In one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read, Pygmy Kitabu, Belgian anthropologist Dr. Jean-Pierre Hallet relates numerous detailed legends of the Pygmy people of the Ituri Forest in the Congo, including their origin and savior myths. Hallet, who spent some 30 years living off and on with the Pygmies, including one 18-month stint completely immersed with the Efé people, relies not only on his own copious firsthand experiences but also the works of other scientists, such as the Jesuit missionary and anthropologist Dr. Paul Schebesta, who likewise lived among and visited the Ituri Forest people for many years from the 1920s to through the 1950s. As have been others who studied the Pygmies, both scientists were stunned to discover what appeared to be the origins of much biblical and other religious traditions, and both were quite certain that these isolated people were completely uninfluenced by any outside agencies, including Christian missionaries. Indeed, in Pygmy Kitabu, Hallet spends considerable time essentially proving that the Pygmy legends are their own homegrown stories, possibly representing the earliest such traditions still extant anywhere in the world.
“Hallet does a thorough job addressing criticisms that the Pygmy were influenced by other cultures, such as the Judeo-Christian.”
In other words, Hallet does a thorough job addressing criticisms that the Pygmies were influenced by other cultures, such as the Judeo-Christian – indeed, he addresses this contention throughout the book, which is seemingly written for just such a purpose. It is obvious that critics who continue to bring up this issue of possible influence have not read his book; hence, they cannot be deemed experts on the subject.
“The Pygmies are certainly one of the oldest races on Earth.”
Hallet first shows that the Pygmies are certainly one of the oldest races on Earth. He then demonstrates that their legends and myths are likely the basis of much Egyptian myth, which in turn influenced biblical stories. Hence, there is no need to suppose that the Pygmies were influenced by Bible stories. In reality, there is absolutely no evidence of any such influence, including and especially in the Pygmy language, which would have reflected biblical intrusions such as the names of “Jesus” and “Moses,” etc. In this regard, Hallet with his colleague Alex Pelle also created an 8,000-word Efé lexicon that reveals some stunning comparisons to various Indo-European languages, including and especially Germanic ones such as Old Norse/Norwegian. Again, it appears that this old and isolated people may be the originators of much language as well.
“In the Pygmy religion, we discover an apparently very ancient account of the ‘Garden of Eden,’ as well as a Father God and a mortal savior who overcomes evil.”
In the Pygmy religion and mythology, we discover an apparently very ancient account of the “Garden of Eden,” as well as a Father God and a mortal savior who overcomes evil. Moreover, in the Pygmy traditions we also find equivalents to the biblical Exodus story, as well as much Egyptian, Semitic, Indian and Scandinavia mythology. The Pygmy account of the first man and the “garden” is detailed and reflects Pygmy culture and surroundings, without a hint of any external influence. The extra details, in fact, are indicative of this tale being an original source that was pared down over the millennia, as it passed through various lands and among a variety of peoples. The tale is remarkably like the biblical account in germane ways but clearly not derived therefrom, as the differences prove.
The Pygmy first man, paradise and forbidden tree legend
Remarkably, the Pygmy origin story largely revolves around a monotheistic God the Father who resides in heaven, as was related to Hallet by Efé elders of the Erengeti region:
One fine day in heaven, God told his chief helper to make the first man. The angel of the moon descended. He modeled the first man from earth, wrapped a skin around the earth, poured blood into the skin, and punched holes for the nostrils, eyes, ears and mouth. He made another hole in the first man’s bottom, and put all the organs in his insides. Then he breathed his own vital force into the little earthen statue. He entered into the body. It moved… It sat up… It stood up… It walked. It was Efé, the first man and father of all who came after.
God said to Efé, “Beget children to people my forest. I shall give them everything they need to be happy. They will never have to work. They will be lords of the earth. They will live forever. There is only one thing I forbid them. Now–listen well–give my words to your children, and tell them to transmit this commandment to every generation. The tahu tree is absolutely forbidden to man. You must never, for any reason, violate this law.”
Efé obeyed these instructions. He, and his children, never went near the tree. Many years passed. Then God called to Efé, “Come up to heaven. I need your help!” So Efé went up to the sky. After he left, the ancestors lived in accordance with his laws and teachings for a long, long time. Then, one terrible day, a pregnant woman said to her husband, “Darling, I want to eat the fruit of the tahu tree.” He said, “You know that is wrong.” She said, “Why?” He said, “It is against the law.” She said, “That is a silly old law. Which do you care about more–me, or some silly old law?”
“There it was–the forbidden tree of God. The sinner picked a tahu fruit.”
They argued and argued. Finally, he gave in. His heart pounded with fear as he sneaked into the deep, deep forest. Closer and closer he came. There it was–the forbidden tree of God. The sinner picked a tahu fruit. He peeled the tahu fruit. He hid the peel under a pile of leaves. Then he returned to camp and gave the fruit to his wife. She tasted it. She urged her husband to taste it. He did. All of the other Pygmies had a bit. Everyone ate the forbidden fruit, and everyone thought that God would never find out.
Meanwhile, the angel of the moon watched from on high. He rushed a message to his master: “The people have eaten the fruit of the tahu tree!” God was infuriated. “You have disobeyed my orders,” he said to the ancestors. “For this you will die!” (Hallet, 144-5)
Another version has God creating the man and woman, and placing them in the forest, where they wanted for nothing. However, after the woman gets pregnant, she desperately desires the tahu fruit, and forces the man to pick it for her, much to his objection. Angered, God says:
“You broke your promise to me! And you pulled that poor man into sin! Now I’m going to punish you: both of you will find out what it is to work hard and be sick and die. But you, woman, since you made the trouble first, you will suffer the most. Your babies will hurt you when they come, and you will always have to work for the man you betrayed.” (Hallet, 119)
“There is no reason to suspect that the Pygmy ‘Garden of Eden’ story is anything but original, and there is much reason to suggest it may well be the oldest account we possess.”
In the Pygmy origins legend, we find a sky-god father-figure; a man created out of earth; a paradisaical “garden” or, appropriately, forest; a forbidden tree/fruit; and a woman blamed for the downfall of mankind, for which she is punished by pain in childbirth–motifs all found in the Bible. As noted, this story is detailed in ways absent from the biblical version, contains language and imagery appropriate for a Pygmy setting, and reveals no intrusions from external influences whatsoever. There is no reason to suspect that the Pygmy “Garden of Eden” story is anything but original, and there is much reason to suggest it may well be the oldest account we possess–and the first. What this development suggests, of course, is that the biblical account did not originate in the Middle East and was not originally handed down to Semitic “chosen people.” The same can be said for other biblical myths, such as the Exodus and Christ stories, both of which appear to have emanated from the same Pygmy source as well.
P.S. Note also that the Pygmies are perpetually abused and endangered, and are in desperate need of assistance. For humanitarian reasons, as well as that they may well represent the oldest source of various linguistic, religious and mythological ideas, we need to help protect the Pygmies and preserve their culture!