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 their genetic relationships is provided before we briefly examine the personal backgrounds and research trajectories of leading researchers from four national anthropological traditions. The Congo Basin has attracted particular kinds of researchers and these researchers have influenced how Congo Basin peoples are represented. Finally, major topical and theoretical issues in Congo Basin forager research are identified and critiqued, and we conclude with suggestions for future research.
Who are the Congo Basin foragers?