Painted Mbuti Girls

“We are thrilled to be recognized by the UN for this film,” said Tribal Trust founder and president, Barbara Savage. “The award helps to focus international attention on the plight of the Mbuti people, who are among the oldest and most threatened indigenous people in the world.”

The Mbuti live in the Ituri Forest, a tropical rainforest in the far northeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are pygmy hunter-gatherers, extremely few in number, and are facing extinction due to the decades-long civil war for resources in the Congo and the destruction of the Ituri Forest.

“In fact,” Savage said, “we are unable to determine whether the people featured in the film are still alive, or whether they were murdered in recent fighting in the national park where they live.”

Barbara Savage

Savage herself has visited the Mbuti in the forest and knows what prescient, simple, and gentle people they are. “The forest is their life,” she explained. “It provides everything they need—the materials for their huts and clothing, the plants and animals for their food, the paints and dyes for their decorations. They cannot be Mbuti apart from the forest, but the more dominant tribes of the Congo—particularly the Bantu—don’t even consider the Mbuti fully human. Film is a powerful medium for helping people to understand their situation.”

Savage founded the Tribal Trust Foundation in 1996 after a trip to Nepal that forever changed her life. “In Chitwan, Nepal, I took an elephant ride that opened my heart and eyes to the importance of indigenous culture. My Thuru guide, whose ancestors were the First Peoples of the land, and I talked nonstop during our three-hour trek through Chitwan National Park and I learned the value of his ancient culture. For example, when crossing the river, he pointed out some of his family members harvesting snails. This reminded me that, according to the Red Cross, the Thuru diet of snails was what saved them from a malaria epidemic in 1955 that killed everyone else.

“The world is learning to appreciate the importance of biodiversity to continued life on the planet, and human cultural diversity—or what we call the ethnosphere—is equally important. It’s a knowledgebase we can’t afford to lose.”

Smiling Mbuti Boy

The Tribal Trust Foundation is dedicated to preserving the ethnosphere by empowering women and children to maintain their traditional culture in its traditional environment. Its work is always in response to requests from indigenous people, Savage said.

“Indigenous communities around the world are asking for assistance to preserve their culture and traditional way of life. Due to nontraditional influences, destruction of their home lands, and the basic need to survive in a modern world, many ancient and complex cultures are in jeopardy of disappearing forever.”

For more information, to watch the award-winning film, or to make an online donation, visit


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