Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Hakuna Matata

“Why are you laughing?” I asked through my local interpreter.

“Your legs”, he laughed; “They have never seen as hairy legs as yours!”

One of them came up to me, leaned over and pulled a hair from my leg. He smiled and laughed with lots of charm. This was the first time I had come across the forest people, the mbuti. (Or Bambati as I remember them) They´re also called the half-meter people. They were pygmies and lived in the Ituri forest. They lived in igloo looking huts made of twigs and big leaves and their fire seemed eternal. It was one of the most amazing meetings I have ever had. It was like a dream all of it, for me. As fast as I came to visit, as fast I was gone and left them in peace in their gigantic forest. Their home for 100 000 of years. I was sorry to leave them. They seemed so content with life.

I had people waiting for me at a camp we had pitched together along the road to the Ruwenzori Mountains. They traveled in a Landrover. Me on a push bike. They were an Italian couple who looked after me, because I had lots of bodily pains. Turns out later it was hernia, a result of me eating too much bananas and peanut butter, the basic diet I could find on the dirt roads of Zaire, as DR Congo was called back then. The Italians were really tired of Africa. This the toughest and most demanding of continents, but most lively and overwhelming in every way. I loved it, but was in pain all the time. But, than again, who wasn´t in Africa?

Africa taught me too laugh, to stop complaining and take life as it comes. Since this time, I have kind of regressed and gone back to less laughter, more complaining and worry too much. It took me almost 3 years to pass through Africa, one of the best times of my life. When you read this I am on my way back to the pygmies. To the Ituri Forest. Their world. I am going back to pretty much the same area, around the Epulu Station where they keep the okapi. And they are, at least were, I remember, totally dependent on the Mbuti to find the right type of food for this unique animal. They, the Mbuti, know their forest as good as the back of their hand and evolution have made them an integral part of it.

I remember this story, told by a good friend of mine, who brought one of the Mbuti with him to East Africa. Since he was fed up with the pygmies bragging about their big forest elephants. He knew the savanna elephant is much bigger. So, once they got on to the savanna, he spotted a big heard of elephants in the distance, almost twice the size of the forest variety, opened his arms to show the largess and said to the Mbuti:

“Have you ever seen anything as big as these elephants?”

The Mbuti looked shocked and answered:

“But these are so small! They are not bigger than this!”

The only picture I got from my all to brief visit to the Mbuti in the Ituri Forest 1989. One of my high lights of my life. My hairy legs and shiny cycle shorts made them laugh….

With this he put his hand in front of him and measured the elephants in the distance being no bigger than a centimeter between his fingers. He had never been out of the forest, where you never see further than 5-10 meters in front of you, so he had never viewed anything from such a long distance and therefore thought that the elephants were no bigger than a centimeter in height!

They´re perfect for the forest! I hope they still are. I will write a report as fast I have a possibility! Stay put!

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