"Life on the Mangubo compound, unlike the world outside the jungle, was both peaceful and egalitarian."
January 1, 2013 5:16 AM   Subscribe

A trip like this may seem strange to you. You could reasonably accuse us of a kind of exoticism. But people travel for lots of reasons. There’s beach tourism, sex tourism, wine tourism. This trip, for me, offered something a lot more interesting: a chance to feed our long fascination with the idea of pre-agrarian society. For 40,000 years, from the rise of behaviorally modern humans until the development of agriculture 9,000 years ago, all of our ancestors had lived somewhat like the Mbuti do today. More than anything, Dan and Chris and I just wanted a glimpse of what that past might have looked like.
Of Men, Okapi, and Rebels, or, looking for Mbuti hunter-gatherers in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
posted by the man of twists and turns (6 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
That article covered a lot of ground. The reference to Jared Diamond's “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” about the disruption caused by humanity's adoption of agriculture, offered a major contrast to the lifestyle of these people who live mostly outside the effects of our modern system of civilization.

Life on the Mangubo compound, unlike the world outside the jungle, was both peaceful and egalitarian. Though stuck together in the same band since birth, none of the Mangubo children quarreled; despite Shaban’s status as chief, he was no better off than his siblings, and didn’t appear to hold coercive power.

Unfortunately, it became obvious how fragile their lifestyle actually is due to disruption by outside forces.

Thanks for this.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 9:19 AM on January 1, 2013

I will just say those are a lot of assumptions to make about a group of people with whom the author spent (as best as I can tell) 2 days and with whom he was only able to hold conversation through a bunch of layers of languages and translations.

Life may appear peaceful and egalitarian at a cursory, superficial glance, but I will guarantee that there are power imbalances and internal conflict and that things are probably not as egalitarian as it first appears. It's hard to assess things like that in two days without, for example, talking to the women in the group (who, based on my experience with other minority-language ethnic groups in East Africa, are least likely to be the members of the group who speak Swahili. So everything they say would have to pass from Mbuti to Swahili through a male Mbuti translator, and then from Swahili to what I assume is French through their male guide in order to get to the author). It seems like a lot of sweeping generalizations to make about an ethnic group and an entire way of life from not very much evidence.

Making the connection between modern hunter-gatherers and the hunter-gatherers of 50,000 or even 10,000 years ago is tenuous, but it's true that drawing analogies to people like the Mbuti, Hadza, and Khoisan is our best bet if we want to explore what humans were up to as hunters and gatherers. But the Mbuti are living in the modern world. Our ancestors were not contending with the Congo War on their doorstep. Nobody with machine guns killed them and fried up their genitalia. They're contending with a lot of really intense forces here.

We also discussed the attack on Epulu here.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:50 AM on January 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

This started out promising and then it ended. In the middle there was a picture of black men carrying the torso-sided luggage of white men. On their heads. I'm sorry
posted by deo rei at 11:21 AM on January 1, 2013

I'm sorry too?

I get that there's an obvious implication to having black men carry the white man's burden (to coin a phrase), but on the other hand luggage carrying over miles is pretty much exactly what I've done for people visiting the island I grew up on. It's a practical necessity to do this for guests anywhere where cars aren't a given.

Not that I think this article isn't begging for critical attention, but just saying... clichés are incredibly helpful but should always be viewed with suspicion for that reason.
posted by tychotesla at 11:44 AM on January 1, 2013

Well that's why it's so embarrassing. They could easily have used a different picture. But for whatever reason they decided to go with one that just makes the brain creak. I mean they kind of acknowledge the sensitivities in the intro, then proceed to tell us they want to discover something about "past" society, which I guess is a fair and valid interest, even if it balances on an at least somewhat slippery perception of backwardness on the part of the Mbuti, but whatever, and then all they manage to report is that the Mbuti wear old T-shirts and smoke pot all day. Then after they get the dinner they paid for they reflect approvingly on the "peaceful" and "egalitarian" nature of these friendly stoners, before they bail on a closing note of "well, these people here are probably all gonna die, see ya"?? I mean I'm trying to be of good will here.
posted by deo rei at 12:02 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah! Yes!
posted by tychotesla at 12:23 PM on January 1, 2013

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