Foldvary: Jean-Pierre Hallet (1927-2004)
|December 31, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Jean-Pierre Hallet (1927-2004)
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Jean-Pierre Hallet, anthropologist and founder of the Pygmy Fund, died on January 1, 2004. He spent most of his life saving the Efé Pygmies in the Ituri forest region of the Congo (Zaire) from physical as well as cultural extinction.
The Pygmies are a distinct race of people who have lived for many thousands of years in Africa. Much of their territory has been taken over and deforested. One of the few remaining Pygmy communities that has retained their original culture is the Efé. Traditionally hunters and gatherers, Hallet introduced the winged bean plant for them to cultivate, as the shrunken forest no longer provided enough food. The Pygmy Fund also provided medicine and safety from the plagues and wars inflicting central Africa. To this day, the Efé have retained their language, music, religion, and ancient way of life.
Born in Belgium, Jean-Pierre’s father was the artist André Hallet who painted the people of Africa during the early twentieth century. While Jean-Pierre was an infant, his father took him to the Ituri Forest, where Jean-Pierre grew up with the Efé Pygmies. He went barefoot, wore a loincloth, and did everything that they did. Back in Belgium, Hallet fought with the resistance during World War II. He became an anthropologist and agronomist, serving the administration of what was the Belgian Congo during the 1950s. He lived again with the Pygmies as well as with other Africans. Hallet became a blood brother of the Lega, Tutsi, and Nande tribes, and was an initiated Maasai warrior. He lost his right hand in 1955 while dynamiting Lake Tanganyika for fish to feed a group of starving Africans.
In 1960, Hallet emigrated to the USA. He assembled a vast collection of African art, and produced films, wrote articles, and presented lectures on Africa. Hallet’s books include Congo Kitabu, Animal Kitabu, and Pygmy Kitabu. In 1974, he founded the Pygmy Fund. . Throughout his life, Hallet obtained many awards and honors for his work.
Jean-Pierre Hallet believed that the Pygmies, the most ancient people on earth, perhaps the ancestors of all humanity, originated many of the ethical and religious concepts that were later adopted by other people. He thought the Garden of Eden was located in East Africa. The Pygmies who retained their culture live in joyful harmony with nature and with one another, in start contrast with the corruption and violence of post-colonial Africa. Hallet never saw a Pygmy adult hit or criticize a child. The Pygmies in their original culture are true anarchists, with no chief, but rather shared land and shared decision making. The Pygmies are important both as our historical ancestors and as a model of how it is possible to have social peace!
What will happen to the Pygmy Fund and the Efé Pygmies is now unknown. Hallet’s family is examining his records and possessions. Hallet was a remarkable and heroic man who cannot be replaced. Nobody else has his knowledge and personal connections with Africa and the Pygmies. But it would be a tragedy if his work to save the Pygmies did not continue. The modern world needs the ancient wisdom of the Pygmies.
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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