Call Me by My Name

March 31, 2010

I found “In Africa With the Pygmies” by Dr Scott Kellerman very moving.


Figure – Scott and Carol Kellerman pose in front of a traditional Batwa hut with some of the Batwa pygmies they serve at the edge of the Bwindi Forest in Uganda.

 

I found "In Africa With the Pygmies" by Dr Scott Kellerman very moving. If other readers want to see an old classic about the people that the Kellermans serve, I recommend Colin Turnbull's The Forest People.

I thought the term "pygmies" had become tainted by a perceived overtone of being patronizing; for southwest Africa, I believe the preferred term is San people, this being an ethnic name without overtone of stating physical stature; then again, much of what I thought I knew about this is from the writing of Laurens van der Post, whose accuracy has been questioned.

What is more certain, as reported in The New York Times among other places about a dozen years ago, is the compelling DNA evidence that the San are the original humans; all the rest of us have San roots. Is this not a perfect answer to the idiocy of those who express prejudice against persons of African origin? We are all of African origin! And I am so pleased and so proud to belong to the same profession as Dr Kellerman.

-- Henry Schneiderman, MD Vice-President for Medical Services and Physician-in-Chief Hebrew Health Care, West Hartford, Conn Professor of Medicine (Geriatrics) Associate Professor of Pathology University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington

 

I do appreciate the comments by Dr Schneiderman; I have always appreciated his writings and also feel honored to be in the same profession as he.

The connotation "pygmy" is truly a deprecatory term; it refers to the length from fingertips to elbow. I have spent many hours in conversation with the Batwa asking them what they would like to be called; their universal response is-call me by my name. They do appreciate that most "mzungus" (white people) are not aware of the tribal group "Batwa," and consequently they are comfortable in general communications to mention them as pygmies. Parenthetically, when we first arrived in Uganda, I asked them if they were proud to be pygmies; universally, they sadly hung their heads. Recently, as they have become educated and acquired houses, land, skills, and self-esteem, they now say to me that they are proud to be pygmies.

As Dr Schneiderman alluded to, the oldest genetic codes are found in the pygmies. If we trace our roots far enough back, we all are related to the forest dwellers of sub-Saharan Africa.

-- Scott Kellerman, MD, MPH&TM Founder Bwindi Community Health Centre, Uganda