Profound linguistic, cultural and biological (genetic) diversity exists between ethnic groups. Figure 1 identifies the general location of the largest groups and Table 1 gives the names, approximate population size and linguistic family of the larger or better-documented groups. Several other ethnic groups exist but they have not been documented. For instance, in the Central African Republic we are aware of Mbati foragers and Bolimba foragers, but their distributions, population sizes, histories and cultures have not been described.
Research on Congo Basin foragers emphasizes understanding cultural diversity, but it is worth noting some aspects of Congo Basin forager cultures are relatively similar. First, like mobile foragers in other parts of the world they lack strong leaders and food storage; gender and age egalitarianism, extensive sharing and respect for autonomy are foundational cultural values; fertility and mortality are relatively high; camp sizes average 25-35 individuals; and seldom do they engage in warfare or raiding.
Second, Congo Basin forager cultures are profoundly diverse, but some cross-cultural similarities, which some may call a culture core, exist. Most importantly, most groups have a strong identity and association with the forest. Some groups may live in savanna or mixed savanna-forest environments (e.g., Bofi foragers or Medzan), but the people’s knowledge and identity is generally with the forest. Other elements of the culture core include: similar terms for several forest plants and animals (Bahuchet 1992a), distinctive polyphonic music (Fürniss 1993), pronounced allomaternal care (cooperative care of children by individuals other than their biological mothers; Hewlett 1991, Meehan 2005), and multidimensional (e.g., social, economic, religious) relationships with farmers.