Lessons from the Pygmies
MANFRED F. R. KETS De VRIES
Tell me the company you keep, and 1’11 you who tell you are. - Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote You don’t lead people by hitting them oveY the head; that’s assault, that’s not leadership. - DwightEisenhower ygmy society is a good example of what P trust can do to simplify and expedite decision-making processes and offers a number of lessons for creating successful work teams. Although life in a pygmy community may seem striking in its simplicity and apparent lack of organization to outsiders, it is undergirded by a complex though informal system based on trust; the informal rules that make upthis system help the community function effectively. While an excessof rules and regulations is a good indicator of a trust disorder and paranoid thinking, a high degree of trust allows the informal organization to dominate the formal one. In other words, implicit rules become more important than explicit rules. Pygmy society provides corporate society with an example of a cohesive team structurecombined with effective leadership. The one drawback-a lack of adaptability in the face of outside forces-should not deflect our attention from the many positive lessons we can draw from this society. Most readers are probably familiar with 66
the label pyg~~y, an anthropological term referring to various populations inhabiting central Africa, whose adult males averageless than 1.5 meters. The word mpe, in Greek, means the length between a person’s elbow and knuckles, a measurement applied descriptively to this group of unusually small people. The pygmies are thought to be among the earliest inhabitants on the African continent and are probably the oldest human dwellers of the rainforest. The pygmy culture has existed since prehistoric times, and there is agreat deal we can learn from it. It is a window on our pasta primary model of human behavior-giving us an idea of the way people behaved before the rise of agriculture some lO,QOO years ago. Already in ancient Egyptian history, some twenty-three hundred years before Christ, the existence of the pygmies was noted in the record of an expedition looking for the source of the Nile. A message sent toPharaoh Phiops II of the 6th Dynasty by Prince Herkhuf of Elephantine, the commander of this expedition, described the discovery of “dancing dwarfs from the land of the spirits.”
LIFE IN THE RAINFOREST
Starting with the explorers of the Congo at the turn of this century, a more realistic picture of the pygmies emerged. In 1870 the German
explorer George Schweinfurth rediscovered the pygmiesabout 4,000 years after Prince Herkhuf’s first encounter. Shortly afterwards, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the American journalist, reporting about his adventures in Central Africa, mentioned the existence of the forest pygmies. Gradually, through the writings of various explorers, more was learned about the pygmies’ semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer existence; those who observed the pygmies reportedaccurately about their ability to survive in a harsh forest environment by hunting game, gathering honey, fruits, nuts, roots, plants, and certain insects, and trading with nearby villagers for vegetables, tobacco, metal, tools, and cloth. Pygmies are now defined as a number of tribes scattered among the rainforests of central Africa in small, temporary settlements. Although the basic unit is the nuclearfamily (that is, mother, father, and their children), several extended families generally make up a camp numbering from 10 to 35 people. Each nuclear family builds its own dome-shaped hut; these are then placed in a circle around a common area. Life in a pygmy camp is lived mostly outside. There is very little privacy in the camp; pygmies are rarely alone. Eating, drinking, bathing, and even...