Efé Pygmies of the Eastern Ituri Rain Forest, Zaire
Pygmy Philosophy

Story and Photography by JEAN-PIERRE HALLET

Few, it seems, know that Pygmies, long before the coming of the European to Africa, possessed an enlightened philosophy and laws regulating their relationship to one another, to their forest environment, and to a creator-deity. The Efés prayed aloud to that heavenly deity, usually addressed by the familiar-sounding title "our Father." They claim to have personally received from this deity a lofty moral code which forbids killing, adultery, lying, theft, blasphemy, devil worship and sorcery, lack of love for children, disrespect towards elders and other forms of misbehavior. Pygmies do not indulge in cannibalism, human sacrifice, mutilation, sorcery, ritual murder, intertribal war, initiation ordeals or any other cruel custom associated with equatorial Africa.

In traditional Pygmy life, hunters -- no matter how hungry -- bring game back to camp where it is divided up among members of the band. (This is one of the laws their deity gave to his Ituri Forest congregation.) Traditionally, cooked game is not eaten until a brief prayer is intoned while a tidbit of meat is either tossed into the air (the direction of the traditional home of "our Father") or wrapped in a large leaf and placed in the fork of a nearby tree (a symbolic gesture which raises it from the earth as an offering). These acts, now increasingly neglected in their struggle for survival, let the deity know that his Pygmies do not take food for granted.

The Pygmy concept of God, in contrast to their tall neighbors before the coming of the Europeans, is enlightening. "In the beginning," said a Pygmy elder, "God lived with people and gave them his commandments. He created the world. He can never die. If he did, the whole world would perish with him. God is the Lord above all things. He reigns also over men, whose actions he watches day and night."

Now, why would we in the Western world -- beset by crimes, recessions, unemployment, etc. -- care about an imperiled race on the other side of the world? The world is not so large that we can ignore what is going on even a few thousand miles away, and any human tragedy that occurs there may happen in our land sooner or later. The main point as far as we civilized people are concerned is that we have one last opportunity to preserve a people who would otherwise disappear -- a people whose simple wisdom, reflected in human relationships and family ties, should make us think about and seek a realistic compromise between our often self-defeating technological civilization and a simple, honest and harmonious way of life.

Should these people, despite their human limitations in which we all share, be deprived of the right to live peacefully in tomorrow's world? What if we were in their situation and they in ours?

With the help of good-hearted people, I have developed a feasible plan for preserving part of the Ituri Forest, their fragile environment which, with enough financial support, could assure the relative stability of the Efé Pygmies before it is too late. I devote the proceeds of my film, books, lectures, as well as my life's energies, to THE PYGMY FUND. Alone I cannot save an entire race from extinction. Substantial help is urgently needed if we are to save the survivors.

I would like to say a warm and very sincere thank you to the people who have already helped and to the ones who will care enough to become involved and join me . . . TO SAVE A PEOPLE.

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