Pygmy, human subpopulation in which an average stature of less than 152 cm (60 in) is an inherited trait. Pygmy people were described by ancient Greek writers such as Homer and Herodotus. Today Pygmies are found in the tropical forests in central Africa and also in the Malay Peninsula (the Senang people), the Philippine Islands (the Aeta and other tribes), central New Guinea (several tribes), and the Andaman Islands of India. Some groups maintain their traditional way of life based on hunting and gathering, while others have abandoned this way of life to follow a settled agricultural existence. Most often, Pygmies speak the language of their neighbors.
African Pygmiesthe most numerous Pygmy population, estimated variously at 150,000 to 300,000are believed to have lived in the Zaire (Congo) Valley before the arrival of other peoples. The best-known tribe, the Mbuti or Bambuti, are the shortest of all human groups, averaging about 130 cm (about 51 in) in height. Non-African Pygmy populations, often called Negritos, may also represent archaic populations. Blood typing and other studies indicate that the African, Asian, Oceanian, and Indian groups are genetically distinct from one another and have independent origins.
See also Negro; Races, Classification of.