to life" (p. 144).

"The molimo sang the most wistful songs, and the men answered it with love....  It caressed the melody with love, and passed over our heads, one by one" (p. 158).

When they are leaving the forest camp for the village, everyone is testy and depressed.  For when they enter the village, they face a world of  "greed and suspicion and treachery," unlike the forest where the world is "kind and friendly" (p. 159).

[Parenthetical comment: even after four readings of the field notes, I still cannot find the poetry and descriptions of the book, only a few of which I present above.  On Jan. 20, 2008, I wrote: "Not only is the poetry [in the book] missing in the field notes, but also even any hint of him-them feeling that emotion at that moment."  Perhaps the emotions behind the poetry were there and Turnbull did not write them but recalled them later.  I still cannot convince myself that the field notes support the poetic passages I present above.]

One of the most powerful and touching scenes in The Forest People   is that of Kenge dancing alone by the moonlight.  It is one I always discussed with my students to show how far away from nature we have moved.  In chapter 1 I present both the original notes for it from 1954, and the version in the book on p. 272.  The book version is cited in full in Grinker's biography of Turnbull, on p. 3; there is another version on p. 253 of Wayward Servants.  In the margin of p. 272 of The Forest People, Anne Putnam writes: "I had always thought that if another Pygmy was caught dancing alone in the moon it meant bad witchcraft.  Wasn't this one of the things Sau was accused of?"  (For Sau, see discussion in chapter 4.)

The Forest People   clearly implies that the scene takes place at the end of Turnbull's 1957-58 fieldwork.  There is no such dancing scene in those field notes.  In Wayward Servants, without citing dates, Turnbull says that "On three rare occasions I have seen different individuals dancing, by themselves, in the moonlight and in the forest, away from the camp" (1965, p. 121).  In the 1957-58 field notes, there are two references to Kenge masturbating by moonlight, not dancing, and both seem to refer to 1954 (pp. 226 and 234).  As we see in chapter 1 here, the only reference to Kenge, or anyone, dancing by moonlight is found in the 1954 field notes.  [I'm not sure the last two paragraphs belong here, but they belong somewhere.]

Joan Mark, in her biography of Patrick Putnam, has written about The Forest People:  It captures "the overwhelming beauty and wonder of the African tropical forest, the flavor of pygmy life there, and the engaging humanity of the pygmies themselves - the quarrels, the jokes, the depressing times when it rains in the forest, the joyful times when an elephant has just been killed or a cache of honey discovered" (1995, p. 209).

To close this section, here is what Turnbull wrote toward the end of Wayward Servants.   For the Mbuti, death is "probably the one imperfection in an otherwise perfect life" (p. 298).  It may the most idyllic and romantic statement he ever wrote about the Mbuti.



B.  The Joys of Mbuti Daily Life

Dreary to read, confusing, and unclear as they often are, the field notes do provide ample evidence that there was much joy, love, and community among the Mbuti.  Turnbull is not romanticizing about these aspects of their lives.  My first, very negative reaction to the field notes was modified after I read them three more times.  I noticed especially the frequent singing and dancing, the storytelling and joking and laughing, that are found throughout the field notes.

I was most touched by the following scene.  "In the evening the children of Asofalinda go down the path and stand and sit there singing a little ditty for their mother to return" from her trip to the village" (p. 352, June 8). 

This little scene indicates the happy lives of Mbuti children.  In The Forest People  (pp. 126-129), Turnbull presents an idyllic portrait of childhood.  Children are surrounded by loving adults, all of whom care for the children, feed them, and play with them when they are babies.  They play house and imitate adults.  They swim, splash, climb trees, and play with swings.  Their life is "one long frolic" (p. 129).

The field notes mostly justify this portrait of childhood.  Turnbull's observations on children are short, never more than 7-8 pages long, often only 1-2 lines, but as a totality they provide ample evidence of a happy childhood.  I counted at least 27 passages in the field notes that describe happy children.  Some involve parents holding, fondling, and playing and laughing with their children.  Turnbull notes especially the fathers who attend to their children.  It does not seem they are a majority; rather, those who do must stand out and Turnbull notices them.  For example, while Kelemoke sits with the men and his wife is finishing building their hut, "everytime the child cries she brings it to K or he goes to get it" (p. 19, Oct. 31).  During the harsh and long weeks of the boys' initiation, the nkumbi, Mbuti fathers hold and are "tender with their children," which displeases the villagers who see the nkumbi  as a toughening experience for their children.  Anne Putnam also notes that among the Mbuti "small babies [are] constantly held" (Anne Putnam field notes, p. 123, March 8, 1958; ARC, box 1, folder 2b).

Young boys play with the adults' hunting nets; children swim endlessly; play with "leaf masks"; chase and catch hens; play with hollow reeds; make daisy chains; play with miniature versions of bows and arrows and other objects they will use later in life; and girls imitate the elima.  Sometimes, even as children, they perform useful tasks, such as carrying water from nearby streams for cooking and cleaning.

Adults often entertain children.  A group of children are "laughing their heads off" as Maipe entertains them with stories and legends (p. 234, March 23).

A few scenes deserve full citation in Turnbull's own words.

 "KIDS play house - two make it, one cuts ground with machetti (can hardly stand!)" (p. 50, Nov. 20.  That is the entire passage).

"Young women and small kids of both sexes go swimming - plunging in the river off branches, small kids like Endeku clinging to girl's backs, both submerging and diving under water - everyone splashing and having a fine enthusiastic time..." (p. 71, Nov. 29).

"Kids and others walk about in the rain getting thoroughly wet and enjoying it" (p. 74, Nov. 30).

"Young boy and girl, about 6/7 play man and wife coming in from woods or plantation.  He has little bow; she has load on tump line of muhogo (imitation load of wood) under which she stoops far more than she has to, so it rolls over her head.  He helps her load up again and they slowly make their way across the camp" (p. 226, Feb. 12).

"Ekianga's [baby] Mulefu is really going the rounds - seems camp favorite among women (any new baby seems to be).  Ambelena plays with it, then Sitela, then another Andre girl, then Sau, then back to Ambelena - play with it, fondle it, sing lullabies to it.  Always wrapped in bark cloth" (p. 166, Jan. 6).

"Masalito nurses Arobanai's baby.  Everyone is father and mother to every child it seems, even if they are only a few inches taller" (p. 330, May 26).

"Boys and girls have a bopi [playground] near the child's honey tree....  They have a fire going, with little loads of wood and food coming in, and manioc cooking.  Yao is the oldest boy, Akobi looks longingly, and stays a little while.  Another girl brings a soufelier of water.  All perfect in exact imitation.  The house faces away from the camp" (p. 357, June 11).

"Arobanai's baby is still very much the favorite.  It is now about a year old, and is just not quite toddling.  It is very sharp and alert, and loves being turned upside down, even carried upside down, and is now being taught to somersault backwards.  Loves it.  Everyone, boys girls, women and men, nurse it" (p. 361, June 12).

After childhood, there are other joys in their lives.  Some scenes of normal, everyday life are lovely to read.  "During the night there were the usual sounds - low murmurs as people woke and stirred fires; Ekianga playing flute, some man singing lullaby to himself; another man comforting a crying baby much as we say 'there, there, there' " (p. 244, March 15).

Fun seems to be part of most days.  "A good part of the day is always given to singing, dancing, playing games and storytelling."  There is much joking and laughing.  Turnbull wrote this in Wayward Servants, and the field notes provide ample evidence for it (1965, p. 123).

Singing and dancing are especially noticeable in the field notes. They seem to take place on most days.  They often start in the evening and go into morning, especially by young people.  For example: "4.00 [p.m.] The singing has continued pretty well all day now - and now it is quite riotous with dancing by all..." (p. 82, Dec. 3).  They often sing while they engage in other activities: "Andre girls start singing nicely, no occasion, a small child being washed by one, others watching" (p.260, March 29).

In this scene, women have fun imitating men: "Some of the women have put things in their cloths, which they wear between the legs like men, and they swing these in imitation of the men's sex dance.  It seems to be a general mockery of sex, reversing everything possible!  It goes down to Andakala's and up to the road once more and ends at the baraza in shouts of laughter.  The crowd of negroes [in the village] stands quite amazed, enjoying it but without much laughter" (p. 38, Nov. 13).

Singing sometimes becomes a spiritual experience for the men.  "As the moon comes up, fairly early (8 p.m.?) the women and children are told to retire.  Moke sings a duet with Ekianga, tells in free words how the forest should be, the ideal; lots of meat, lots of honey.  All lose themselves completely in the song, and live in this ideal world - their very eyes seem to see it - they certainly don't see whatever they are looking at.  They gaze at the sky or into the fire or put heads down between knees" (p. 375, June 30).

Storytelling, common in pre-industrial days, is also part of Mbuti life.  Laughter and acting our of the stories are often part of it.  "Maipe is still telling stories to kids that make them go into hysterics....  Kokoyo and bosom pal Sale Mdogo are always telling stories to each other at great length, with animal noises, laughing wildly at their own and other's jokes.  Go on at it for 'hours on end' (Anne)" (p. 247, March 19).

Men often tell stories about the day's hunting.  After returning from one day's hunt, "Pepe tells a story right away, at the central fire, about the day's exploits.  His listeners are Kenge, Appiaomomba, Maipe and two kids.  But the women around the various fires also listen.  It is the usual wild story with actions to suit" (p. 327, May 25).  [The story is 23 lines long.  Cite some or all of it?]

These stories are real or purposely fanciful and exaggerated narrations of hunting and other Mbuti activities.  Some are serious narrations.  Many, like the one above, are funny.

Joking and laughing, often uncontrollable, are frequent.  Turnbull writes about one day in the village: "People talk and laugh and joke much as usual" (p. 253, March 25).  Here is an example:  "Asofalinda entertains the camp.  Yesterday Arobanai had a fight with Angali - she had stolen his manioc, and he caught her and said he would never let her have anything again - but she got away with some.  This is now re-enacted; Asofalinda as Arobanai with her basket, Masamba, doubled up with laughter, trying to grab the basket from her back.  Asofalinda turns and menaces he with a stick and curses loudly, then also collapses in laughter.  Goes on for over [half an] hour" (p. 347, June 6).

Sometimes people have fun with tug of war.  "In the afternoon there is tug of war again.  Men, women and kids all take part, this time taking any side they like pulling in all directions - the wildest yet.  But most times it is pretty definite men versus women.  Carry on strenuously for over half an hour if not an hour" (p. 380, July 3).

The Mbuti have fun in a community where life is public and close to other people; life is group life.  Turnbull says in the book that everyone gets involved in each other's life, in making decisions and in settling disputes; people live in close proximity and awareness of each other (chapters 5 and 6).  This is especially so in forest camps.  "During the night, for the past two nights, or three, there has been sleepless moaning in Andre's hut, crying as if in pain of 'Ima-o' - sounds like Ageronga.  Last night it got quite bad, and he was positively whimpering, and I left the hut.  I think Andre followed him and brought him back.  Sleep walking?  No wonder Andre is worried!" (p. 139, Dec. 28).

Turnbull observes that this intimacy decreases in the village.  "Village after forest camp [they had moved from the forest to the village the day before]: at night families go into their huts and shut the doors, not much if any inter-house conversation shouted about, though perfectly practicable.  Individual feeling stronger than group feeling?" (p. 156, Dec. 29).

Life is in groups with endless talking.  Above I cite dancing, singing, and storytelling taking place in public.  Arguments are also public, involving many people.  Here is a good example.

"Asuku criticises Kenge's laziness ...  All are silent as Asuku strides up and down between them and his house, mostly on my hillock, and tirades.  Andakala Mkubwa is also at the fire.  Then Asuki switches and says that everyone is lazy and that is why the hunting is not good - everyone should have been off long ago - this is about 9.30.  Andre calls people to get ready to hunt, but everyone tells Asuku (and Andre) not to make so much noise."  The argument continues and even more people become involved (p. 103, Dec. 11).

When people attend to various needs, they do so together.  They seem totally involved in each other's lives.  The following scene takes place when Turnbull is driving someone to the hospital.  "Take Mbaka and co. to Bunia.  Makubasi still has not turned up, so go without him.  Nyaboli takes the child who seems to have hernia.  Scrotum is swollen.  Mbaka's wife goes with him.  Abazinga goes with child - he has dizzy and blind fits.  Andre comes at last moment.  Ageronga, who was to come has not come back from telling Makubasi, so go  without him.  At last moment, Bonyo says she wants to come, and Sale is agreeable.  She gets in the car, then Faizi Mdogo says his mother can't go unless he does - he has just refused to go with his brother's child.  I ask Bonyo and she reluctantly says she will stay.  Faizi Mdogo is absolutely adamant.  No room for him, so his ma can't go to be cured.  Sale says nothing."  And so on it goes, until finally Turnbull drives off for a bumpy ride (p. 312, May 12).

Matters that seem private to us are addressed in public, with many others partaking in the discussion.  Here are two revealing examples.

"Early morning.  Salumini announces that he is calling a baraza [meeting] for everyone, Masisi included, for the afternoon to discuss Appiamomba's love life.  'I am tired of Appiomomba who has been bothering me for too long, sleeping with Bapepe and not marrying her.  It has to be decided now’ “ (p. 380, July 3).

An equally private matter is the subject of discussion in this example: "Mulanga is called to come to the baraza and be examined for his matrimonial difficulties and future.  He has separated from his wife, and his sister Sikupewa has separated from her husband and is back here - so they are both back on the market.  Ekianga addresses Mulanga.  But Mambunia chips in in a loud complaining voice at the last moment and says that he doesn't agree with the former decision" (p. 383, July 4).  The discussion and argument continue for some time, and result in a fight.  In both these cases, we see that all life matters are subject to public discussion.  (See The Forest People, chapter 6.)

Turnbull is wrong to say that the Mbuti lead a carefree and perfect life, but they do have a relatively happy one.  From childhood on, they have joy, laughter, dancing, singing, and community.



C.  The Molimo

As described in The Forest People, the molimo is the most powerful and prominent experience of Mbuti life.  It is "the name given by the BaMbuti to the ritual performed at times of great crisis, and consisting primarily of songs sung nightly by the men" (p. 286).  It is discussed throughout the book, and notably in chapter 4, "The song of the forest."  Except for "Pygmies," "Molimo" has the most entries in the index that was added to the paperback edition of The Forest People.

Turnbull first hears the molimo during his 1954 visit, while the Mbuti are in the village (and presumably without villagers around).  In the book, he says: "It was a deep, gentle, lowing sound, sometimes breaking off into a quiet falsetto, sometimes growling like a leopard.  As the men sang their songs of praise to the forest, the molimo [here meaning the instrument] answered them, first on this side, then on that, moving around so swiftly and silently that it seemed to be everywhere at once....  the sound was sad and wistful, and immensely beautiful" (pp. 24-25).

The description in the 1954 field notes is less poetic than The Forest People version.  Three pages of notes, for Sept. 11-15, are entitled "Lusumba" (another name for the molimo).

"The Lusumba horn has been heard on and off in the distance.  Now it approaches and plays right beside the hut.  I can see the silhouette against the cloth that has been hung to prevent me from seeing it...

"It plays wistful melodies and then it is suddenly sung into in a pure, if high pitched tenor voice.  The other singers follow its lead, and Capita dances and clowns inside the hut, climbing up the centre pole, sliding down, leaping in and out and even breaking through the leaf wall and coming back in jumping over the fire.  He has everyone in hysterics (relieves nervous tension?).  After about five hours of this the party breaks up and everyone returns....

"That evening the Lusumba starts earlier, and gets warmed up more quickly.  A fine clear night, and the moonlight casts delicate shadows and lights the leaf roofs with silver clarity.  The dancing soon works up, and Faizi leaps through the fire scattering hot ambers all around.  No-one pays any attention, but dances right over them."

When Turnbull returns in 1957, he is eager to hear the molimo again, and to see it for the first time.  He gets the opportunity when the Mbuti leave the village for a forest camp, there to hold a molimo for Balekimito, a beloved old woman who has just died.  The Mbuti hold the molimo to celebrate her life and pay homage to the forest.  Turnbull goes with them to this forest camp, and joins the men in their night sessions of singing, dancing, and eating.  In chapters 4 and 5 of The Forest People, he describes these sessions and their meaning.  "Every day, around midday, a couple of youths would go around the camp ... collecting offerings of food and firewood from hut to hut, for the molimo concerns everyone, and everyone must contribute.  And each evening the women and children shut themselves up in their huts after the evening meal, for the molimo is mainly the concern of the men.  And when the women have retired the men sit around the kumamolimo - the hearth of the molimo - and gaze into the molimo fire.  Nearby a basket hangs, full of the offerings of food that will be eaten later.  But first the men must sing, for this is the real work of the molimo, as the say; to eat and to sing, to eat and to sing" (p. 80).  (For more passages about the molimo and its meaning, see the first two sections of this chapter.  For the molimo held during the two forest camps of Nov. 18 to Dec. 28, see pages 52-151 of the field notes.)

For me, and probably for most readers, Turnbull's description and discussion of the molimo are the center and essence of The Forest People,  and of the Mbuti people.  I have read the book about twenty times, and chapters 4 and 5 move me each time.  The poetry of Turnbull's writing rings in my ears like music, the music of the people of the forest.  "It was as though the nightly chorus were an intimate communication between a people and their god, the forest" (p. 92).  Turnbull loosely translates one of their songs: "There is darkness all around us; but if darkness is, and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good" (p. 93).  (See pp. 91-93 of the book for Moke's explanation of the molimo's meaning.)  (A more detailed and somewhat technical discussion of the molimo is found in Wayward Servants, pp. 260-67.  This account has little of the beauty and poetry of The Forest People.) 

The molimo celebrations bring the Mbuti closer to the forest, their father and mother.  Turnbull thinks that the molimo binds them together, it counteracts forces that divide them.  In a March 11, 1959 lecture in England he said that the Mbuti "preserve the integrity of their own culture ... they achieve ... unity and cohesion [through] the molimo..." (1959a, p. 4.  At ARC, box 1, folder 19).

Whereas the field notes partly support the molimo account and discussion in The Forest People, they also contradict a number of statements that Turnbull makes there.  After he describes the first evening of molimo singing in the forest, he writes: "What followed that evening was to follow every evening for the next two months" (p. 79; emphasis added).  Later, he writes: "... for three months the men had sung and feasted and danced every night" (p. 164; emphasis added).

First, the impression that the molimo lasted for two or three months is misleading.  I found no clear ending of the molimo in the field notes.  The best estimate I can make is that between the two forest camps of Nov. 18 to Dec. 28 and some days in the village, it lasted a month and a half. 

Second, and more troubling, is Turnbull's repeated claim that the molimo is being held every night.  The field notes leave absolutely no doubt that this is false.  On many nights there is no singing. 

"There is no singing at all in camp" (p. 63, Nov. 25; this is only a week after they arrive at camp Lelo).  He repeats this comment next day, Nov. 26: "There was no singing last night or this morning, and for the first time since we came the horn [molimo instrument] made no appearance or sound at all.  No drumming or anything" (p. 64).

"There is no attempt at singing ... everyone abed by eight" (p. 78, Dec. 1).

"No singing again" (p. 111, Dec. 17).

Including these four, there are at least ten places where Turnbull says there is no singing. 

The commitment to carry on the molimo often wavers.  On Dec. 5, 17 days into the molimo, Turnbull writes: "Evidently the Essumba [molimo] isn't quite dead yet, though at times lately it has seemed mighty near it" (p. 90).  This statement must reflect the many nights of no singing.  Two nights later, on Dec. 19, at 11 p.m., "Salumini tells the group that it [the molimo] is going to last another week.  Everyone murmurs assent.  He says that for that week the singing must be good" (p. 117).  But two days later, on Dec. 21, Turnbull writes: "I think all the punch has gone out of the E. [molimo].  The men are mostly tired of it ..." (p. 127).

The claim of nightly molimo celebrations is wrong, whether for one, two, or three months.  The molimo may have lost its punch by Dec. 21 because by then it is over a month long, and quite likely the Mbuti continue it just to please Turnbull (see discussion on observer bias, chapter 2).  As we see in chapter 2, Anne Putnam is sure the molimo is not meant to last over a month.  The length of the molimo for Balekimito is stretched because Turnbull is there.  Nightly celebrations would be a great strain on the Mbuti, and they simply do not occur.

The field notes also repeatedly confirm Turnbull’s statement in The Forest People that women are excluded from the molimo.  But they do not say how women felt about this exclusion.  Anne Putnam does.  Where Turnbull writes in the book that as the molimo instrument approached "Women were hurrying about doing what they had to do before shutting themselves up in their huts," she comments in the margin:  "How often have I done this.  He eliminates the groan we women make when we hear the sound and know we have to go into the house" (p. 78).

Also like the book, the field notes include long descriptions of an old lady who appears one night during the molimo, dances for a long period, and symbolically ties up the men, as the women are watching.  The women do after all know about the molimo, in contrast to appearances up to that point.  Indeed, some evidence in the field notes shows that periodically the women ignore the men's wishes that they cannot be near or see the molimo.  Some days after the old lady's dance, the following takes place.

As the men gather for the evening molimo, "Just before some women had joined the group and were sitting around the fire.  They had danced on the fringe, but when sitting down with the men took full part in the singing.  Masamba, Alima leader, and two young girls.  This had provoked some discussion, to which they apparently paid no attention.  Sale sitting in his chair said that in the old days the place for women was in the huts; Asuku said this was a bule [meaningless, empty] Essumba [molimo]; others said it was no use going on because the women were still about instead of having retired when the singing started" (p. 121; Dec. 20).

Finally, I suspect that to make for a better story in the book, Turnbull places together times and events that take place quite apart from each other.  But short of a very long and tedious comparison of the field notes and The Forest People, it would be very difficult to show this conclusively.  Let me cite one example.

In contrast to the book version where the old woman ties up the men towards the end of the molimo, after she has danced, we see in the field notes that she does so when she first appears on Nov. 29, before she begins dancing (field notes, pp. 72-73;The Forest People,  p. 155).  Why does Turnbull change the sequence of events?  Does he, or someone, think the book version makes for a better story?  (I noticed this difference in the two accounts of the old lady dancing only during the fourth reading of the field notes.)

In conclusion:

As in the book, there is indeed a long molimo celebration in the field notes, with singing, dancing, and eating.  But The Forest People version is very misleading in four ways:

1.  The molimo does not last three, or even two, months.

2.  It is probably prolonged because Turnbull is there, and there are frequent attempts and discussions to end it.

3.  It certainly does not take place every night.

4.  Some field notes details are changed or rearranged in the book.



D.  The Elima and the Nkumbi

The Forest People describes puberty initiation ceremonies for girls and boys.  The elima is "the festival celebrating the puberty of girls" (The Forest People, p. 285).  The nkumbi is the villager initiation of boys, to which the Mbuti choose to send their sons, or are forced to, or some combination of the two.  It is primarily an nkumbi that Turnbull observes in his 1954 visit.  (Villager-Mbuti relations are discussed at length in the field notes, The Forest People, and Wayward Servants.   This issue is not directly relevant to my argument here so I forgo it.)

The 1954 and the 1957-58 field notes support The Forest People presentations of the elima and the nkumbi.  There are no major differences or contradictions between the two accounts.  Indeed, some field note passages are richer than what we find in the book.  And to remind ourselves once more, the elima account benefits greatly from Anne Putnam's living in the elima house with the girls, and her providing Turnbull with notes and oral observations.






Do the Mbuti live in an ideal and perfect world?  At times, Turnbull comes close to saying so, as we see in some statements from the book cited earlier in this chapter and in chapter 1.  Perhaps the most extreme statement on the Mbuti appears in Wayward Servants,  where Turnbull says that except for death, they live a "perfect life" (p. 298).  In other places, he qualifies the picture of perfection.

"The pygmies are no more perfect than any other people, and life, though kind to them, is not without hardships."  Their life, "with all its hardships and problems and tragedies, [is] a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care" (The Forest People, pp. 23, 26).  In 1986 he writes to the teachers of the San Francisco high school students who wrote him admiring letters: "though I hope none of your students think [Mbuti society] is perfect" (ARC, box 4, folder 25).

After four readings of the field notes I see that life for the Mbuti is good, especially in the forest.  They live in a close community; they share each other's lives in public settings; they dance, sing, joke, laugh, and tell stories; they spend some time in the forest that provides them with food, shelter, and clothing.  They enjoy life and they share it with family and friends.

But theirs is not a carefree existence.  There is much conflict, tension, disagreement, and even some violence in their lives.  Women may not be as oppressed as they are in many societies, but they do face more discrimination than we see in The Forest People.  Children seem to suffer from excessive violence at times.  All these issues I explore in chapter 4.

In chapter 5, I use the field notes to show that the Mbuti are not a primarily gathering and hunting people, in contrast to the portrait in The Forest People.   They spend more time in the village than in the forest; they depend heavily on grown food; and they are deeply influenced by outside economic, political, and cultural conditions.















Chapter 4 - Persecution, Conflict, and Violence in Mbuti life



In chapter 3, we see the joys, fun times, satisfactions, and community life of the Mbuti.  All are found throughout the field notes.  What I did not expect to find, but what is impossible to miss and often prominent are conflicts, arguments, and some violence.  Also, women do not enjoy the social equality Turnbull claims in The Forest People.   Finally, most upsetting and troubling to me is the persecution of Sau, an old woman who is accused of being a witch.

Very close readers of The Forest People  (and you would need to read the book repeatedly and slowly) may notice that Turnbull does mention some problems.  Each time, however, he does so almost as an aside, in passing, and quickly moves on to the story of a people in love with the forest.  When he does dwell on some negative story, such as the fight over a pipe (see pp. 115-118), he makes it amusing.  A San Francisco high school student, cited in chapter 1, points to this quality of Turnbull's writing:  "You have a way of writing about the Pygmies which is not only funny and entertaining, but also educational" (ARC, box 4, folder 25).

Funny and entertaining.  Also beguiling, disarming, playful, and amusing.  His style diminishes, understates, and hides the seriousness of the conflicts and problems in their lives.  Here is an example: Atete, a new husband, "said that he was very content with his wife, and he had not found it necessary to beat her at all often" (p. 205).  It ends there.  Turnbull makes light of men beating women with the playful not "at all often."  We shall see more examples where he quickly passes over and understates serious problems.  His entertaining and beguiling writing tends to hide unpleasant realities in Mbuti lives.

The problems I describe in this chapter do not   negate the Mbuti found in The Forest People and in chapter 3 here.  Rather, they add to that portrait, they modify it, they show us a richer, more complex, and more believable people than we see in the book.  The Mbuti of The Forest People   are very real - and that includes very real problems that Turnbull leaves out.



A.  The Persecution of Sau

Sau is an old woman who is accused of witchcraft, of casting an evil eye (bolozi) on a child who eventually dies.  She is mentioned seven times in The Forest People. 

Amabosu's "skinny old mother, Sau, was not without fame of her own" (p. 35).

"The Negroes [villagers] said that Sau was a witch and should be killed or driven away" (p. 36).

"My house was built opposite Njobo's, with the old witch Sau and her son Amabosu to my right" (p. 40).

"I noticed Arobanai, Ekianga's senior wife, faced her hut deliberately away from old Sau, and that nobody was anxious to make use of the space between Sau's hut and mine to build there" (p. 68).

Pepei, a young man who stole food from other Mbuti, was tolerated by them until the day he was caught in the act "by old Sau ... who was a very strange and frightening old lady" (p. 120).

Once Sau breaks up a fight between her son Amabosu and Ekianga (p. 124).

And finally, Turnbul writes: "On several occasions  I heard Pygmies accuse old Sau, the mother of Amabosu the young singer, of being a witch.  But although they used the village word, it had a different meaning.  They were merely accusing her of making trouble.  They sometimes said the same thing of other old people who were, as old Pygmies often are, strong-minded and obstinate" (p. 228).

That is all we read of Sau in The Forest People.  I read the book about twenty times over the years, and these mentions of Sau did not prepare me for the prosecution she suffers in the field notes.  Not even remotely.  At most, the Sau of The Forest People  seems to be a cranky old person.

At the risk of boring you, I present a very detailed chronology of what happens to Sau.  Only so can you appreciate her suffering, and what it may say about the Mbuti of the late 1950s.  You can then compare the Sau of the book to the very different Sau of the notes.

"Sau starts making a maneno.  She says everyone thinks she is a Mulozi and she isn't.  Sale and others tell her nobody thinks so.  She is one of the oldest women in either camp now, if not the oldest" (p. 203, Jan. 30).

"1.15 [p.m.] Sau is accused in front of Ekianga's house of having put the lozi [curse] on Ebindu [a child].  She is near tears, goes off in temper behind the house and comes back with leaves....  A negress inquires what is going on and Asofalinda points to Sau and says she put the lozi on Ebundu....

"Sau goes to house - grabs knife from Kamaikan [her daughter] and tries to stab herself in the stomach.  Says 'everyone thinks I'm lozi and I'm not.'  Kamaikan restrains her, she goes on stabbing and produces a little blood.  Others finally take the knife away from her....

"Masalito recounts fight between Ekianga and Amabosu, and says Sau put curse on house because of that.  That's why the child is sick.." (p. 209, Feb. 2).

"2.00 Ekianga's house accuse Sau again.  Andre says to drop the whole thing until everyone is here and then have an open discussion about it, it is bad to go around taking people's names, uttering them (Taia).  Old Sau, according to a number of people, says she is going to die today.  It is being said that Madaydya saw/heard the Mulozi.  He is meant to have heard Sau in the woods cursing the family" (p. 210, Feb. 2).

"It is said that the lozi of the old dead woman lives in her daughter Sau.

"Moke says she is bad.  His wife died and she didn't.  And his wife got flu in an epidemic and died and then Sau's mother who was perfectly well died a few days later mysteriously - she must be bad.   But even so the right thing to do is to make sure and then the maneno is ended...

"Anne says Sau says 'I will die today or tomorrow and everyone will say my son's mother was a Mulozi.  I am not.  I did not kill the child' " (p. 211, Feb. 2).

"Sau says 'I did my best -everyone thinks I am a Mulozi, but I gave the child medicine and I tried to kill myself with a knife.'...

"Anne is told by 2 boys that Sau was banished by Faizi and only came back since she [Anne] did.

"Sau refuses to be taken into shelter [by Anne or Turnbull].  Ekianga sleeps with her daughter [and his wife], Kamaikan, in kitchen annex....

"Pepeya [her son] in Sau's house - even though he kicked her in the pack [back?] and punched her and said she was bad woman and we all wanted noting to do with her.  He and his brother seem to be looking after her" (p. 212, Feb. 2). 

Next day, Feb. 3, the blaming of misfortunes on Sau expands.  "Cephu says that Sau is to blame for Abel's death as well."  Later that day, Sau's son "Amabosu says he wants to take his mother away to her village, but it would be bad for her to run away.  This is the second time today.  He is about the only one who denies that Sau is responsible, and it is unusual even for a relative to deny in the face of such strong opposition.  The formal thing to do is to threaten to kill your mother if she is accused" (pp. 213, 215).

Next day, Feb. 4, a man apparently "in a trance," attacked Sau in her house.  He "kicked door away, half fell in and beat Sau three times on her back with his fist - not excessively hard, but hard enough for an old woman."  Later, "Sau wailed loudly and came out and threw herself  on the ground....  Kondabate and Bonyo help Sau back into her house.  Andre looks after her.  Kamaikan comes over later to see her....  Sau leaves house and heads for woods, says she is going to her son (Anne's info.,  Anne follows her without trying to stop her, but other side of road she collapses again, so is brought back.)  Sau in house alone, sobs, makes same noises as she made when having heart-trouble (?) in forest.  Finally sleeps.  Pygmies laugh at Anne because Anne paces backwards and forwards and is worried.  They say: 'what can be done, so why worry?  She is only sleeping’...  Andre curses people for not having given her food all day long" (pp. 216, 217).

By now it is fairly clear that there is a serious persecution going on.  But next day, Feb. 5, Turnbull seems to want to explain it away.  "Yesterday's witch-hunt seems forgotten about - except for the fact that Sau has to go... The Bantu insistence that people are going to be beaten to death or mysteriously made to disappear, is remote from the pygmy mind.  He has no intention of killing the witch, it seems, though he goes through the motions....  Andre and Moke look after Sau  (Moke also visits her house).  There is lack of any real dislike of the discovered witch - mild fear, or better, respect.  Sense of bad but not evil.  Something she can not help, and has to be accepted, but every possible precaution taken against her.

"The pygmies might over-beat someone, but I do not get the impression they would beat them to death.  Their way, if any, would be to abandon a person rather than take positive hostile action.  Was Sau not fed all day on purpose, for instance?”  (p. 220). 

As you read on, see if you agree with Turnbull's benign interpretation. 

Not feeding Sau continues.  "Sau is not being fed at all; Kamaikan gave her something yesterday, today nobody has fed her up until evening.... They see no need to worry.  Pepeya and Alumasi spend a lot of time during the day in her hut; at night Pepeya sleeps in his and Alumasi sleeps in Sau's hut...." (p. 221, Feb. 6).

Three days later, Sau is still around: "Sale asked me to take Sau away in the car, but did not seem upset when I said no, not unless Sau asked" (p. 224, Feb. 9).

By Feb. 14, the persecution seems to have slowed down.  "Moke is going to woods today and others....  Moke wants everyone to go to the woods.  Even Sau should go, he says" (p. 227).  In a discussion later that day, some people seem to say that Sau may not be to blame after all (p. 229).  [I can't quite follow the logic of that discussion, the best I can make is that they are easing off on blaming Sau.]  Two days later Sau is with her children Kamaikan and Amabosu (p. 230).

By March 2 it seems that the persecution is over.  "Sau is sitting happily with a group of women at Maipe's house.  She is back to normal, herself and in status" (p. 233).  Next day she leaves the village for camp Lelo in the woods to stay with her family (p. 233).

But the peace does not last.  On March 14, "In the camp, outside Ageronga's hut, in loud voice Kenge says: 'Sau is old now - she is ready to die of old age any day.'  Feeling in this section of the camp is just as strongly anti-Sau as in the Sale section, though Sale himself is probably the strongest anti-Sau individual."  The hut where she stays with her family is physically apart from the rest of the camp, as people avoid being near her (p. 242). 

Blaming Sau begins again, and expands:  "All the Sale family have headaches and blame Sau, say she is killing them all" (p. 247, March 19). 

"Mambunia says he is ill - and blames Sau" (p. 251, March 22).

"There is a tremendous row about Sau.  Everyone is blaming her for all illnesses and misfortunes.  Moke's head, Salamini's head (in earlier camps) are recalled as being due to her; Kenge's bad leg, Masalito's back, Mambunia's illness, the bad hunting."  The Mbuti also blame Sau for Anne's and Turnbull's illnesses.  Then, the Mbuti "are moving camp and want neither Sau nor Anne to go with them ...that is why they are moving."  It's unclear if they actually move that day (p. 253, March 23).

They are ready to move next day, March 24, and "they say Sau must leave the woods.  If they [??] don't they will kill her.  She certainly can't go to the new camp.  She must come back and will be chase ngambo [sic] to her village" (p. 254).

On March 26 the campaign to banish her continues.  "The pygmies are moving camp today from Toangbe to the river Idoro.  All say that on no account must Sau go with them.  She should come back here [to the village?] and then be driven from here (where she has no house anyway) to her own village, Babama.  They say that if she refuses to leave they will beat her and kill her.  They have given her every chance to leave.

"But she does NOT come back, and as far as we can gather she has gone with them.  Moke says he is going to go after her himself if she doesn't come back tomorrow" (p. 258).

On March 30 Turnbull goes on a month-long trip and there is no news in the notes about Sau.  Whatever happens in that period, on May 1 we read that "Sau is in for the initiation and frolics about - has never looked healthier or happier.  But people watch her carefully wherever she goes" (p. 309).  A week later, on May 8, there is a short comment in the field notes that "Sau is quite happy also chatting" (p. 310).

The happiness Sau exhibits may reflect her strength and resilience, not any acceptance of her.  For on May 30 Newton tells Turnbull "that when he [Newton] was there [at a forest camp] and Sau came in once from the village, everyone made leaf doors and put them up in front of their entrances, except, it seemed, Ageronga - but on looking inside he saw he had put up a screen inside....  After she left they all kept their screens up," possibly still fearing Sau and wanting to protect themselves from her (p. 336).

Next day, May 31, the situation does not improve; during a group gathering there is "general talk and during it everyone starts making fun of Sau and imitating her" (p. 337).

Sau continues to try to find a place for herself, and they continue to exclude her.  On June 10 "Sau has left her village yesterday and has arrived at the other camp today, of Salumini.  This little bombshell has already been known by all, but this is the formal announcement for the few who have not been privately told.  Only now can they openly discuss it.  They are all up in the air.  That shows what sort of brother Salumini is.  She could not come here to our camp because she is not welcome.  But she can there" (p. 355).

Two days later people make fun of Sau, as they continue to exclude her.  As people are talking, "Arobanai very realistically imitates the chasing of Sau [if the chasing refers to an actual chasing of Sau, it is missing from the notes], beating her with a stick - Appiamomba joins in and wrestles with imaginary Sau, hurls her to the ground Arobanai leaps in beats her and then spears her through and through.  So realistic it could happen?  Andre approves" (pp. 361-362).

Sau seems to have lost the battle to stay with the group, for on July 4 Turnbull writes: "News of Sau filters through.  She is at Herafu's village now, and since her arrival Sitanili has fallen ill and Sau has been named.  So tomorrow Arobanai is going there to see what is what.  Sau has been forbidden here.  When she left she went to Herafu's  and arrived in the middle of the night.  Very bad" (p. 381). 

On July 12 there is the final installment of her story in the field notes.  After a long five months of harassment, beatings, and blaming, interspersed with uneasy and temporary ceasing of the persecution, Sau is finally driven out.  "In the afternoon Sau is reported to have been seen.  She was out at Apharama with Herafu's pygmies, and came in from there.  It is said that she built a fire in the forest just behind the village on the other side of the road.  This is a bad thing to do.  'It means she is saying "I am going to stay here and trouble the pygmies from here." '  She is also said to have called Amabosu [her son] to come get her and bring her to the camp.  But he has refused in the past and will refuse now, they all say....

"A search party gets up of Kenge, Kelemoke, Appianomba, Masoudi, Omali, Akobi and Singa.  Go very quietly through the forest.  It was said she built her fire at the crossing of two paths.  We see smoke ahead and everyone gets very quiet.  But the smoke turns out to be haze....

"The pygmies say 'We'll throw her in the water'  'No, she won't sink - she won't die that way'  'She can't be killed'  'She'll come at night and trouble us'  'We'll kill her then'  'We can't make her fall or die'.  They laugh ' ridicule, or nervousness?  They say she has a Bira friend at Matala [Katala?]  and that is where she should stay....

"In the evening about 8 p.m. when it is really dark Sau comes down to near the pygmy camp at the Palais [a hotel] and builds her fire and sits down.  Great protest all around.  Some push her, others just stand around.  Ekianga and Kelemoke the most insistent that she should be driven away at once.  (Kelemoke's family has suffered most; she is Ekianga's ma in law)." 

She is finally forced to go away.  "As she left C.P. everyone shouted and jeered at her....  On arrival there [to Katala] they handed her down from the car quite gently.  Someone had given her a cigarette....  She says she will stay away and not come back.  She goes trotting off to her friend's house.  Everyone back at C.P. glad to hear she has really been returned" (p. 385).  That is the last mention of Sau in the field notes that I found.

Comment: what is Turnbull doing all this time that Sau is hounded?  Merely taking notes?  He never says that he ever intervened in any way, and he is critical of Anne Putnam, who did intervene at times.

This is a tale that starts on January 30 and ends July 12.  For five months, Sau is the victim of accusations, avoidance, harassment, banishment, and some beatings.  She is not killed.  At times some people are kind to her and protect her; a few times she seems happy.  But as a whole, the persecution of Sau is a dark and upsetting side of the Mbuti people in 1958.  Turnbull's references to Sau in The Forest People, all cited above, do not give even a hint of the extent of her suffering.  His comments in the book vastly understate what took place, according to the field notes.

There is even some evidence that Turnbull considered Sau's case to be funny.  A T.F. McIlwraith (perhaps a teacher), in responding to a letter from Turnbull (I found no copy of Turnbull's letter at ARC), on March 4, 1958 refers to "a most entertaining commentary upon a glorious witch hunt," which he read to his class (ARC, box 2, folder 3, 4, or 5).  Is it the Sau case?  What did Turnbull say to elicit that response?

Anne Putnam did not think it was funny.  Both in her field notes and her National Geographic article in 1960 she describes an ugly persecution that she tries to stop.  She writes on Feb. 8: "There isn't one person except me who thinks she isn't a witch.  I must say she looks the part" (ARC, box 1, folder 26, p. 105).  Later that same day, Anne reports: "By the time I got  [went] up they were beating her, then I stopped that and she put a noose around her neck [to kill herself].  Then she moved in her room... old Sau is trying to slash her stomach with her little women's knife and her daughter is trying to prevent it.  A lot of other pygmies rush in at this minute and stop her...  [Anne Putnam] spent a lot of time taking nooses off her neck...  [Sau] rolled in the ashes and her face began to bleed.  She kept saying to me 'I am going to die to day.  They are going to say to my son Your Mother is a Molozi, Your Mother is a Molozi' " (p. 107).

Anne Putnam tells an even more dramatic story of Sau in her National Geographic article, "My Life With Africa's Little People" (1960, pp. 297-301).  Because it may have been edited, re-written, and re-organized by the editors in order to make for a better story, I do not discuss it here.  For evidence of heavy editing, see letter from Monroe Stearns to Turnbull, March 31, 1958, where he talks of changing the sequence of events, making composites of characters out of two or more people, and so on (ARC, box 2, folder 3, 4, or 5).

In Wayward Servants, Turnbull presents a more elaborate account and explanation of Sau and her role in the Mbuti group than he does in The Forest People.  There too he understates the evidence found in the field notes.  Very briefly, he argues that the Mbuti use Sau, and some others, to explain illness, death, and other misfortunes.  But unlike the villagers, they have no intention to kill them.  (See Turnbull's discussion in Wayward Servants, 1965, pp. 199-200, 235-36. for a detailed version of my very brief summary.)

I have read the field notes four times.  I keep reading Turnbull's comments about Sau in The Forest People.  Try as I might, the two versions cannot be reconciled.  In the notes, an old woman is harassed, blamed, accused, beaten, abused, made to suffer.  It's a story that should shame any group that partakes in it.  It's a story that does not belong in a place we would want to emulate.  Similar persecutions have occurred in many places, and they will again.  None of these places are models for a good society, no matter what other good qualities they may possess. 

I will never understand Turnbull's comments about Sau in the book.  How could he ignore his own evidence?



B.  Mbuti Women: Equality?

I went to ARC to read Turnbull's field notes for two reasons: general curiosity about a book I admired and used in my teaching for decades, and a desire to learn more about women's and children's lives than is found in The Forest People.   The field notes have many statements about women.  Almost all, however, are very brief, 2-6 lines long.  There are two exceptions, the descriptions of the elima festival (pp. 129-131 and a few other places), and the dance of the old woman during the molimo (pp. 72 ff).  In contrast, men's activities are described in longer paragraphs and often for pages. 

Turnbull says in the book:  "The woman is not discriminated against in BaMbuti society as she is in some African societies.  She has a full and important role to play.  There is relatively little specialization according to sex.  Even the hunt is a joint affair.  A man is not ashamed to pick mushrooms and nuts if he finds them, or to wash and clean a baby.  A woman is free to take part in the discussions of men, if she has something relevant to say.  In fact, it was the apparent absolute dominance of the male in the molimo that had seemed to be the exception" (p. 154).

Conditions are not quite as rosy in the field notes as Turnbull says in The Forest People.  Let us begin with some general observations Turnbull makes in the field notes about women.  Perhaps most revealing is the following (one I do not remember in The Forest People): "Masamba is busy making twine late at night.  The women usually are busy at something all the time unless they are sleeping" (p. 344, June 4).  He makes no similar observation about men, in the notes or the book.

Here are some of women's activities.  Almost all are brief notes and cited in their entirety.

Although women work most of the time, they also have fun.  ""Women's beauty parlour gets going as soon as they are back from the hunt ... Kangay [?] mostly, but a couple go in for hair styling ...

"As it gets dark the women around Salumini's hut are playing picking up Kangay fruits rapidly, holding them two at a time to their breasts, dropping one as they put the other in with the other hand.  They sit facing each other - two of them, others looking on, and get faster and faster, until one drops one, when they all laugh, shake hands with a finger click, and start again"  (pp. 65-66, Nov. 27).

One of women's tasks is husking rice.  Women are "busy plucking off the grains and winnowing.  Quite a work-out, but they seem to regard it as normal.  But I notice many more of them are getting hold of machele, husked rice, than three years ago [in 1954]" (p. 114, Dec. 19).  Women also pound rice.  "Women pound rice in small mortars either squatting or sitting on log or pygmy chair" (p. 142, Dec. 25).  And later, Turnbull observes "if one woman starts making a basket they all do.  Solidarity" (p. 325, May 25).

As they go about their days, women also have fun.  "Women sing whenever they are going about together, to wash, carrying water &c.  When in river bathing they splash about and make drumming rhythms by beating water with hands, getting a hollow sound not unlike the breast pot, but much louder.  The same sound in quality" (p. 184, Jan. 17).

Women work most of the time.  Although Turnbull says very little about it, because he probably was not there to observe it most of the time, they gather much food in the forest.  In 1965 he writes that the forest vegetable foods (collected largely by women) "form the bulk of any forest diet," and provide at least as much nutrition as does the meat the men hunt (1965, p. 271).  (This observation seems to be missing from both the field notes and The Forest People.)

Incidentally, Turnbull does claim in both places that men partake in housework.  "Men often do women's work; sweeping the camp; pounding reluctant manioc; etc." (p. 324, May 20).  This generalization is a short paragraph, all you read here, without any context and unrelated to adjoining paragraphs.  I found no examples of men doing housework in the field notes.  Whatever "women's work" men do (probably not much) Turnbull must have found it remarkable since in the Britain and U.S. of his time men did little or no housework.

But all is not well with women's lives.  A warning sign (cited above) is the new husband who jokes that he did not have to beat his wife that often.  It masks some serious incidents in the field notes, where men feel free and justified to beat their wives because their supper was not cooked, or not cooked on time, or for any other explanations they offer.

There are five times in the field notes where men beat their wives.  From the context of these incidents, however, it seems that beatings are common.

"6.0 [p.m.] Kelemoke beats up his wife in Cephu's camp.  Salumini's camp follow the progress of the fight from where they are sitting with interest but only the kids go over to watch.  Moke says, with a disapproving shake of his head, that he is doing it without cause [implying that on other occasions men are justified for beating their wives], she has done nothing wrong.  And it is bad to beat one’s wife ...  Particularly on the face.  Particularly on the nose.  Very bad....

"Shortly afterwards in Cephu's camp I find Kelemoke sitting in a sulk at the main fire, not talking; with only Take sitting there with Maliamo.  The wife has escaped to Take's hut, and is inside weeping.  Take's wife sits on guard outside.  Kelemoke glares at the hut.  She is weeping EMAO.  Everyone else including Cephu sit at their fires ignoring it all"  (p. 116, Dec. 19).  Apparently, no one stepped in to stop the beating.

Next day Turnbull is given an explanation for the beating.  "Kelemoke's fight [what Turnbull describes as a beating initially now becomes a fight] was because his wife had gone to the village and had not got back on time to cook his food.  Then the oil had spilled and was wasted.  He was hungry, and a wife should not let her husband go hungry.  (This was told me by Asumani's 'wife'.)"  (p. 117, Dec. 20).

Men offer other justifications for beating their wives, such as not having joined in the hunt, or for finding her actions during the hunt wanting.

"As soon as Cephu gets back [from the hunt] he beats up Anjiani (his wife) for not having come on the hunt.  Arobanai and Bonyo [two women] agree with him (they talk to each other about it) and say it is bad for women to ikala bule [??] while their husband is hunting" (p. 120, Dec. 20).

"Faizi Mdogo's wife came into the camp in a great state wearing a leaf.  She had 'not run as fast as an animal' and her husband was so annoyed at her letting the animal escape that he beat her, chased her, and tore off her bark cloth and threw it into the forest.  She threatens to go back to Babama and everyone says she has the right to do this ...Sale is furious at his son and threatens to send him to Mambasa.  By the time she gets through the camp someone has given her a couple of small pieces of cloth to wear.  One of the Alima girls carries the baby.  Fazi Mdogo stays and sulks" (p. 147, Dec. 27).  In this beating, there is clear community disapproval and support for the wife.  But in other cases and generally people do not seem to intervene to stop the violence, and in some cases even women justify the beating.

In discussing beatings men administer to their wives, Turnbull says "three fights with wives in three days" (p. 126, Dec. 21).  He refers to one by Kelemoke (p. 116), one by Cephu (p. 120), and a third by Amabosu (this last one I did not find in the field notes).  Usually he refers to the violence as beatings, but here and in some other places he diminishes their seriousness by calling them fights, perhaps to imply they were reciprocal actions, where women fight back.  In Wayward Servants,  he uses both words in the same sentence: "A certain amount of wife beating is considered good, and the wife is expected to fight back" (p. 287). I found no wives fighting back in the field notes, whatever the expectation may be.  There is one incident in the field notes that starts with a man beating his wife but soon becomes a fight involving others, men and women (p. 157, Dec. 30).

The evidence indicates that men feel free to beat their wives, mostly for not catering to their needs.  Turnbull's comments and descriptions imply that beatings are acceptable, and they belie the light note of the husband's comment in The Forest People that his wife was so good that "he had not found it necessary to beat her at all often" (p. 205).

Women's exclusion from the molimo also indicates inequality (see chapter 3 here).  Both in the field notes and the book women are forced to go to their huts each night the men sing and dance (see pp. 35, 52, 54, 57, 60, 185, and 375 of the field notes).    There is the evening when an old woman ties up the men and dances alone, while other women are present.  Thus, women's exclusion is not total, but interestingly it resumes as soon as the old lady finishes her dance; "all the women leave, and Moke [a man] makes sure they are shut up" (p. 84, Dec. 3). 

There is also an instance where the women refuse to leave and join the men during the singing.  The men are unhappy and consider this molimo event empty and meaningless (p. 121, Dec. 20).  But in later molimo evenings women are banished again.  "As the moon comes up fairly early (8 p.m.?) the women and children are told to retire," and it seems they do, since Turnbull does not say they do not (p 375, June 20).  As Anne Putnam tells us (see chapter 3), the women resent the exclusion and groan each time they are forced to their huts.  In short, women's exclusion from the molimo is another indication of gender inequality.

Whereas the beatings women suffer and men's forcing women to their huts during the molimo may not indicate oppression, they also do not support Turnbull's claim of gender equality.  Compared to U.S. and European women of the 1950s, who were second-class citizens, Mbuti women may appear equal to men.  Also, Mbuti women lead generally satisfying lives.  Equal they are not, however.  Men's insistence and persistence in keeping women away from molimo activities mean that men feel privileged and powerful enough to get their wish.  By being consigned to their huts behind closed doors night after night women experience inconvenience and powerlessness, and they resent it.  (Men's exclusion from the elima house is equivalent to women's exclusion from the boys' nkumbi, and does not inconvenience them in the way women are inconvenienced during the molimo.)

As for the beatings women suffer, it may seem that five beatings do not prove that women are controlled by men and discriminated against.  First, probably more take place than the five Turnbull includes in his notes.  Second, these five (or more) occur in less than a year in a small group of probably a hundred or so people (in the book Turnbull refers to 25 huts in one camp; p. 69).  In that context, where all women see the beatings and know of them, and where men beat women because they do not serve men's needs and wishes, and where "a certain amount of wife beating is considered good," even five beatings belie claims of gender equality.





C.  Children's Lives

During my first reading of the field notes I was upset by what appears to be harsh and severe violence against children.  The idyllic childhood Turnbull describes in The Forest People  (pp. 126-129), and I discuss in chapter 3 here did not stand out in my mind then.  It was in later readings, when I looked for it, that I found the evidence for a happy childhood.  But the field notes scenes of children being beaten do not go away.

Like all major problems I discuss, Turnbull also refers to hitting children in the book.  He writes: "For children, life is one long frolic interspersed with a healthy sprinkle of spankings and slappings.  Sometimes these seem unduly severe, but it is all part of their training" (p. 129).  Earlier, he notes that any adult around a baby who "gets into a bed of hot ashes" will give the baby a "sound slapping" (and will also "fondle him and feed him with delicacies if he is quiet and gives them no trouble") (pp. 127-128).

The word in the field notes, however, is not spanking or slapping; it is "beat" and "beating."  Even after four readings of the field notes, even after so much evidence of happy childhoods, "beat" still seems harsh and more than "unduly severe."

There are at least seven incidents of adults beating children.  Three others may be playful hitting.  I cannot judge from the context.

Let me cite all seven.  The first four occur in a two-week period, in the first two forest camps, when Turnbull lives closest to the Mbuti families and when I think he took some of the best notes.  He is less likely to witness beatings that may occur during other times when he is traveling and moving about.

"Kids are beaten 'because they like swimming too much.'  'Their thumping of the water is causing the rain' " (p. 94, Dec. 7; that is the entire entry for this incident).

"1.30 Yaoule boy gets a whipping in the little clearing behind Ausu's house [from the account that follows, it's unclear to me why the boy was initially whipped]. Salumini takes him from Asofalinda who has caught him, but he runs away and fights with another child who apparently had taken a stick from him.  He eventually gets the stick and hurls it away into the forest.  He then grabs a machetti, and Asofalinda strides up and seizes him again, wrestles with him and takes the machetti away.  He then grabs a knife, and As gets that.  He then runs into Andre's house and As chases after him and sends him flying out.  An older girl seizes the other boy and shoves him inside Andakala's hut.  The two boys had fought very bitterly, and everyone just stood and watched.  Asofalinda seems a real disciplinarian" (p. 103, Dec. 11).

"Sale's wife beat a kid with a vine in the afternoon, hard; when the vine broke she slapped him until he broke away and ran howling into the bush.  He has refused to obey his older brother (who was giving an order for his mother).  About 9 years old" (p. 115, Dec. 19).

"...Salumini beats young Sale, and old Sale grabs a switch and gives him an additional good hiding, until he runs screaming behind my house.  He was disobedient again. (ref. yesterday.) (p. 124, Dec. 21).

"One of Asofalinda's children is for ever bawling its head off, and is just left to it for the first hour, then beaten soundly until it flies from the camp.  A definite bad-tempered bawl" (p. 357, June 8).

I find the following scene upsetting because people think it's funny that a child screams from a beating.  "Saitun beats a child that is already screaming its head off.  Not very hard, and smiling all over her face.  It makes the child scream louder.  Then she throws away its toy, and it screams more, and all women laugh.  Child goes to get toy and Saitun beats it again and throws the toy away again.  More laughs" (p. 250, March 22).

This may be the most ugly and most violent beating of a child.  "10.30 Njelu come in preceded by Toko's daughter ... age 10/12.  He beats her up - gives her back hand slap with full arm swing, then knocks her down onto the ground - lets her get up and then seizes an arm and twists her down to the ground again.  He is shouting all the time, explaining why he is doing it - she took some of his meat.  All others look on without saying anything.  Then she gets away and over by Sale's house.  Njelu comes after her and Faizi Mdogo catches hold of the girl and puts himself between her and Njelu.  Njelu tries to hit her - Sale comes out and puts himself between them as well, and Bonyo comes and harangues him.  Others still make no move, and nobody tries to physically restrain Njelu.  Finally he drives her off back to Cephu's camp, breaking off a fito on the way to whip her with.  Later he comes back and again explains in aggrieved tones why he did what he did - nobody pays any attention" (p. 165, Jan. 5).

This is an ugly incident.  It is made worse by the fact that only three people intervene, minimally, while others just watch and do not stop the beating. 

Does this evidence of beatings of children modify the idyllic portrait of childhood found in both the book and the field notes?  Are there more beatings that Turnbull either did not see or chose not to include in the field notes?  It does seem that there is much more evidence for a happy childhood than there is for beatings that indicate there are serious problems for children.  Reading the evidence from the field notes, perhaps most people would share The Forest People picture of childhood.  I tend to hold that view, but I am still bothered by the beatings described in the field notes.  I present the beating incidents in their entirety and readers can decide for themselves about the accuracy of the portrayal of happy childhood in the book.

We know of societies where children are rarely hit, let alone beaten.  Native Americans and anthropologists have written of such societies.  It is not universal for children to be spanked and beaten.  (Hoebel, 1960; Downs, 1972; Good Tracks, 1973.)



D.  Arguments, Conflicts, and Violence

Arguments, conflicts, and violence seem more serious and more common in the field notes than in The Forest People.  Tension seems to pervade both village and forest camps.  Turnbull does mention them in the book.  In fact, he devotes all of chapter 6 to the discussion of three incidents of disputes and conflicts.  But even after many readings of the book and of chapter 6 through the years, I did not find these disputes problematic or upsetting.  They did not challenge the portrait of a happy people living mostly in forest camps.  His descriptions of the incidents seemed almost funny and entertaining.  I was not prepared for what I read in the field notes.

Turnbull writes in the book:  "Essentially a camp is a happy-go-lucky, friendly place, but it is also full of little tensions that can suddenly become magnified out of all proportion and lead to full-scale disputes" (p. 36).  In chapter 6, he describes three disputes.  A major one is over a smoking pipe, which results in accusations, complaints, and tension over many days before it is settled and ended (pp. 115-118; for two other disputes in the book, see pp. 42 and 85).  To repeat, these conflicts and disputes never seemed as serious as what I read in the field notes.

Turnbull himself hints at the pervasiveness and seriousness of conflict.  In a letter to Evans Pritchard, he writes: "There have been disputes of all kinds within the group..."  (Dec. 21, 1957; at ARC, box 2, folder 3).  There are frequent manenos (a maneno is trouble, conflict, argument between two or more people).  On June 10, Turnbull observes that "There is the usual evening maneno" (p. 354).  The next day he notes "no manenos for once" (p. 358).  A few days before, on June 6, we read: "At dusk Masisi lectures the camp.  Now there are lots of girls here, we should behave ourselves.  I don't want noise - this is a camp of ... peace and quiet."  Then, in parentheses, he comments "like hell" (p. 348).  These three comments, and the arguments and disputes found throughout the field notes, indicate more tension and strife than The Forest People presents.  In fairness to Turnbull, I should add that some of these conflicts are followed by jokes and fun (see pp. 346-48, June 6).

It might be tedious to present these arguments.  In Wayward Servants (chapter 11) Turnbull presents 35 of them, and says that all disputes in his field notes total 124 (which is many more than I counted, but I only noted the more serious ones.)  Turnbull concludes that this is a "small number" and no "direct action is taken" in the vast majority.  He argues that there are forces in the Mbuti society that "work toward order" that lessen the effects of conflict and disputes.  One is the need to work together to ensure enough food from gathering and especially hunting, and another is "the weight of public opinion."  "There are equally positive forces against antisocial behavior, including the esteem of one's mates and elders, the affection of children, the contentment of a full stomach and, perhaps above all, the belief in the personal benevolence of the forest" (pp. 215-16).

The field notes leave me with a different impression.  The anger and intensity of the disputes seem to create an unpleasant atmosphere.  Turnbull refers to it himself, as we see in chapter 2 here and just above, in a letter, and in comments he makes in the field notes.

Here are a few examples from the field notes that may give a flavor of how serious and unpleasant the disputes can be.

"At dusk Moke comes over quietly and talks to Andakala Mkubwa and group at the Fazi ya Essumba.  Andakala raises his voice and shouts that he is going to hama [leave] tomorrow.  Others tell him to be quiet.  Moke goes to Faizi and talks with him, and Andakala comes half way and shouts at them both saying that no matter what he is going to hama and return to the village tomorrow - this is all because Faizi has to return.  Andakal adds ... that he can return and presumably end the Essumba [molimo] if he wants to.  He returns to the F ya E.  Faizi goes over and shouts in very definite tones that nobody is going to hama, they are going to stay here and hunt until the moon is out at least (another two weeks); and THIS is what is going to be" (p. 80, Dec. 2; this is one of many arguments about when the molimo should end).

On Feb. 6, Kenge gets "very drunk.  He is on my porch when Matungi plays with the private parts of Bangumba, sister by another mother, wife to Masumongo.  Kenge said that if Matungi wanted to do that he should do it somewhere else ... Matungi takes offense at some of Kenge's epithets, and challenges him to fight.  Takes off his shirt and stands mid-camp crouched arms held out - says come and hold me here (slapping chest) and we'll fight.  Kenge says no.  Matungi calls him a coward; Kenge takes off his shirt.  They each raise a foot as if to place them together and then wrestle, but others all interfere and drag them apart - not before they have smacked each other on head and shoulders pretty hard.  Kenge got a knife, but only managed to cut his own leg....  Elephant capita comes and takes Matungi away to work, and it breaks up...  when they meet again that evening they are reasonably friendly" (p. 221).

A very brief note on March 22 speaks loudly.  "A franca maneno blows up.  There are arguments and near fights, it is one of those days" (p. 251, March 22).

And on June 12, "huge row starts about Salumini.  It has been a bad day.  No honey, the hunt was bule [empty, unsuccessful] because of Salumini hunting in our area between Lelo and Kadiketu, and nobody has done any real work or accomplished anything.  Also rumours of threats from Salumin's group that they are going to war with our group because of the meat.  Even though I took it, these ps. are responsible because they ate it.  [Turnbull refers to an incident when he takes some meat from Salumini who, according to Turnbull and some Mbuti, sold it secretly to a villager.  Turnbull gives it to two other Mbuti.]  This is what the report says, but it is probably exaggerated" (p. 363).

Some arguments escalate into violent fights.

"Huge maneno at camp because the keno from Kenge's hut was borrowed by Andakala Mdogo's hut, and either they said the food in it was rotten or Kenge's people said that about Andakala's food in it.  It led to a brawl in which people tried to use sticks - women versus women and men versus men and both versus the other.  Mainly confined to the two huts, but Andakala Mkubwa intervened heatedly" (p. 21, Nov. 4).

A long and complicated series of fights takes place on July 4.  Many people are involved, and the fights seem to cover many issues.  It is difficult to extract passages from Turnbull's description, or to summarize it.  But it is the best example I can cite from the field notes, so it is included in the appendix in its entirety (p. 383 of the field notes).

Also, as we saw just above, there is some violence against children.

Generally, I find much more tension, many more arguments and disputes in the field notes than in the book.  Chapter 6 of The Forest People understates the seriousness of conflict among the Mbuti in the late 1950s that I found in the field notes.




The field note evidence in this chapter shows serious and pervasive problems among the Mbuti in 1957-58.  Most disturbing are the persecution of Sau and the beating of the girl accused of taking some meat.  The Mbuti are not just "happy-go-lucky" people living harmoniously with each other and the forest.  Gender inequality, persecution of some people, ongoing tensions and disputes, and some violence also exist.













Chapter 5 - A Gathering and Hunting Society?



The Forest People creates a strong impression that the Mbuti are primarily a gathering and hunting people, living outside industrial society. The words of a San Francisco high school student, written in 1985, exemplify that impression and perception:  "It was truly beautiful that a people can survive with no influence from the outside world and in some ways lead better lives than if they were in society" (ARC, box 4, folder 25).

That is the first, foremost, and persistent message of The Forest People  - that the Mbuti live primarily away from the villagers, are free of modern influences, and live mostly by hunting animals and gathering plants growing in the forest. 

It is more than an impression.  It is what Turnbull says.  In an unpublished 1963 paper, he writes: "... the BaMbuti are one of the few people left who still live a nomadic hunting and gathering existence" (1963, p. 1; ARC, box 1, folder 37).  Slightly modifying it, he repeats the statement in Wayward Servants.  The Mbuti today are not "an original ... hunting and gathering" society, but have managed to retain their economy and culture.  Though not an original example, they are, in fact, "a pure hunting and gathering economy at work not only side by side with, but in opposition to, a cultivation economy."  Later on in the book he observes that even though the Mbuti are "a society in the process of change," they also maintain, "in its basic respects, a hunting and gathering tradition..." (pp. 16-17, 88-89).

That is the issue I explore in this chapter: in 1957-58, are the Mbuti primarily a gathering and hunting people, supplementing their diet with cultivated foods, or, do they live mostly by eating cultivated foods while also gathering and hunting?  Turnbull says the first, I conclude the second.  He provides no statistics to support his conclusion, whether in The Forest People,  Wayward Servants,  other writings, or the field notes.  I support my conclusion using related evidence from the field notes:

--They spend most of their time in the village, not the forest.

--They partake in a money economy.

--They are often buying and trading for cultivated foods and other goods.

--They are influenced by outside institutions, groups, and people.



A.  Brief History of Invasions and Mbuti-Villager Relationship

According to Turnbull, Mbuti people have lived in the Ituri area for at least 2,000 [more?] years.  But over the last four centuries, various other African tribes invaded and settled in the area.  By the 1950s, "In the Ituri the tribal composition is thoroughly confused, a succession of invasions from different directions having taken place..."  Unlike the gathering and hunting Mbuti, the other tribes are cultivators.  Numbering about 40,000, the Mbuti "have taken to a specialized form of forest cultivation, growing both plantains and manioc as staples, some dry rice, beans and groundnuts."  To grow their crops, they cut down the forest to create plantations, which are surrounded by the forest (Wayward Servants, pp. 19-21).

Through the years, various pygmy groups have adopted (forced to or willingly?) the languages of the invading groups, and as a result by the 1950s they speak different languages.  In addition, "they have maintained some kind of relationship with the Negro neighbors ever since" (Wayward Servants, p. 23).  In The Forest People,   various papers, and especially Wayward Servants  Turnbull explores this relationship.  (Turnbull usually uses "Negro," the word common in the 1950s and 1960s, to refer to the villagers.  Except when I quote Turnbull, I use "villagers" here.)

In its briefest form, this is the issue and the debate: Are the Mbuti servants of the villagers, being controlled, used, or exploited by them?  Or, do the Mbuti allow, even manipulate, the villagers to think so, while in fact it is the Mbuti who exploit and benefit from their relationship to the villagers?  The villagers get some forest meat, other forest products, and work from the Mbuti.  In exchange, the Mbuti get plantains, manioc, and other cultivated foods.  But who benefits mostly from the exchange?  The villagers seem to, but Turnbull insists it is the Mbuti who actually gain the most. 

Turnbull writes that it is widely believed (but does not say by whom) that the Mbuti are dependent on and subordinate to the villagers (1965, p. 33).  But he repeats in many places that the villagers do not really control the Mbuti, despite appearances to the contrary.  They get little or no labor, little meat, and few other products from them.  (See chapters 9 and 12 of The Forest People, and chapters 3-7 of Wayward Servants.)

In text and notes, Turnbull explicitly takes the Mbuti perspective of their relationship to the villagers.  He reports at length Mbuti stories of how they fool and take advantage of the villagers, and he writes from the Mbuti point of view.  And as we see in chapter 2 here, he consciously chooses to live with the Mbuti when he has to make a choice.

Except where the relationship is relevant in some of the topics below, I do not discuss it here.  The Mbuti-villager relationship is not part of my critique of The Forest People.  I mention it briefly here for readers who have not read Turnbull's books.



B.  Forest and Village Worlds

We see in chapter 2 that Turnbull spends most of his time in the village, not in forest camps.  The Mbuti themselves also seem to spend much or most of their time in the village.  All spend much time, and many seem to spend most of their time, in the village.  There is constant travel from one to the other.  When they live in forest camps, they are often going to the village to get food and for other reasons.  When they live in the village, they go to the forest to hunt.  And to confuse matters, always it seems that while some (most) stay in the village, some (most) are in forest camps.  Here is an example of one person.  While most of the group Turnbull stayed with is in two forest camps from Nov. 18 to Dec. 28, one person went to the forest for only one day.  "8.10 [a.m.] Mambunia arrives.  First time I have seen him out in the forest this trip."  He leaves for the village next day (pp. 145-146, Dec. 26 and 27).

Almost all the action in The Forest People is in the forest, however, and we are led to believe that the Mbuti live primarily in the forest.  Except for the nkumbi and much of the elima, little action in the book takes place in the village.  The notes show otherwise.  Let us now look chronologically at the movements and actions of the Mbuti during 1957-58, and at discussions of where people say they want to live.

On Dec. 4, only 16 days after they have moved from the village to camp Lelo in the forest, some people want to move back to the village.  "Several men are complaining that it is not good here and they are going back to the village ... the chief reason seems to be that there is no tobacco and no palm oil..." (p. 87).

More discontent the next day.  "The other big maneno [trouble] of the morning is about striking camp and going back to the village - a subject that crops up daily, mainly amongst the same few malcontents" (p. 90).  We'll see below, however, that it is more than a few who move in and out of the forest.  Also, on Dec. 5, Faizi (Njobo in the book) has returned to the village for personal reasons.

On Dec. 28, the group returns to the village, after having lived in two forest camps since Nov. 18.  But not all agree.  The day before, "Sale is saying that he refuses to go to the village.  He hasn't been since we left for Apa Lelo some six weeks ago [but many people have gone to the village during this time].  Even to the doctor with his bad neck [which implies sick people usually do visit doctors].  He says that we should all stay here....  Sale likes the woods, says it is too hot in the village, the sun beats you hard" (pp. 145, 146).

A day after they return to the village, some men go back to the forest to hunt because they "want to get meat for today's [molimo] feast" (p. 153).  (For more examples of hunting while in the village, see pp. 7, 20, 34, 35, 39, 43, 44, 162, 173, and 203.)  There is constant movement between the village and the forest.  For example, below I offer many examples of Mbuti going to the village to shop while they camp in the forest.

On Feb. 1, Turnbull writes that while most of the group is in the village, three men (with their families, presumably) "are permanently near the old Lelo Camp; but today they are moving in closer [to the village at the edge of the forest], and the rest of the pygmies will go to join them tomorrow" (p. 205).  Later that day Turnbull again writes about a possible move.  "The pygmies say they are going off [to the forest] tomorrow, or Monday.  I lay ten to one against" (p. 206).  Turnbull's comment indicates an awareness that the Mbuti are not in the forest that often, that they go there less often than they say.  His doubt is justified, as the next day's notes mention no such move.

On Feb 6, some more people, 14 men (no women) are in the forest, while the rest are in the village.  "There is little meat coming in from the small group out at the Lelo, but very little" (pp. 221-22).  On Feb. 8, there is still more movement both ways.  "In the morning Maipe goes to the forest camp (just beyond old Lelo camp) and returns at mid-day.  Ekianga and Kamaikan return to the village.  The hunters are all out spear hunting today, for elephants - tomorrow they will be going net-hunting.  The remaining ps. [pygmies] say they will go on Monday, they are waiting until they get ndizi...that's their excuse" (p. 223).  One more caustic comment from Turnbull about the Mbuti going to the forest.  But finally, on March 26, "All pygmies return to the forest" (p. 258).

All these examples, and many more, show that the Mbuti are constantly moving from the forest to the village, and village to the forest.  They do so as a whole group, in smaller groups, even as individuals. The two worlds are more integrated in the field notes than Turnbull says in The Forest People.

(A reflection and warning.  Unless one spends years and years on this project, it is impossible to be precise on how many days the whole group, or subgroups, or even individuals spend in each setting, the village and the forest.  The information about individual and groups movements, for each day, is simply not in the field notes.  A more complete account than I offer here may be possible with some sophisticated coding and computer programming of the information that is in the field notes.)

Sometimes there are disagreements about where people should be.  For example, Moke says on Feb. 14 "that it is bad that everyone is in from the woods - should all be there [in the forest]" (p. 223).

When they do camp in the forest, they often travel back to the village.  "Lots of pygmies are in from the forest, back at C.P. [Camp Putnam].  They are here to get food..." (p. 253, March 23). 

Two months later, more movements between the forest and the village.  "Ageronga is working in the village but sleeps here at [camp] Kadiketu [in the forest]....  Early in the morning men and women are off to the village to get muhoko for the trip and the new camp" (p. 333, May 27).

Stays in the village are frequent and often long.  People go there to shop (as we'll see below).  People also go for other reasons, not mentioned in The Forest People  (or even in the field notes) but discussed in Wayward Servants.  They "abandon the forest for a brief spell in the village, seized by a whim, by the desire for relaxation, or by their taste for village foods, wine and tobacco" (p. 29).  The village "offers, for a brief while, an agreeable change of pace, an opportunity for a relaxation that is not always possible in the forest ... An Mbuti band or an Mbuti family or an Mbuti individual may descend upon a village ... because of laziness if the forest hunting gets too strenuous, or because of dissension, or indeed for almost any reason except necessity" (p. 37).  "The village generally is a place for relief from the tensions of forest life ... " (p. 295).

It is debatable whether the stays are brief, and only convenient but not necessary.  The information I present in this book shows the stays are frequent, often long, and necessary.  When an action is frequent and long it changes from convenience to necessity, despite Turnbull's protests to the contrary.

In short, we see here that the Mbuti group Turnbull stays with does not live primarily in the forest.  Thus, it's puzzling that in The Forest People Turnbull says the Mbuti would get sick and die if they lived in villages outside the forest (pp. 259-60).  They already do live in villages, some of them up to three months at a time.  How do they survive?  (It is important to distinguish this group from other pygmy groups that do live in permanent village settlements.  See pp. 262-63 of The Forest People.)

During the honey season, and at other times for other reasons, the Mbuti band Turnbull lives with is in constant membership flux, splitting into smaller groups, reforming into other groups, and individuals moving from one group to another.  For examples, see field notes, pp. 367, 380, The Forest People, p. 264; Wayward Servants, p. 27.)

The story Turnbull tells in The Forest People largely ignores the time  the Mbuti live in the village, and the many visits they make to the village while in forest camps.  Through chapter 5 of the book, there is only one mention of a visit to the village (p. 115).  On two other occasions people tell stories which include visits to the village (pp. 136, 138).

In his summary of life at the forest camp, at the opening of chapter 8, Turnbull mentions neither Mbuti trips to the village, nor villager visits to the forest camp (discussed below).  "The Lelo River flowed on, rising and falling endlessly; the men went out to hunt and returned with meat; the women went out to gather and came back with mushrooms and nuts and fruits; the children laughed and played" (p. 144).  Later in the book, he does make two references, in passing, to times outside the forest during the two forest camps of Nov. 18 to Dec. 28.  The Mbuti "live necessarily in contact with the villagers and spend a number of weeks every year either in a village or among villagers" (p. 226).  In summarizing his time with the band, he says that he came "in on their trips to the village" (p. 231).  As a whole, these comments do not reflect the length of time they live in the village, the many times they visit the village while in the forest, or the times villagers visit the Mbuti in forest camps.



C.  Dependence on Grown Food

There is little indication in The Forest People   that plantains, manioc, and other foods have become staples of Mbuti diet.  There are three brief references.  As the band moves to camp Lelo on Nov. 18, "The older girls carried an extra basket bulging with plantation foods," or carried a baby (p. 53).  Before Turnbull and Kenge move to the forest camp on that same day, Kenge found and brought "a large bunch of plantains, and a cake of scented soap" (p. 54).  Finally, when Turnbull returns from his April trip, he finds the Mbuti "busy trading [meat] for village produce" (p. 261).  I do not think these passages reflect what the field notes show, the great dependence of the Mbuti on grown foods.

In Wayward Servants, Turnbull argues at length that village foods are matters of choice, taste, and convenience, not necessity; the Mbuti can and do live without them, he says.  (See pp. 34-35, 128).

Let us now search through the field notes to determine whether grown foods and other products are a matter of convenience or necessity.

On June 13, Turnbull writes: "Some women go to the village to get manioc.  Seem to go twice a week at most" (p. 364).  Whether at most or at least, we will see that in the forest and in the village, plantains, manioc, bananas, rice, and other foods are necessities.

On Nov. 20, just two days after the band set up forest camp at Lelo, Salumini goes to the village for ndizi (plantains) and "has added another bunch of ndizi" to their supply (p. 51).  Three days later, Nov. 23, "everyone is out of ndizi and muhogo" (p. 58).  On Nov. 30, 12 days after they arrive at Lelo, "As dusk fell it was apparent that a lot of pygmies had left the camp for the village - maybe to be there tomorrow early for the market, maybe for other reasons" (p. 75). They return the next day at 3, "and immediately the camp seethes with activity and squabbles.  Almost as soon as they are here they are cooking and eating the ndizi they have just bought" (p. 77) The tone of this last description indicates that ndizi are very much part of their lives and diets, not just a luxury.

On Dec. 3 Salumini is off to the market again.  "1.10 [p.m.]  Salumini's safari arrives - three loads of ndizi, one of manioc and one of his personal things" (p. 81).  Just four days later, Dec. 7, "3 pygmy women come through [the forest camp] with huge loads of ndizi" (p. 94).  Some more go to market the next day: "Andre says not many going to the market as they have had poor hunting and have no money" (p. 95).  Twelve days later, now in the second forest camp, Baziani, a villager, "has supplied Andre and Salumini with rice sheaves from his plantation" (p. 114, Dec. 19).  For a final example, on June 18, people leave the forest camp for the village.  "Practically everyone is in the village; some to get food, some because bazungu have arrived" (p. 351).

Turnbull provides no statistics of any kind on food production and consumption, so we cannot judge whether grown food is a necessity or a convenience and a luxury.  (In contrast, Lee, 1984, provides detailed statistics on what the !Kung eat.)  I also have no statistics.  But the field notes as a whole, the examples I cite from the field notes, and the tone and content of these examples convince me that ndizi and other grown foods are necessities; they could well provide more nutrition than gathered and hunted foods.

Other pieces of evidence are the references in the field notes to days of little game caught and days of no hunting.  Two examples: "Still no hunting being done” (p. 206, Feb. 1).  "Nobody suggests going hunting" (p. 349, June 7).  (Which must be why some go to the village the next day.)

In a few places, we read that people are hungry.  Also, while they stay in the village for weeks and months, surely meat and forest products cannot feed them adequately.  Grown foods must be what they eat mostly.  Grown foods are a staple of their diet.



D.  The Presence of Money

While reading p. 93 of the field notes for the first time, at ARC, I wrote the following note: "Here and in many places Turnbull keeps referring to 'francs.'  I remember no reference to money in F.P."  I was wrong.  There are five such references.  As in each topic I discuss here, however, these are brief references.  Turnbull does not focus on money as a central aspect of Mbuti lives.  In contrast, the field notes repeatedly refer to people demanding francs for various reasons, working for francs, arguing about francs.  The field notes convince me that money was part of Mbuti life and their economy in 1957-58.

These are the five references to money in The Forest People.

When he returns to the Ituri in 1957, Turnbull finds that "several of my friends were working either at the Animal Station or the motel, buying their food with money at the local stores, instead of freely roaming the forest hunting and gathering for their needs" (p. 29).

Turnbull pays Kenge 40 francs a week for assisting him, cooking for him, and so on.  Kenge tells Turnbull that "the hunting group was still hunting and gathering, but that they sometimes came down to the village and spent time there, earning money at the Station de Chase or at the motel, money which they promptly spent on food, tobacco, and palm wine at the new stores" (p. 32).

An Mbuti comments that the village site they occupy is "a good site because tourists could drive close by and take their photographs and give them money" (p. 38).

Ausu was paid 500 francs for selling a live okapi to the animal station (p. 176).

The final reference to money says that villagers give presents to Mbuti for their weddings, which includes "money, ax-blades, or small pieces of cloth" (p. 212).

After I had read the field notes twice, and after I had become aware of the presence of money, I did notice these references during a new, fresh reading of The Forest People.   But during my 36 years of using the book, these references had never stood out.  They were overwhelmed by the emphasis on the Mbuti living in the forest and being hunters and gatherers.  I asked two people who have read the book, and neither remembers money ever being mentioned.

In the field notes there are at least 14 disputes over money, over whether money should be paid by one party to another, and how much should be paid.  Here are two.

A man gives his dog to another man to care for it for a while, and shortly after the dog dies.  A long and bitter dispute follows on who is to blame, and what should be paid to the owner if the other man is to blame (p. 89).

Two women fight when one accuses the other of flirting with her husband.  The married woman loses three teeth in the fight.  In the discussion that follows, "all agree that Biyo will have to pay 300 francs" to the victim, one for each tooth (p. 108).  (The other 12 disputes appear on pp. 11, 20, 61, 64, 89, 92,93, 97, 110, 136, 167, and 247.)

Money is present in a variety of situations.

-- It is given as a wedding present (p. 235).

--It is given as a "bride price" when people marry (and results in many disputes about when and whether it has been paid) (pp. 34, 54, 71, 167, 170).

--The Mbuti often hunt to sell the meat for francs (pp. 59, 81, 88, 170, 258, 353).

--People who wash dead bodies and dig the graves get paid (pp. 200, 204).

--People pay for medicine, both western and local (pp. 69, 349, 426);

--When people catch live animals, they sell them to the animal station (pp. 13, 98, 110, 247).

--Tourists pay the Mbuti for taking their photographs (pp. 99, 106).

--A man who needs money reluctantly sells his whistle (p. 25).

--Sometimes relatives give money to each other (pp.162, 261).

--An Mbuti who lets a villager sleep in his house asks for rent (p. 251).

--Andre argues that people should pay him 100 francs if they kill any of his chickens while they are chasing them or throwing things at them (p. 139).

Money appears in other ways.  On Dec. 5, while in a forest camp, there is a "big maneno ... about striking camp and going back to the village..." Those who want to leave are accused by others of "wanting only tobacco and francs and not being prepared to do anything for it...Say they are lazy and if they would hunt a little more vigorously they would get plenty of meat to sell for francs that would buy them cigarettes" (p. 90).  Accusations of laziness lead to disputes over money.

There is also a brief reference to money and children.  As they are getting ready to move camp, "Manioc was collected today for the move.  Francs, for buying manioc &c. are had from children working" (p. 334, May 27).  That is all the note says.  Children working?  Doing what?  How many children, of what ages?  If children work for francs, isn't this an indication of a money society?

In a clear sign of how pervasive money is, we read of Amina, who "had her photograph taken ... but was so stupid that she didn't get paid" (the accusation of stupidity seems to come from the Mbuti, not Turnbull) (p. 352, June 8).  There are a few other Mbuti indifferent to money, besides Amina.  "Amabosu has been in the woods [forest camp] all this time, not the least interested in making money with the movie crowd" (p. 390, July 28).  Amina and Amabosu seem a small minority.

Turnbull may be conscious that money appears everywhere.  In any case, he argues in the field notes that it has not changed the Mbuti. 

"CASH ECONOMY.  What effect has the introduction of money had on temperament and interpersonal relations?  None or little, as they equate money with meat and transfer meat values to money.  They see it as meat.  As yet they are not used to individual labour and individual reward – except for the younger generation that work at the A.S. [animal station] and the elders see that they share their wages with their families.  Each individual sells meat, but the meat belongs to many different people, and so does the money.  Money is assimilated  to their culture pattern and subject to its same values" (p. 248, March 19).

Turnbull could be right.  He may see something in Mbuti daily life that is not in the field notes which convinces him that money is family and communal property and shared by all.  I don't see that in the examples I found throughout the field notes.  People want and argue for money in so many contexts that I cannot avoid what seems an obvious conclusion, that when it comes to money the Mbuti of the field notes are not the Mbuti of The Forest People.



E.  Villagers in the Forest

In The Forest People and other places Turnbull argues that the forest world of the Mbuti and the villager world are separate and distinct.  He says that the villagers largely avoid being in the forest, because they think of  it as a dark and evil place, and the Mbuti discourage their presence there.  The villagers "seldom go into the forest unless it is absolutely necessary" (p. 13).  In Wayward Servants he talks of villagers "rarely" visiting forest camps to get meat (p. 150). 

Given his blanket statement that the villagers avoid the forest, it is curious that he also says  in the book that while at camp Lelo "we were constantly beset by villagers passing through" and asking for meat (p. 138).  This seems to be the six-week period when Turnbull spends the most time in forest camps, and has the best opportunity to observe.  As we see in chapter 2, he is rarely in the forest after Dec. 28.  This one statement aside, there is no doubt that Turnbull asserts that the villagers are largely absent from the forest.  (Both the book and the field notes show that in the village there is much interaction between the two groups.)

There are at least sixteen references in the field notes to villagers visiting Mbuti forest camps.  All but the last one are in the six-week period (Nov. 18-Dec. 28, pp. 48-143) when the Mbuti and Turnbull are in two forest camps.  They show frequent visits and sometimes extended stays by villagers.  But why no more references after that period?  Is it because Turnbull is rarely in forest camps with the Mbuti after those six weeks?  Is it that he ignores villager presence in forest camps?  Or, do the villagers change and stop visiting?  I suspect it is largely the first.

Whatever the answer, during that six-week period villagers are often going to Mbuti camps looking for meat.  They are given or sold meat some times, at others not.  A chronological outline of these visits shows more than "rare" visits.

On Nov. 19, the day after the Mbuti first move to the forest, "a negro [villager] comes through. nbsp; He asks the pygmies for meat, they ask him for fish.  He says there is no fish, they say there is no meat.  He then whines for a cigarette and finally gets one from Andre" (p. 48).

Two days later the same villager returns.  "The negro scrounge that was here our first day, but this time with two women, is here again - asking for meat and tobacco.  The pygmies all receive him courteously but assure him there is none of either.  He acts very upset and whines again, they laugh at him and he gets some meat" (p. 53).  (Turnbull's prejudice against the villagers shines through in his choice of words: whine, scrounge, etc.)

Three villager women arrive on Nov. 27.  "Three negro women come with loads of ndizi [plantains]...  They will exchange it for meat and rice....  They go straight to Faizi's hut - he is away - and go and make themselves at home" (p. 65).  The words "make themselves at home"  indicate familiarity and some frequency of contact between one Mbuti and the women.)  Next day, the "three Bira [villager] women are still here" (p. 67).

On Dec. 2, "the Katala negresses [I assume the same three mentioned above] return with a fresh supply of food for another stay in the hope of lots of meat" (p. 79).  It seems they succeed, for on Dec. 4 Turnbull writes this single line: "The three negresses have quite a stack of meat now, on Faizi's rack" (p. 88).

Next day another single line about visitors: "Two negresses doing each other's hair in Nikiabo's hut" (p. 90).  They may be two of the three women mentioned above.  An equally brief mention of visitors on Dec. 6: "10.15 - visitors arrive - three pygmies, a negro (son of Andre Mpishi) and wife" (p. 92).  Turnbull does not say why the villager and his wife are there.  We do read that "the negro and negress stay, the latter now asleep in Capita Matungu's hut" (p. 93).

On Dec. 10, more villager women are present in the forest camp.  "Several other ladies are staying in Sale's hut and Capita's; they are BaNgwana.  They complain of not getting any meat and threaten to leave.  The pygmies politely explain that this is a large camp, that there has been hardly any hunting because of the rains (This was the first fine day for a week), and there simply hasn't been enough meat to go around.  But they don't bother to persuade the women to stay.  Muttered remarks about 'these BaNgwana' " (p. 101).

On Dec. 17 "The three negresses leave."  Are they the same ones who arrived Nov. 27?  Unclear.  The next two sentences do tell us that they have a friendly relationship with the Mbuti.  "One of them wears Abeka vines that she has prepared for the Alima [Elima] girls.  They shake hands all around when leaving - no doubt the Bira [villagers] are better liked than Banguana or others, even BaNdaka" (p. 110).

Next day Turnbull writes that while a group of men were singing, Moke "was most of the time talking to a new negress (Bira) at Masamba's hut" (p. 113).  This is all we are told, so we don't know why she is there and what happens.

More visitors arrive on Dec. 19.  "The Mambudo arrives shortly after [3:15 p.m.] - he may have been here before but I did not see him, and was trying to buy meat.  Emil Mambudo arrives 15 minutes later also in quest of meat."  Some other villagers leave at about the same time.  "Negress Bira from Faizi's hut leaves..."  She had stayed "to see what meat she might get.  She didn't" (p. 114).

A few days later, Dec. 21, "Three negroes arrive, stay awhile and go through with machettis" (p. 123).  Later that day, more villagers come to the camp.  "Negroes return with Angelani.  They are BaNdaka working for the elephant camp - the other man here was in charge of them" (p. 124).

Finally, on Dec. 26, two days before the Mbuti leave the forest camp for the village, more villagers come for meat.  At 3 p.m. "Bolele and several Bantu women arrive for meat..." They leave at 5 p.m., having got no meat (p. 143).

The only other reference to villagers going to Mbuti forest camps appears months later, on June 10.  While the Mbuti are in the forest busy gathering honey, "two village girls ... arrive to get meat.  So pygmies go net-hunting [to catch animals] instead of honey hunting," to trade the meat for manioc and plantains (pp. 353, 354).

The evidence on the frequency of villager visits to forest camps is limited to the Nov. 18 - Dec. 28 period.  It suggests that such visits may be more than rare, but there is no clear and conclusive body of evidence that villagers go to Mbuti forest camps frequently.  As I note above, it is also possible that the reason we have no evidence beyond these six weeks may be that this was the only extended period during which Turnbull was in forest camps to observe villager visits.



F.  Other Outside Influences on the Mbuti

We have seen that there are many outside influences on the Mbuti.  The longest, most frequent, and most pervasive are the villagers.  We cannot think of the Mbuti apart from the villagers.  As Grinker says in a similar context, "one group is simply not intelligible without the other" (1994, p. 3).  The Belgian colonialists came after the villagers.

The Forest People   does mention outside influences, but as on every other issue, Turnbull does not focus on them.  He says that when he arrives in 1957, he sees Mbuti being photographed by tourists, "selling their services to tourists" and "doing things they would never do in the forest" (p. 38). Later there is a comment that more and more Mbuti wear European clothing while in the village, but in the forest they still wear bark cloth (p. 130).

In the field notes we see that in both their village and forest life much is changing.  In a revealing scene in a forest camp, while they are talking and gossiping, some people talk about "what the different villages are like, who lives there, what the stores have in them" (p. 118, Dec. 20).  Interest in what stores sell, even while they are in the forest, indicates that shopping, so far from gathering and hunting, is part of their life.

Here are some practices that show the outside world has altered Mbuti lives.

--They allow tourists to photograph them for money; indeed, sometimes they seek tourists (pp. 106-107).

--They appear in movies, presumably documentaries (p. 390);

--In village and forest, they use machetes and ax-blades (Wayward Servants, pp. 35-37).

--When need arises, even if they are in the forest, they go to hospitals (p. 100).

An example of outside influence is the use of "breast pots" by elima girls.  "There is a new instrument - a large pot into which the breasts are put, and the pot pressed against the stomach, moved in and out while tapping the side of the pot with the hands."  Ann Putnam thinks "the pygmy girls saw them in the village and liked them.  But she has never seen them before; in or out of the Alima [elima]" (pp. 105-106, Dec. 12).

In her own field notes, Anne Putnam writes about a forest camp she went to stay at.  Her comment refers to the Mbuti "around here," but she thinks it applies to other pygmy groups.  "I was struck by the huge pots and pans, mirrors and store bought wealth that the pigmies had.  In the old days there were few things that a pygmy woman had to carry when they broke camp but these days the pigmies are becoming real capitalists."  Since Anne Putnam came to the area in 1946, by old days she cannot mean more than 10-12 years before she wrote that comment in 1957 (ARC, Colin Turnbull collection, box 1, folder 2b, p. 130).

In his field notes, Turnbull cites a Father Longo who says "that the pygmies are far from being pure unspoiled primitives.  All pygmies have assimilated a great deal from long contact with different tribes.  There are none uninfluenced heavily by Bantu [villager] custom."  Later on that page, Longo is also cited as saying that pygmies "are too accustomed to road and civilisation, and would not like to be away from it for long."  Turnbull disagrees with the latter statement: "Not so sure.  There are some that would, some that wouldn't.  Ours are capable of staying in the forest months on end; so are others in the area" (p. 418, Aug. 14 and 16).

The European influence on the Mbuti, as in all of Africa probably, is significant.  In addition to introducing their own customs, products, religion, and so on, and forcing them on the natives, Europeans also forced economic changes.  Specifically for the villagers and the Mbuti, the Belgians required the villagers to raise cash crops such as cotton.  In turn, the villagers, needing labor, turned to the Mbuti for help, which created many ongoing conflicts between the two groups.  Many of the problems the Mbuti faced and the relationships they had with the villagers were created by European demands and decisions.  Money, of course, was introduced by the Belgians (Wayward Servants, pp. 38-41, 224).

In a non-paginated note at the end of the field notes, Turnbull makes this comment on the nature of Mbuti society in 1958.

"SOCIAL CHANGE.  Can't study the society as it was, or as a primitive society living as it has always done.  Have to study it as a society in change.  Changing in respect to European impact, contact with negroes.  Even if neither of these factors were present it would be changing with respect to changing ideas and personalities evolving new fashions and customs."

That is what Turnbull does not do in The Forest People.  What I hope to have shown in the last and this chapter is that The Forest People largely imagines how the Mbuti lived before the villagers and Europeans arrived, and therefore that while the portrait of the Mbuti in the book may be accurate for centuries ago, it is not in 1958.  (There is a discussion of this point in the next chapter.)



G.  Emerging Leaders?

Anthropologists generally agree that there are no leaders, no powerful individuals, no centralized political institutions in gathering and hunting societies.  Rather, they are generally egalitarian and decisions are made by community consensus.  In The Forest People Turnbull stresses the egalitarian conditions of the Mbuti.  Those conditions are what I admired and stressed to my students.

"There were no chiefs, no formal councils.  In each aspect of Pygmy life there might be one or two men or women who were more prominent than others, but usually for good practical reasons.  This showed up most clearly of all in the settling of disputes.  There was no judge, no jury, no court.  The Negro tribes all around had their tribunals, but not the Pygmies.  Each dispute was settled as it arose, according to its nature" (p. 110).

"If you ask a Pygmy why his people have no chiefs, no lawgivers, no councils, no leaders, he will answer with misleading simplicity, 'Because we are the people of the forest.'  The forest, the great provider, is the one standard by which all deeds and thoughts are judged; it is the chief, the lawgiver, the leader, and the final arbitrator" (p. 125).

So I was surprised to read in the field notes that the Mbuti had a capita (or sultani), which is the village word for headman or chief.  In Wayward Servants, Turnbull argues that this position exists only in the village, and only to please the villagers when the Mbuti relate to the village capita.  Turnbull insists, however, that the institution is foreign to the Mbuti and is absent in the forest.  An Mbuti capita who tries to assert authority in the forest is ostracized and isolated.  Also, "a man who displays himself as a great hunter, and boasts of his achievements too loudly, is somewhat distrusted, and any attempt on his part to use his reputation to gain more say than others will lead immediately to ridicule" (p. 179; see also pp. 27-39, 103, 224).

The few references in the field notes to power and authority, direct and indirect, neither fully confirm nor fully contradict Turnbull's view.  There seem to be no institutions of power and authority, but some comments Turnbull makes do suggest that even in the forest some people have more authority and more say.  But do they have institutional power?  I cannot judge.

Turnbull cites Anne Putnam's observation that Moke used to be very important, "particularly concerning hunting and the distribution of meat" (p. 27, Nov. 10; see also letter from Anne Putnam to Turnbull, May 6, 1957, at ARC, Turnbull collection, box 1 folder 3).

On his own, Turnbull describes Andakala as "quite the dictator in hunting matters here" in a forest camp (p. 74, Nov. 30).  During the molimo in the forest, Turnbull says: "Moke is the director of operations..." (p. 91, Dec. 5).  Later, while still in the forest, he writes that during the hunt "the important men seem to stay in the camp" (p. 114, Dec. 19).  And a final, and perhaps most telling, statement by Turnbull: "Moke and Salumini seem to be forest authorities, and Sale village: Andre both" (p. 225, Feb. 11).

Anne Putnam, in a May 6, 1957 letter to Turnbull, describes others with some influence, such as Faizi, who "is the main one for the public relations man especially for whites but also with the Bantus" (ARC, Turnbull collection, box 1, folder 3).  We see here the demands of European colonialism creating power positions in the Mbuti society.  In her copy of The Forest People, next to Turnbull's statement that the Mbuti "have no chiefs, no lawgivers, no councils, or no leaders," and the forest is their lawgiver, Anne writes: "If this is true why did they bring so many problems to Pat and myself to decide?"  (p. 125).

These examples raise questions whether there are power positions.  They tell us that when relating to villagers and Europeans the Mbuti are forced to do so through leaders (I can't tell from the notes how these people acquire their positions, chosen by the Europeans or appointed by the Mbuti).  But it seems that in the forest there are no ongoing institutions and positions of power.  We see people who, because of relevant experience, abilities, and perhaps age are given deference and respect by the group, and people choose to listen to them.

Later in the notes Turnbull offers two cases where attempts by individuals to exert authority over the group are rebuffed.

Towards the end of an evening of molimo singing, the men are tired and one of them suggests they stop.  "After a while Alfani say he's tired.  The others all object, and go on singing, but only for a short while.  (They could not accept his suggestion direct, it would give him sense of authority - so they contradict him before obeying his wishes.)"  (p. 375, June 30).

"At 4 p.m. in the afternoon Salumini calls all to the baraza.  He sends for Masisi and Mambunia from the other camp.  Masisi is here before the message gets to him, however.  Nobody else pays much attention.  The usual reluctance to appear to obey an order.  One waits until the order has been forgotten then gracefully or sulkily, according, does it of one's apparent free will" (p. 382, July 4).

We are left with an ambivalent situation.  Some people have more say than others - this according to Turnbull.  But why do they?  It does not seem to be institutional, hereditary, and openly honored power and authority.  And what does Turnbull mean in the last two examples, that people do what others ask, but they do so of their "apparent free will"?  Or that they contradict someone "before obeying his wishes"?

The field notes do not openly contradict Turnbull's statement that the Mbuti have no chiefs and no leaders.  We do find statements that some people (men) are "important" or "authorities."  What do these words mean?



Chapter 6 – The Forest People as a Work of Art



I repeat what I said in the introduction

This is not a book I ever planned, wanted, or hoped to write.  I am retired and enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and serving on community groups and issues.  I was not looking for projects to fill my time.  When I began this project, I did not set out to disprove, dispute, discredit, or disagree with The Forest People.  I wanted to see the field notes for a book I admired, loved, learned from, and taught in my courses for four decades.  I also hoped to find more information about women and children than what the book reports.  Once I read the field notes, however, I came upon much material that casts a different light on the book.  I felt an obligation to communicate with other readers and admirers of the book and tell them that the Mbuti of the field notes are more complex, troubled, and different than the Mbuti of The Forest People.   I could not let go of this project once I began reading the field notes.



A.  A Summary of the Findings

Very careful and repeated reading of the field notes, and some other material, does not disprove the book.  There is no "smoking gun" that Turnbull manufactured the events and people of The Forest People.   The Mbuti do laugh and joke; they delight in singing and dancing, especially during the molimo; they are close to the forest and it is part of their lives; children lead carefree and playful lives. 

But the field notes also contain much material that complicates and modifies the idyllic Mbuti life Turnbull describes.  All is not well with the Mbuti of the late 1950s.  There are serious problems and conflicts.  Contrary to the clear message of the book, they are not primarily a gathering and hunting society.  They are integrated with the villagers who live next to the Ituri forest, they depend on grown plantation food much more than The Forest People says and implies, and money is ever-present in their lives.  The Mbuti are struggling to hold unto their traditional gathering-hunting economy and culture, with some success, but the field notes make it abundantly clear that by the late 1950s they cannot be considered a primarily gathering and hunting people.

Also, there are some serious problems within the Mbuti.  Most disturbing is the persecution of Sau; whose experiences Turnbull mentions in The Forest People only in passing.  I cannot speculate why she is persecuted and what it means, but I present detailed evidence and let the readers speculate on its importance and implications.  In addition, there is some violence against women and children.

Finally, Turnbull misrepresents his time and actions with the Mbuti during his year's stay in 1957-58.  In contrast to The Forest People, which takes place primarily in a forest hunting camp, both he and the Mbuti do not spend most of that year in forest camps.  Some Mbuti probably do, most do not.  Without a doubt Turnbull does not.  (Chapters 2 and 5 contain details.)

Perhaps the most puzzling misrepresentation is Turnbull's claim that after a year with the Mbuti he and Kenge take a month's trip to talk with other groups in surrounding areas and communities.  The field notes show that his April 1958 trip comes after he has spent only 5.5 to 6.5 months with the Mbuti, not a year.  Why does he make a statement so much in contradiction to his own field notes?

B.  Is The Forest People Unusual?

As I have been reading the field notes and comparing them to the book, I kept suspecting that if were to compare the field notes and original data of other social science books with the books themselves we might uncover similar misrepresentations, incomplete reporting, and contradictory evidence.  It may be that most, if not all, writers choose material very selectively to support their major argument and ignore much contradictory evidence.  Perhaps we should advocate for everyone to submit the field notes for scholarly inspection.

For example, based totally on pure speculation, I have long thought that John Messenger's Inis Beag (1969) a largely unflattering portrait of an Irish community, could not possibly describe the total reality of their lives.  They are presented as suspicious, sexually repressed, and unhappy people.  When I used the book a few times in cultural anthropology courses, it seemed the opposite of The Forest People.  Now that I see the Mbuti as less idyllic than Turnbull's description of them, I wonder if the Irish were less repressed and unhappy than Messenger claims.  Would reading Messenger's field notes modify the picture of the residents of Inis Beag?  If his field notes were available to scholars, they would be worth a close examination.

Turnbull's field notes, and so much else, are easily accessible, and I encourage others to read them.  There is much material on dancing, singing, and material culture that should interest many people.  

Also, I read the notes again and again, most pages four times, and I discovered material I had missed in earlier readings, so I am certain that other readers will come upon information relevant to the issues I discuss here that I missed.

Other scholars may want to read Turnbull's field notes on the Ik, which led to his very controversial book The Mountain People  (for an account of the controversy, see Grinker, 2000).  They are at ARC, which also has field notes on the Ik by Joseph Towles, Turnbull's long-time partner.  The two sets of notes might provide ample material for a revision of the Ik presented in The Mountain People.   According to Grinker, the Ik survived the disasters described in the book.  They survived contrary to Turnbull's prediction that they would fall apart and disappear as a society.



C.  The Forest People  as a Projection into the Past -

and a Hopeful Future?

Towards the end of the folder containing the field notes, in an unnumbered page entitled "Theory 1," Turnbull writes that we should study the Mbuti as a changing society.  In many ways, The Forest People  violates this advice.  Turnbull seems to be imagining an ideal past, before the Europeans conquered the land, before even the villagers came, when the Mbuti must have lived entirely, or almost entirely, in the forest by gathering and hunting.  Some of my students referred to The Forest People as a "novel," and I always commented that it is not.  Perhaps they were right.  It may be a work of imagination based in part on his experiences with the Mbuti.

Intentionally or not, Turnbull projects into the past, to a time when all people did live by gathering and hunting, if we are to believe what anthropologists tell us.  I do not know how long ago in the past the Mbuti were entirely gatherers and hunters.  By the late 1950s, however, they seem a long way from that state.  But they do gather and hunt for some periods, and during these periods it seems that much of their diet comes from forest foods.  As a whole, however, the field notes do not support any claim of the 1950s Mbuti as a gathering and hunting people.

Ultimately, The Forest People is a work of art, of imagination, of hope for humanity.  For Turnbull, and for many of us, the book offers possibilities for a better life, one closer to the environment, free of material possessions, and full of music, joy, and laughter.  But it is a work of art, and like any artist, Turnbull focuses only on those parts of the Mbuti people's reality that allow him to create his portrait.  He chooses some aspects of their lives and projects them into the past, imagining a gathering and hunting society before the arrival of horticulture and agriculture.  Since there was   a time when the Mbuti, and others, were entirely gatherers and hunters, it is legitimate to imagine and try to re-create that reality.  If so, The Forest People may be presented as a creative work of art and imagination, but not as an objective reality of the Mbuti of the late 1950s.

There are hints that by the time Turnbull comes to the forest for his third stay in 1957-58, he has already fallen in love with the Mbuti, their music, their forest camps, and nothing he would see during this visit would change that image.  On Dec. 12, 1953, after his 1951 visit and before the 1954 and 1957-58 stays, he writes to Anne Putnam:  "My knees just wobble when I think of being back in the Congo.  I think you have the most wonderful place and lead the most nearly perfect existence I have ever come across" (Anne Putnam collection, Houghton Library).  This perfect existence was in the midst of the Mbuti.

Shortly after his 1951 visit, Turnbull sends a 120-page paper to Patrick and Anne Putnam.  (Joan Mark read it in the Patrick Putnam collection at Houghton Library, but I have been unable to find it there.)  "The Forest People was published in 1961.  Although most of the events recounted in the book occurred during his third trip to Epulu in 1957-58, Turnbull has said [to Joan Mark in an interview in 1987] that he got his best material, both information and emotional response, on the first trip when everything was new and startling.  Six months after his first visit he had sent Patrick and Anne Putnam a 120-page book outline headed 'Pigmies of the Congo,' which contains the essence in feeling and tone of the published work" (Mark, 1995, pp. 208-09).

That powerful experience in 1951, coming immediately after two years of living in India, may have created the mold for The Forest People.  Their music and living in forest camps may have been his foremost experiences with the Mbuti in the two months in 1951, and may have seemed the very essence of their lives.  Other realities may have seemed secondary and unimportant.

The Forest People is not an objective and reliable account of the Mbuti in1957-58.  It ignores or barely mentions some significant aspects of their lives, problems and challenges they face.  It also misrepresents the details and extent of Turnbull's field experience during that year.  But if we judge is as a work of art, the book may have merit.  Turnbull focuses on some aspects of Mbuti lives to show us what he considers the essence of their lives.



D.  Some Final Thoughts

In early November 2007, while reading p. 103 of the field notes for he first time, I wrote this note:  "If I had never read FP, I would never guess what he says there from these notes."  After four readings of the notes, and much consideration of the issues I raise here, I have modified but never overcome that initial reaction.  The poetic descriptions of the molimo celebration of Balekimito's life and death are barely present in the notes.  Instead of three months of singing and dancing every night, which Turnbull claims in The Forest People, we find many nights of no singing, many interruptions, much debate on whether and how long to continue the molimo.  There are many other problems with The Forest People   account, as I show in earlier chapters.

At the same time, as we see in chapter 3, the field notes do include evidence to support a view that the Mbuti lead a fairly satisfying life.  They do not dance and sing every day, but they do often enough.  Theirs is not an idyllic existence, but it offers many joys.

So I have come to believe that a fuller, more complete presentation of all relevant evidence in the field notes - their struggles to continue their gathering and hunting traditions, the deep conflicts in their society, their dependence on grown food, the violence against women, and so much more - makes for a more believable, more real, more honest, more human, and more faithful account of the Mbuti in the late 1950s.  They may not be the Mbuti of The Forest People   we like and admire, but they are complete, complex, and conflicted people, facing serious problems and challenges.  They are more than the singers Turnbull saw in the woods for a few weeks in 1951, who left an impression on him that he could not modify, despite the evidence he typed day after day in 1957-58.

But if the Mbuti of that time are not a gathering and hunting society, it is still a legitimate issue to consider the life led by people who were   gatherers and hunters long ago, and what we may learn from them.  It is true that in the recent past and today few, if any, gatherers and hunters "live independently of farmers."  Some writers have argued "foragers have a history that they are intimately involved with farmers and pastoralists, and that the search for a 'pure' hunting and gathering society is illusory."  Indeed, "foragers and farmers are integrated all over the world" (Grinker, 1994, pp. ix-x, 2).  But up to about 10,000 years ago gathering and hunting was   the only way humans lived.  There were no farmer neighbors.  So we may ask, how did they live?  What kinds of families, gender relations, and political arrangements prevailed?  Would they be a model for living a peaceful and meaningful life?  Can we learn anything from gatherers and hunters that might help us lead better lives?  These are some questions raised or implied about the Mbuti that Turnbull raises.  Unfortunately, the 1950s Mbuti cannot provide much guidance since they are not primarily gatherers and hunters.  But as art, as a work of imagination, The Forest People   may be helpful in our search for visions of another way of living.



E.  The last Word to Turnbull

You have read my argument about the serious omissions and misrepresentations of The Forest People.   Let me give the last words to Turnbull.

On May 25, 1986, Turnbull responded to the warm and loving letters of some San Francisco high school students and their teachers.

"I will cherish [the letters] and re-read them many times ... they represent something very important not only to me but, I believe, to our society.  Every one of them seems to express not only a recognition that there is, somewhere in this crazy world, a 'good' society (though I hope none of your students think it is perfect), but also a wistful longing for our own society to achieve those same values that we share in common, but sometimes seem so unattainable....

"They know goodness and beauty when they see it, and they would like to see more of it in their own lives.  Our own world is also full of goodness and beauty, but like that of the Mbuti it is not perfect.  We have much to learn from each other.  I know that my life has been made immeasurably richer by having been lucky enough to spend so many years in the Ituri."

In a 1984 interview, Turnbull said: "The objective of The Forest People   was to convey to my society what I found among the Mbuti that was good for me and what I think might be good for others"  (Turnbull, 1984).

Finally, in 1971, in responding to a letter I sent him asking for suggestions on books I might use in a cultural anthropology course, he replied from the Congo and said in closing the letter:

"And to you, greetings from the forest.  Tell your students that even I began to wonder if I hadn't romanticized a bit, so many people accused me of it ... but after twelve years away and now over a year back here, I find the pygmies as beautiful and warm and human as ever.  It would be next to impossible to romanticize them."  (Dots in the original.)















Appendix 1

What did Anne Putnam think of The Forest People?

In chapter 2, we saw that Anne Putnam played a central role in Turnbull's fieldwork that led to the book.  Turnbull gave her a copy of the book with a warm note written on the title page.  The copy is in the Anne Putnam collection at the Houghton Library.  Her comments on the margins of some pages reveal a number of criticisms but also some approvals.  (See chapter 2.)  There is no indication in any comment she wrote in the book, however, of what she thought of the book as a whole.  In my limited search through some of her letters and writings (at ARC and Houghton) I found no overall evaluation of the book.

Something she wrote in 1952, however, may indicate that she may have shared Turnbull's romantic vision of the Mbuti.  After staying in an Mbuti forest camp, she wrote: "Pygmies are not only a dream but real, real, real.  They have all thats important in life.  How long they'll be able to keep it one wonders.  But its love, life, family, nature, the dancing, singing.  It's not depending on outside things, though they like them too" (Mark, 1995, p. 175; copied exactly as it appears in Mark).

















Appendix 2

Some items I left out

In The Forest People Kenge and his mother both beat Yambabo, Kenge’s sister, because she refuses to marry a man she loves, and without her marriage Kenge cannot marry.  I did not find such beatings in the field notes.

In the book, the Mbuti try to arrange a marriage for Turnbull with Amina, a village woman.  There is an Amina in the field notes, but no attempt to marry her to Turnbull.

In the book, Turnbull says a few times that the Mbuti do not believe in evil spirits.  I found some evidence in the notes that they do, but chose not to discuss the issue here.

Early during my research it occurred to me that The Forest People may have been heavily edited or re-written by a professional writer.  I think the suspicion arose when I came upon a letter to Turnbull from an editor who had re-written the 1960 article Anne Putnam wrote for the National Geographic.  I wrote Michael Korda, Turnbull’s editor at Simon and Schuster, asking if I could see the first draft of the book, and he replied that he is retired and cannot help me.  At this point I dropped the issue, and I assume that Turnbull wrote the book and it went through the normal editing process.

Finally, in a few places Turnbull complains about the garbage, dirt, and smell of the camps.  It does not seem a major issue to explore.









More appendices

Three more appendices cannot appear here because they are in hard copy only as of now.

Appendix three includes four letters, two from Alex Liazos to Colin Turnbull, and Turnbull’s two responses to Alex Liazos.

Appendix four will reproduce some of Turnbull’s field notes.

Appendix five is copied from the page before the back cover of Anne Putnam’s copy of The Forest People.  It lists Mbuti names; one column as they appear in the field notes, and the other as they appear in The Forest People.























Turnbull’s field notes, letters, unpublished papers, and much other material are found primarily at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, in Charleston, South Carolina.  They are contained entirely within the Joseph Towles collection.  (More details are given in chapter 2 here.)

Letters, papers, unpublished manuscripts, and some other material from the last few years of Turnbull’s life are found at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. 

A few other letters Turnbull wrote to Anne Putnam and others, and some other material, are found at the Houghton Library of Harvard University, with the Anne Putnam and Patrick Putnam collections.

Anne Putnam’s collection is at the Houghton Library.  But Turnbull’s papers at Avery also include much material Anne gave to Turnbull, as I explain in detail in the text.



Downs, James F.  1972.  The Navajo.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Good Tracks, Jim G.  “Native American Non-Interference.”  Social Work, November (18:6), pp. 30-35.

Grinker, Roy Richard.  1994.  Houses in the Rainforest.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Grinker, Roy Richard.  2000.  In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M. Turnbull.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Hoebel, E. Adamson.  1960.  The Cheyennes.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Lee, Richard B.  1984.  The Dobe !Kung.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Liazos, Alex.  1982.  People First: An Introduction to Social Problems.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Liazos, Alex.  1985, 1989.  Sociology: A Liberating Perspective.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Liazos, Alex.  2004.  Families: Joys, Conflicts, and Changes.  Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Mark, Joan.  1995.  The King of the World in the Land of the Pygmies.  Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Messenger, John.  1969.  Inis Beag: Isle of Ireland.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.  (Reissued in 1983 by Waveland Press.)

Putnam, Anne Eisner.  1960.  “My Life with Africa’s Little People.”  National Geographic, February (117:2), pp. 278-302.

Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall.  1959.  The Harmless People.  New York: Knopf.

Turnbull, Colin M.  1961.  The Forest People.  New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turnbull, Colin M.  1962.  The Lonely African.  New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turnbull, Colin M.  1965.  Wayward Servants.  Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.

Turnbull, Colin M.  1972.  The Mountain People.  New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turnbull, Colin M.  1983.  The Mbuti Pygmies: Change and Adaptation.  Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace.

Turnbull, Colin M.  1984.  “Interview with Colin Turnbull.”  Omni, June, pp. 87-90, 124-134.  (Page citations are from a reprint of the interview that I cannot trace now.)