Forest People by Colin Turnbull Term Paper

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This means that modernization has no place in the lives of most Africans, primarily because they have learned to survive and live despite the inconveniences that forest life presents. From this realization, readers are shown how development is interpreted from the point-of-view of those who have remarkably survived early forms of living, such as the life of hunting-gathering that the forest people have known ever since they have become part of the Ituri forest.

Apart from their lifestyle, the BaMbuti's social organization is radically different from the one established under a capitalist economic system (which is the prevalent social structure for most developed and developing nations in the 20th century). In Turnbull's study of the tribe's social structure and organization, it became apparent that the tribe had no established social system, be it political or economic in nature. He claims that "...the BaMbuti were a single cultural unit...There was no form of chieftainship, and no mechanism for maintaining law and order, and it was see what prevented these isolated groups from falling into complete chaos" (19). This account highlights the fact that there exists an almost egalitarian society in Ituri, a state of society wherein there is no social stratification. In fact, the lack of any established law within the tribe is indeed a mark of the egalitarian nature of the tribe's life, an almost utopian society wherein harmony with nature and among the BaMbuti are the most important pursuits in life.

Though food is an essential item for the BaMbuti, this is so only because they need food to survive forest life. Otherwise, forest life is a simple life consisting of daily conduct of activities that makes communal life harmonious and enjoyable.

Of course, the most significant insight shared by the author is how modernization is affecting the life of the forest people. The author himself expresses his apprehension with the emergence of the plantations in nearby locations at the Ituri forest, for these plantations had, evidently, detrimentally affected the life of the forest people. Turnbull best expresses his dismay over the dominance of modernization in Ituri (259-60):

The plan was doomed to failure for several reasons. For one, the Pygmies are not able to stand the direct sunlight and become ill outside the shade of the forest. They also became ill because they have no resistance, as the villagers have, to the kinds of disease they are open to in a sedentary life. Water which the villager can drink with impunity gives severe stomach disorder to the Pygmy, who is used to fresh clean water of forest streams...But above all, his entire code of behavior and thought is geared to his nomadic forest life: to bring him to a settled life in a village is to ask him overnight to abandon one way of life, a way he has lived for thousands of years, and adopt another...on one small "model plantation" where the Pygmies were being liberated, twenty-nine had died in one day from sunstroke.

The act of "liberation" from forest life is, according to Turnbull, the gravest mistake that development had committed against the forest people. This is why anthropological studies are essential: it is only by understanding the lifeways of various extant cultures in the world will people of developed and more organized societies be able to truly understand how specific societies do not need the change or 'liberation' that most Western societies have been subjected to ever since the emergence of the Industrial Revolution.

The Forest People" had provided useful insights about the non-applicability of the Modernization Project that most Western nations have tried to integrate in the lives of 'non-developed' societies and cultures, which are mostly located in the African and Asian regions. Despite the transparent feelings and opinions Turnbull had against development in Ituri, his account of the forest life among the BaMbuti had been in the strictest sense scientific, in that he was able to document faithfully observations that are vital in understanding the psyche of the members of the tribe, especially when concerns presented to them are about their forest life and the impending influence of development through "plantations" built in nearby Ituri Forest.

Works Cited

Turnbull, C. (1961). The Forest People. NY: Simon and Schuster.[continue]


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