CENTRAL AFRICAN HUNTER-GATHERER RESEARCH TRADITIONS
Barry S. Hewlett and Jason M. Fancher
Washington State University, Vancouver
For: Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Vicki Cummings, Peter Jordan and Marek Zvelebil, eds. Oxford University Press
Barry Hewlett is Professor of Anthropology at Washington State University, Vancouver. He received a PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1987 and has had appointments at Tulane University and Oregon State University. He has conducted research in central Africa since 1973 and is the author of Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care, Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods (edited with Michael Lamb) and Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease (with Bonnie Hewlett). He has published 35 journal articles or book chapters about Congo Basin foragers.
Jason M. Fancher is a recent graduate of Washington State University’s PhD program in anthropology. His doctoral dissertation is an ethnoarchaeological analysis of animal bone assemblages produced by modern Aka and Bofi foragers of the Central African Republic. Jay’s professional interests include: hunter-gatherer studies, evolutionary ecology, zooarchaeology, vertebrate taphonomy, and sharing anthropological perspectives with non-specialists and the general public.
Indexing names and terms:
Key words: Central Africa, Congo Basin hunter-gatherers, Pygmies, research traditions in Congo Basin hunter-gatherers
The largest remaining groups of mobile hunter-gatherers on earth live in Central Africa. More than 350,000 foragers (historically referred to as “Pygmies”) from at least 13 distinct ethnolinguistic groups occupy diverse environments in the Congo Basin. This chapter begins with an overview of these groups, their cultural commonalities, and genetic relationships. Next, we summarize the personal backgrounds and research trajectories of leading researchers from four national anthropological traditions: Britain, Japan, France, and the United States. The Congo Basin has attracted particular kinds of researchers and these researchers have influenced how the region’s peoples are represented. Here we compare and critique traditions, illustrate the strengths of different approaches, and identify common research biases. These biases include a strong emphasis on ecological studies, conducted predominantly by male researchers, representing a relatively narrow range of national traditions. We then review major topical and theoretical issues of the last 50 years of Central African anthropology and suggest avenues for future research.
The largest remaining groups of mobile hunter-gatherers on earth live in Central Africa. At least 350,000 foragers from at least 13 distinct ethnolinguistic groups occupy Congo Basin forests. Historically, these groups have been referred to as “Pygmies” and no alternative term has emerged to replace it. Researchers actively debate whether or not to use the term “Pygmy” in their publications. Some prefer the term because the public and non-specialist academics recognize it or their publications get more attention if this term is used, while others feel it is derogatory. Political activist and development agencies do not hesitate to use the term. We take the position that reference to stature may not be derogatory, but it is denigrating the way it is used by farmers living in association with foragers. The term “Pygmy” also tends to give the impression of a unified culture or ethnic group. In this chapter we use the names of specific ethnic groups when possible or refer to all groups as Congo Basin foragers or forest foragers. It is important to note that many Congo Basin foragers today farm and that many of them are not short (e.g., Bongo and other groups in Gabon).
The chapter is divided into three parts. A brief overview of the ethnic groups and...
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