The Pygmies And Death Essay, Research Paper
Pygmies, the people of the Ituri Forest, have some very uniquecustoms and beliefs. They have a culture that is all their ownand may seem somewhat mysterious to those who are not accustomedto their unique way of living. Their natural environment, theforest, is something that they hold very dear to them. They havecertain beliefs and customs that have changed very little forthousands of years, as a result of their secluded nature. Justone of their many customs is their view on death. The Pygmiesoutlook on death in some ways is very similar to Western customsin dealing with death, but at the same time is very different. In the Pygmy culture, there are different degrees ofillness. To them, when someone is ill, with fever or such, theysay that the person is hot with fever or ill . If thisillness persists a little, the person is dead . As the person sillness progresses and they become disoriented or becomeimmobile, the person is said to be completely or absolutely dead. This can usually be said as being the last stage for hopeof recovery. And finally, when the person has reached the endof their life and their heart has beyond a doubt stopped beating,the person is said to be dead forever . In Western culture, we do not have such defined degrees ofdeath or illness. We rely more on our knowledge of the ailmentof the person before assessing the chance of recovery orprobability of death. In Western culture, a common cold or the 1flu could be associated with the Pygmies definition of hot . The AIDS virus can be associated with their definition of completely or absolutely dead. The word dead in thecontext that we use it most would be equivalent to their deadforever . When a Pygmy dies, the body may be taken from the forest tothe village to be buried. One of the main reasons the burialtakes place in a Negro village was for the great feast that wouldbe held afterward. The Negroes were the people who lived in thevillage. The Pygmies believed that something good should comefrom the death. The Pygmy burial rituals in the village take onthe villagers customs of how a body should be buried. The peopleof the village lend the tools for the digging and instruct thePygmies in the digging. During the preparation of the grave, thebody is bathed, scented, wrapped in a white cloth, tied in a matand placed on a wooden bier. Another reason that the burialtakes place in the Negro village was because the Pygmies wouldnot have access to such materials as the soap, scent, white clothand the digging instruments to dig a suitable hole for the body. The body is then lowered into the hole and placed on its sideinto a cut out on the bottom wall of the grave. After the bodywas held in place by three stones, sticks were placed at an angleover it and covered with leaves so as not to let any soil fall onto the body. It is Negro custom to lead the spirit away bypouring water into the hole and then in the direction of theforest. This is strictly a Negro custom for the Pygmies have no 2such beliefs of spirits. Western burial rituals are similar to the Pygmies in acouple of ways. First, both our dead and the Pygmies dead areburied. Although in a village there are no cemeteries, churches,or specific places of burial, the graves are usually a moderatedistance away from any public dwelling as to not disrespect thedead by heavily trafficking over the grave sights. Secondly,although the Pygmies choose to follow the Negro customs of notencasing the body in a coffin as we do, careful preparation istaken to prevent the body from coming into direct contact withany soil. Another way Western burial rituals are similar is thatour dead and their dead are washed and dressed appropriately. Although they may not share the Western custom of embalming ourdead, the Pygmies try to make the dead look peaceful at theirtime of burial. The Pygmies show no interest in the Negro sinvestigation into the cause of death. They believe what hashappened is done with and there is no use in pursuing the matter. Our customs on the other hand involve investigation of the causeof death immediately after death itself. This especially is the
case in our society when foul play or murder is suspected. Butthere are little to no incidents of murder among the Pygmycommunity. After the burial of a Pygmy, the great feast commences. After the grieving period, the molimo is called out. The Pygmiesbelieved that the reason the person became ill and died, isbecause the forest had fallen asleep and forgotten to take care 3of them. By holding the molimo, the Pygmies believed that theywere waking the forest up. The molimo, in time of death,celebrated life. It was used to make the Pygmies happy again andreassured them that life would go on. In certain instances,usually in the death of a child, the molimo was not called upon. The Pygmies thought it not a wise thing to call out the molimo infront of the villagers. They believed that it was only made forthe forest. They would feast for a day or two in the village andthen go back to the forest where the real extravagant molimotakes place, and they could fully take part in all of the ritualssuch as singing and dancing. The molimo is a long wooden ormetal pipe used to make certain sounds such as animals of theforest. But to the Pygmies, the molimo was not just a type ofmusical instrument, but was a complete festival of dancing andsinging and feasting. After the burial ceremonies in Western culture, it is customthat friends and family of the recently deceased go back to thatpersons home for food and drink. The Pygmies molimo could becompared to this, for both customs are a way of celebrating lifeand bringing friends and family closer together in their time ofneed. Although the singing and dancing of the molimo may seem alittle overbearing, to us, at such a time of grieving, the samegeneral principals of bringing people together and reflecting onthat person s life is still there. The grieving period for the Pygmies is something that isalmost built into their way of life. In a Pygmy camp, anyone who4 wishes to cry or wail for the deceased is permitted to, to acertain point. This point heavily depends on the tolerance forthe grieving by the other Pygmies, because to them, the wailingcan be very bothersome. The utmost respect is given to those whoare expected to do the most grieving, family and close friends, but within reason. In the Negro village, a one week mourningperiod was given to the Pygmies. At the end of the mourningperiod, there was a feast. The Pygmies believed that it wasbetter to forget the dead quickly instead of constantlyremembering the dead. Unlike the Pygmies, our grieving period may be indefinite. There is no set time amount that we are publicly aloud to grievealthough most of our grieving is usually left to the confines ofa private place. But just because the Pygmies stop grievingpublicly, it certainly does not mean they stop hurting inside. In Western culture as well as theirs, we try to continue ourlives even though we feel a great loss. Just before the burialceremony, the Pygmies hold something that is equivalent to theviewing before the funeral in our culture. The Pygmies willgather in a line extending from the inside of the dead personshut, and will pay their respects much like we do in Westerncivilization. For the Pygmies, this is one of the most emotionalevents in their lives. An array of emotions, sadness to anger,may be expressed at this point. The viewings held for ourdeceased are also often held in the persons home, but we alsohave the alternative of having it in our place of worship, of 5which the Pygmies have no such building or structure. The Pygmies can definitely be considered one of the mostintriguing groups of people to have ever walked the face of theearth. I find that their ways and customs of living are uniquein that they would appear to have very little in the eyes of aWesterner, but in reality, the Pygmies have everything they wantor need. These are very content people. Their certainphilosophies and outlooks on life certainly make them a very selfsufficient society. They rely on each other and the forest. They do not need nor want anything else. It is amazing that theyhave for so long remained untouched by the modern mans ways. Death to a Pygmy is surprisingly similar in many ways to ours,yet at the same time different. Although the societies of theWest and Pygmies vary greatly in their sense of living, in death,the cultures are greatly similar.