BBC reports: Pygmy artists housed in Congo zoo

Recently, the BBC posted a horrific story of the abuse of pygmies in Congo-Brazzaville. It recalls nothing so much as the imprisonment of Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo, where this photo was taken by the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1906.
Ota Benga in the monkey enclosure at the Bronx Zoo 1906

Pygmy artists housed in Congo zoo

image of pygmy family and tent

Human rights activists have criticised the organisers of a music festival in the Republic of Congo for housing pygmy musicians in a tent at a zoo.

Other artists at the Festival of Pan-African Music (Fespam) are staying in hotels in the capital, Brazzaville.

The organisers say the grounds of Brazzaville zoo are closer to the pygmies’ natural habitat.

But the pygmy musicians say they had expected to be housed properly while staying in the city.

The Baka pygmy musicians, from the far north of the country, were one of the highlights at the opening ceremony of Fespam on Sunday.

It is the fifth year they have performed at the festival and previously they have been treated the same as other guests.

But this year the group of 20, including 10 women and a three-month-old baby, were given one tent to share in the city’s zoo.

A spokeswoman for Fespam said the decision was made in consultation with the Forestry Ministry, so that the pygmies would not be cut off from their “natural environment”.

But the group themselves are not happy.

Activists say the pygmies are being treated like zoo exhibits

“It’s not good for men, women and children to all be in this one tent. We need some space,” dancer and musician David Motambo told the BBC.

“We can’t live here where there are so many mosquitoes. Here in the city we can’t stay in the forest.”

Roger Bouka Owoko from the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights said the pygmies were having to collect firewood in the zoo to cook their food, and were being stared at and filmed by tourists and passers-by.

A BBC correspondent says indigenous forest communities are among the most marginalised groups in Africa and are regularly regarded by their neighbours as less than human.

“It’s clear that it’s a situation like we saw in earlier centuries, where people put pygmies in zoos to dance or to create a spectacle. They were treated the same as zoo animals and I think that we have a similar situation today,” said Mr Owoko.

Government officials say they are seeking to have the group relocated to a hotel.