Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Pygmies Play Handmade Flutes in Ituri Hunting Camp | DR Congo

Pygmies Play Handmade Flutes in Ituri Hunting Camp | DR Congo

Pygmies Play Handmade Flutes in Ituri Hunting Camp | DR Congo

Pygmies play hand made flutes in their hunting camp.  Paul Salopek talks about the light in the forest:  “Rain forests are light-struck places. This comes as a surprise. Countless books and movies would have us believe otherwise. The world beneath a jungle canopy is neither dim, nor gloomy, nor monochrome. It glows with the light of some alien order—light so improbable it actually has a dreamed quality, the way colors in dreams possess actual weight, or create sound, or stop time.”

From the National Geographic story by Paul Salopek:

Rain forests are light-struck places. This comes as a surprise. Countless books and movies would have us believe otherwise. The world beneath a jungle canopy is neither dim, nor gloomy, nor monochrome. It glows with the light of some alien order – a light so improbable it has a dreamed quality, the way colors in dreams possess actual weight, or create sound, or stop time.

I have looked up, startled, from my notebook to see the forest suddenly electric white: suffused with the calm, almost glacial cleanliness of a fluorescent-lit office. A few moments later, or merely few steps away, the jungle turns metallic. Falling rain, leaf shadows, the bloodied pelt of an arrowed monkey – all appear dipped in shivery tones of silver. Once, on the steamy banks of the Ituri River, I saw the twilight undergrowth erupt in unearthly constellations of fire: Sunset burned through the pin-holed canopy, and its deep, red laminar shafts spattered the sodden leaves like flecks of lava. Rain forests, everyone knows, are valued for their biodiversity. But few credit the kaleidoscopic richness of their light – ethereal and hallucinatory, filtered as though through antique glass, unlike any other in the world.    

Right now, at this precise instant, the jungle is blue – rinsed the color of indigo ink diluted in water, its shadows deep as the bluing on a gun.

Musa Yambuka’s glistening eyes are stained pale blue. The sweat on his face sparkles star-blue. He’s an Mbuti pygmy, a small, perfectly muscled man, crouched with a spear behind the roots of a fig tree, waiting to ambush a forest antelope. (These animals, too, are smoky blue, a fact noted in their Western name, blue duiker.) The moment is a thousand or more years old. The beaters come yodeling through the forest, driving the game before them. Musa tenses, digs in his toes, ready to spring, to slice something’s throat. In the canopy, the monkeys grow still, fall silent. I hear an invisible bird flap away.

I have seen this scene twenty, maybe thirty times now. We have been traveling together for days, the Mbutis and I, through the jungle of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pygmies do things that we forgot a long time ago. Like drive cat-sized antelope into nets. Or live in peaceful accord with pain and sudden death. Or mold soccer balls out of the sap from a certain liana. All of this, of course, is interesting. But what distracts me more than ever, what’s got me disoriented, even a little spooked – my eyes, these days, seem like borrowed things – isn’t what these people do as much as the light they do it in: this miraculous and enigmatic empire of color that only the Mbuti know.

It shifts again.

Musa’s ferocious grin shines aquamarine. The drivers approach through a white-hot slab of brilliance that could incinerate diamonds. Dazzled, I look down at what, apparently, are my hands. In the bottom-of-the-sea sheen of the forest, the skin looks insubstantial. Almost translucent. The hands of a ghost.

I hold my breath. Maybe birth is like this.

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