/ / “A Jungle Safari with the Pygmies”

“A Jungle Safari with the Pygmies”

I was on my regular visit to the Pygmy tribe near the Nyankunde hospital. We made this trip in my Dodge truck, over the savanna, once every month to provide medical services and support to a nursing station in the jungle that served the small group of Pygmies. This time the visit would include something unexpected.

The Pygmies lived in a small village hidden in the forest and generally wanted little contact with outside people of any kind but, after I had treated a local chief, who had been facing a deadly illness, the tribe welcomed me and the clinic to their community. When I arrived on this occasion, the elders suggested that they go deeper into the forest to see an okapi, a rare animal, which had been found feeding a short hike from the village. Without hesitation I agreed, and we set off on the narrow track through dense greenery. There we found the group, hiding among the trees, observing a strange animal.

Okapis are found only in the Congo.They are genetically close to giraffes, but have some of the coloring of zebras, in that their hind quarters and upper front legs have black and white stripes. Like the giraffe, they have a long prehensile tongue that is used to reach the leaves of the trees. In appearance they resemble a combination of a horse and a zebra with the head of a giraffe. They are an endangered species since they are hunted for their meat by humans and by leopards. After watching this rare scene from their hiding places, the group moved stealthily back to their trail.

On the way to the village, someone noticed, high in a tree, that bees had built a hive. This brought the honey-loving Pygmies to a halt. The elder selected one of the young men to climb up the tree to retrieve their prize of honey. First the group started a fire and placed the embers into a newly formed sack of large leaves, tied it at the top so that smoke could escape freely, and the agile tribesman went up the tree. It was about sixty feet tall and had a tuft of leaves only at the top. Climbing quickly, as though running up the trunk with hands and feet, he arrived at the hive, spread smoke to drive the bees away, and quickly reached his hand into the hive. Taking as much honey as he could manage in one hand. He made his way down and the whole group took mouthfuls of the sweet treat, myself included.

Celebrating the events of the day, the Pygmies volunteered to perform a traditional hunting dance. They stood in a circle with me among them, selected a hunter to perform the choreographed dance of a hunter, spear in hand stalking another performer dressed as a leopard. The audience hooped and clapped as the dance went on with the hunter simulated the killing of the animal with his spear. Thus ended an exciting day with the pygmies in the forest.

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