Monday, 9 January 2012

Unknown African Pygmies?

    It is now time for a more lengthy translation for those who do not understand French.
    At one point I was receiving copies of Bipedia, a small journal of restricted distribution, all issues of which are now, fortunately, on the web. It is produced by François de Sarre in order to advance what I can only describe as a crackpot theory of "initial bipedalism". However, for various reasons, it has also become a forum for others who are not crackpots (at least not in my opinion), but are interested in the presence of various unknown bipedal primates ("abominable snowmen", if you like). Unfortunately, they have christened their field of research, hominologie, which literally means, "the study of man", and for the objects of their study, have coined the term, hominien. Again, this is unfortunate, as it invites confusion with "hominine", which is the scientific term for man and his nearest relatives: the primate sub-class which includes Homo sapiens. Be that as it may, there does not appear to be any English equivalent to this neologism. Therefore, in this article, the term, "hominian" means what it means in the article, and nothing else.
    It is well known that East Africa abounds in legends of a race of pygmies which preceded the current inhabitants, and the legends may be based on fact. But the following article involves the possible current existence of such pygmies - humans, not animals - in the savanna woodlands of the Central African Republic (CAR). As French is the official language of the CAR, I have retained the French spellings of place names, but have transcribed the native word, toulou into the more English, tulu. The summary of the original article is in English, and I have left it as is. The rest is in French, and once more, I have sought accuracy rather than elegance. Those who which to check it up can find the original article here.

[Research on Unknown Hominians of the Central African Republic]

by Christian LE NOËL

Bipedia 4: 11-15 (March 1990)

SUMMARY : Certain hominians, still unknown, may have survived in Africa : traditions, especially in
Central Africa, speak of " bush-dwarfs " who live in really out-of-the-way places. They are described as being small, about as tall as a young boy of ten or eleven, stocky, very vigorous and dark-skinned ; they have their own language, they make their own natural weapons and they wear skirts made of hide, but nevertheless they don't build any permanent abodes ; they live on berries and wild honey. The legend goes that they captivate the will of any casual passers-by, taking them prisoner and releasing them later after a teach about how to cure themselves by plants. All known descriptions agree on this point, and there is not one which gives the lie to the others : everything seems to fit in. The vernacular languages all have precise words to describe these dwarfs : some of these words which are used to mention the dwarfs are also used to describe the surrounding natural phenomena such as hills and caves. There were allegedly many more of these dwarfs in the past than there are now, the Bantus used them as carriers, or killed them as game, according to the testimony of a Portuguese navigator of the 16th century.
  The author has personally pieced together two different accounts, one from Oumar Boukar, a 50 years
old Arab businessman, who claimed to have met one of these bush-dwarfs in 1965, while he was hunting and he found himself separated from his companions ; the other testimony comes from a missionary father from Yppi who thought he had met a little boy belonging to one of his fellow tribesman, but was in fact a bush-dwarf : the latter almost broke his bones while shaking hands. In the same regions, cupules cut out in the rocks by human hands were also found. The author of this text also discovered newly made foot-prints of very small size, at a distance much too far away from the villages to suppose that they were made by a child.
  These bush-dwarfs may well be descendants of the Koïsan lineage ; the same identical evidence has been reported from Kenya, and yet Kenya is by no means near Central Africa. Certain ethnologists have not counted out the fact of a possible survive by certain primitive races in the very place where they first appeared.
  The native inhabitants of this area are familiar with certain caves which are supposed to be or to have been the refuge of bush-dwarfs, as well as dozens of burial mounds, made of nodules of laterite, which are incomprehensible to everybody. Finally in the prefecture of La Lobaye in 1988, hunters shot down a creature which was so strange that they dared not eat it, and they brought it to the chief of police who had it buried on the spot. A report was sent to the head of the state who wrote in the margin in his hand-writing the following comment : "A pity as far as science is concerned".


    At the dawn of the 21st century, there still remain shadow zones in which belong the races of hominians which have peopled, or which perhaps still people, certain areas of our planet.
    Africa is, along with Asia, the continent where tradition, legends, and sometimes testimonies, speak of apparently unknown hominians having lived, or still living, in certain regions less populated because of difficulty of access. In Central Africa, for example, the tradition speaks of "bush dwarfs": types of savanna pygmies, of which some representatives perhaps still survive in our days in the regions of the northeast. From the descriptions which the natives make, these "bush dwarfs" would be as tall as a ten year old child, and would be very squat and of great strength. Their complexion would be black. They speak, they possess hunting weapons, and skirts of hide, but do not construct huts or any habitation.
    If one believes the tradition, these beings especially frequent the woody and rocky places of the Sudano-Guinean savanna. They feed on roots, berries, and wild honey. In these descriptions the natives all agree that the bush dwarfs would have the power to take away the will of a man whom chance places in their road in the isolated districts of the bush; they could thus compel a man to follow them for some time, in order to afterwards restore his mental freedom. The one who thus makes a forced sojourn with the "bush dwarfs" often returns home with knowledge of the art of healing by means of plants. In the different regions of the CAR, this description is always the same. On the other hand, each vernacular language possesses a specific name to designate the "bush dwarfs"; the Bandas name them "Kara-Komba", literally "the apes who carry a lot", an allusion to their strength and also to the fact that they have without doubt been employed in carrying. The Arabs in the northern region call them "Dam-Sako", but there exists also a generic term which one finds throughout the territory, ie the name, Tulu or Tulé, or again, Tollé, depending on the tribe. This term is also found in place names in certain regions: there exists a "Tulu" river; there is also a "Tulu" rock shelter, and a "Tulu" Kaga, or hill.
    According to tradition, there was a distant era when the bush dwarfs were relatively numerous, and the Bantu employed them at crude tasks, like carrying. Apparently, they were considered as game and eaten, as witnesses in the account of the voyage of a Portuguese navigator of the 16th century, who related having been present, in what is now Burkina Faso, in a chase with dogs, in which an entire family of "bush dwarfs" was cut down by the natives of the place, who carried out a beat to obtain meat.
    Testimonies of meetings between bush dwarfs and natives are not very rate. I have collected two which seem worthy of belief. The first was in the northern district, for the mouth of a local Arab businessman:
"My name is Oumar Boukar. I am 50 years old. In 1965 I was diamond prospecting in the district of Ouadda. With nine companions, we had left on the trail from Pata, to the heights of the village of Tchanga. We intended to procure meat by hunting. We were following the fresh spoor of an antelope which had just crossed the trail, when at a certain moment, the vegetation became quite dense and I found myself isolated from my companions. Suddenly, in the middle of the thicket, I found myself in the presence of a "bush dwarf", which we call 'Dam-Sako'. He was about 1 m 10 [3 ft 7 in] high, but his body was very broad. He carried a little axe on his back, he was dressed in a pubic apron [cache-sexe] of animal skin, and something like a pair of crude sandals. He was black with a shaved skull. He resembled a black man, but with the stature of a child. I tried to seize him and take him in my arms; he began to let out dull, incomprehensible cry. He got free of my grip very easily, and disappeared into the surrounding vegetation. At that precise moment, my head started to spin, and I completely lost my sense of direction. I remained without moving, and began to say my prayers, for I am a Moslem. I was so ill at ease I believed my last hour had come. At the end of a moment, I heard in the distance my companions calling for me. I replied, and was soon reunited with them. The 'Dam-Sako' are quite numerous in this region, but one meets them very rarely, because they hide from man."
    This testimony was collected courtesy of Brother Pierre of the Catholic mission at Ndélé. The second testimony is an adventure which happened to a missionary father of Yppi; it was reported to me by Father Fischer of the Catholic mission at Birao.
    One of the fathers at the Yppi mission was in the habit of greeting all the natives he met on the bush trails. One day, when he was driving around in a 2CV on one of these little trails linking two hamlets, he noticed what he took for a little boy. He slowed down to his height and greeting him in the local language. Receiving no reply, he stopped his vehicle a little farther on and got out to talk to the stranger, all the time tendering his hand. The stranger seized and gripped it so strongly that the good Father felt it was being squeezed in a vice. As he recounted his adventure on his return to the mission, the natives laughingly told him that he had without doubt met a "bush dwarf", who have a reputation for strength! It would have been interesting to question this missionary father who, to my knowledge, is perhaps one of the rare Europeans to have seen at close range one of the famous "Kara-Komba", spoken of by the blacks in this part of the CAR.
    Throughout the territory, one can discover on the rocky outcrops little cup-like receptacles abou5 5 to 6 cm [2 in] in diameter. The blacks claim that these are traces left by "Tulu", in order to build their house! These cups are visibly hollowed by the hand of man; in general they come in twos or fours, 20 to 30 centimetres [8 to 12 in] apart. What could be their use? I have seen the same thing in the district of St. Étienne in France.
    I personally have twice been in the presence of fresh footprints in very isolated regions, where there was no village less than a hundred kilometres away. These footprints were visibly prints of human beings, but of a very small height, like those of a little boy. Now, there is no way a child could survive alone more than a hundred kilometres from any village! In these inhospitable regions, the natives move around only in groups. These footprints were no more than about 15 to 18 centimetres [6 to 7 inches] long, and the strides did not exceed 50 cm [20 in].
   What can these bush dwarfs be? Perhaps distant relict descendants of the Khoisan race, whose rock paintings have come down to us. It might be that some of them would also have been present in the wooded regions of Kenya. There also, recent native testimonies speak of bush dwarfs. Let's listen to the description which was made of one of them: "Its eyes, its mouth, were those of a man, and its face was not covered with hair, but its brow was very low, rather like that of a baboon." Those were the terms by which a Kenyan described the strange creature he had encountered one day, when he was hunting in the forest, and by which he had been held prisoner for more than an hour.
    It is to be noted that Kenya is several thousand kilometres away from the CAR, and that this testimony does not seem to be able to have been influenced by the identical accounts of that country.  These testimonies have convinced one French sociologist, Jacqueline ROUMEGUERRE-EBERHARDT, research master at the CNRS, that the hominians known up to then by their fossil remains, are perhaps still living in Kenya (1,2,3). Why then, wonders Mrs Roumeguerre-Eberhardt, might not Homo habilis and Homo erectus, which lived 500,000 to 3 million years ago, still be alive in this region where they first appeared?
    This theory might be confirmed by the fact that the climatology of these regions has apparently changed little since distant times, at least in the proportions, extreme variations of which would have caused a well-adapted species to disappear. For example, in the CAR, where I carried out the research on the bush dwarfs, I have noticed that the region most rich in testimonies was a region where a fossil plant, the Encephalartos still grows. This plant used to exist 20 to 30 million years ago, a contemporary of the famous dinosaurs [!]  It is a sort of large, spiny fern. If this plant has resisted the present climate, why not a race of hominians?
    For my part, the natives' descriptions of these bush dwarfs make me think of those made by the Breton legends describing the Korrigans and the farfardets, who also were of small stature and had the power to take away the will of their victims in order to make them do whatever passed in their heads.
    In the region of Bamingui there was discovered a cave on a "Kaga", in which were shut up three unknown skeletons; a thorough study would be necessary to identify exactly the origin and exact nature of these three skeletons, whose manner of burial is unknown in this region. When interrogated, the natives claimed that these human remains dated from before the arrival of their ancestors into the country. In the region of Bamingui, where testimonies on the bush dwarfs are numerous, the professional guide, Alain MOUSIST discovered, in February 1988, in a cave of the Goumbiri River, some rock paintings. It is the first time such paintings have been discovered in the CAR, where until now only engravings have turned up.

Relief of rock paintings in a cave in the region of Bamingui. Persons with what would appear to be a monitor lizard.

    A little to the north, in the chain of hills which dominate the valley of the Aouk River, there also exists a series of caves and cavities hollowed out by rain water in the sole limestone site in the country (several hundreds of square kilometres!). The natives of the neighbouring villages claim that these caves serve as refuges for the bush dwarf's, and that at certain times they can hear music issuing from these caves, which are practically inaccessible, for they are full of wild beehives; the African bees being particularly aggressive, it is difficult to penetrate into those rocky holes.
    One last mystery needs to be clarified in this region. There exist thousands of piles of laterite nodules, visibly built by the hand of man. There also, no native is capable of saying what used could be the little tumuli of about a metre cube. They are content to say: "There were people before us who made these, before our parents." It is very difficult to open these tumuli, for the laterite nodules are fused over time to form a block as hard as concrete.
    The archaeologist, P. VIDAL, who undertakes research for CNRS in the region of Bouar on the megaliths, passed through this region  and discovered a skeleton in the the shelter of Tulu on the Ndélé-Birao track, the skeleton of a normal man dated by C14 to 400 years.
    In 1986, a strange event occurred in the prefecture of la Lobaye: local African hunters, going into the forest, felled a being which they had initially taken for a big monkey, but which so strongly resembled a human being that they did not dare to carve it up to eat.
    The took it to the Under-Prefect. The latter, intrigued, made a description of it which he sent in an official report to the Head of State, General KOLIMBA. The latter noted in the margin of the this report, "What a pity for science!" Convinced that they were not in the presence of an animal, but an unknown hominian, the hunters buried the remains rather than eat them.
    Why have these hominians escaped until now a thorough study? Doubtless because, having been the subjects of game beats for thousands of years by black Homo sapiens, they have become suspicious and rare. Their very reproduction has doubtless become difficult due to the conditions of their precarious and furtive lifestyle; perhaps they have even become completely nocturnal. Their nomadic existence in such a vast country does not favour observation.
    In the bush, certain hamlets of present day tribes are totally unknown; during the 1969 cholera epidemic in Chad, the authorities discovered tribes which had escaped all control by the administration for years, living in inaccessible zones. It required this exceptional epidemic for military helicopters checking out these regions at the end of the vaccination program to discover these unknown sedentary population, i.e. it is relatively easy for small human groups to pass unnoticed, especially if they are deliberately hiding.
    Neither animals, nor men in the modern sense of the term, what then can these unknown hominians be? A deeply interesting enigma to elucidate at the dawn of the 21st century, where all the mysteries of our origins are far from being entirely explained.

"Kara-Komba"or Bush Dwarf, after native description (Christian le Noel)
(1) ROUMEGUERE-EBERHARDT, Jacqueline  1984 - Enquêtes Récentes sur des Hominoïdes Inconnus en Afrique Orientale.  Communication faite pour le 3ème Congrès de l'ISC, Université de Paris VI ( Jussieu ), Juin.
[Recent enquiries on unknown hominoids in East Africa. Communication made for the 3rd Congress of the ISC,University of Paris VI (Jussieu), June]

(2) ROUMEGUERE-EBERHARDT, Jacqueline 1990 - Dossier X - Les Hominidés non identifiés d'Afrique.
[X-File - The unidentified hominids of Africa] Paris, Robert Laffont.

1979 - Monsieur X, Ape-Man - Fate, vol. 32 : 23-26 ( July ).

Comments:  Astute readers will note that this thesis is based on evidence and opinions which vary considerably in both reliability and relevance. So, rather than write a long dissertation myself, I shall leave its analysis to my readers, and limit myself to a few background comments.
    True pygmies are, by definition, no more than 150 cm (4 ft 11 in) in height, and frequently shorter. At the present time, they are all restricted to the dense rainforest, or nearby, those of the Central African Republic being limited to the southwest corner. However, it is likely that, in the past, before the expansion of agricultural tribes, that extended farther out, into the savanna. About 2450 BC, Harkhuf, the viceroy of Pharaoh Pepi II, ventured far south and returned with a captive pygmy. In Book II of his Histories, the 5th century BC writer, Herodotus recounted the story of a group of Libyans who crossed the desert, and were captured by a race of black dwarfs who took them though a vast tract of marshy country (? the Sudd) to their town on the banks of a crocodile-infested river which flowed west to east (? the Bahr el Ghazal).
    The Khoisan - the Bushmen and Hottentots of southern Africa - are not much taller than the pygmies. They are known to have been displaced by southwardly moving pastoral Bantu in historical times.
    Homo habilis and Homo erectus were of more normal human stature. As pre-human species, they almost  certainly were more hirsute than Homo sapiens.
    All short races in the tropics are of slight build. There are no known heavy set, very strong pygmies.
    The footprints measured by the author at 15 to 18 cm are consistent with a height of 3 ft 4 in to 4 feet. A stride of 50 cm is consistent with the latter height. If Oumar Boukar's estimate of 1.10 metres (3 ft 7 in) for the height of the individual he encountered is accurate, and was accurately recorded, the bush dwarf was very small indeed. However, it must be remembered that there is no reason the individual, or the footprints, represented the tallest person in the community. Indeed, the tallest members are always in a minority. In 1980 I stayed in an Mbuti pygmy village, and although the adult men would not have been more than 4 ft 9 in (they came up to my armpit, and I am a 6 footer), I can assure you the women and teenage boys were really, really small.
    Finally, anything which carries an axe, and wears sandals and a pubic apron, is a human being - who presumably knows how to make fire, and shelter for the night. Human hunter gatherers are semi-nomadic, remaining in the same encampment for weeks or months at a time. By both necessity and instinct, they live in social groups - two or three families at a minimum during periods when food is dispersed, and coalescing into aggregations of scores, or even hundreds, during times of plenty. The idea of a race of pygmies living in the open woodlands, without their camping sites ever being discovered by the outside world, and without making any attempt to contact the outsiders, even to satisfy their curiosity, has a very low plausibility rating.
    Just the same, there are still the footprints, and the witnesses . . .

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The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.