The Mbuti of the jungle

by Sebastian TIRTIRAU

The Mbuti of the jungle

It was very early morning when I woke up.  There was a deep mist rising from the steamy jungle and we were getting ready for our expedition.  We traveled 2 days from Butembo, North Kivu, in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), in search of the Mbuti or Bambuti pygmies, the mythical beings that roam the impenetrable Ituri jungle.

I went outside to film the magic of the jungle mist.  It was dead silent, with only the occasional bird call in the distance.  As I prepared my camera, I see a bit of movement in the bush and, at first, I thought it was an animal, because it seemed too small for a human.  But then, the eyes appeared, looking straight at me.  He had large, round eyes, with deep light shining through.  I was excited; my first sighting of a Mbuti pygmy.  He was a tiny human, maybe 1.2 m in height (4 feet), with a bit of grey hair and very strong arms and legs.  He didn’t approach, he was just watching me from a distance.

We reached a few pygmy villages in my first expedition there in 2007.  We saw their little huts, built of grass, we encountered a dancing party of women who surrounded us, welcoming us to their village.  We also learned of the plight of their kind in Congo; the constant hiding in the jungle from the rebels (The Lord’s Resistance Army was in full swing then, with their cruel leader Joseph Nkunda creating havoc everywhere they went), the terror they had at night when their men would be captured and eaten in front of their families (ritualistic cannibalism is a fact in these parts of Congo, where the rebels consider the pygmy flesh as magic) and the uncertainty for the future of their children.

A completely remote and terrifying world exists out there, where children wake up daily not knowing if they will be alive for one more day.  A world of terror and desperation with no one to hear them or protect them.

Congo is probably one of the richest countries in the world, as far as natural resources go; gold, diamonds, hardwood, tantallium and much more.  Because of the instability in their political system and the factions of rebels that constantly terrorize the population, it is easy prey for international sharks who exploit this situation to extract these resources, while enslaving the poor people of Congo and forcing them into abject poverty.  Congo has been under the same yoke since Leopold of Belgium claimed the region as his own backyard in the 19th Century.  It has never known peace ever since.

In the middle of the fight for resources and the greed of the world, the innocent pygmies are decimated daily.  Numbering in the millions just 150 years ago, they are now a shadow of what they used to be.  Their knowledge of the jungle, of the medicinal plants and of the mysteries of the most impenetrable forest of our planet is invaluable.  We barely scratched the surface of what their wealth of information and yet, most of us may never read one sentence about these incredible people of Africa, the oldest inhabitants of this region.


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