Mbuti in their forest

Mbuti in their forest

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mbuti Subsistence

The richness of the Ituri forest sustains a wide range of animals, birds, and insects that become a food source for the Mbuti. Their hunting and gathering skills allow them to kill animals and birds, as well as gather mushrooms, roots and other vegetation. Men do the hunting, but women and children play important roles when nets are used. Long nets are spread by waiting hunters, and women and children drive animals into these nets. Although the Mbuti’s traditional way of life is often described as centering on hunting and gathering wild food sources, they rely for a large part of their subsistence on cultivated foods acquired from villagers. Starch foods from the villagers’ gardens make up a significant part of the Mbuti diet. In exchange for food, the Mbuti women provide meat and honey gathered by men from the forest or work in the villagers’ gardens. The Mbuti also provide diverse forest products such as thatching and construction materials, firewood, medicinal plants and edible mushrooms.  Men initially set up these trade relations, but the physical exchange of goods is done by women, traditionally the wives those men. Men rarely travel to the village for trading purposes, only doing so to trade for non-food items such as clothing, tobacco and marijuana. Recently, with the influx of immigrants to the villages, some Mbuti have been enticed to over-hunt to meet the villagers’ need for protein, thus depleting the animal population. These immigrants do not usually form exchange relations with the Mbuti, rather they prefer cash payments. Because the Mbuti cannot rely on these trading partners when they require garden food, they often resort to low status jobs such as carrying water for restaurants or washing clothes in order to get the cash they need to buy food.

Hart, John A. and Terese B. Hart
2010 The Mbuti of Zaire. Electronic document, http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/democractic-republic-congo/mbuti-zaire. March 18, 2014.

Peacock, Nadine
2010 The Mbuti of Northeast Zaire. Electronic document, http://www.culturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/the-mbuti-northeast-zaire. March 18, 2014.


  1. While the Mbuti people seem very traditional in their hunting and gathering, it seems as though they have created their own agency by forming trade relations with the nearby village in order to obtain a wider variety of food. In forming these relations with the village people they have transformed their cultural identity from strictly hunter-gathers to being traders as well. These two cultures, the Mbuti and the villagers, have become integrated through their economic activity. As Kottak mentions in our textbook, if one part of the system changes, other parts change as well. Any changes, whether they are changes made by the Mbuti or the villagers, could have significant, potentially life-altering impacts for both cultures. Although they have strong trade relations, the Mbuti people continue to rely heavily on the forest for subsistence. That being so, if something was to happen to their land, such as destruction due to war, the people may be forced to leave the forest and find other food sources. A war on or near Mbuti land could chase the animals away, leaving them with little meat; this would not only effect their diet but also their trade relations with the villagers. War may also drive away villagers, and with them would go the majority of the Mbuti’s food source. War could also potentially destroy the Mbuti’s land, leaving it permanently uninhabitable by animals and therefore forcing the Mbuti to either relocate to an undisturbed area of the forest with plenty of wildlife, or to find village jobs to earn the cash to buy food.

  2. Excellent job! I like how you apply concepts, and thanks for being proactive and asking me questions Kristine. You might want to add the date accessed to your references, but do it any time between now and your presentation. Looking forward to it. Thanks