Friday 18 March 2011

What is happening to Pygmies is outrageous.

I downloaded the first part of this article from a National Post article.

The really small people in the jungles of the Congo call themselves by various names; but they are commonly referred to as Pygmies as they are uncommonly short. We first hear of them in the Iliad of Homer. French scientists have traced pygmy genetic lines back 60,000 years, confirming that they are indeed the Congo’s “First Nations.” Even the Bantu believe that they are the forest’s original inhabitants.
Pygmies live in small egalitarian bands that range from 15-70 people, away from the Bantu farmers of the Savannah. They do not farm. They are hunters of wild animals and gatherers of honey, roots and shoots. They are nomadic and do not hunt out their habitats, allowing animals, plants and honey to replenish until they next return. Women are relatively equal and well treated. As the inventors of the ‘Paleo diet,’ in their natural habitat they are unusually healthy and free of disease. When ill, they draw upon a wealth of herbal medicine that they gather from the forest. Pygmy choral music uses complex harmonies that the French musicologist Simcha Arom says were not equaled in Europe until the late 14th century.

Of the 60 million inhabitants of the Congo River Basin, less than 500,000 are pygmies. Over time, they have retreated into the deepest, remotest parts of the forest in the hope that they could avoid the growing inter Bantu strife and tribal militias. But this has not kept them safe.

Of the six Congo Basin countries, not a single one permits Pygmies to become citizens. They are not given identity cards or issued passports. Their land is not legally theirs. It belongs to the state, and frequently is sold or leased out to foreign companies who want its resources or who will cut down the forest and grow agricultural products for export.

The Pygmies therefore have no way of claiming tenure to their ancestral lands. The United Nations has never made their land tenure an issue of basic human rights. The pygmies are ignored by the educational systems of their host countries. Most can neither read nor write. Therefore, there is no “educated Pygmy elite” that can enter the politics of the capital city and influence government policy in their favour.

The pygmies do not have immigrant communities in Western countries that can lobby for them internationally. This is because almost all of the Bantu tribes and the tribal elites who inherited these newly independent countries in the 1960s will tell you — to your face — that they do not think that the pygmies are human beings. They speak of them as animals, and treat them as such. All of the tribal militias that have been battling for control of the DRC have had little qualms raping, enslaving, massacring and, yes, eating the Pygmies when it suits their needs.

Seven years ago, in a rare move, the UN acknowledged the growing eyewitness reports collected by aid workers, and called upon the warring factions in the Congo to stop consuming pygmies as food. Rebels say that sleeping with a pygmy woman can cure diseases such as backache. They also believe that eating pygmy flesh can give them magical power.

Geoffrey Clarfield, (an anthropologist) spoke to UN peacekeepers who tell him that Congolese rebels of all factions privately ridicule the UN in the Democratic Republic of Congo knowing full well that they have been legally restrained from taking any serious military action against them. And so the civil war and the pygmy massacres have continued with impunity. Now many of the same warlords who’ve perpetrated these horrors are part of a government of “national conciliation.

During the Rwandese civil war of 1994, the tribal Hutu Interahamwe slaughtered more than 30% of the pygmy population in their area, the largest percentage of any of the ethnic groups killed at the time. Yet most reporters missed that simple fact that despite the fact that the extermination of the pygmies is in many ways similar to the Nazi massacre of Jews, and is justified by roughly similar appeals to theories of racial superiority.

In many parts of the world, such as Canada and Israel, the names of individual victims of human-rights violations are fastidiously recorded and publicized. Yet where the pygmies are concerned, whole genocidal campaigns come and go without a single major news report. In 2003, for instance, two tribal militias planned and implemented a campaign called “Effacer Le Tableau” or “Erase the Board,” in which they systematically exterminated local forest pygmies. Experts estimate that over 70,000 pygmies have been killed during the last seven to eight years in this manner. Many thousands more have fled to refugee camps where, often as not, the Bantu administrators refuse to give them medical treatment or even the same rations as other refugees.

The Congo has enough tropical hardwoods to enrich any tribal elite that can take over the national government. In theory, this industry also could benefit the pygmies. But in 2008, a leaked document revealed that forestry projects designed by the World Bank for the DRC completely ignored the rights of the Pygmies and grossly exaggerated the associated economic and social benefits. Panel chairperson Werner Kiene concluded: “There was a failure during project design to carry out the necessary initial screening to identify risks and trigger safeguard policies so that crucial steps would be taken to address the needs of the Pygmy peoples and other local people.” This is a polite euphemism to describe the horrors catalogues in the paragraphs above.

Who will stand up for the human rights of the Pygmies? I would be delighted if the Canadian government made the plight of the pygmies its special human-rights focus for Africa during the 21st century, but I see no indication that it will, or that any Western country will raise its voice. unquote

What follows are my own observations.

William Dudley Bass, a blogger like me said in his November 7, 2008 article, and I quote in part;

"A holocaust has been going on under the radar of the world’s media and the canopies of the African rain forests. “Never again!” has become an empty cry as one genocidal massacre after another continues to pinball through our post-World War II history. Little known is the on-going extermination, enslavement, and even cannibalism of the Pygmy people. While Pygmies have not risen in armed revolt against any government nor engage in combat against any armed faction in the Great African War, they are nevertheless hunted down like wild game animals, killed, and eaten by other people. Survivors are enslaved. Sometimes they might be paid in cigarettes. The most that seems to have happened in response are heart-wrenching cries for help to the United Nations which in turn does little or nothing." unquote

Pygmies are people. They are human beings. While their genetic origins remain unclear they represent some of the oldest ethnic groups on Earth and predate many of the so-called Black, White, and Asian races. Yet in Africa many other humans including Native Black Africans consider their Pygmies brothers and sisters subhuman and “down there” with edible monkeys. In the morass of genocidal wars engulfing Central Africa including Congo and the Great Lakes region all the warring factions target Pygmies, some more so than others. The Pygmies, however, have yet to resort to arms. They are a peaceful people and prefer to live simply in the equatorial rain forests and mountains. Many of them still live as hunter-gatherers and subsistence farming. Much of their farming, however, is as for all practical purposes slaving away as indentured serfs on land owned by African neighbors of non-Pygmy tribes. It is their skill as hunters and trackers that make them valuable assets to the various guerrilla armies and bands roaming wild across the broken borders of Central Africa.

The name “Pygmy” is often considered a derogatory slur. It is still widely used; however, as no one better word has evolved to replace it. The Pygmies themselves speak different languages and prefer to identify with their own tribes within regional ethnic groups. Some of the more well-known Pygmy ethnic groups of Central Africa are the Mbenga Aka and the Mbenga Baka of the western Congo River basin, the Twa of the Great Lakes Region, and the Mbuti of the Ituri and southern Congo rain forests. They live spread out across many countries of the region. An estimated 600,000 Pygmies lived in Congo with about 200,000 concentrated in South Kivu. As no clear records were kept the exact number is not known. Nor is it known how many have been killed, although mass graves have been found. Many Pygmies have also been uprooted in never ending refugee migrations. The jungles of Central Africa are not empty; they are full of warring factions, bandits and refugees.

Avi Benlolo, president and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Toronto said recently;

“I must take exception to the use of the word “holocaust” to describe the ongoing abuse of the pygmies. It is safe to say that in contemporary usage, the term Holocaust refers specifically to the genocidal attempts by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews; using it in the title of this article diminishes the term and its meaning, and is unfair to the more than 10 million Jews, Roma, (gypsies) homosexuals and others who were slaughtered in the Holocaust.” unquote

I totally disagree with his view with respect to the interpretation of the term ‘holocaust’. He is under the impression that it only applied to the victims of the Nazis during and just prior to the Second World War.

It has several meanings but Collins English Dictionary also defines it as ‘any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life’. Holocaust has a secure place in the English language when it refers to the massive destruction of humans by other humans.

As an example, on December 13, 1937, the Chinese city of Nanking fell to the invading Japanese troops. For the next six weeks, the soldiers indulged in an orgy of indiscriminate killing, rape and looting. They shot at everyone on sight, whether out on the streets or peeking out of windows. The streets were soon littered with corpses, on one street a survivor counted 500 bodies. Girls as young as twelve, and women of all ages were raped by gangs of 15 or 20 soldiers, crazed by alcohol, who roamed the town in search of women. It is estimated that over 150,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed Chinese soldiers were killed in this, the most infamous atrocity committed by the Japanese army.

Chinese leader Mao was responsible for about 40 million total deaths of which most were lost during the 'Great Leap Forward' which created a famine that killed some 30 million.

During the Cambodian Genocide of 1975-1979, approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (21% of the country's population), it was one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century.

These were all holocausts. As I see it, the intentional act murdering a segment of a county’s population is a holocaust and the attempts at murdering the pygmies certainly comes under the definition of a holocaust. It is for this reason that all nations should take a stand on this issue and attempt to stop this wholesale murder of the Pygmies and any other human beings.

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