A Pygmy is specifically a member of one of the hunter-gatherer people living in equatorial rainforests characterised by their short height (below one and a half metres, or 59 inches, on average). Pygmies are found throughout central Africa, with smaller numbers in south-east Asia. The most closely studied group are the Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which were the subject of a study by Colin Turnbull (The Forest People (1962)). Among the other African groups are the Aka, BaBenzl, Baka, Binga, Efé, and Twa. In the Central African Republic, at least, the term Bayaka is preferred to Pygmy, as it refers to the people and not only to their stature.
Pygmies are smaller because in their early teens they do not experience the growth spurt normal in most other humans. This is an environmental adaptation; generally, smaller people tolerate wet and hot conditions better because they generate less body heat.
The African Pygmies are particularly known for their usually vocal music, usually characterised by density, counterpoint, communalism and improvisation. Simha Arom says that the level of polyphonic complexity of Pygmy music was reached in Europe in the 14th century, yet Pygmy culture is unwritten and ancient, some Pygmy groups being among the oldest known cultures in some areas of Africa. Their societies are renowned for their relative egalitarianism. They are often romantically portrayed as both utopian and premodern, which denies the fact they too live in the 21st century and have relationships with non-Pygmies (such as inhabitants of nearby villages, agricultural employers, logging companies, evangelical missionaries and commercial hunters encroaching on their food sources).