In The Forest People, Colin Turnbull comes to a specific conclusion about Pygmies: that the people whose culture he studied have something that we Americans don’t have. What is it?

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According to Colin Turnbull, there is a deep connection between the generations in Pygmy society; he believes that American culture lacks this sense of interconnection and social cohesion.

Throughout the book, Turnbull relates both his fascination with and admiration for the rituals that bond successive generations. The molimo, elima ,...

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According to Colin Turnbull, there is a deep connection between the generations in Pygmy society; he believes that American culture lacks this sense of interconnection and social cohesion.

Throughout the book, Turnbull relates both his fascination with and admiration for the rituals that bond successive generations. The molimo, elima, and nkumbi characterize the three main rituals that encapsulate Pygmy life. Boys as young as nine to twelve years old must endure circumcision, whippings, and other tortures for two to three months before they emerge with full adult privileges. Eschewing the image of Pygmies as "one-legged troglodytes," Turnbull  portrays the tribe as pragmatic realists who demonstrate a deep respect for family and community.

Similar to the nkumbi, the elima signifies the "transition from girlhood to the full flowering of womanhood." Under the watchful eye of parents, young girls are able to accept the sexual attentions of eligible bachelors within the Pygmy community. Although both the villagers and the forest-dwelling Pygmies share similar nkumbi and elima rituals, the Pygmies view menstrual blood as more than a "danger." It is also "a gift, received with gratitude and rejoicing—a rejoicing that the girl is now a potential mother, that she can now proudly and rightfully take a husband."

During an elima celebration, mothers and older female relatives teach the younger women the "arts and crafts of motherhood." There is happiness, singing, dancing, and feasting within not just the female Pygmy community, but also throughout the entire tribe. Young men await the appearance of fertile, potential brides: "For the Pygmies, the elima is one of the happiest, most joyful occasions in their lives." Older men sing, feast, and rejoice that a new group of initiated young adults will soon take their place within Pygmy society.

Similarly, the nkumbi strengthens the bonds between older male relatives and their young male charges. Although the nkumbi can be a brutal experience for the boys, the ritual itself is punctuated by joyful periods of singing, dancing, and feasting. The Pygmy transition between childhood and manhood is a natural and organic process: "A boy proves himself capable of supporting a family when he kills his first real game, and proves himself a man when he participates in the elima." Thus, adolescence is never prolonged in Pygmy society; the young people are lovingly guided by their elders through the rituals that will initiate them into adulthood. They are taught what is expected of them as they join the ranks of adults within their community. The whole process is both a bonding and an exciting experience, linking the generations in harmony, trust, and hope.

According to Colin Turnbull, the Pygmies also view life as a wonder (as evidenced by their cooperative existence with nature); thus, through their unique way of life, the Pygmies are (in Turnbull's opinion) far ahead of their American counterparts.

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