Sunday, July 15, 2007

They were right at home with the 13 monkeys

The Republic of Congo recently housed a group of 20 Pygmy musicians, part of a Festival of Pan-African Music, in the Brazzaville Zoological Park. All the other musicians were put up in hotels.

The Congolese officials' excuse? They wanted to put the Pygmies to be in their native environment.
Authorities said they were trying to make the indigenous musicians feel comfortable. But after a flurry of media coverage, they moved the visitors to a high school dormitory late Friday. The Pygmies are now being housed with musicians from elsewhere in the Republic of Congo, while foreign artists performing at the Festival of Pan-African Music were lodged in hotels.

The Pygmies' presence in a tent on the zoo grounds had attracted tourists, who came to stare and take pictures, the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement Friday.


Officials said they offered the accommodation on the forested zoo grounds so the 10 women, nine men and one baby would feel more at home.

"It's not a case of discrimination," said Yvette Lebondzo, the director of arts and culture for the Republic of Congo. "We lodged them in the park near running water and a forest simply because that will remind them of their usual surroundings — which is the forest."

"I think our intention was noble toward our brothers who came directly out of the forest and have never seen a city," she said.

Security barriers prevented reporters from being able to speak to the Pygmies before they were moved from the zoo.

"We would like to reassure people that our intention was simply to put them at ease in an environment that resembles their ecosystem," said Dieudonne Mouyongo, who directs the festival.

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