Pygmy

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For the Greek myth, see Pygmy (mythology).

Member of any human group whose adult males grow to less than 59 in. (150 cm) in average height. The name is also sometimes loosely applied to the Bushmen (San) of southern Africa and the so-called Negrito peoples of Asia (such as the Philippine Ilongot). Besides their short stature, Pygmies are notable in having the highest basal-metabolism rate in the world and a high incidence of sickle-cell anemia. The Bambuti of the Ituri Forest are a well-studied example.

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In a more general sense, pygmy can refer to any human or animal of unusually small size (e.g. pygmy hippopotamus). Sometimes this designation can be controversial, as with the pygmy blue whale, discovered and named by Japanese scientists, whereas anti-whaling activists believe these animals are just juveniles of the blue whale, a highly endangered species.

Image:Pygmy.png
Comparative height of a Pygmy man (right) and an Average man (left).

In an anthropological context, a Pygmy is specifically a member of one of the nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples living in equatorial rainforests characterised by their short height (below 1.5 metres, or 4.5 feet, on average). Pygmies are found throughout central Africa, with smaller numbers in south-east Asia (see Negrito). Members of so-called Pygmy groups often consider the term derogatory, instead preferring to be called by the name of their ethnic group (e.g., Baka, Mbuti).

The most closely studied group are the Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which were the subject of the study The Forest People (1962) by Colin Turnbull. Among the other African groups are the Aka, BaBenzelé, Baka, Binga, Efé, Batwa or Twa, and Wochua. In the Central African Republic, at least, the term Bayaka is preferred to Pygmy, as it refers to the people and not only to their stature.

Pygmies are smaller because in their early teens they do not experience the growth spurt normal in most other humans. This is an environmental adaptation, called insular dwarfism; smaller bodies have evolved independently in non-human species in response to isolation on small islands or dense forest environments. By natural selection, the environments in which the ancestors to Pygmies lived favored decreased body size over many generations, and today they dominate the gene pool. Most African Pygmy tribes are about 140-160 cm tall (the smallest are the Mbuti from the Ituri forest in northeast Congo republic/Zaire), of muscular body build, and have short legs (trunk index ca. 52-53%) that sharply contrast with their long arms. Their high physical mobility is evident from their loose joints and short muscle bellies with long tendons. They have highly developed anterior pelvic tilt (extreme lordosis), a trait that they share with West African negroid populations. Since West Africans came into being as a mixture of slender Saharan paleolithic hunters with Pygmies[citation needed]. Besides that, Pygmy groups are characterized by a strikingly large, short head, with extremely wide nose and not excessively thick lips[citation needed].

Image:Pygmy house outsideview.jpg
Pygmy houses made with sticks and leaves in northern Republic of the Congo

The African Pygmies are particularly known for their vocal music, characterised by dense polyphony, group performance and improvisation. French-Israeli ethnomusicologist Simha Arom says that the level of polyphonic complexity of Pygmy music resembles that of European ars nova polyphony. Most pygmy musical instruments are simple and portable, suitable to a traditionally nomadic lifestyle. Pygmy societies are renowned (perhaps romanticized) for their egalitarianism. They are often romantically portrayed as both utopian and "premodern", which overlooks the fact that they have long had relationships with more "modern" non-pygmy groups (such as inhabitants of nearby villages, agricultural employers, logging companies, evangelical missionaries and commercial hunters encroaching on their food sources). African Pygmies seem to have given up their own languages in favor of those spoken by the more dominant surrounding non-Pygmy peoples, who are usually Bantu.

Image:Pygmy house inside fire.jpg
Inside view of Pygmy house northern Republic of the Congo
Image:African Pigmies CNE-v1-p58-B.jpg
African pygmies and a European explorer.

The homes of Pygmies of the Republic of the Congo, precisely between the towns of Ouesso and Pokola, along the Sangha River, are made of sticks and leaves; they are very small and equipped with the basic items such as a bed and shelves, which are all made from wood. Because in the rainy forest it is quite cold during the night, they usually keep an ongoing small fire inside. They are accustomed to produce homemade alcohol by distilling corn or available fruits; they are also very good hunters.

Among the Asian groups are the Agta and the Batak (in the Philippines), the Semang (on the Malay Peninsula) and the residents of the Andaman Islands.

[edit] Controversy

There is currently (Sept, 2006) a debate in the scientific community on whether Homo floresiensis is a pygmy rather than a different species of Homo. Both sides of the argument give compelling cases to support their stand, but so far, no consensus has been reached.

[edit] See also

Researchers who studied pygmy cultures:

[edit] External links

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Pygmy

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