The ritualization of potential conflict between the sexes among the Mbuti
COLIN M. TURNBULL
If humans have a seemingly limitless capacity for violence, for aggres¬sion, they have an equally great potential for nonviolence and non-aggressivity, and a notable feature of many small-scale societies is the great amount of concern shown, in a wide diversity of institutionalized forms, for the reduction of humanity's potential for aggressivity and violence to a remarkable minimum. It is not that 'primitive' people were are any more moral than ourselves, nor necessarily more pragmatic; they see the wisdom of minimizing violence and aggressivity, reducing hostility to a level far below their mental and technological potential, it is perhaps simply because that best answers their overall need survival just as our own maximal development of the aggressive potential may answer our needs, if not our tastes… . The Mbuti hunter-gatherers of the tropical rain forest in northeastern Zaire accept that human nature is not angelic, and they expect, with typical pragmatism, that however divine our essence may be (and they have such a concept) our social self may stray. Therefore, by stating at e outset our potential for harm, they defuse that potential to a major extent, which allows them time to put considerable energy into averting that harm while, and by, developing their potential for nonharm… .
For the Mbuti there are four major principles of social organization, which correspond to the four major areas in which conflict is most likely to occur in their lives. These areas are clearly recognized by the Mbuti; the inherent potential for conflict in each is made manifest in ritual form and is further guarded against by appropriate social institutions These areas are territory, family (or kinship), age, and sex. These area e progressively explored in approximately that order, both as principles of organization and as dangerous areas within which conflict can arise and violence erupt, as the newborn passes from infancy through childhood into youth. In this way he is equipped to be a part of a highly integrated, organized community, in action and belief, and the nature of his educational experience is that he is also equipped to deal with conflict as it arises without the fear that comes from individual isolation and competitiveness. On the contrary, his total experience has led him, by youth, to enter any situation of stress with the very confidence that is one of his chief weapons against stress. This confidence is well s ported by a whole repertoire of specific conflict resolving skills techniques well learned and practiced throughout childhood. While ne may feel a degree of uncertainty, he feels none of the fear and perceives nothing of the threat which could lead ultimately and exclusively to a violent solution to conflict.
The children in the bopi (playground), especially the older ones, when tired of physical pastimes, have many verbal pastimes. Many of these involve jokes - ways of exploring alternative modes of behavior, discovering those that are proper and work, and those that are improper t work. But often they involve the rational and verbal use of such as ekimi ('quiet' or 'peace') and akami ('noise' or 'conflict') n the settlement of conflict situations. It may start through imitation of a real dispute the children witnessed in the main camp, perhaps the night before. They all take roles and imitate the adults. It is almost a form of judgment, for if the adults talked their way out of the dispute, the children, having performed their imitation once, are likely to drop it. If the children detect any room for improvement, however, they will explore that, and if the adult argument was inept and everyone went to sleep that night in a bad temper, then the children try and show that they can do better, and if they find they cannot, then they revert to ridicule which they play out until they are all rolling on the ground in near-hysterics. That happens to be the way many of the most potentially violent and dangerous disputes are settled in adult life. Laughter, jokes, and ridicule are vital elements in Mbuti life, and I believe that together they constitute a major factor in developing the affective characteristics of the adults and in minimizing the disaffective.
However, around the age of eight or nine, perhaps as late as eleven, and in my case at the age of thirty, boy children enter the nkumbi1 and emerge a mere three months later as adults in village eyes (for it is a village ritual) but as youths in Mbuti eyes. The Mbuti have no formal initiation of boys, nor is there any evidence that they ever had one. There might possibly have been greater recognition given to a child who catches and kills his first game - for that is both a dangerous act, compounding his original sin, and a necessary act, for by such acts alone can he survive in this world. But for a number of complex reasons described elsewhere, and to be elaborated on by a colleague (Joseph A. Towles), who as anthropologist playing the role of villager was able to penetrate the nkumbi far more deeply than I was permitted to do, the Mbuti find it useful to enter the village ritual. It is of paramount impor¬tance in bringing about effective relationships between the two poten¬tially hostile groups. Within the forest world of the Mbuti it is merely an easy way of marking the rather uncertain transition of a boy from childhood to youth. For the girls there is no such problem, their tran¬sition is clearly defined by the first flow of menstrual blood, an event acclaimed with joy by all, for now that girl has the power to become a mother.2 At that point she will become an adult, and her mate will become her husband, and an adult also.
Following the nkumbi, however, there are still six or seven or maybe more years to go in the realm of youth. The village ritual, with its explicit sex instruction and moral teaching and to the way of the ancestors and to the society at large, has nothing to teach the Mbuti about forest life. What remains to be learned he will learn, with his age-mates, in this next stage of life facing him. Territory kinship, and age have all been well explored. That exploration will continue, but the main sphere explored during youth is that of sex and while that is being explored the rational ability is further developed and refined, and the youth finds himself (and herself) in a jural rather than ritual role, in the pastime of developing interdependence. During youth also, the Mbuti becomes more fully cognizant of that ultimate all embracing sphere, nadura (forest), and finds that his lingering purity (he may not kill an antelope until late in youth) sometimes places him in a role that is ritual as well as jural.
The youth, in so far as he is less pure, or more contaminated, is such NOT because of his increasingly physical concern with sex, but because of his increasing proximity to the daily act of sacrilege, the hunt. If anything, his sexual activity would be a purifying element … In the bopi there was no sexual discrimination in the sharing of love among the children, to their fullest capacity. I maintain that this is the same during youth, yet not once did I come across a case of homosexual intercourse, although the existence of names for both male and female homosexuality suggests that it may exist. I came across one case of bes¬tiality (a male youth and a female goat), which was openly acknowl¬edged and respected to the extent that neither boy nor goat suffered any disability except that they were confined to the village. The grounds for exclusion from the forest were not uncleanliness or impurity, there was no taint of immorality, merely the practical observation that the boy's 'wife' did not know how to hunt and would quickly die if she came with him back to the forest. The boy, torn between two loyalties, finally chose the forest, pensioned his goat-wife off by presenting her to a villager whom he knew would cherish her and keep her well and alive, since the villager thought he was acquiring enormous control over the forest, the goat being well impregnated with the sperm of the forest people. That boy then married an Mbuti girl with no difficulty, he was back in the centre of the forest sphere and the goat was no longer part of the 'here and now'. I mention the incident because it says a great deal about the Mbuti concept of love, even when carried into the phys¬ical act of sex. Even when so carried, the two things remain distinct. It might well be for similar pragmatic reasons that there is no recorded instance of male or female homosexuality; one's 'wife' or 'husband' simply would not know how to gather or hunt.
By this time girls have paid increasing attention to women's activi¬ties, following them on the hunt and on their private gathering expe¬ditions, and the boys similarly have increasingly been following the men, learning the finer points of hunting and other primarily male activities. Homosexuality is not the point, however, any more than bes¬tiality. The point is that even when boys and girls discover the ecstasy of sex, and for whatever reason confine it to a heterosexual relationship, they continue to love each other regardless of shared sexuality and even carry something of the physical act into their relationships, as though almost regretful of being separated by it. I cannot speak for the girls, though I have seen and heard enough similar behaviour amongst them to convince me there is not likely to be much difference, but the male youths delight in bodily contact throughout youth. It becomes inter¬spersed with more frequent formal spacing as serious heterosexual courtship begins, but it continues even into early married adult life. Male youths tend to sleep together, either in the open around a fire, or in a hut built by one of them and used by all. They sleep in a glorious bundle of young life, full of warmth and full of love. There is little sex¬ual fondling, and what there is is due more in the form of a joke than to give any sexual pleasure. However, there is no doubt that the close lagging is more than for mere warmth, necessary though that is on any night in the rain forest. And there is no doubt that a measure of physical sexual relief, or satisfaction, is achieved in this way, with or without ejaculation. An occasional muttered comment about ejaculation may be made by an individual to himself, much as I might mutter if my shoeIace broke while walking along a crowded street. Messy or bothersome to the individual, but of little or no significance to anyone else. What is significant is that the growing separation of the sexes for the physical act of copulation, augmented by the growing division of the sexes by the allocation of labour, is in a very real sense being countered, and love is being shared, to the point that even if intercourse were to take place I doubt that it would add anything to the intensity of the relation¬ship, except possibly for that one brief moment. The sacrifice of that moment, somehow, seems to make the relationship all the stronger. Before looking at the final stage of transition from youth to adulthood, which is also a transition from unconscious, or perhaps better nonrational non-aggressivity to conscious, rational non-aggressivity, a brief summary of the lessons learned the symbols implanted will be helpful.
By entry to youth (between the ages of eight or nine and eleven) the Mbuti child has learned the major values that militate against aggresivity and violence. The following are the most important.
security: The Mbuti themselves consider that their individual life stories begin with conception and their formation as a fetus in the womb of their mother. Judging by what seems to be a high incidence of trouble, free pregnancy and childbirth, accomplished with ease and resulting in a healthy child as well as a healthy mother, such experience of life as the child may have, in the womb, should be one of total security. From the moment of birth onwards everything is done to enable that sense of security to be transferred in steadily widening and inclusive circles from the sphere that is limited to the mother's body to the endu (leaf hut), to other endu, to the bopi (playground), to the apa (camp), and finally to the most inclusive sphere of all, ndura (the forest). The last may be taken to include, by opposition, the nonforest world of the village, for opposition is precisely the mechanism that provides the Mbuti with this ultimate security, safe within their sacred world against the profane. This process of increasing inclusion is the same process by which other values are gradually instilled, though from the point of view of infants and children each successive stage may seem more separate than inclusive, since they tend temporarily to abandon the one sphere once they have become secure in it, and experiment with the next. It is probably only in youth that the integrated nature of their total experience becomes apparent to them.
dependence: The steps are similar. Initial dependence on their mother is shown to have validity in relationship with ever expanding circles of other 'kin', ultimately including every Mbuti in the camp, regardless of age or sex. But an Mbuti also learns the value of dependence, just as that of security, with reference to territory (endu, bopi, apa, and ndura), and with reference to four age grades: children, youths, adults and elders.
interdependence is the next value learned, and again an Mbuti sees this value as having applicability in all the areas in which conflict is likely to arise: kinship, territory, age, and sex. Children do not associate interdependence with conflict; that understanding comes with youth. But they quickly move from the security of dependence in these areas to the even greater security of interdependence, where they get their first real taste of responsibility and power.
coordination: This value was first learned as infants coordinated the movements of their various limbs and then coordinated their overall movement with that of their mothers. But they also learned coordination in and between the age groups.
cooperation: As the power of reason develops, so is the value of coordination, now well learned, transcended by an intellectual attitude that accompanies the necessity for cooperation demanded by the increasingly complex activities within the endu, bopi, and apa. Even the ultimate cooperative relationship between Mbuti and their prime (tiduta) sphere has been amply learned, first while accompanying the hunt on their mothers' side and later by setting off on foot with the men, if a boy, or with the women, if a girl. It is at this stage that this, and by inclusion the other values already learned, are extended to the fourth area of potential conflict, the differentiation between the sexes.
ekimilakami: still, until youth, primarily at a physical rather than rational level, children have been introduced to the positive value of ekimi, or quiet, as against that of akami, or disturbance. They have learned to associate akami with hunger, since noise, ill temper, lack of the proper manifestation of the other values (the lack of any of these values is described as akami), generally leads to an unsuccessful hunt. They have equally learned that the proper manifestation of the values learned so far results in ekimi, a word they now begin to use in other contexts much as we would use the word 'happiness'. They find that one of the most common occasions on which the word akami is used is in reference not to noise on the hunt, which is unusual, but for verbal disputes in the camp. They also learn to differentiate between 'good' sound, such as song, and 'bad' sound, such as an argument, though in our sense the song may be a great deal noisier than the argument. Similarly they learn that suso (wind) is generally classified as ekimi unless it is kuko (wind that does damage) in which case it is akami. An Mbuti's starting point with this value is sound, which applies to both ekimi and akami, but it s quickly learned, well before entering youth, that it is not sound itself hat results in one value or the other, but the effect of that sound.
Techniques of learning
The overall technique by which all this is learned in itself contribute to the enormous confidence with which the Mbuti face their total word by the time they reach youth, which becomes a time of testing that confidence, each youth consciously challenging him or herself and putting this confidence to the test. The overall technique involves allowing the child, from infancy onwards, the safe but adventurous exploration of each successive sphere, at the child's own pace, while developing (through good use) sensory and motor abilities, the as yet nonrational sensitivity to the totality (intuition?) while consciously dealing with one segment of experience after the other. Thus the ground is laid, by youth, for rational, intellectual integration of the totality of a person's experience and confidence. The various techniques we have looked at include:
endu: suckling, rocking, listening, smelling, tasting, the mother, the father, their bed, the floor and walls of the hut.
apa: physical exploration is continued so that all the various endu are included, though as yet the child has little experience of the apa as a single unit.
bopi: the techniques here first include pastimes that develop muscular strength and coordination, and although played out in company of others, they are solitary explorations. They then develop into more complex pastimes that require cooperation of increasing numbers of children, such as climbing and bending the sapling to the ground: imitation of adult economic activities (hunting, gathering, making bark-cloth); imitation of adult domestic activities (house building, cooking, eating, sleeping, quarrelling); imitation of the political activities of youth (ridicule of each other, of youths, adults and elders; ridicule of villagers). Here the pastimes demand intellectual, rational content as well as physical, especially in the ridicule of adult disputes which calls for considerable improvisation and exploration of the value system. Then there is, finally, limited imitation of the ritual role of the elders, in which they perceive some similarity to their own role as lighters of the hunting fire. But the children also imitate the role of elders as story-tellers, partly by repeating the stories, and partly by improvizing similar stories of their own. Here their intellect and power of reason are being developed in such a way as to reinforce the values learned, and to prepare the way for their entry into youth and the integrated world of the apa. Through their physical exploration of space after space the children have come in physical contact with the major elements that will form such a important part of their later world of symbols. It may or may not be stretching things a little to link the warmth of the womb to that of the mother's body and both consequently to fire; however, I have heard Mbuti in apparently casual conversation liken the womb to a fire. But children undeniably form close associations with the hearth of their endu, that of other endu, that of bopi, that of the hunt, and that which, even before they take part in it as youths, they will have seen in the center of the apa, the kumamolimo: the hearth (literally: vagina) of the molimo, a hearth lit only at times of major crisis. Similarly their contact with air might be said to have begun with the first breath they drew, before the cutting of the umbilical cord, and continued through learning to play various kinds of whistles and flutes, learning to blow a fire into life (fans are never used), learning to sing, to learning if a boy to blow the breath of life through the sacred molimo trumpet so that the hot coals at the far end throw fiery sparks out into the forest. Earth similarly has been a constant in their lives, from their first explorations of the ground within the endu, apa, and bopi, the trees that grow out of it, to the earth that again, as children, they may have been or will shortly see rubbed into the molimo trumpet or scattered over the molimo hearth when, finally, it is extinguished. And water - their first contact with water was special - the water of the forest vine. Even splashing about in the forest streams was special, because that was when they began to look at reflections and when elders might tell stories of the other world. As children they are warned away from that special part of the stream where the molimo trumpet is kept during the molimo festival, warned simply by a special barricade of forest vines. And if they have not yet seen it, by peeping out from the inside of their hunts at nighttime, they will soon as youths see the molimo trumpet be given water to drink. Their contact with the supreme symbol, the forest itself, has been far from restricted to the mere climbing of trees - in the same way that they have come to recognize their interdependence with all other Mbuti so have they come to realize their interdependence with the natural worl of which they are an integral part.
At entry to youth this educative process is continued, all the value that so effectively militate against aggressivity are strengthened by further activities, which are extended to include that area of potential conflict with which the child has had least contact, sex. At the same time youths now develop an intellectual ability to integrate the values, just as they can now rationally integrate their various spheres and realms activity. In the course of this they become involved in a number of institutionalized forms of behaviour that bring them into both physical and intellectual contact with the underlying, omnipresent value of non-aggressivity.
For instance, while as children being carried on their mothers' sides or trotting along beside one or another parent they were indirectly aware of the separation and physical opposition of the sexes on the hunt; it was indirect because it was to large extent involuntary and insignificant. Now that as youths they take an increasing part in the hunt, and have their special place in it, the division, and opposition, of the sexes is very real. It has its own powerful logic as a division of labour, but its ritualization in various institutionalized forms raises it to another level. The hunting song in which the youths play a major part reproduces the physical opposition of men at their nets to women driving game towards the nets, with youths in an approximately medial positions on each side. While it might be difficult to demonstrate that this song is a ritual rather than another educational, value-reinforcing pastime, there are other undeniably ritual activities that involve similar antiphonal singing techniques and which are even more directly manifestations of the need to avert conflict between the sexes. Appropriately these are activities in which both adults and youths participate, not elders or children. It is expected that the conflict will arise within the age grade of adulthood, to some extent it is their role to manifest such conflict, and it is the role of youth to resolve such conflict if they cannot avert it.
One such activity is the tug of war. This is usually initiated by adults, but is generally not very successful or prolonged unless youths join in. It most often occurs during the honey season, which is a time of general relaxation, involving the fission of the hunting band into small groups that roam the territory in search of honey, with no communal hunting to bind the band together as a corporate unit. While this season may serve an ecological function, effectively putting an end to the hunt for up to two months, it undoubtedly also serves the political function of allowing unresolved disputes and potential disputes and lines of conflict to be brought into the open. The tug of war expresses the major line of potential conflict, between male and female. Men take a vine rope on one side, women pull on the opposite side. They sing antiphony. However, if one side or the other were to win that would resolve nothing, so when the men seem to be winning one of them w abandon his side of the tug and join the women, pulling up his bar and adjusting it in the fashion of women, shouting encouragement to them in a falsetto, ridiculing womanhood by the very exaggeration of his mime. Then, when the women begin to win, one of them adjusts her bark clothing, letting it down, and strides over to the men's side and joins their shouting in a deep bass voice, similarly gently mocking manhood. Each person crossing over tries to outdo the ridicule of the last, causing more and more laughter, until when the contestants are laughing so hard they cannot sing or pull any more, they let go of the vine rope and fall to the ground in near hysteria. Although both youths and adults cross sides, it is primarily the youths who really enact the ridicule. In this way the ridicule is performed without hostility, rather with a sense of at least partial identification and empathy. It is in this way that the violence and aggressivity of either sex 'winning' is avoided, and the stupidity of competitiveness demonstrated.
The honey season is considered a time for relaxation and enjoyment of the pleasures of life, of which honey is one of the main symbols. Sexual activity among the youths is heightened. But the association of the individual quest for pleasure, however legitimate, with conflict is brought to the fore in the honeybee dance. Again, both adults and youths participate. The males form a single-file line, armed with bows and arrows, and with fire which they have to 'steal' from the various endu hearths. Here is the first representation (in this particular dance) of the male/female conflict: fire is controlled by women, who are responsible for carrying fire with them on the hunt or whenever they accompany the men on any journey, and above all when moving from one camp site to another, so that the endu hearth never dies. The Mbuti know but eschew two traditional village techniques for making fire, and use matches (if provided) only for 'profane' acts such as lighting cigarettes.
The men then, have to 'steal' fire from the hearths to carry it with them, as they do on the real honey-gathering expeditions, to smoke out the bees and enable them to 'steal' (again recognizing the aggressive nature of the act, comparable to stealing the life of the game they hunt for meat) the honey, and the larvae of future life which Mbuti consume with the honey. As the men dance around the apa, looking upwards as if looking and listening for bees, the women form another line and follow the men, dancing behind them, or parallel with them, sometimes in front, even dancing in and out of the men's line as though invisible. Then the women change direction and dance towards the men. They also are carrying burning firebrands, but unlike the men, every woman and girl has a live brand in her left hand, whereas only two or three men may have brands with them, sheathed in phrynium leaves. As the men approach the women, who have slowed down, the women break ranks and attack the men, beating their glowing firebrands over the heads of the men, covering them with sparks and hot coals that 'burn like the sting of bees'. The men are routed, and re-form and start all over again, looking for the nonstinging kind of bee. Unlike the tug of war, this dance has a rather more definite conclusion in that the men never succeed in their attempt to 'steal' honey. One or other of the women (not a girl) may end the dance by dancing into her hut and coming out with a leaf cup of honey or a piece of honeycomb, and offer this to the men, who accept it and consume it, sharing some with the women (bees).
Hoop dancing and rope skipping are two activities particularly common during the honey season, and in certain forms restricted to older girls. Girls also spend a great deal of time, in this season, decorating their bodies with the juice of the gardenia fruit, and demonstrating their nubility by playing with the small gardenia fruits, rolling them from their shoulders onto their upstanding breasts, from which they toss them up to the air and catch them and throw them back onto their shoulders again. The camp clown, a male, will frequently demonstrate that this is one thing a boy cannot do; but the boys have pastimes of their own such as playing a 'game' with beans, seeds, or small stones, according to rules by which both sides 'win'. This is a variant of a favourite village gambling game, and an important way in which both Mbuti and villagers socialize when Mbuti are in the village. Boys also decorate themselves during this season, with leaves and orchids and fresh cut bark clothes. These are often preliminaries to the great joint pre-marital festival, the elima, which ideally but not necessarily takes place during the honey season. It involves all the adult male and female youths from the apa as it is constituted at the moment, a few only of the elders in specific roles such as the 'mother' of the elima (either an old widow or a younger barren woman) and a 'father' of the elima, a less formal role generally taken by a widower or a cripple (both the 'mother' and the 'father' thus being in a sense sexless); the other mothers in the camp act as guards of the bamelima, the girls who are living in the elima hut. Finally, male youths form other hunting territories, near or far, visit the camp in order to participate in the festival. Adult males, children and elders (other than the 'mother' or 'father' of the elima) are excluded except as spectators. As with other social institutions, the elima can be looked at from a number of different points of view. It is occasioned by the dramatic and unmistakable entry of any girl in the apa into womanhood, marked by the appearance of the first menstrual blood. Unlike many societies, rican and other, this is widely publicized and acclaimed with joy and exuberance, for it means that a mother has been 'born'. A camp may wait until another girl similarly 'sees the blood' for the first time, so that the two girls can combine their elima festivals. A girl from another camp may be brought by her parents, under the pretext simply of join-g the camp during its monthly shift from one site to another, but ally so that she can join the elima. This is most likely if the girls are lends. The girls invite other friends to join them in the elima house, where they live with the ema'abamelima (mother of the girls of the elima). Effectively, then, the older youths of the camp are strictly segregated at this time into male and female, and even the younger youths follow suit, separating themselves in activities they would normally pursue jgether. While the elima is consciously thought of as a pre-marital festival, providing an opportunity for formal courtship and sexual experimentation, it can also be thought of as a joint male/female initiation that signals the approaching advance of adults into elderhood, another impending area of conflict, of possible aggressivity if not violence. The Mbuti themselves refer to this transition period as one of akami for the individual concerned, whereas the transitions from childhood to youth and youth to adulthood are ekimi. The elima may be used by adults on the verge of elderhood to temporarily play the role of clown. They do this, if male, by classifying themselves one generation down, as youths, fighting their way with male youths toward the elima house, even into it for a brief moment perhaps. Older women more rarely opt for such a medial role; if widowed the transition into elderhood is smoother than for the men, and even if not widowed they are not barred from food-gathering in elderhood to the same extent that male elders are barred from hunting. But older adult women who feel ambivalent about the approaching change of status take advantage of the elima by sitting with the young girls when they emerge from the elima house. In this way transitional adults, by allying themselves with the lower generation temporarily, automatically identify themselves with the superior generation by the principle of alternate generation alliance, which operates strongly in Mbuti society.
The main feature of the elima that concerns us here is the ritual conflict between male and female youths, manifest in the battle waged with sticks, large nuts and seeds, small burning embers or even logs thrown by the women, and smaller seeds or pieces of tough skin fired from the bow by the male youths, and long supple sapling whips used by the bamelima girls. In order to gain access to the elima house and thus acquire the right to sleep with one of the girls, a male youth or medial male adult has to fight his way through the barrage of fire set up by the adult women. Once inside, or even outside, they may be met by the girls themselves, armed with their whips. The same whips are used by girls in their frequent forays into the camp, and even into neighbouring territories, to beat boys (and medial adults) as an invitation to visit them in the elima house. There are obviously a number of complex lessons being learned here. Apart from the intense discussions the girls have with the mother of the elima, and the boys with the father, which provide them with an intellectual understanding of what they are being prepared for, the very physical violence they are met with in pursuit of their individual sexual desires is a dramatic ritualization of the inherent conflict between their individual and social selves, a conflict that is one of the keynotes of the adult life into which they are moving. The fact that they have already learned that adults are expected to be troublemakers, that it is even one of their allotted roles, that adulthood is a time of akami, now for the first time becomes part of their own personal experience. Yet all the familiar symbols of security are there; the mother and father, the endu (of the bamelima) with its own hearth; the firebrands they throw or have thrown at them; the very special leaves they sleep on when they gain admittance, which leaves have to be ritually dis¬posed of afterwards; the young saplings with which they whip or are whipped; and the songs they are expected to sing in clear antiphony, distinct from all other song in form and style. Water is used in the final ritual washing of both boys and girls, when the elima ends.
Youths learn, through the elima, that the pursuit of individual desires, although not wrong in itself, is likely to lead to akami, and if they wish to pursue such desires they had better temper them in such a way that they are acceptable to the rest of the society. The adult women are perfectly capable of preventing even the strongest and most aggressive youth from entering the elima house if they so wish; they may beat him with sticks or even with thorns, or may simply pick him up bodily and throw him in the nearest stream or river. The elima, which lasts a month, is obviously a disruptive time, and when it is over there are many disgruntled adults and a general time of akami. The very youths who were the unwitting cause of akami are then called upon to play what is perhaps their most important role, a role that prepares them admirably their own inevitably disputatious adulthood. In this role they are the bearers of the molimo made, the lesser molimo. The word molimo, which has to do with 'leopardness', is perhaps best translated as the soul or spiritual essence of the forest. Its visible and audible symbol is a long trumpet, traditionally made from a special tree which, when cut young, can be hollowed out with a tough abrasive vine. It is usually six to ten feet in length. Elders control the molimo mangbo, the great molimo, which is used on occasions of major crisis such as death or prolonged and serious bad hunting; the molimo made is brought into action to 'quieten' a 'noisy' camp. Thus it is youth who sit in judgement and primarily on adults; youth which is called upon to rectify the harm done by the adulthood into which they will shortly pass. While the molimo mangbo (by youths again, but under the direction of elders) is made to sound like a leopard, and to sing like Mbuti (both symbols of ekimi) and is given water to drink, rubbed with earth, and made to produce fire as well as song by the breath of life, the molimo madé of youth is made to sound like an angry elephant, the destroyer of the forest; when it comes into camp, instead of being fed with earth, fire, water and air it is taken hold of by all the male youths and stampedes back and forth, destroying anything in its path, attacking all the endu in turn, perhaps but not necessarily paying rather more attention to the endu of the trouble¬makers who caused the molimo made to be 'awakened'.
Nothing the adult or even the elders can do or say has any effect on the control of the youths over the molimo made. It is youth that decides not only when the akami is serious enough to warrant such action, or whether they should merely resort to ridicule, but it is youth that effectively decides what constitutes akami: youth has the power of revising the values of society, of shaping the future. Youth's wealth of experience is now backed up by a well-developed intellect; youths hold long and serious discussions about adult behaviour with reference to akami and ekimi, but as concepts rather than as rigid codes of behavior. Similarly, although adults have no control over sexual escapades of youth outside the institution of elima, the youths themselves, increasingly recognizing the potential of sex as a source of conflict, discuss among themselves their preferences as to when and where to have sexual intercourse with a girl. It must be a time and place of ekimi they say, and in their discussions they state their preferences in terms of proximity to water, so that they can look at it or listen to it; to earth in terms of the soft feel or sweet smell of the earth (or leaf mould) in this place as against that; to air in terms of the sound of a breeze rustling the leaves. When any pair of youths decide that they have experimented sufficiently to be able to bring this ekimi with them into adulthood, for without it the sexual act would be neither affective nor pleasurable they get married. For the Mbuti this involves little formality. The male youth has to show his prowess as a hunter by catching and killing 'large' game (large enough to feed a nuclear family), either on his own or by virtue of his position at the extremities of the semicircle of hunting nets; and the girl has to be willing to go with him and build a house for ' them to live in. Parents have little say, though they may quietly voice their opinion; elders only intervene if they feel the marriage is too 'close', a concept that involves both kinship and territoriality.
Adulthood is entered without formality as soon as youths feel ready to undertake the responsibility of marriage. Once married the youths are classified as adults. The boy's mother gives him a hunting net, and as adults the young man and his bride set off for the daily hunt with the rest of the camp; there is no vertical hierarchy within the age grade. It is then that they begin to realize fully how full of conflict is adult life. Once a child is born the husband is expected to abstain from inter¬course with his wife for three years. There is no openly stated prohibition against sleeping with other women, least of all unmarried girls, but to do so immediately places him in competition with other adult males or with youthful suitors. The adult male is also the killer of game, and so the one who perpetuates human (and animal) mortality. He has to rely on children to minimize this necessary act of violence and aggressivity, through the hunting fire. He has to rely on youths to restore ekimi when his unwise flirtations or jealousies cause akami. He has to accept that the youth of the day may redefine the concepts of ekimi and akami in ways not entirely agreeable to him. And when, usually in adulthood, he is faced with the death of his own parents the adult male has to rely on the power of the elders to invoke the molimo mangbo and restore ekimi even in the face of death. At the height of his sexual potency the adult male finds himself, socially, remarkably impotent. This is largely minimized by the values learned from childhood onwards, the value of dependence and interdependence. It is further offset by his all too recent experience as a youth, and the hostility that might result between these adjacent generations is lessened by their very proximity, and by the intensive cooperation demanded between them in hunting and gathering as in ritual/sacred song and dance. It is the adults who are primarily involved in the all areas of conflict, that between the sedentary village farmers and the nomadic hunter-gatherers. Because of their economic role it is they who are expected to bring meat, mushrooms, saplings, and leaves for the house-building, and other forest products, to the village. The villagers misread this economic control of the adult Mbuti as indicative of political control, and conduct all their negotiations and disputes with Mbuti through the adults. This places adults, male and female, in a difficult position, since any attempt to implement the wishes of the villagers is likely to cause enormous dispute in the Mbuti forest camp, and failure to do so is going to create equal trouble in the village with which they have to deal if they are to succeed in keeping the villagers from coming into the forest and getting what they need for themselves. We cannot go into the village aspect of this conflict here, except perhaps just to draw attention again to the participation of Mbuti boys and their fathers in the village nkumbi initiation, by which the villagers believe they achieve ultimate supernatural control over the Mbuti, when political control through the Mbuti adults fails. Participation of Mbuti couples wishing to get married in village marriage rituals also serves the same end. But in the forest the adults are invariably blamed for the akami that results from even the most reasonable requests of the villagers. In the forest camp, then, it is usually the adults who in the guise of entertainment ridicule the villagers constantly, such as when recounting tales of their visit to the village: how they swindled the villagers or cheated them or stole from them, beat them at their own gambling games, and so forth. In such pantomimes the adults ridicule the villagers as clumsy, stupid, noisy, dirty, but also as dangerous, like the elephant.
The constant mobility of the Mbuti, who change camp sites almost every month, helps prevent conflict between Mbuti and villagers. The camps fluctuate in both size and composition as well as in location so that a villager never knows which Mbuti are where. This same process of fission and fusion is of course also a major element in conflict avoidance between Mbuti themselves, allowing potential disputants to separate themselves into different camps, temporarily, before the dispute flares up into major proportions.
More than any of the above, however, as a factor in controlling aggressivity, violence, and conflict in adult life, is the demonstrably positive value of ekimi that the adult has perceived at every stage of his life and which he still perceives and strives for, even in the pursuit of individual satisfaction. The molimo festival is demanding and exhaust¬ing. While stressing ekimi it almost inevitably creates akami. The molimo is always accompanied, then, by rituals that reverse akami. The modi madi is one, the other is focused on sex. As the prime noise-maker is not surprising that it is the adults, male and female, that are expected to perform ekokomea, the most formal of all the various rituals of reversal and/or rebellion. Like other rituals ekokomea demonstrates, rather as a controlled experiment does, the danger of alternative modes of behaviour and thought. Here again we see that underlying the diversity of ways of actively expressing and expelling aggressivity there is a constant focus on purity, or health, without which the ritual dramas would be empty and ineffective. In ekokomea the sex norms are all cast aside, reversed and ridiculed. Alternative modes of behaviour are experimented with and tested by mime and ridicule. In particular both as individuals and as groups women and men are able to ridicule the opposite sex, most often in terms of sexual behaviour and cleanliness. As with the tug-of-war, each individual act of ridicule adds to the general hilarity and detracts from the underlying latent aggressivity, until the ridicule goes so far beyond the realm of reason that aggressivity itself becomes unthinkable. The ekokomea group then collapses in hysterics, rolling on the ground, eyes streaming with tears, gasping for breath; and when they recover men and women alike resume their normal roles as though nothing has happened, other than a general improvement in their good spirits.
The molimo mangbo, however, is the greatest of all purificatory rites or festivals among the Mbuti, serving as a dynamic reminder to all, of any age or sex, of the value of ekimi, and of the vital, necessity for cooperation in order to achieve ekimi. It is here that the Mbuti see them¬selves as being united together in the centre of the most inclusive of all wombs, that of the forest. It requires cooperation on this scale to restore ekimi in the face of that supreme akami of death. The very nature of the ritual cooperation required represents the mutually complementary roles of all four age levels in Mbuti society, and in just the same way that life (and ekimi) would be impossible without this daily interaction and interdependence between children, youths, adults, and elders, so would the molimo mangbo, and the reversal of akami, be impossible without the cooperation of the same groups. The molimo mangbo integrates the age groups, the sexes, and it unites all the individual endu (however disunited in terms of kinship) in terms of common territoriality. Finally, the molimo mangbo expresses the greatest opposition of all, that between the forest and nonforest. In this one ritual every major potential source of conflict is expressed. Thus there are three periodic, constantly repetitive situations that demand the ritualization of conflict and expulsion of aggressivity. The annual honey season, during which the territorial band breaks down to its minimal segments; the elima, whenever a girl in the band has her first menstrual period; and the molimo mangbo which takes place whenever any adult or elder (sometimes a youth) dies. It is is not impossible to have all three at the same time, though generally an elima will be delayed if there is a death molimo.
In the molimo mangbo the role of children, and some younger youths, is to 'steal' (again) the food and fire from each endu hearth for the central molimo hearth, the kumamolimo. That they have to mime the act of stealing focuses attention on the inherent conflict between the individual and the social good; and it is at the adult level that this conflict is most likely to be manifest.
As in the molimo madé the youths are the bearers of the molimo trumpet, and it is one of them that sings into the trumpet, giving the song of the men a special power as they repeat it and echo it on into the forest, so that ndura will hear. But instead of the trumpeting of an elephant, they make the molimo reproduce the soft growls and coughs of a leopard, the symbol of death itself, but of the kind of death that leads to life, not the kind of death brought by the elephant. While the elders initiate the molimo mangbo, determining both its moment of beginning and its moment of ending, it is the youths who decide if and when the molimo trumpet itself shall enter the camp and feed at the kumamolimo. This is consistent with their jural role. If they decide that adults, elders, and children, male and female, are not cooperating and giving their all to the festival, if they judge that there is akami in the camp, then that night when they take the trumpet out of its stream, bathe it, and give it water, earth, and fire to eat and drink, and invest it with their own breath of life, they approach the camp but do not enter. And instead of sounding like the leopard, the reconciler of death, it will sound like the elephant, and early in the morning it is the molimo madé that might enter the camp, not the molimo mangbo. Once again the youths, about to enter that disputatious and noisy time of life, adulthood, are given the responsibility of restoring ekimi.
The adult males, who represent the first male hunter to bring death and akami to mankind, are the ones who suffer the most discomfort during the long and tiring festival. Even their singing, which is the loudest, does not have the necessary quality to bring the molimo into camp. It has to be transformed by the trumpet and transposed by the voice of youth into a sound of pure ekimi that the forest will surely hear. Some laxity is allowed the elders, youths, females, and children; but if an adult male as much as nods during the long nights of molimo singing he is threatened with death. The intensity of his singing, equally, must be greater than that of any of the others. And finally the adult male has to suffer the indignity, toward the end of the festival, of having his role usurped by the women, who come in and take over the men's song, tying the men all up with nooses made from the nkusa vine from which hunting nets are made, so that, as they say, the women have tied up the song, and tied the hunt. Only when the men make an appropriate propitiatory gesture will the women release them, and allow the molimo to continue. Even then, one old woman will in a gesture of supreme control slowly and deliberately trample right through the molimo fire, scattering the logs and embers to all sides, threatening to extinguish life forever. Each time the men rebuild the fire and 'rekindle' the smouldering embers with a dance in imitation of the act of copulation, the old woman dances through again, scattering it, to say that, as the giver of life, she also has the ultimate power of bringing death, through the negation of her life-giving power. After the female elder has repeated this for perhaps two or even three nights, the molimo comes to an end; with the very last embers of the hearth being carefully extinguished by a male elder; the molimo trumpet being triumphantly carried back to the depths of the forest by youths. Only at this point are the adults allowed to wash and cleanse themselves of the taint of death, and resume normal daily activities.
It will be seen that both male and female adults have been effectively educated from infancy onward to avoid conflict, avert it, divert it, or, when it erupts despite all precautions, to resolve it with a minimum of aggressivity, mental or physical. Adulthood offers the most opportunities for akami, and the lessons and habits acquired in infancy, child¬hood, and youth are not enough in themselves to avert akami at all times. However, adulthood is marked by a different phenomenon, that of sexual differentiation at a level not previously known. Until entry to adult¬hood the only age level to which the terms of address distinguish sex as well as age, is adulthood itself. To infants, children, and youths alike, all adults are separated into ema or eba, whereas amongst themselves, as well as age, is adulthood itself. To infants, children, and youths alike, all adults are separated into ema or eba, whereas amongst themselves, within their own age group, they are all apua'i regardless of sex. Or if addressed by someone older they are miki, regardless of sex. Now, as adults, however, while addressing each other as apua'i they find, for the first time, that when addressed they are separated into male and female. Further, although the etima prepared the way for a new distinction in behaviour and role, clearly giving the initiative to the female. the adult male still seems to find it difficult, at times, to reconcile himself to female dominance. He sees himself as the hunter, but then he could not hunt without a wife, and although hunting is more exciting than being a beater or a gatherer, he knows that the bulk of his diet comes from the foods gathered by the women. And while his wife shares almost every aspect of his social life, he can never share her role as a mother, except in the strictest classificatory sense. And once his wife gives birth, she seems to remove herself still further from him by refusing to have intercourse with him for three years. Open and devoted affection persists throughout all this, but in any one hunting camp tensions are always rising to the surface along these lines.
It is almost as though at this point the woman (the mother) becomes sacred and the male (the bringer of death) profane. The obligatory reluctance of the woman to contribute to the kumamolimo, her power to tie up (women often use the word 'to silence') the song and the hunt, her power over the fire of life, all this is consistent with her role as life-giver, as the bringer of ekimi. Similarly the adult male is consistent as the bringer of akami, and it is just as vital that he play that role as it is that the female plays hers. Tendencies to aggressivity among the males, however, are curbed throughout adulthood not only by the various rituals in which male and female must cooperate, or reverse their roles, nor even by the necessary cooperation and interdependence required by hunting and gathering, but also by their proximity at one end of adulthood to youth, and at the other end to elderhood. The young husband, newly a father, and already deprived of the right to sleep with his wife, may spend much of his time with youths whose company he has just left. He may even take part in the molimo madé, and so he is still to some extent acting out a jural role as well as his adult economic role, however unofficially. Even when he is too old to continue this association with youth, it is still recent enough for him to be influenced by it, and for him to be ready to accept the judgement of the molimo madé and the will of youth.
At the other end, when his wife has ceased to give birth to children, he is close to elderhood, and so he is that much closer to purity. The transition from adulthood to elderhood is a gradual one; for those who rind it difficult a way out may be found by playing the role of clown. Others, probably most, tend to slip more easily into elderhood by embracing it at just the moment they finally let go of their last contact with youth. In this way they move from contact with a jural role to contact with the role that elders play as mediators. Thus adulthood, for the male, is in itself a medial position, marked by ambivalence. The alliance between the alternate generations of youth and elderhood is a major asset in the prevention of aggressivity during adulthood.
Once the transition to elderhood is over, the danger of aggressivity is reduced to practically nil. The elders, who are addressed as tata even by their adult children, are again not differentiated by sex - the sexes are joined once more. Further, because of their proximity to death they are increasingly imbued with spiritual power, and associated with ekimi. Their role as arbitrators is informal, by virtue of their age they merely have a wider range of experience from which to cite precedent. Or they may, wordlessly, insert themselves physically between two disputants, making the argument or fight that much more difficult to continue. But whereas in the control of aggressivity the youth, with the molimo madi, is dealing with the sphere of the 'here and now', and appealing by argument to reason, the elder is introducing an element of the 'other* sphere, the 'other-than-here-and-now', and is invoking spirit, not reason, through the molimo mangbo. If youth has power, elderhood has authority. At both levels, other than in the context of the elima, there is no sexual differentiation, and in this respect the two are allied to child¬hood, and all three differentiated from sexually differentiated adulthood.
Almost by definition aggressivity and violence are virtually impossible in Mbuti society until adulthood; its manifestation then is restricted primarily to manifestation by adult men, and this is controlled by the powerful jural and spiritual institutions adjacent to adulthood, from one of which the adult has just passed, and into the other of which he is about to emerge; a juxtaposition that in itself is an effective measure of control. Throughout this dangerous state of life the adult woman stands firm as the symbol ekimi, however closely allied to adult male akami. The frequent ritual manifestations of her ultimate control cannot help but serve as a reminder of the ultimate security offered by the most inclusive womb/sphere of all, the forest. It is little wonder that when Mbuti die, they do so without fear, and it is only right that the songs that mark such a death are songs of the same joy in which life itself was conceived. It is the same joy with which the infant is born into the endu, the child into the bopi, and the youth into the apa; for all come from and return to ndura. For the Mbuti this joy, which accompanies them throughout life, from sphere to sphere, is ekimi, the antithesis of akami. At the very least the Mbuti experience teaches that aggressivity is politically inexpedient; ekimi simply is not compatible with the supreme akami of violence.
1. Colin M Turnbull, "Initiation among the BaMbuti Pygmie sof the Central Ituri", J.R.A.I. 87:2 (1957): 191-216; Colin M. Turnbull, Wayward servants. New York: Natural History Press, 1965
2. A girl's early menstrual cycles are usually anovulatory, 'so that usually she does not yet have the power to become a mother'. See Ashley Montagu, The reproductive development of the female. New York: Julian Press, 1957