The Pygmies—People of the Deep Forest
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
COME and meet the BaBingas, the Pygmies of Central African Republic, our home. You have likely heard and read something about Pygmies, but you may never have met any of them. When you visit Bangui, the capital, a trip of less than two hours will take you right into their territory.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have an important message for all nations, tribes, races, and ethnic groups. In our Christian activity, we preach to all kinds of people. This includes the Pygmies.—Revelation 14:6.
So please join us and see how they live and how they respond to the good news of God’s Kingdom, which will bring Paradise to the earth. It will be a pleasant and fascinating day for you.
Subject of Research
Before going, it is appropriate for us to do some research about the people we will be visiting. Books are available that have been written by men who lived for months among the Pygmies, studying their culture, religion, and habits.
Reading about these peaceful and friendly people and then visiting them will answer a number of questions, such as: Where did the Pygmies come from? What can we learn from them? Where do they live? What makes them different from other African groups? How do they blend in with the rest of the population?
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary states that Pygmies are “a small people of equatorial Africa ranging under five feet [1.5 meters] in height, . . . using the languages of their nearest neighbors.” The Pygmies of Africa are thought to be independent in origin from the Negritos (meaning “Little Negroes”) of Oceania and the southeastern part of Asia.
The term “pygmy” comes from a Greek word meaning “distance from the elbow to the knuckles.” Pygmies are known as hunters and gatherers. The total Pygmy population in the world is estimated at little more than 200,000.
Serge Bahuchet and Guy Philippart de Foy give us more interesting details in their book Pygmées—peuple de la forêt (The Pygmies—People of the Forest). The Pygmies, they say, occupy the deep forests of the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, and Central African Republic and can be found even far east in Rwanda and Burundi.
Nobody knows exactly where the Pygmies came from or when they arrived. They never use “pygmy” to identify themselves. In Central African Republic, they are generally called BaBinga, but in other countries they are known as BaKola, BaBongo, BaAka, BaMbènzèlè, BaTwa, and BaMbuti.
The First Visit
We leave Bangui in a Land Cruiser early in the morning, at about seven, to go south to M’Baiki/Mongoumba. The road is paved only for the first 60 miles [100 km]. It is good to have a car with four-wheel drive, since the road is slippery after last night’s rain.
We drive through lush green countryside with immense forests and through small villages where people offer bananas, plantains, pineapples, manioc, corn, squash, and peanuts by the roadside on little tables. Famine is unknown here. The good soil and humid climate produce a variety of foods in abundance. Then, suddenly, we are at the first BaBinga “village” or, rather, camp.
They live in surprisingly small dome-shaped huts with one opening big enough to crawl through. Using sticks and leaves from the forest nearby, women build the huts. About 10 to 15 huts are arranged in a circle. These serve only as sleeping quarters or for protection from heavy rain. Daily life is in the open.
We step out of the car to greet some women, each carrying a baby on her hip. Having heard our car, some men come running to see who we are and what we want. They are escorted by a number of dogs, each with a little bell tied around its neck.
We remember from our research that the only domestic animals the Pygmies keep are dogs. They are their companions for hunting. And, from the soil to the treetop, there is much to hunt. As the book Pygmées—peuple de la forêt explains, this includes birds, monkeys, elephants, buffalo, rats, antelope, wild hogs, squirrels, and many others. A faithful dog is a must for every hunter.
In talking to these people, we use the book My Book of Bible Stories and the brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever!* These illustrate that soon the earth will be a paradise with beautiful forests, where there will be no sickness or death. (Revelation 21:4, 5) Both publications are printed in Sango, the language spoken by more than 90 percent of the population, including the Pygmies. These peaceful people, wherever they live, adopt the language of their African neighbors. This is necessary because they are trading partners.
Soon, a number of men and women are standing around us, looking excitedly at one picture after another as they listen to the explanation given. From former visits over the years, they know us as Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are happy to obtain copies of the publications. However, the problem is that they can’t read. Over the years efforts have been made by the government and other institutions to teach them reading and writing, but in vain. Schooling was arranged for their children. The schools functioned for a time, but most children dropped out sooner or later. A teacher who has worked with Pygmies stated that while in class they demonstrate remarkable learning ability, but after several months of attending school, they just disappear. However, efforts to provide formal instruction continue by the local authorities and others.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known to call back on people who show interest in God’s Word. But we do not expect to meet the same BaBingas the next time we come around, as they are constantly on the move all year long. They disappear into their deep forest home for months at a time. Efforts to settle them permanently have met with very little success. Really, they are the people of the deep forest. Moving around and hunting is their way of life, and nothing holds them back.
Daily Life, Marriage, and Family
Basically, men do the hunting and women do the gathering, collecting just about everything the forest produces: mushrooms, roots, berries, leaves, nuts, insects, termites, wild honey, and, not to be forgotten, their beloved caterpillars. All these items are needed for food and for trade. The Pygmies’ African neighbors, often called les grands noirs (the tall blacks), largely depend on them for these items. In exchange, they provide pots, pans, machetes, tools like axes and knives, salt, palm oil, manioc, plantains, and also, unfortunately, tobacco, locally made alcohol, and cannabis. The last three items are a tremendous problem for these humble people. Often they go into debt to obtain them, and little by little their lives are ruined.
Men are usually monogamous. However, they readily divorce or separate to live with another partner. The father or the oldest in the camp is the most respected. He does not give orders, but his counsel is usually followed. You will see that Pygmies love their children. The mother and the father frequently carry their baby. These little ones are in constant contact with both parents wherever they go and whatever they do, be it working, hunting, or dancing.
At night the baby sleeps between the parents. In the daytime, parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, and grandparents watch over the little ones, and besides that, they have the attention of the whole camp. Visits among parents and relatives are very frequent. All of this keeps family ties close. In Western civilization family ties are often loose or broken, but here things are very different.
While the Pygmies live apart from their African neighbors, they have economic relations with them. Besides having regular contact through trade, they are frequently asked to work as farmhands on the coffee and cocoa plantations. They may work for a few weeks, get paid, and then disappear into the deep forest for a long period. Who knows? The coffee you enjoyed this morning may have passed through the hands of Central African Pygmies.
BaBingas are religious people, but superstition and tradition govern their religious life. They practice their rituals accompanied by music, singing (yodeling), and dancing. The book Ethnies—droits de l’homme et peuples autochtones (Ethnic Groups—Human Rights and the Autochthon People) gives the following explanation: “For the people of the deep forest, God created the world, meaning the forest. After creating the first human couples . . . , he retired to heaven and lost interest in human affairs. Now a supreme spirit, the god of the forest, acts for him.” Of course, this is greatly at odds with the explanation of God and his purpose that is found in the Bible—Genesis, chapters 1, 2; Psalm 37:10, 11, 29.
An Intelligent People
It is not uncommon for some people to ridicule or even look down on Pygmies, considering them to be inferior and less intelligent. But Patrick Meredith, professor of psychophysics at Leeds University, England, said: “If you see pygmies in their natural environment making bridges out of fibre and living life successfully you might ask what you mean by intelligence.”
We know that all mankind are descendants of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. Acts 17:26 says: “[God] made out of one man [Adam] every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.” And Acts 10:34, 35 states that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” Therefore, we want to take Bible truths to these people so they too can have the hope of living at the time soon when the whole earth will be transformed into a beautiful paradise with many deep forests.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Pictures on page 23]
1. Sharing the Bible’s message with the Pygmies; 2. Pygmy wood-carver; 3. typical Pygmy dwelling