Pygmies





The antitheses of men--Dwarfs, and Giants--must not be overlooked, as

they are abnormal, and yet have existed in all ages. Dwarfs are

mentioned in the Bible, Leviticus xxi. 20, where following the

injunction of "Let him not approach to offer the bread of his God"--are

mentioned the "crookbackt or dwarf." Dwarfs in all ages have been made

the sport of Royalty, and the wealthy; but it is not of them I write,

but of a race called the Pygmies, very small men who were descended from

Pygmaeus. They are noted in the earliest classics, for even Homer

mentions them in his Iliad (B. 3, l. 3-6), which Pope translates:--



"So, when inclement winter vex the plain

With piercing frosts, or thick descending rain,

To warmer seas, the Cranes embody'd fly,

With noise, and order, through the mid-way sky;

To pigmy nations, wounds and death they bring,

And all the war descends upon the wing."



Homer also wrote a poem, "Pygmaeogeranomachia," about the Pygmies and

Cranes. The accompanying illustration is from a fresco at Pompeii.






Aristotle says that they lived in holes under the earth, and came out in

the harvest time with hatchets, to cut down the corn, as if to fell a

forest, and went on goats and lambs of proportionable stature to

themselves to make war against certain birds, called Cranes by some,

which came there yearly from Scythia to plunder them. Pliny mentions

them several times, but especially in B. 7, c. 2. "Beyond these people,

and at the very extremity of the mountains, the Trispithami,[19] and

the Pygmies are said to exist; two races, which are but three spans in

height, that is to say, twenty-seven inches only. They enjoy a

salubrious atmosphere, and a perpetual spring, being sheltered by the

mountains from the northern blasts; it is these people that Homer has

mentioned as being waged war upon by Cranes. It is said that they are in

the habit of going down every spring to the sea-shore, in a large body,

seated on the backs of rams and goats, and armed with arrows, and there

destroy the eggs and the young of those birds; that this expedition

occupies them for the space of three months, and that otherwise it would

be impossible for them to withstand the increasing multitudes of the

Cranes. Their cabins, it is said, are built of mud, mixed with feathers

and egg shells."






Mandeville thus describes them. "When men passe from that citie of

Chibens, they passe over a great river of freshe water, and it is nere

iiii mile brode, & then men enter into the lande of the great Caan. This

river goeth through the land of Pigmeens, and there men are of little

stature, for they are but three span long, and they are right fayre,

both men and women, though they bee little, and they live but viii[20]

yeare, and he that liveth viii yeare is holden right olde, and these

small men are the best workemen in sylke, and of cotton, in all maner of

thing that are in the worlde; and these smal men travail not, nor tyl

land, but they have amonge them great men, as we are, to travaill for

them, & they have great scorne of those great men, as we would have of

giaunts, or, of them, if they were among us."



Ser Marco Polo warns his readers against pseudo Pygmies. Says he: "I

may tell you moreover that when people bring over pygmies which they

allege to come from India, 'tis all a lie and a cheat. For those little

men, as they call them, are manufactured on this Island (Sumatra), and

I will tell you how. You see there is on the Island a kind of monkey

which is very small, and has a face just like a man's. They take these,

and pluck out all the hair, except the hair of the beard, and on the

breast, and then dry them, and stuff them, and daub them with saffron,

and other things, until they look like men. But you see it is all a

cheat; for nowhere in India, nor anywhere else in the world, were there

ever men seen so small as these pretended pygmies."



But there are much more modern mention of these small folk. Olaus Magnus

not only reproduces the classical story, but tells of the Pygmies of

Greenland--the modern Esquimaux. These are also mentioned in Purchas his

Pilgrimage, as living in Iceland, "pigmies represent the most perfect

shape of man; that they are hairy to the uttermost joynts of the

fingers, and that the males have beards downe to the knees; but,

although they have the shape of men, yet they have little sense or

understanding, nor distinct speech, but make shew of a kinde of hissing,

after the manner of geese."



But to bring the history of pygmies down to modern times--I quote from

"Giants and Dwarfs," by E. J. Wood, 1868, and I am thus particular in

giving my authority, as the news comes from America, whence, sometimes,

fact is mixed with fiction (pp. 246, 247, 248). "It is alleged by

contemporary newspapers, that in 1828 several burying-grounds, from half

an acre to an acre and a half in extent, were discovered in the county

of White, state of Tennessee, near the town of Sparta, wherein very

small people had been deposited in tombs or coffins of stone. The

greatest length of the skeletons was nineteen inches. The bones were

strong and well set, and the whole frames were well formed. Some of the

people appeared to have lived to a great age, their teeth being worn

smooth and short, while others were full and long. The graves were about

two feet deep; the coffins were of stone, and made by laying a flat

stone at the bottom, one at each side, or each end, and one over the

corpse. The dead were all buried with their heads toward the east, and

in regular order, laid on their backs, and with their hands on their

breasts. In the bend of the left arm was found a cruse, or vessel, that

would hold nearly a pint, made of ground stone, or shell, of a grey

colour, in which were found two or three shells. One of these skeletons

had about its neck ninety-four pearl beads. Near one of these

burying-places was the appearance of the site of an ancient town.



Webber, in his 'Romance of Natural History,' refers to the diminutive

sarcophagi found in Kentucky and Tennessee; and he describes these

receptacles to be about three feet in length, by eighteen inches deep,

and constructed, bottom, sides, and top, of flat, unhewn stones. These

he conjectures to be the places of sepulture of a pigmy race, that

became extinct at a period beyond reach even of the tradition of the

so-called Indian aborigines.



Newspapers for 1866 tell us that General Milroy, who had been spending

much time in Smith County, Tennessee, attending to some mining business,

discovered near Watertown in that county some remarkable graves, which

were disclosed by the washing of a small creek in its passage through a

low bottom. The graves were from eighteen inches to two feet in length,

most of them being of the smaller size, and were formed by an excavation

of about fifteen inches below the surface, in which were placed four

undressed slabs of rock--one in the bottom of the pit, one on each side,

and one on the top. Human skeletons, some with nearly an entire skull,

and many with well-defined bones, were found in them. The teeth were

very diminutive, but evidently those of adults. Earthen crocks were also

found with the skeletons. General Milroy could not gain any satisfactory

information respecting these pigmy graves. The oldest inhabitants of the

vicinity knew nothing of their origin or history, except that there was

a large number of similar graves near Statesville in the same county,

and also a little burial-ground at the mouth of Stone River, near the

city of Nashville. General Milroy deposited the bones found by him in

the State Library at Nashville."



That a race of dwarfs live in Central Africa, is now well known. Ronzo

de Leo, who travelled in Africa, for many years with Dr. Livingstone, at

one time almost stood alone in his assertion of this fact. But he was

supported in his statement by G. Eugene Wolff, who had been in Central

Africa with Stanley, and he maintained that, on the southern branches of

the Congo, he had seen whole villages of Lilliputians, of whom the men

were not over four and a half feet high, whilst the women were a great

deal smaller. He described them as being both brave and cunning, expert

with bow and arrow, with which they readily bring down the African

bison, antelope, and even elephants. As trappers of small animals they

are unsurpassed. In a close pinch they use the lance with astonishing

dexterity, and an ordinary sling, in their hands, is wielded with

wonderful skill.



These dwarfs collect the sap of the palm, with which they make soap. The

men are smooth-faced, and of a rich mahogany colour, while the hair is

short, and as black as night. Tens of thousands of them live on the

south branch of the Congo.



Mr. Stanley in his expedition for the relief of Emin Pacha,[21]

encountered some tribes of these pigmies, but he does not agree with the

account which Mr. Wolff gives of them, who describes them as an affable,

kind-hearted people, of simple ways, and devoid of vicious tendencies to

a greater degree than most semi-barbaric races. The women are

industrious and amiable.



Stanley, on the contrary, found them very annoying, and had a lively

recollection of their poisoned arrows--but, at the present writing, he

not having returned, and we, having no record but his letters, had

better suspend our judgment as to the habits and tempers of these small

people.



Wolff says they stand in awe of their bigger neighbours, but are so

brave and cunning that, with all the odds of physique against them, the

pigmies are masters of the situation.





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