Pygmy Hunting Ritual

Modern Map of Congo

In the year 1905, in the jungle area between Kasai and Luebo [in the Belgian Congo], I (Leo Frobenius) encountered some representatives of those hunting tribes, driven from the plateau to the refuge of the Congo jungle, who have become known to the literature of Africa as Pygmies. Four of their number, three men and a woman, then accompanied the expedition for about a week. One day it was toward evening and we had already begun to get along with each other famously, there was again a pressing need for replenishments in the camp kitchen and I asked the three little men if they would get us an antelope, which for them, as hunters, would be an easy task. They looked at me, however, in amazement, and one of them finally came out with the answer that, surely, they would be glad to do that little thing for us, but today it would of course be impossible, since no preparations had been made. The conclusion of what turned out to be the very long transaction was that the hunters declared themselves ready to make their preparations next morning at dawn. And with that, we parted. The men then began scouting about and finally settled upon a high place on a nearby hill.

Since I was very curious to know whereof the preparations of these people might consist, I got up before sunrise and hid in some bushes near the clearing that the little fellows had chosen the night before for their preparations. When it was still dark the men arrived; but not alone. They were accompanied by the woman. The men crouched on the ground and cleared the area of all bits of growth, after which they smoothed it flat. One of them then drew something in the sand with his finger, while the other men and the woman muttered formulae of some kind and prayers; after which silence fell, while they waited for something. The sun appeared on the horizon. One of the men, with an arrow in his drawn bow, stepped over to the cleared ground. In a couple of moments, the rays of the sun struck the drawing and at the same instant the following took place at lightning speed: the woman lifted her hands as though reaching for the sun and uttered loudly some unintelligible syllables; the man released his arrow; the woman cried out again; then the men dashed into the forest with their weapons. The woman remained standing a few minutes and then returned to the camp. When she had left, I came out of my hiding and saw that what had been drawn on the ground was an antelope, some four feet long: and the arrow was stuck in its neck.