jump to navigation

African Pygmies and European Fairies September 5, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

We have sometimes visited in the past the early modern and very popular late Victorian theory that fairies were nothing more than a pygmy people who dwelt on the fringes of society. By the early twentieth century Empire sorts were so keen on this theory that they were proving it with reference to the customs of the last surviving pygmies in Sub-Saharan Africa. The following text dates to 1902 and related to British territory in eastern Africa.

Even before the Negro quitted Arabia to invade and occupy the greater part of Africa he may have developed a Pygmy type, or have had a tendency to generate races of stunted stature. Remains which have been found in Sicily, in Sardinia, and the Pyrenees, including a curious little statuette fashioned by men of the Stone Age discovered in the last-named locality, hint at the possibility of men of this Pygmy Negro type having spread over part of Europe: it has been even hinted by more than one anthropologist of authority that a Dwarf negroid race may have, at one time, existed in Northern Europe, and by an exaggeration in legend and story of their peculiar habits – habits strangely recalling the characteristics of the little Dwarf people of the Congo of the present day – have given rise to the stories of kobolds, elves, sprites, gnomes, and fairies. Like some of the Bushmen (who are, however, an independent development or an arrested type of Negro) who inhabited South Africa when it was first discovered by Europeans, and who still exist in the south-western part of that continent, like the European and Asiatic races of the early Stone Age, these Negro Dwarfs in bleak or poorly forested regions no doubt lived in caves and holes, and the rapid manner in which they disappeared into these holes, together with their baboon-like adroitness in making themselves invisible in squatting immobility – a faculty remarkably present in the existing Dwarfs of the Congo Forest – they gave rise to the belief in the existence of creatures allied to man who could assume at will invisibility. Traits in the character of the Congo Dwarfs of the present dav recall irresistibly the tricks of Puck, of Robin Goodfellow, of the gnomes and fairies of German and Celtic tradition.

The little Pygmies of the Congo Forest do riot themselves cultivate or till the soil, but live mainly on the flesh of beasts, birds, and reptiles, on white ants, bee-grubs, and larvae of certain burrowing beetles. Nevertheless, they are fond of bananas, and to satisfy their hankering for this sweet fruit they will come at night and rob the plantations of their big black agricultural neighbours. If the robbery is taken in good part, or if gifts in the shape of ripe bananas are laid out in a likely spot for the Pygmy visitor who comes silently in the darkness or dawn, the little man will show himself grateful, and will leave behind him some night a return present of meat, or he will be found to have cleared the plantation of weeds, to have set traps, to have driven off apes, baboons, or elephants whilst his friends and hosts were sleeping. Children, however, might be lured away from time to time to follow the Dwarfs, and even mingle with their tribe, like the children or men and women carried off by the fairies. On the other hand, it is sometimes related that when the Negro mother awoke in the morning her bonny, big, black child had disappeared, and its place had been taken by a frail, yellow, wrinkled Pygmy infant, the changeling of our stories. Any one who has seen as much of the Central African Pygmies as I have, and has noted their merry, impish ways; their little songs; their little dances; their mischievous pranks; unseen, spiteful vengeance; quick gratitude; and prompt return for kindness, cannot but be struck by their singular resemblance in character to the elves and gnomes and sprites nursery stories.

At the same time, we must be on our guard reckless theorising, and it may be too much to assume that the species ever inhabited Europe, in spite of the resemblance between the stone implements of palaeolithic European man and those of the modern Tasmanians – and the Tasmanians were negroid if not negro. Palaeolithic man in Europe may have been more like the Veddah, the Australian, the Dravidian, the Ainu, than the Bushman or Congo Pygmy. Undoubtedly (to my thinking) most ‘fairy’ myths arose from the contemplation of the mysterious habits of dwarf troglodyte races lingering on still in the crannies, caverns, forests, and mountains of Europe after the invasion of neolithic man. But we must not too widely assume that these extinct Pygmy races were Negroes. They might well have been the dwarfed descendants of earlier and less definite human species; they may have been primitive Mongols like the Esquimaux. All the three species, or subspecies, of Homo have developed separately, repeatedly, and concurrently, dwarf and giant races. Tall peoples have arisen independently one after the other in Patagonia, in Equatorial Africa, in North Africa, Syria, Northern Europe, and Polynesia. Stunted races have been evolved in several parts of Africa, in North Africa, Syria, Northern Europe, and Polynesia. Stunted races have been evolved in several parts of Africa, in Scandinavia, Japan, the Andaman and Philippine Archipelagoes, or amongst the Esquimaux.

Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com: any other imperial reflexes of the pygmy myth?

***

7 Sept 2012: KB writes: Your picture speaks more than a thousand words. Look at the bearing, the stance, the facial expression of the people, people not piskies, around whom the imperialist puts his arms, as if in friendship! I could go on to describe with words their apparent anger and resistance to the giant, but any who can’t see it for himself in an instant won’t see it when I bring attention to it. Now look closely at the smiling face of the giant: do I really see a crocodile? This one photo shows that “Imperial reflexes” were (and are) often simply “Imperious reflexes:” haughty, domineering, prideful and suborning the dignity of anyone or any idea seen as “other” than themselves or their new “scientific” (meaning the new religion of the day) dogma. This same Imperious reflex still dominates Western culture and education to the point that thinking is outlawed… “Other” was/is automatically defined as “lesser” of course. Anything seen as “otherworldly” is by definition “other” and therefore requires denigration. This includes most heartily denigrating and denying any otherworldliness in ones’ own native culture or mind, which is the native land of the Fae, the faith, the psyche, the soul, the spirit.  With the theory of pygmy origins for old faiths, the denigration of the foreign Pygmy tribe combines with the denigration of the beliefs of homeland elders and homeland poor, attempting to kill both cultures with a single imperious blow. No doubt you already could supply more links to your general subject than I, but here is a link for others who might want one: Jenner on pygmies in Cornish fairy faith and a modern summary. Thanks KB!