To Save a People. . .
1930: 35,000 Efé Pygmies

Story and Photography by JEAN-PIERRE HALLET

As a child, I was fortunate to grow up in Africa with the physically small people called Pygmies. Back then, in the 1930s, there were about 35,000 of these healthy, delightfully happy and highly expressive people. Twenty years later, as an adult, I was again united with my former playmates whom I learned to respect and love. Professionally, I was a bush sociologist and agronomist for the Belgian Congo, Ruanda and Urundi (now Zaïre, Rwanda and Burundi). I did everything from diagnosing plant diseases to delivering babies.

To know and understand my Pygmy friends better, I left behind "civilization," and in January 1957, I walked into the tangled shadows of the Ituri Forest in the eastern Congo. For eighteen months I lived with them as an adopted member of the Efé Pygmy society. As I wrote in my first book Congo Kitabu:

"Here in the Ituri the Pygmies had lived in harmony with nature for an incalculable number of years....and had survived longer than any other people for one simple reason: they respected nature, the living world from which they drew their sustenance. They gathered, hunted and consumed only what they needed, and never killed an animal or even a plant without reason. Now I was to become a part of that living world, a complex organism, whose every element played an honest, essential role in biological balance. I would be one small link in the great chain of life webbing the forest together. Other members of my race were trying to reach the moon, while I was about to discover the earth..."

I was simply learning the hard way to appreciate their unique life-style, their high moral values, their noble dignity, their spiritual understanding, and their natural wisdom.

But I also became aware of the many harsh physical problems threatening their survival. The Pygmies' ancestral forest was increasingly being chopped down by greedy lumber operators, thus robbing them of the wild vegetables, tubers, mushrooms they gathered and the animals they hunted. The Efés were forced to live in the blistering tropical sun for which their bodies were ill-prepared. Bantu plantations crept in from all sides. Tourists came in droves bringing peanuts, cigarettes and sugar. The Pygmies began succumbing to new diseases, dying at a high mortality rate and were reduced to about 25,000. Above all they endured the humiliating loss of basic human dignity, sliding into feudal serfdom to their tall African neighbors.



Top of the Page 1960:
Only 3,800 Surviving
1972: Documentary Film
"The Little Giants"
Pygmy
Philosophy
1987:
Presidential End Hunger Award
Poem: "People of Love" The Eighteen Sins of Man Contributions to
The Pygmy Fund