The African Pygmies are forest people uniquely identified for their short stature and indigenous ways. An average Pygmy man is about 1.5m tall. Estimated at about 500,000 people, their survival requires protection due to segregation, discrimination, racism and violent abuse by the ‘civilized’ humanity. They are mostly found in central parts of Africa, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Republic, Uganda, Cameroun and Rwanda. They comprise of various tribes, with each being a distinct group, based on their language, traditions and overly their culture.
- Bambuti- they dwell in the Ituru Forest (DRC) and speak Bantu, Efe and Aso (Central Sudanic Languages).
- Batwa-They speak Bantu Rudi and Kiga, and dwell around L. Tanganyika and L. Victoria (Great Lakes area).
- Bambega (The Baka & Aka)-they are found mostly on the west of the Congo Basin. Their main language is Bantu and Ubanga languages.
Since many ethnic groups denote the Pygmies, they are generally referred to as Babenga in Congo and or Bayaka.
Their ancestry and short body stature
The African Pygmies are believed to be the descendants of the Late Stone Age hunters and gathers who lived in the rain forests found in central parts of Africa. They later interacted with other migrating populations and partially adopted their languages and cultures. As such, the Bantu, Ubangian and Central Sudanic languages were adopted among the Pygmy communities.
The African Pygmies are different from the rest of the human race. They are divergent of all modern humans. It could be said that they are an anciently divergent in the mapped human tree. Serious research into the Pygmy mystery revealed that the divergence dates back 60,000 years back in the Pygmy ancestry. Some of humans must have interbred with unknown hominids to bring forth the Pygmy divergent line. Later, the identified gathering, hunting and farming populations split into Eastern and Western groups, approximately 20,000 years ago. The two groups, upon further research and studies showed a difference in their growth patterns, as they adapted to their new living conditions. Insights into the differences indicated that the hunter-gatherer populations responded differently to the environmental conditions that prevailed, compared to the pastoral and agricultural populations.
Iodine Deficiency and Body Adaption.
Further insights into the African Pygmies, most of whom live in the dense tropical forests show that a deficiency of iodine in their diet caused be a cause of their stature. Iodine is needed by the human body to make the thyroid hormones, a function done by the thyroid glands. The hormones control the metabolism of the body, proper development of the bones and brains for infants during pregnancy and infancy for children. When the body is deprived of iodine, as the case of pygmies, the body has to adapt. It could be said that based on the diets of the Pygmies, their genetics adapted to the iodine deficiency, eventually leading to their short stature and short life spans. Shortness is an adaption to their survival in the environment they dwell in. They are able to move through the forest faster and better, compared to normal sizes people. The dense forests are pretty humid, and to adapt to the conditions, African Pygmies’ short statures and small bodies enable them deal with the body heat well. Normal people would find it difficult living in those humid conditions (hot tropical sun and torrential rainfall).
The forests hold a fundamental importance to the forests hence called the forest people. For generations, pygmies have lived in the forests, worshipping it and protecting the lands there. They hold their spiritual rituals in the forests, and worship Jengi, the spirit of the forest. The pygmies fully depend on the forests their livelihood. Their medicine, food, shelter, protection and cultural identity are all engulfed in the dense forests, hence an important part of their lives. Small communities that make the pygmies move through territories, hunting for food, harvesting wild honey and collecting assortments of things in the forests that interest them.
Threats to African Pygmies survival
The Pygmies, whose livelihood is in the forests are threatened with logging and modernization which has brought about privatization of land and developments. Movement of the Pygmies and access through the forests is now hampered. With continued deforestation, most of Pygmies’ lives have been reduced to being squatters and living miserable lives in abject poverty, subjected to racism, social discrimination and segregation.
- The Batwa suffered cruel massacre and genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
- The Bagyeli in Cameroun have been pushed out of their ancestral land in the forest and squeezed on the conservation land in Campo Ma’an National Park which is also being exploited by multinationals for rubber and oil palm plantations.
- The Mbuti in Congo petitioned for protection of their people in Congo against hunting, massacre, rape and cannibalism by militia (2003).
- The Baka in Cameroun have developed serious skin diseases and other illnesses due to being cut off from the forests with no compensation or means to earn income for their upkeep.
- About 100 Pygmies were set free from slavery and forced labor in Congo in 2008, a people considered inferior and vulnerable to manipulation and being taken advantage of.
- Countries such as Uganda and Cameroun are turning the forests that were homes to Pygmies into a National Conservancy. The Batwa in Uganda were forcefully evicted and banned from accessing the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This banning was without consultation and or compensation.
(Information sourced and compiled for the curious mind, for the sake of a better world)