Axidava

Pygmies

Many centuries ago, the Greek writers, Homer, Herodotus, and Aristotle, spoke of dwarf peoples, whom they called Pygmies, living in Africa.

On an ancient Egyptian wall there is painted a queer little dwarf-like figure with the word Akka written near it. It is plain that little African peoples were known both to the Greeks and Egyptians. But for hundreds of years after the old Greek writers and Egyptian artists were dead, no one believed in real Pygmies. Every one felt that the accounts of them were “travellers’ lies,” told to amuse people. But travellers who have been going into Africa during the last two hundred years and more have from time to time told us of such tribes, and to-day there can be no doubt of their existence. There are really Pygmies, and they are curious and interesting.

When the great German traveller Schweinfurth was visiting King Munza of the Monbuttus in “the heart of Africa,” he learned that tribes of Pygmies lived near. There were nine clusters of them, and they were called Akkas—just like the little creature represented on the old Egyptian wall—and each cluster had its own chief. At one time Schweinfurth saw several hundred of these little people together. Munza traded one of these Pygmies, whose name was Neevoué, to Schweinfurth. The traveller was kind to the little fellow, and wanted to take him to Germany, but Neevoué died in Egypt. He was a cruel little creature, not very bright, and had great difficulty in learning. Later on, in Ashango Land, much farther to the west, Du Chaillu found the dwarf Obongos, whom he described, and whose houses he pictured. An Italian traveller named Miani secured two Akkas in trade. He planned to take them to Italy, but he died on his journey home. His two Pygmies, however, reached Italy, where a kind-hearted nobleman took care of them. They were gay and happy, though fitful, and were rather quick to learn; they learned to speak, read, and write Italian.

So much was known about the Pygmies before Stanley’s journey. He saw many of them, and tells a good deal about them and their life. The Akkas were the tribe he saw. They measure from three feet to four feet and six inches; a full-grown man weighs about ninety pounds. Some of them have long heads, long, narrow faces, small, reddish eyes placed near together, and are sour looking and morose. The others have round faces with fine, large, bright eyes placed wide apart, high foreheads, skin of a rich ivory-yellow color. All African Pygmies seem to have their bodies covered with short, rather stiff, grayish hair. Stanley says the Akkas place their villages near the towns of bigger people, and that sometimes eight to twelve Pygmy villages will surround one negro (or negroid) town. These Pygmies are lively and active; they do not cultivate any plants, but devote themselves to hunting.

They use little bows and arrows, and small spears. The tips of the arrows and spears are often poisoned. With these weapons these little folk attack and kill antelopes, buffalo, and even elephants. They dig pitfalls and make traps. Some of their traps are like sheds, the roofs of which are held in place by vines; bananas and nuts are placed in these as bait; when chimpanzees or other animals try to take the bait, the roof falls. The Pygmies catch birds for their feathers, and hunt for wild honey.

The Pygmies use two kinds of arrow poison. One is dark and thick and made from the leaves of a plant quite like our Jack-in-the-pulpit or Indian turnip. The other is believed to be made from red ants,—which are dried and crushed to powder,—mixed with palm oil. Both are said to act quickly when fresh. Stanley mentions one man who died within one minute from a small wound in his right arm and chest. When the poison is old it acts less rapidly.

These Pygmies live in low oval huts, with doors two or three feet high. The houses are arranged in a circle about an open cleared space, in which the chief’s house stands. About one hundred yards from the village, along every path that leads to it, is a little guard house, only big enough for two Pygmies. These are guard houses and toll stations, and all strangers who pass must pay toll. The Pygmies are usually on good terms with their big neighbors, and both are useful to the other. The little people sell their ivory, skins, honey, and poison to their neighbors, or trade them for vegetable food. The Pygmies, keen and watchful, are good pickets for the others, and often warn them of danger from approaching enemies.

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