To know the Pygmies VI: from the internet

Images of pygmy groups are often just of a few women dancing in a circle on behalf of the camera, often in or next to a village – not many of the camera people go into the forest to meet them.  Now I found a very professionally made full documentary.

Amazing images! Hundreds of pygmies in brand new grass skirts, running through the woods on a hunting party, followed by the camera in a smooth traveling. Pygmy men in trance, even a burial ritual. Everything you can learn in the books on the traditional life of pygmies is right there. And throughout the filming process, the skirts stay brand new.


The annoying thing is, that during the 50:34 long documentary, not a single pygmy gets to say a single word. Instead, a perfectly civilized French woman is explaining away about every move they make. Her voice is not telling us anything new, but just repeating the same things we heard before, once more making the pygmies instrumental in implementing pre-assumed clichés.

I’ll just pick a clear example. Towards the end (44:06) the film speaks about the use of natural medicine. The perfect voice explains:

“Ils ignorent tout des principes actifs de ces ingrédients, mais avec l’aide des esprits, ils arrivent à guérir les malades et protéger les autres des sortilèges, première cause de maladie”. (Ils ignorent, mon oeil!)

I translate: “They ignore all about the active principles of these ingredients, but with the help of the spirits, they achieve to cure the patients and to protect the others of curses, the first cause of death”. (my reaction: they ignore, my eye! being an expression expressing my disbelief about the so-called ignorance).

Luckily, the deceased hunter in the documentary looks just as alive as the four men carrying his body on a stretcher. I found the reasons for this and other mysteries (e.g. the skirts) of the movie in a ‘making of’ article, posted aside:

The maker, Jose Manuel Novoa, organized a casting in the forest. The documentary is totally enacted. And well done so!

Such a pity the research and the script are just repeating clichés. I think Novoa wrote this script before ever meeting a pygmy. The interview itself ends with a huge cliché about the Western world seeing their own past in the ‘primitive’ people (and another cliché about happy people):

‘Little by little, we familiarised ourselves with them and they with us,’ says Novoa. ‘For them, it was extraordinary to be with so many white men and so many machines – we must have seemed like aliens. For us, it was incredible to witness our own prehistory and see that the Baka are a happy people. That was fascinating.’