An Efe forest camp is usually dark and depending on the time of day, dripping from current or recent rain. The Efe live in dome shaped huts which may be more or less complete. A half dome might be a hut that was built quickly, or it might be a hut that was built more openly because it has been hot or it might be only a half dome to allow easier access in and out of the hut by children or individuals with injury or infirmity. A fully domed hut, with a small opening, keeps in more smoke (a fire is often kept in the hut) but it also keeps in the heat and keeps out the rain. So a rainy season hut may be a full-on dome with a small entrance way. Or, this kind of hut can be made when it has been cold, or when more privacy is needed, or, simply, when more time has been invested in making the hut.

As an ethnoarchaeologist, I see every object in every camp as a physical representation of a moment in a story. A half-carved spoon next to a perfectly usable already carved spoon is probably something to be given to a villager (why carve a new spoon if you already have one?). A freshly made bow is a planned hunting trip. A plantain leaf spine with a clay pipe inserted at the thick end means that someone recently scored some pot. An empty aluminum pot (acquired years earlier in trade) means that there is hunger in the camp.

But really, each of these observation is a hypothesis. When you ask the people sitting there what is going on, ask about the spoon or the pot or the pipe, you may get nothing, a blank look, a surprise answer, or a story that contradicts what you were thinking. The pot is empty because everyone just ate, the new spoon will replace the one you thought was perfectly good because the old spoon was borrowed from a village and needs to be returned before someone notices. The plantain-stem pipe was just fashioned on a hunch.

A hunch?

Yes, a hunch. It is possible, Mr. Anthropologist, that you have not come empty handed!


  1. #1 rturpin
    July 21, 2011

    So I’m a bit curious: What herbs do they use to spice their food? And how do they compare to the usual Mediterranean ones?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 21, 2011

    They have black pepper in abundance, a little item called “pili pili” which you now of as the red pepper… the African variety is fairly unique as are most pepper varieties. They will do anything they need to do to obtain salt, so there’s that, but it is not locally produced or available. A lot, perhaps most, of the wild plant foods and fungi they obtain have very strong and generally very nice flavors. Spices are more for agricultural products which tend to be bland.

  3. #3 rturpin
    July 21, 2011

    The red pepper is a transplant from the New World, right?

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    July 21, 2011

    Yes, in theory. Pili pili, however, was noted and named by the Portugeses, suggesting that it got to Africa by some route other than post-exploration or post-colonial transport. Birds, I would suspect.

    I haven’t looked for a study on that using modern (DNA) techniques. There must be one.

  5. #5 shawna.burt
    July 22, 2011

    “It is possible, Mr. Anthropologist, that you have not come empty handed!”

    A good guest always brings something to share!

  6. #6 Charles Sullivan
    July 22, 2011

    What? Hot peppers got to Africa by birds? Is there good evidence for this claim?

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    July 22, 2011

    Charles, none. I wouldn’t call that suspicion a claim. Let me ask: Assume for a moment that it wasn’t people. If it wasn’t people, than what was it?

    I suppose ancient astronauts is a possibility and technically they would not have been “people” per se.

  8. #8 DuWayne
    July 22, 2011

    I suppose ancient astronauts is a possibility and technically they would not have been “people” per se.

    Not if they were some of the EVILE!!1! issue of the vile human/angel couplings that ultimately contributed to the fall of Lucifer and his cohort. Kind of the demonic equivalent of the beginning of the end of the Roman empire.

    Everyone knows they had all sorts of great technological wonders…And magic…Like the magical nature of cannabis to heal cancer, emphysema and genital warts. Only theirs was much better – until their demoralizing defeat when David destroyed their badass Goliath.

  9. #9 Jim Thomerson
    July 22, 2011

    I was out collecting fish in the upper Rio Ventuari in Amazonas State, Venezuela, with a couple of colleagues and a tribal Indian guide. It started to rain. We paid no attention because we were already wet, and busy catching fish. The Indian, in about 30 seconds time, chopped some big leaves and a vine and made a rain proof shelter, with a place to sit off the ground, for himself. I was impressed!