National Geographic : 1957 Jul
Flight to A + Moorish Girls Learn Their Lessons from French Primers Eleven percent of the children in French West Africa go to school. These Goundam youngsters study the same subjects as children in metropolitan France. Below: Mrs. Thomas helps Moorish pupils clothe dolls owned by a French playmate. Discarding stylish European dresses, the girls wrapped the dolls in simple desert style. © National Geographic Society smoke of the campfires curled upward into the darkness overhead and the Bambuti lay about in happy contentment. At every opportunity Pygmies sing and dance. On our first evening in camp every thing was quiet until one of the men produced a small hollowed-out piece of wood and began to tap on it with a pair of sticks. Little by little all the others began to sing and clap. A few of the men started to dance about the fire, bending toward it, leaping away, and weaving a kind of formless pattern about it. Shortly every Pygmy in camp was dancing, singing, or otherwise taking part. The dance went on and on, with no end in sight. Eventually Tay and I went to bed, though there was scant hope of sleep until hours later, when the camp finally quieted down. Another night, long after the camp had gone to sleep, we were awakened by a Pygmy voice that called out loudly, as if making a speech in the darkness. What the words meant we could not tell, but the next morning the Bambuti told Anne that one of their ancestors, taking the voice of an owl, had spoken from the forest. The voice we had heard, Anne explained to us, had been that of the Pygmy who had answered. "We Bambuti," he had shouted to the forest-dwelling spirit, "have come in peace. There are white men among us. We have done no wrong. Go away and leave us alone." Bambuti Warrior Takes to the Air By way of a grand climax to our visit we invited some of the Pygmies for an airplane ride. Only one was willing to accept. His name was Faizi, and he had a reputation as the very bravest of all Bambuti, the only one in that section with an elephant to his credit -an elephant he had killed by slipping silently through the forest until he was able from almost beneath the animal to drive a spear into its vitals! Adventure 73 At our suggestion, Anne gave Faizi a de tailed briefing, explaining as forcefully as possible that the control wheel that stood only a few inches in front of him was linked to mine, and that it should be considered as if it were "a charging bull elephant-some thing to be left alone." On the other hand, the handle to which he was told he might cling was "a tree-a place of safety." These explanations clearly made an impression. I strapped Faizi into Tay's seat, while she climbed in behind with our cameras. She kept the metal fire extinguisher within easy reach lest the little warrior, despite his bravery, should succumb to panic amid the strange surroundings. The door slammed shut. The engine roared. Faizi grasped the handle that Anne had called "a tree." He looked a little grim, but other than that the first real sign of emotion I detected came when we passed over the Epulu River at the height of a thousand feet and I pointed it out to him. "Maee, maee," he said. "Water, water." And then, as we returned and banked around the airstrip before landing, he saw some of his Pygmy friends in the crowd below. "Bambuti!" he said excitedly. Pygmy Declines a Second Flight When we had landed and rolled to a stop, Faizi showed signs of relief, though he did not release his hold on "the tree" to which he had clung throughout the flight. Tay and I unstrapped his seat belt and let him out. "Wapi!" whooped Faizi as he ran to rejoin his fellows. And that, as nearly as we were able to learn, was the Bambuti equivalent of "Wow!" He excitedly described the plane going into a bank. Then he stooped and plucked a blade of grass. Holding it up, he pointed first to the grass and then to his friends. "This," he was saying, "is how small you looked from up there." We offered to take him up again, but he declined. A second flight would have added little to his reputation. Already his bravery was legendary, for had he not killed an elephant? And now he was also the Bambuti hunter who had flown! In Pygmyland, I am sure, that is reputation enough for any man. Not far from Pygmy country stands one of the great sights of the world, the fabulous Mountains of the Moon, the Ruwenzori.