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The Forest People

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  1,361 ratings  ·  92 reviews
The bestselling, classic text on one anthropologist’s incredible experience living among the African Mbuti Pygmies, and what he learned from their culture, customs, and love of life.

In this bestselling book, Colin Turnbull, a British cultural anthropologist, details the incredible Mbuti pygmy people and their love of the forest, and each other. Turnbull lived amo...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 2nd 1987 by Touchstone (first published 1961)
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootOnce Upon a Road Trip by Angela N. BlountMan's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. FranklThe Forest People by Colin M. TurnbullBlink by Malcolm Gladwell
Non-fiction books that read like a novel
4th out of 118 books — 32 voters
In Search of Respect by Philippe BourgoisNisa by Marjorie ShostakShamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man by Michael T. TaussigThe Yanomamo by Napoleon  A. ChagnonLost in Transition by Kristen Ghodsee
Good Ethnography
6th out of 64 books — 28 voters


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Adam
Turnbull's memoir of his time living among the BaMbuti pygmies of the Congo. Not an ethnography or academic work in any sense, it is instead an earnest account that humanizes the BaMbuti and sells their delightfully cheerful worldview and lifestyle. The BaMbuti live in the forest, depend on it and their souls are nourished by it.

I read the book incidentally; it was one of the most appealing in the Friends of the Richland Public Library store during the time I was unable to get a library card. I...more
Lauren Levine
I begrudgingly read The Forest People in my cultural anthropology intro course my freshman year of college. This was the book and the class that lead me to receiving a minor in anthropology. At first, I thought it was going to be a dry, clinical ethnography with confusing language and theories. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how lively the book actually was.

One of the things I loved most was the vibrant, humorous, and detailed life of the Bambuti pygmies that Turnbull paints for his read...more
Jason
I read this book years ago in a college Anthropology course but could never remember the name of it, until seeing it on Goodreads tonight!

This was the first true Anthropology book I'd ever written. I was blown away by the vividness of the BaMbuti world, captivated by their reverence for nature, and impressed with their structure and ritual. I've thought about this book many times over the years and have always wondered if we've done the forest people a disservice by entering their world. Neverth...more
AC
Popular anthropology, descriptive, certainly a bit dated. In fact, its idealizing picture is probably quite false and a reflection more of the author's own neurotic obsessions than of his scholarly habits.

Turnbulll, though a student of the great E. E. Evans-Pritchard, was quite an eccentric. There is a now a biography of Turnbull, by Roy Grinker, called In The Arms Of Africa.

Here is a review if Grinker, plus thebfirst chapter
http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/10...
Podiceps
What really bothers me about this book are the nonchalant mentions of violence, especially against women and children (referred to as a „sound slapping“ or „a good beating“), without giving these occurences the attention they should deserve, without taking them seriously and discussing them accordingly.
If you told me about this nice American couple you have met, supernice people, getting along great with each other and their offspring, doing all sorts of interesting stuff, and then you casually...more
Jacqui
I just finished a wonderful book, Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People. Turnbull lived ‘a while’ (pygmies don't measure time with a watch or a calendar) with African pygmies to understand their life, culture, and beliefs. As he relays events of his visit, he doesn’t lecture, or present the material as an ethnography. It’s more like a biography of a tribe. As such, I get to wander through their lives, see what they do, how they do it, what’s important to them, without any judgment or conclusions ot...more
Bryan Simmons
Mar 24, 2008 Bryan Simmons rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: pygmies and the like
Colin Turnbull's intriguing inspection of pygmy life in Africa. He lived with these people for years and in the book he lovingly dissects their way of life. It is quite clear by the end how much he respects these people.
I think the book was most interesting to me on a philosophical level. The fact that this culture and civilization(one of the oldest in the world) exists almost entirely without possession-- there is nothing of any lasting value to own. Needless to say, this is fascinating to obse...more
Valerie
Turnbull was a good publicist for the BaMbuti, and made sure their view of things was given a fair hearing. One interesting point is that the neighboring BaNtu farmers believed that the Pygmies had cursed the forest land so that it lost fertility if converted to farmland. Of course, forest land is always nutrient-poor. A forest is a bootstrapping system that supplies its own nutrients, mostly, so naturally the land lost fertility if you removed the nutrient sources. But it served the BaMbuti's p...more
N. Jr.
Although written by an anthropologist, Colin Turnbull described the life of the Mbuti pygmies with such color, exuberance, detail and a healthy dash of humor that you cannot help but be entranced by this book. It reads like a novel, not a diary or journal. The author lived for three years with them in the Ituri Forest in northwestern Belgian Congo (later Zaire, now DR of Congo). His affection for them is immediately apparent, and his intimate descriptions of individuals allow the reader to enjoy...more
Megan [I'm okay, I'm alright]
I'm so glad I got to read this book for my Cultural Anthropology class. It was extremely interesting and well written. I feel like all these people are my friends now, especially Colin (the author/anthropologist/narrator) and Kenge.

There are so many good quotes I want to be able to share, but for now, here's just one to try and make you understand why I love these people so much.

"There, in the tiny clearing, splashed with silver, was the sophisticated Kenge, clad in bark cloth, adorned with lea...more
Jenifer
Very interesting ethnography of a very secluded group of people in the world. Must read for any Anthropology major.
Mo
An anthropology about the authors experiences when living with a Pygmy tribe. Very interesting and informative.
Liralen
Altogether fascinating and readable account of an anthropologist's time spent with the BaMbuti people -- Pygmies -- though certainly by now outdated and perhaps written with inadequate scientific distance.

Turnbull tells of a culture by and large isolated from modern society, with a complex relationship with non-BaMbuti villagers and a deep identification with the forest. He presents a sort of 'us vs. them' treatment of the villagers and the BaMbuti, delighting in the latter's flexible applicatio...more
Rachel
Well first off, it was a surprisingly EASY read ... breezed right through the thing. What I remembered in particular was the elima of course, which at times made me laugh out loud. I also found their system of punishment interesting. While it was threatened that certain actions could result in banishment etc it seemed that very rarely were these punishments carried out. Hostilities would be direced towards the accused for a few days and perhaps the guilty one would go off into the forest by hims...more
Audrey
This book was recommended in a world music class, and may be one of the best takeaways I have from that class. Turnbull lived with the BaMbuti pygmies and gives a detailed and intimate look at their world. He was one of the few people at that time who was able to live with and study the BaMbuti without being chaperoned by the neighboring non-pygmy villagers, and was able to learn much about the pygmies without viewing them through their neighbors' biases. The portrait he paints is of a people wh...more
Bill O'driscoll
British researcher Turnbull's classic account of life among a tribe of Pygmies in the 1950s. The book is written for a popular audience and is very accessible and quite engaging. The level of intimacy and understanding that Turnbull achieved through extended stays with the tribe is striking; he got to know them both as a group and as individuals. Perhaps most importantly, he did his research at a time when, although the Pygmies had more and more contact with the world of civilization, many tradi...more
Stephanie
Turnbull lived with a Pygmy tribe in central Africa for three years, and narrates his experiences in this book, focusing especially on the musical orientation the people have towards their forest home, as reflected in the nightly month-long ritual, the molimo. His descriptions of the music are alluringly disorienting, as the sounds of the molimo reverberate through the forest all around the singers, now mimicking a herd of elephants, now a growling tiger, and again, the voices of the singers the...more
Kenna
This was one of those many books I've had to read for class as a college student in a required anthropology class. However, this book was surprisingly enjoyable, and defiantly opened up my mind by showing a culture completely different from the one I exist in. I'm not going to reiterate the plot description- just read that above, but I'll let you know that this book was an easy enough read (almost a "beach read"), plus, I promise your mind will be OPENED !
Sarah
The anthropologist Colin Turnbull lived in the rural part of Virginia where I was born, and his death of AIDS was highly controversial in that area in the early 1990s. Thus, I wasted no time reading both of his classic books, as they contrast so greatly.

Consider the Mountain People and then read The Forest People. The Mbuti people, pygmies I guess you'd call them, have an interesting relationship with the townspeople and tourists. You have to love a people, considered backwards, that knowingly...more
Les Dangerfield
An account of a period of time British social anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, spent living with pygmies in the forest of Congo in the 60s. It's good to read about peoples with very different value systems as they throw new light onto your own and make you understand your own society in a different way. The book is not an academic study, which is by and large a good thing, more a narrative account of his experiences with the group. It is almost a forest reality show, full of colourful characters....more
Ahmet Uçar
Its a great anthropological book. You can observe the life of pigmies in Congo, their rituals, their simple and peaceful life. their funny quarrels that end in a humorous way. no institutions, no artifice. Oh, i wish i had a tribe :)
Nicki Markus
Only once in my recollection have I ever put a book aside unfinished (Tristram Shandy), but I nearly made it twice with this one. The only thing that kept me reading till the end was the fact that it was for a book club I've just joined and I felt compelled to finish - especially as it's my first book with them.

What didn't I like? I can't really put my finger on it to be honest. I am always interested in other cultures etc so this should have been one I'd enjoy, but I simply found it dull. Nothi...more
shannon madden
This was surprisingly delightful. Turnbull's 1960s study of the Pygmy people is an interesting, engaging look at a very different way of life. The book gradually, and subtly, grabs the reader's attention by painting intimate pictures of Turnbull's individual friends and associates through anecdotes organized by theme. There's a wonderful chapter near the end in which we get to experience Kenge's first look at the world beyond the forest. His observations and reservations are at the same time bea...more
Therese
Extremely vivid and emotional description of the every day life of these people and the effort made by the author to bring awareness of the devastating effect of deforestation on their lives.
A
Jun 17, 2010 A added it
Shelves: anthropology
Student of Evans-Pritchard, Turnbull writes of the pygmies in the Belgian Congo. Includes the molimo (trumpet to "wake up" the forest), elima (girls' puberty rite), marriage, nkumbi rite of the villagers (circumcision rite in which Pygmies participate despite its lack of ritual importance or relvance to them). Also contracts the village life of the "negroes," who consider themselves masters of the Pygmies. (p. 145 dif., attitudes toward demeanor during rituals).
Quote, "There is darkness all arou...more
Andre'a Akers
I was mildly surprised with this book. I expected, because I read it for a class, that it would be incredibly dull and boring. Now, I can't say that at times it wasn't but it was still very interesting none the less and made a great side study for my anthropology class. At times it even tied into the material we were studying. I did enjoy Turnbulls story of the BaMbuti and found them to be fascinating people. I particularly loved the end of the book as it was a nice way for Turnbull to part ways...more
frances
This is one of those books that I felt like I could continue reading almost indefinitely. The group of people Turnbull lived with were interesting and the insight into their culture that they keep so carefully masked from their village neighbors was very engrossing.

Occasionally, I got bogged down by the level of detail, but when read carefully, these extra details illustrated the way these people thought about things and what was important to them.
Sherry
What an interesting read--an anthropologist who lived with the BaMbuti Pygmies and came to love their forest almost as much as they did--how I wonder if they still do or if the surrounding villagers, and developers have either driven them farther into the forest if there is a farther or they have had to adapt and leave their songs, their hunting and their honey and adapt. Turnbull was there in the '60s....where are they in the '10s?
Kate Winters
Although it is an ethnography, this book has the power of a novel. Colin Turnbull obviously didn't believe in keeping a dispassionate distance from those he observed, and I walked away feeling like I had something of a real understanding of him and the people he studied. I recommend this book to everyone. To my friends who write secondary world fantasy or science fiction, I strongly recommend it.
Marissa
This is by far one of the best ethnographies I have read. Not only is it entertaining and told in an engaging narrative, but it also includes all the important information required for describing the society. It is an ethnography disguised as a work of fiction. Recommended for any introductory anthropology class, and really anyone who would like to learn about the "pygmies" of the Congo.
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