Hidden in History, Exposed to Modern Epidemics, the Lost Tribe of Ba’Aka Pygmies May Face Extinction
Deep in the rain forests of darkest Africa close to the Equator, in the Central African Republic, the Ba’Aka tribe – formerly known as pygmies - have lived for more than 40,000 years. Elusive, hiding in the jungle as much as they have been hiding within the annals of history. Facing deforestation due to logging companies systematically destroying the rainforest, multiple diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis and the ravages of civil war, their existence now seems to be threatened almost to a point of extinction. Adventurer and conservationist Willem Daffue set out to live with and learn more about the enigmatic lost tribe of the rain forest.
Exuberant and joyful young Ba’Aka girl with filed teeth. (Image: Willem Daffue)
‘Pygmies’ in History
In an interview on BCC, Jerome Lewis of University College London, made the remark: “Central Africa's Pygmy population - somewhere in the region of 500,000 to 900,000 people, is on a genealogical par with the San of Southern Africa. They are, in effect, who we are all related to. These are civilizations that make ancient Egypt look like a spring chicken." The first historical reference to the ‘pygmies’ occurs in a letter dated 2276 BC, to Harkhuf, by eight-year old Pharaoh Pepy II describing a: “dancing dwarf of the god from the land of spirits”. The boy-king was eager to see the ‘pygmy’ that Harkhuf had brought him from an expedition to Nubia: “My Majesty longs to see this pygmy more than all the treasures of Sinai and Punt!”
Their average height being 1.52 meters (5 feet) Homer described them as tall as a ‘pygme’, a measurement from the elbow to the knuckle. Pliny in his Natural History recalls Homer’s description of them as: “Three-span (Thrispithami) Pygmae, who do not expand three spans, that is twenty-seven inches in height, the climate is healthy and always spring-like, as it is protected on the north by a range of mountains, this tribe Homer has also recorded as being beset by cranes. It is reported that in springtime their entire band, mounted on the backs of rams and she-goats and armed with arrows goes in a body down to the sea and eats the cranes’ eggs and chickens and that this outing occupies three months, and that otherwise they could not protect themselves against the flocks of cranes would grow up.
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Top Image: The Ba’Aka pygmies are on the brink of extinction. (Image: Willem Daffue)