Categories: Society & Culture

The Mbuti People Of Congo And Their Sister Exchange Form Of Marriage

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In the Mbuti tribe, marriage is by sister exchange: Based on reciprocal exchange, men from other bands exchange sisters or other females in his clan to a man in his prospective bride’s clans.

Mbuti girls. Image: Pinterest

Mbuti, are a group of Pygmies of the Ituri Forest of eastern Congo (Kinshasa). They are the shortest group of Pygmies in Africa, averaging under 4 feet 6 inches in height.

The Mbuti population totals about 30,000 to 40,000 people and are composed of bands which are relatively small in size, ranging from 15 to 60 people.

The Mbuti population live in the Ituri Forest, a tropical rainforest covering about 70,000 km 2 of the north/northeast portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

They are pygmy hunter-gatherers and are one of the oldest indigenous people of the Congo region of Africa. Early Egyptian records show that the Mbuti’s were living in the same area some 4,500 years ago.

The Mbuti’s live in villages that are categorized as bands. Each hut houses a family unit. At the start of the dry season, they leave the village to enter the forest and set up a series of camps. This way, they are able to utilize more land area for maximum foraging. These villages are solitary and separated from other groups of people. Their houses are small, circular, and very temporary.

Their houses are small, circular, and very temporary

The Mbuti have no chiefs or any formal councils of elders; they settle their problems and disputes by general discussion.

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Marriage customs

Marriage in the Mbuti tribe is by Sister exchange. Based on reciprocal exchange, men from other bands exchange sisters or other females in his clan to a man in his prospective bride’s clan.

In the Mbuti society, Polygamy does occur, but it is not very common. The sexual intercourse of married couples is regarded as an act entirely different from that of unmarried partners, for only in marriage may children be conceived.

A group of Mbuti, with American explorer Osa Johnson , in 1930


Everything in the Bambuti life is centered on the forest. They consider the forest to be their great protector and provider and believe that it is a sacred place.

An important ritual that impacts the Bambuti’s life is referred to as molimo. After events such as the untimely death of an important person in the tribe, molimo is noisily celebrated to wake the forest, in the belief that if bad things are happening to its children, it must be asleep.

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