Pygmy peoples


Pygmy peoples
African pygmies and a European explorer.
Baka dancers in the East Province of Cameroon

Pygmy is a term used for various ethnic groups worldwide whose average height is unusually short; anthropologists define pygmy as any group whose adult men grow to less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) in average height.[1] A member of a slightly taller group is termed "pygmoid."[2] The best known pygmies are the Aka, Efé and Mbuti of central Africa. There are also pygmies in Australia, Thailand, Malaysia,[3] Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Brazil.[4] The term also includes the Negritos of Southeast Asia.

The term "pygmy" is sometimes considered pejorative. However, there is no single term to replace it.[5] Many so-called pygmies prefer instead to be referred to by the name of their various ethnic groups, or names for various interrelated groups such as the Aka (Mbenga), Baka, Mbuti, and Twa.[6] The term Bayaka, the plural form of the Aka/Yaka, is sometimes used in the Central African Republic to refer to all local Pygmies. Likewise, the Kongo word Bambenga is used in Congo.

Contents

Etymology

The term pygmy, as used to refer to diminutive people, derives from Greek πυγμαίος Pygmaios via Latin Pygmaei (sing. Pygmaeus), derived from πυγμή a fist, or a measure of length corresponding to the distance between the elbow and knuckles. (See also Greek pechus). In Greek mythology the word describes a tribe of dwarfs, first described by Homer, and reputed to live in India and south of modern day Ethiopia.[7]

Origins

Various theories have been proposed to explain the short stature of pygmies. Evidence of heritability has been established[8] which may have evolved as an adaptation to low ultraviolet light levels in rainforests.[9] This might mean that relatively little vitamin D can be made in human skin, thereby limiting calcium uptake from the diet for bone growth and maintenance, and leading to the evolution of the small skeletal size characteristic of pygmies.[10]

Other explanations include lack of food in the rainforest environment, low calcium levels in the soil, the need to move through dense jungle, adaptation to heat and humidity, and most recently, as an association with rapid reproductive maturation under conditions of early mortality.[11] Other evidence points towards unusually low levels of expression of the genes encoding the growth hormone receptor and growth hormone relative to the related tribal groups, associated with low serum levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 and short stature.[12]

Africa

Distribution of Pygmies and their languages according to Bahuchet (2006). The southern Twa are not shown.

Pygmies live in several ethnic groups in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia.[6] Most Pygmy communities are partially hunter-gatherers, living partially but not exclusively on the wild products of their environment. They trade with neighbouring farmers to acquire cultivated foods and other material items; no group lives deep in the forest without access to agricultural products.[6] It is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rainforest.[13] However, although Pygmies are thought of as forest people, the groups called Twa may live in open swamp or desert.

Groups

There are at least a dozen Pygmy groups, sometimes unrelated to each other, the best known being the Mbenga (Aka and Baka) of the western Congo basin, which speak Bantu and Ubangian languages; the Mbuti (Efe etc.) of the Ituri Rainforest, which speak Bantu and Central Sudanic languages, and the Twa of the Great Lakes, which speak Bantu Rundi and Kiga.

Relationship with other Africans

Ancestral relationship

A commonly held belief is that African Pygmies are the direct descendants of the Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer peoples of the central African rainforest, who were partially absorbed or displaced by later immigration of agricultural peoples, and adopted their Central Sudanic, Ubangian, and Bantu languages. This view has no archaeological support, and ambiguous support from genetics and linguistics.[14][15][16]

Some 30% of the Aka language is not Bantu, and a similar percentage of the Baka language is not Ubangian. Much of this vocabulary is botanical, deals with honey collecting, or is otherwise specialized for the forest and is shared between the two western Pygmy groups. It has been proposed that this is the remnant of an independent western Pygmy (Mbenga or "Baaka") language. However, this type of vocabulary is subject to widespread borrowing among the Pygmies and neighboring peoples, and the "Baaka" language is only reconstructed to the 15th century.[17]

Genetic evidence for origins

Genetically, the pygmies are extremely divergent from all other human populations, suggesting they have an ancient indigenous lineage. Their uniparental markers represent the most ancient divergent ones right after those typically found in Khoisan peoples. African pygmy populations possess high levels of genetic diversity,[18] recent advances in genetics shed some light on the origins of the various pygmy groups.

The transition from hunting and gathering to farming involved a major cultural innovation that has spread rapidly over most of the globe in the last ten millennia. In sub-Saharan Africa, hunter–gatherers have begun to shift toward an agriculture-based lifestyle over the last 5,000 years. Only a few populations still base their mode of subsistence on hunting and gathering. The Pygmies are considered to be the largest group of mobile hunter–gatherers of Africa. They dwell in equatorial rainforests and are characterized by their short mean stature. However, little is known about the chronology of the demographic events—size changes, population splits, and gene flow—ultimately giving rise to contemporary Pygmy (Western and Eastern) groups and neighboring agricultural populations. We studied the branching history of Pygmy hunter–gatherers and agricultural populations from Africa and estimated separation times and gene flow between these populations. The model identified included the early divergence of the ancestors of Pygmy hunter–gatherers and farming populations ~60,000 years ago, followed by a split of the Pygmies' ancestors into the Western and Eastern Pygmy groups ~20,000 years ago. Our findings increase knowledge of the history of the peopling of the African continent in a region lacking archaeological data. An appreciation of the demographic and adaptive history of African populations with different modes of subsistence should improve our understanding of the influence of human lifestyles on genome diversity.[19]

Another study provided some insight into the role genetics plays in the short stature of the pygmies.

The short stature of Pygmy groups around the world has long intrigued anthropologists. It is generally accepted that their small body size is a result of genetic adaptation; however, which genes were selected, and the nature of the underlying selective force(s), remain unknown. The various hypotheses proposed include adaptations to food limitation, thermoregulation, mobility in the forest, and/or short lifespan. A recent study of the HGDP-CEPH populations identified a signal of selection in the insulin growth factor signalling pathway in Biaka Pygmies, which might be associated with short stature, but this signal was not shared with Mbuti Pygmies. By contrast, we found strong signals for selection in both African Pygmy groups at two genes involved in the iodide-dependent thyroid hormone pathway: TRIP4 in Mbuti Pygmies; and IYD in Biaka Pygmies (Fig. 7). Intriguingly, a previous study found a significantly lower frequency of goiter in Efe Pygmies (9.4%) than in Lese Bantu farmers (42.9%). The Efe and Lese live in close proximity to one another in the iodine-deficient Ituri Forest and share similar diets. Moreover, the frequency of goiter in Efe women living in Bantu villages was similar to that of Efe women living in the forest, and the frequency of goiter in offspring with an Efe mother and a Lese father was intermediate between that of Efe and Lese. These observations suggest that the Efe have adapted genetically to an iodine-deficient diet; we suggest that the signals of recent positive selection that we observe at TRIP4 in Mbuti Pygmies and IYD in Biaka Pygmies may reflect such genetic adaptations to an iodine-deficient diet. Furthermore, alterations in the thyroid hormone pathway can cause short stature. We therefore suggest that short stature in these Pygmy groups may have arisen as a consequence of genetic alterations in the thyroid hormone pathway. If this scenario is true, then there are two important implications. First, this would suggest that short stature was not selected for directly in the ancestors of Pygmy groups, but rather arose as an indirect consequence of selection in response to an iodine-deficient diet. Second, since different genes in the thyroid hormone pathway show signals of selection in Mbuti vs. Biaka Pygmies, this would suggest that short stature arose independently in the ancestors of Mbuti and Biaka Pygmies, and not in a common ancestral population. Moreover, most Pygmy-like groups around the world dwell in tropical forests, and hence are likely to have iodine-deficient diets. The possibility that independent adaptations to an iodine-deficient diet might therefore have contributed to the convergent evolution of the short stature phenotype in Pygmy-like groups around the world deserves further investigation.[20]

Reports of genocide

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. In neighbouring North Kivu province there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs ("the erasers") who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.[21] Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.[22] Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognise cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.[23] According to Minority Rights Group International there is extensive evidence of mass killings, cannibalism and rape of Pygmies and they have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate a campaign of extermination against pygmies. Although they have been targeted by virtually all the armed groups, much of the violence against Pygmies is attributed to the rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, which is part of the transitional government and still controls much of the north, and their allies.[24]

Slavery

In the Republic of Congo, where Pygmies make up 5 to 10% of the population, many Pygmies live as slaves to Bantu masters. The nation is deeply stratified between these two major ethnic groups. The Pygmy slaves belong from birth to their Bantu masters in a relationship that the Bantus call a time-honored tradition. Even though the Pygmies are responsible for much of the hunting, fishing and manual labor in jungle villages, Pygmies and Bantus alike say Pygmies are often paid at the master's whim; in cigarettes, used clothing, or even nothing at all. As a result of pressure from UNICEF and human-rights activists, a law that would grant special protections to the Pygmy people is awaiting a vote by the Congo parliament.[25][26]

Music

The African Pygmies are particularly known for their usually vocal music, usually characterised by dense contrapuntal communal improvisation. Simha Arom says that the level of polyphonic complexity of Pygmy music was reached in Europe in the 14th century, yet Pygmy culture is unwritten and ancient, some Pygmy groups being the first known cultures in some areas of Africa.[27] Music permeates daily life and there are songs for entertainment as well as specific events and activities.

Polyphonic music is found among the Aka–Baka and the Mbuti, but not among the Gyele (Kola) or the various groups of Twa.

Systematic discrimination

Raja James Sheshardi of the American University conducted a case study on the Pygmies of Africa and concluded that deforestation has greatly affected their everyday lives. Pygmy culture is threatened today by the forces of political and economic change. In recent times, this has manifested itself into an open conflict over the resources of the tropical rain-forest, it is a conflict that the Pygmy are losing.

Historically, the Pygmy have always been viewed as inferior by both colonial authorities and the village dwelling Bantu tribes.[28] This has translated into systematic discrimination. One early example was the capture of Pygmy children under the auspices of the Belgian colonial authorities, who exported Pygmy children to zoos throughout Europe, including the world's fair in the United States in 1907.[28] Pygmies are often evicted from their land and given the lowest paying jobs. At a state level, Pygmies are not considered citizens by most African states and are refused identity cards, deeds to land, health care and proper schooling. Government policies and multinational corporations involved in massive deforestation have exacerbated this problem by forcing more Pygmies out of their traditional homelands and into villages and cities where they often are marginalized, impoverished and abused by the dominant culture.

Today there are roughly 500,000 Pygmies left in the rain-forest of Central Africa.[28] This population is rapidly decreasing as poverty, intermarriage with Bantu peoples, Westernization, and deforestation all gradually destroy their way of life and culture along with their genetic uniqueness.

The greatest environmental problem the Pygmies seem to be facing is the loss of their traditional homeland, the tropical forests of Central Africa. In several countries such as Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo this is due to deforestation and the desire of several governments in Central Africa to evict the Pygmies from their forest habitat in order to cash in on quick profits from the sale of hardwood and the resettlement of farmers onto the cleared land. In some cases, as in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this conflict is violent. Certain groups, such as the Hutus of the Interahamwe, wish to eliminate the Pygmy and take the resources of the forest as a military conquest, using the resources of the forest for military as well as economic advancement.[28] Since the Pygmies rely on the forest for their physical as well as cultural survival, as these forests disappear, so do the Pygmy.

Along with Raja Sheshardi, the fPcN-Global.org website had conducted research on the pygmies. The human rights organization states that as the forest has receded under logging activities, its original inhabitants have been pushed into populated areas to join the formal economy, working as casual laborers or on commercial farms and being exposed to new diseases.[29] This shift has brought them into closer contact with neighboring ethnic communities whose HIV levels are generally higher. This has led to the spread of HIV/AIDS into the pygmy group.

Since poverty has become very prevalent in the Pygmy communities, sexual exploitation of indigenous women has become a common practice. Commercial sex has been bolstered by logging, which often places large groups of male laborers in camps which are set up in close contact with the Pygmy communities. There is a widely held belief that sex with a Pygmy woman can rid a man of HIV.[29] This myth places these women at high risk for HIV exposure.

Human rights groups have also reported widespread sexual abuse of indigenous women in the conflict-ridden eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite these risks, Pygmy populations generally have poor access to health services and information about HIV. The British medical journal, The Lancet, published a review showing that Pygmy populations often had worse access to health care than neighboring communities.[30] According to the report, even where health care facilities exist, many people do not use them because they cannot pay for consultations and medicines, they do not have the documents and identity cards needed to travel or obtain hospital treatment, and they are subjected to humiliating and discriminatory treatment.[29]

Studies in Cameroon and ROC in the 1980s and 1990s showed a lower prevalence of HIV in pygmy populations than among neighboring ones, but recent increases have been recorded. One study found that the HIV prevalence among the Baka pygmies in eastern Cameroon went from 0.7 percent in 1993 to 4 percent in 2003.[29]

Asia

Negritos

Negritos in Southeast Asia (including the Batak and Aeta of the Philippines, the Andamanese of the Andaman Islands, and the Semang of the Malay Peninsula), and occasionally Papuans and Melanesians in adjacent Oceania, are sometimes called pygmies (especially in older literature).[citation needed]

Negritos share some common physical features with African pygmy populations, including short stature and dark skin. The name "Negrito", from the Spanish adjective meaning "small black person", was given by early explorers.

The explorers who named the Negritos assumed the Andamanese they encountered were from Africa. This belief was, however, discarded by anthropologists who noted that apart from dark skin and curly hair, the Andamanese had little in common with any African population, including the African pygmies.[31] Their resemblance to some Africans, it is generally believed, is due to adaptation to a similar environment, rather than shared origins.[32]

The remains of at least 25 miniature humans, who lived between 1,000 and 3,000 years ago, were recently (as of 2011) found on the islands of Palau in Micronesia.[33]

Their origin and the route of their migration to Asia is still a matter of great speculation. They are genetically distant from Africans,[32] and have been shown to have separated early from Asians, suggesting that they are either surviving descendants of settlers from the early out-of-Africa migration of the Great Coastal Migration of the Proto-Australoids, that is, that they are descendants of one of the founder populations of modern humans.[34]

Rampasasa

The Rampasasa of Flores in Indonesia are short-statured without being dark-skinned. The presence of Pygmy people on Flores has been seen by some researchers as supportive of the thesis that "Flores Man" (Homo floresiensis) is not actually an independent species, but rather a small-bodied population of Homo sapiens.[35]

T'rung

Frank Kingdon-Ward in the early 20th century, Alan Rabinowitz in the 1990s, P. Christiaan Klieger in 2003, and others have reported a tribe of pygmy Tibeto-Burman speakers known as the T'rung inhabiting the remote region of Mt. Hkakabo Razi in Southeast Asia on the border of China (Yunnan and Tibet), Burma, and India. A Burmese survey done in the 1960s reported a mean height of an adult male T'rung at 1.43 m (4'6") and that of females at 1.40 m (4'5"). These are the only "pygmies" noted of clearly East Asian origin. The cause of their diminutive size is unknown, but diet and endogamous marriage practices have been cited. The population of T'rung pygmies has been steadily shrinking, and is now down to only a few individuals.[36][37][38][39]

Australia

There is mention of tribes of Pygmy aborigines near Cairns, Queensland, in Peter McAllister's book Pygmonia: In search of the secret land of the Pygmies.

Barrineans

Short statured aboriginal tribes inhabited the rainforests of North Queensland, Australia, of which the best known group is probably the Tjapukai of the Cairns area.[40] These rainforest people, collectively referred to as Barrineans, were once considered to be a relict of the earliest wave of migration to the Australian continent, but this theory no longer finds much favour.[41] These Rainforest People tended to live in the first variety of Jykabita, a wood and mud structure renowned for incubation of plants.[42]

Tribes of very short people are also found in the mountains of New Guinea. 1000 years ago, Palau island in Micronesia was still inhabited by pygmy people.

See also

References

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  2. ^ pygmoid (people) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica.com. Retrieved on 2011-10-11.
  3. ^ The Semang by George Weber. Chapter 35: The Negrito of Malaysia.
  4. ^ Darwin's Children. The Economist. December 13, 2007
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  13. ^ World Bank accused of razing Congo forests, The Guardian.
  14. ^ R. Blench and M. Dendo. Genetics and linguistics in sub-Saharan Africa, Cambridge-Bergen, June 24, 2004.
  15. ^ Klieman, Kairn A. The Pygmies Were Our Compass: Bantu and BaTwa in the History of West Central Africa, Early Times to c. 1900, Heinemann, 2003.
  16. ^ Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (1986). African pygmies. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-164480-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=MQ8OAQAAMAAJ. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  17. ^ Serge Bahuchet, 1993, History of the inhabitants of the central African rain forest: perspectives from comparative linguistics. In C.M. Hladik, ed., Tropical forests, people, and food: Biocultural interactions and applications to development. Paris: Unesco/Parthenon. ISBN 1850703809
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  23. ^ "DR Congo Pygmies appeal to UN". BBC News. 23 May 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2933524.stm. 
  24. ^ Basildon Peta (January 9 2003). "Rebels 'eating Pygmies' as mass slaughter continues in Congo despite peace agreement". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/rebels-eating-pygmies-as-mass-slaughter-continues-in-congo-despite-peace-agreement-601088.html. 
  25. ^ Thomas, Katie (March 12 2007). "Congo's Pygmies live as slaves". The News & Observer. Archived from the original on 2009-02-28. http://web.archive.org/web/20090228160138/http://newsobserver.com/110/story/552528.html. 
  26. ^ Nicholas D. Kristof (June 16, 1997). "As the World Intrudes, Pygmies Feel Endangered". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/16/world/as-the-world-intrudes-pygmies-feel-endangered.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. 
  27. ^ African Rhythms (2003). Music by Aka Pygmies, performed by Aka Pygmies, György Ligeti and Steve Reich, performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Teldec Classics: 8573 86584-2. Liner notes by Aimard, Ligeti, Reich, and Simha Arom and Stefan Schomann.
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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pygmy — pygmoid, adj. pygmyish, adj. pygmyism, n. /pig mee/, n., pl. Pygmies, adj. n. 1. Anthropol. a. a member of a small statured people native to equatorial Africa. b. a Negrito of southeastern Asia, or of the Andaman or Philippine islands. 2. (l.c.)… …   Universalium

  • Pygmy — [pig′mē] n. pl. Pygmies [ME pigmey < L pygmaeus < Gr pygmaios, of the length of the pygmē, forearm and fist, also fist: see PUGNACIOUS] 1. any of several groups of small African or Asian peoples described in ancient history and legend 2. a… …   English World dictionary

  • pygmy — (also pigmy) ► NOUN (pl. pygmies) 1) a member of certain peoples of very short stature in equatorial Africa. 2) chiefly derogatory a very small person or thing. 3) a person who is deficient in a particular respect: intellectual pygmies. ►… …   English terms dictionary

  • pygmy — 1. noun a) (often capitalized, usually in the plural: Pygmies) A member of one of various Ancient Equatorial African tribal peoples, notable for their very short stature The Bantu immigration drove many Pygmy tribes into the darkest jungle, while …   Wiktionary

  • Pygmy (Greek mythology) — The Pygmies were a tribe of diminutive humans in Greek mythology. Their name in Greek was Pygmaioi, from pygmê , the length of the forearm. According to the Iliad, they were involved in a constant war with the cranes, which migrated in winter to… …   Wikipedia

  • pygmy — (also pigmy) noun (plural pygmies) 1》 (Pygmy) a member of certain peoples of very short stature in equatorial Africa or parts of SE Asia. 2》 chiefly derogatory a very small person or thing. 3》 a person who is deficient in a particular respect: an …   English new terms dictionary

  • Pygmy — Pyg•my or Pigmy [[t]ˈpɪg mi[/t]] n. pl. mies, adj. 1) pan peo a) a member of any of several small statured peoples of Africa, esp. the forested regions of central Africa b) a Negrito of SE Asia, or of the Andaman or Philippine islands 2) (l.c.) a …   From formal English to slang

  • Pygmy — /ˈpɪgmi/ (say pigmee) noun (plural Pygmies) 1. a member of an indigenous people of short stature inhabiting equatorial Africa. 2. a member of an indigenous people of short stature inhabiting parts of south eastern Asia, and the Andaman and… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Classification of Pygmy languages — Distribution of Pygmies according to Cavalli Sforza. Many of the southern Twa are missing. The Pygmies of Equatorial Africa are those forest people who have, or recently had, a deep forest hunter gather economy and a simple, non hierarchical… …   Wikipedia

  • Indigenous peoples — This article is about indigenous peoples in general. For links to articles about indigenous people in specific areas, see Indigenous peoples by geographic regions Brazilian indigenous chiefs of the Kayapo tribe …   Wikipedia


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