A Life Beyond the Forest: The Uncosmic Economy of the Sua

Stan Frankland (University of St. Andrews)

29.06.2017, 15.00, HS A


Perhaps the most defining feature of peoples categorized as hunter-gatherers has been the centrality of sharing within a complex foraging mode of thought. As the pivotal aspect of an ethos of egalitarianism, sharing has become emblematic of unique ontologies and ecosmological holisms. This paper attempts to challenge the prevailing dominance of sharing in understanding the experiences of ‘Pygmies’ through a focus on the post-foraging existence of the Sua of Western Uganda. Through a historical analysis of the role of money within the Ituri forest and of the particular history of the Sua, I attempt to demonstrate that ‘Pygmy’ economics have incorporated multiple strategies that extend far beyond a simple foraging way of being. For example, the Sua have long had at least two variants of sharing: one being ritual and related to the hunt and another being related to economic exchanges beyond the confines of the forest canopy. As the Sua’s world has transformed through eviction from the Semuliki forest, through civil war, and through encounters with development, conservation and tourism, it is only this second mechanism of sharing that continues to operate. In the Sua’s decidedly un-cosmic present as ‘conservation refugees’ resettled beyond the edge of the forest, their own expressions of dependency and pauperization are impossible to ignore. There is also recognition of their own value as commodities – the value of being ‘Pygmy’ – within the business arenas of development and tourism. It is through a combination of these self-realizations and strategic essentialisms that the Sua maintain a fragile sense of their own collective being. The sharing of any economic benefits that may come their way is done in an hierarchal and gendered system that fosters discontent and promotes inequalities among them. Indeed, it could be said that sharing reveals the fault lines within a hypermarginalized community.