DRC/Australia: 'Still a Pygmy'

The shortness of a mini-eggplant is its mature size. – BaTembo Pygmy proverb

How did a Pygmy from Congo end up living in Sydney, Australia?

Growing up as a hunter-gatherer in the forests of Congo, where Pygmies were considered inferior to all other Africans and fit only for slave labour and witchcraft rituals, Isaac Bacirongo never dreamed he would end up living in Australia.

He also never imagined that he would get a high school education, fall in love with a ‘town girl’, start a prosperous business, and even own his own car – unheard of for a Pygmy. Centuries of oppression taught members of Isaac’s tribe to hide their identity to escape persecution, but Isaac decided to make a stand and helped establish the first indigenous rights organisation for Pygmies in Congo.

He broke with tradition again by marrying a ‘town’ girl, despite his mother who, complaining that she wouldn’t be able to catch fish or collect firewood, engaged a witchdoctor to kill her. When the tensions of Rwanda’s civil war spilled over into Congo, Isaac’s family fled the invading army but a brutal occupation force eventually took control of the east and threw Isaac into prison for his human rights activism.

After bribing his way out of jail, Isaac escaped Congo to reunite with his wife and ten children in Kenya. He got work as an interpreter on an investigation into corruption in the UN, only to be threatened again by his involvement in the case and by spies working for Congolese rebel forces.

With no future in Kenya and unable to return home, Isaac applied for and eventually received a humanitarian visa to Australia. The family settled as refugees in Fairfield, Sydney, where they continue the struggle to build a new life for themselves. Despite all his hardships, Isaac’s observant intelligence, humour and compassion shine through in this story of war, witchcraft, prejudice, love and courage.

This is the inspiring and true story of one man’s transformation from hunter-gatherer to prosperous businessman to Australian resident, and advocate for the rights of his people’s identity.

It is the first memoir by a Pygmy author ever published.


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Date: 07/09/2015



Activist interviews
Culture and Tradition
Indigenous Peoples

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