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Origins and History
Although the Pygmies are traditionally nomadic peoples, massive deforestation and the presence of other, more modern tribes on the outskirts of the forests have made them more sedentary than in previous years. Pygmies have no political system and make decisions based on consensus, maintaining equality within the tribe. They are a hunting and gathering peoples who live in one family huts made from the present resources such as branches and leaves and are almost exclusively built by women. Women also do the dam fishing and make the mats and baskets from various vegetation materials (Beal, 1964). These are weaved to form the different items and this skill is what enables the women to be more skilled at setting up huts and building fish dams. Women are also skilled at making the musical instruments used as well as the hunting weapons used by the men.
Men are exclusively in charge of hunting and finding food in the forest is essential for the survival of the tribe as well as extremely dangerous. Hunting also holds many symbolic meanings for the Pygmies and only men participate in this activity.
Children stay close to the women during early childhood, learning the skills they will need and helping out with small tasks. They learn the different vocalizations as well as drumming rhythms and spend much time helping with the gathering of vegetables and fruits. Children are susceptible to many diseases in the rain forests and because a large number of them die in childhood, much care is given to them by parents to help their survival (Beal, 1964).
The lifestyle is very simple and basic to the needs of human survival, allowing for much time being dedicated to music. The music itself mirrors the very sounds that emanate from the rain forests and surround the Pygmies on an everyday basis. The cyclical vocalizations sound much like the songs of the birds and animals and the rhythms and drumming on the river surface is on the same plane as the natural rainfall (Hallet, 1995). A natural kind of music is present in the very environment that Pygmies live in and so it is no surprise that their music is a close reflection of their life in the jungles of central Africa.
Many pygmies are exploited by neighboring tribes who discriminate against them for their backwardness and refusal to participate in modernity. Despite this racist attitudes towards them, the Pygmies of central Africa manage to hold strongly to their traditional ties and so, the music also has evolved very little. They live a very quiet and secluded life, deep in the rain forests and away from most other ethnic groups unless purposely approached. This has enabled them to stay connected to their music and dance, a medium of their life which in turn keeps then strongly tied to their past.
Pygmy music remains unchanged in that respect although variations of instruments brought from neighboring tribes as permeated their music as well. The vocalizations are still characteristic of the Pygmies and children continue to learn them. Music is such an integral aspect of Pygmy life that it keeps the tribe as one, joined by the music they share everyday in all activities and rituals. Music is a way of communication and expression and is the pride of a Pygmy. They are a peoples that have little to offer otherwise, however in their music they are able to offer everything about themselves.