Pygmies in Danger
|January 3, 2002||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Save the Efe Pygmies in Africa
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The Pygmies have been in central Africa long before other groups migrated into that region. The ancient Egyptians left records of contacts with the Pygmies. They are a distinct race of human beings with their own culture and languages, and not just small people. With the migration of the Bantus into the region, the Pygmies lost much of their land, and then with colonialism and commercial development, much of their forest was cut down. One of the last of the Pygmy groups that has kept its original culture has been the Efe Pygmies who lived in the Ituri forest in eastern Congo, the country previously called Zaire.
Jean Pierre Hallet, a Belgian anthropologist now in the United States, lived in central Africa and very much admired the Pygmies and their culture. He wrote a book about them, Pygmy Kitabu, and also made audio tapes of their songs. Realizing that their culture and even physical survival were in danger of disappearing, he set up a charitable organization, The Pygmy Fund, to help preserve their existence. Hallet introduced the nutritious winged bean plant that grows well in the tropics and taught them how to supplement their hunting and gathering, which was becoming more difficult, with agriculture. Hallet also helped to make the government and the nearby tribes respect the territorial rights of the Pygmies and to preserve the remaining rain forest.
Without any help from any government, relying entirely on donations from a few contributors, the Pygmy Fund was successful in saving the Efe Pygmies from extinction, until the region plunged into chaos. The civil war in nearby Rwanda and the mass slaughters of Hutus and Tutsis made hundreds of thousands of refugees flee into the eastern Congo. The Efe Pygmies were themselves in danger from the invading refugees, and fled into the Virunga National Park. The Pygmy Fund again helped them to survive, bringing them food and medicine.
Then more danger came from an unlikely source, animal conservation organizations and park rangers. Animals in the national parks of the eastern Congo were threatened by poaching, so the wildlife conservation organizations financed a preservation effort to help the guards to protect the animals. Unfortunately, the guards see the Pygmies, who were traditionally hunters, as a threat to the animals, and they are killing the Pygmies. The organizations regard the animal life as more important than the human life of the Pygmies. Once again, the Efe Pygmies are threatened with extinction.
On top of all these problems, the new government in the Congo eliminated the contacts that Hallet had carefully established over many years, since they were tied to the defeated Mobutu regime. In addition, the Belgian embassy’s First Secretary, who had been Hallet’s best link to the government, was transferred to the Embassy of Zimbabwe. Fortunately, Hallet received verbal endorsements of the Pygmy Fund’s work from the new Kabila government. In November 1997, Hallet received a letter from the administration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo welcoming his efforts. The political obstacles are now cleared, and Hallet can now make another trip once he has obtained some funding. Jean Pierre Hallet is engaged in a desperate effort to save the Pygmies from starvation and to obtain a new site, the Semliki Sanctuary, where the Pygmies can live in peace and independence.
As Hallet wrote in the Pygmy Fund newsletter, “The destructive invasion of starving Rwandan refugees into the already plundered lands of the peaceful and vulnerable ‘Little Giants,” and the continuing fighting in the area has left them hungry, sick and disheartened, with practically nothing left of their forest-home.”
The Pygmy Fund is launching a major rescue mission to prevent the Pygmies’ complete annihilation. Hallet had operated a store in Santa Monica (Los Angeles county) selling African arts to help finance the Pygmy Fund. He has sold the store to raise funds for the emergency work of keeping the Efe Pygmies alive and move them to the Semliki Sanctuary.
I believe this mission to save the Efe Pygmies is the single most important and urgent humanitarian effort on earth. If the Pygmies become extinct, not only will a few thousand people die, but the world will forever lose a peaceful culture that has existed in harmony with the environment for thousands of years. To learn more about the Pygmies, write to The Pygmy Fund, Box 277, Malibu, CA 90265. (Please at least provide some funds for postage.) You can also view the Pygmy Fund websites at www.pygmyfund.org. I normally don’t wish to use this forum to publicize organizations, but in this case, this is also important news that we are not getting in the mass media, so you are now informed!
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Copyright 1998 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 retrieveal system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.