Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Pygmy Girls in Salate Market Feel Uncomfortable Outside the Forest

Pygmy Girls in Salate Market Feel Uncomfortable Outside the Forest

From the National Geographic story by Paul Salopek:

More than three million people have died in Congo’s six years of civil strife. This dead consists mainly of civilians. They perished mostly from starvation and disease: the worst human calamity since World War II. Yet, inevitably, it is Congo’s lurid tales of cannibalism, its sensational stories of human sacrifice, its ornamental killings, which end up bubbling into the news.

Magical violence makes it easy for journalists to reach for Joseph Conrad’s bleak fable Heart of Darkness every time a Congo headline is required. This fixation on “unspeakable” rites in “Darkest Africa” obscures the actual origins of the war: bitter ethnic grudges, meddling by powerful neighbors such as Uganda and Rwanda, and endless squabbles over Congo’s immense storehouse of gold, diamonds, coltan, and timber.

Still, this much is true: the miasma of juju is inescapable in Congo. It is like swamp vapor. Invisible. Pervasive. Soccer teams hire sorcerers to hex their rivals. Prostitutes pay good money for charms that make them irresistible. And in the nation’s Wild East, the magic becomes explosive, toxic, like the volcanic gases that are trapped in the bottom of its deepest lakes.

From my journal:

The Pygmy group we find in Beni is interesting because they have given up on the nomadic leaf structures of traditional pygmies and they have built mud and wattle houses like the Bantus…

I had sent Paluku out to scout for Pygmy groups without a forest and Pygmies to find Pygmies in Beni.  Paluku found three Pygmies working in Beni under slave like conditions.

Each time we go outside Beni it seems the soldier buildup is increasing.  We always leave early, so we aren’t hassled… But always on the return trip some thug soldier that has to get to Beni commandeers our car… They don’t give us an option… I guess it’s better than what they are doing with the Toleca drivers… they are just stealing their bicycles for the war effort.  I have to be careful though, because I have absolutely no authority to work outside the reserves.  And the commandant said straight up he didn’t like white people… His concern, I believe, is he thought they were probably all spies… The cameras stay in the backpack for the entire trip back.

Paluku decided not to tell me about the fighting in Goma, Bukavu and South Kivu so I would not be unnecessarily concerned… But he does decide it’s not a good idea for me to take moto taxis or walk around Beni anymore.  The first Kabila financed his war by kidnapping a wealthy white guy… the ransom may be the reason he ended up running the country.  I do have a satellite phone though and Melissa read me the news the other day.  Also the airport next to the logging tycoon house I am staying in is abuzz with Antonovs coming and going… I am told they are flying in commanders to rally the troops… to get them ready for war.

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