Tag Archives: Africa

Why shrews are interesting

It has been said that our most distant primate ancestors, the mammal that gave rise to early primates but itself wasn’t quite a primate, was most like the Asian tree shrew, which is neither a shrew nor does it live in trees. This is, of course, untrue. When the average American sees a shrew native to the new world scurrying past, he or she usually thinks of it as a form of mouse. Which it isn’t. (In fact, there are no “mice” native to the new world, but even if we give our hypothetical observer the concept of “rodent” as in “eeek, a rodent” the shrew is not that either.) If you spend any time hanging out with the Efe Pygmies of the Ituri Forest, eventually there will be a sudden movement on the forest floor, a quick snap of a machete or other similar implement, and … elephant shrew will be on the menu. And, most interesting, all three of the aforementioned shrews do not belong comfortably together in a single taxonomic group. The closest non-shrew relative to the most common North American shrew are moles, the closest non-shrew relative to the Asian tree shrew are flying lemurs, bunnies, primates, and rodents; and the closest non-shrew relative to the African elephant shrew could be, astonishingly, an actual elephant! (Or hyraxes, goldem moles, sea cows or the Aardvark.)
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Ethnographic Notes: Efe Forest Camps

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An Efe forest camp is usually dark and depending on the time of day, dripping from current or recent rain. The Efe live in dome shaped huts which may be more or less complete. A half dome might be a hut that was built quickly, or it might be a hut that was built more openly because it has been hot or it might be only a half dome to allow easier access in and out of the hut by children or individuals with injury or infirmity. A fully domed hut, with a small opening, keeps in more smoke (a fire is often kept in the hut) but it also keeps in the heat and keeps out the rain. So a rainy season hut may be a full-on dome with a small entrance way. Or, this kind of hut can be made when it has been cold, or when more privacy is needed, or, simply, when more time has been invested in making the hut.
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Kobou

When I first arrived in the Ituri Forest I was shown a camp a group of Efe Pygmies all typically lived in, and told “everyone lives here but the old man and his wife … he’s a bit contentious and there was an argument.” Having read all the literature written in English about Pygmies, I was aware of the fact that these foraging people, who moved frequently — perhaps ten times a year or more — would often change the composition of their residence groups to reflect forming and breaking alliances among people who often, but not always, lived together. After hanging out in the camp, which was empty, long enough for the ethnoarchaeologist I had come to Zaire to “replace,” we went back to the road via a different path and passed Kobou and his wife (pronounced “Ko-bo-oo”) in a small clearing in a freshly cut garden. “Strange,” I thought, “They live in a square hut. Everyone else lives in a dome-shaped hut. I guess some Efe live in square huts.”

But no. Kobou is the only Efe we know of to always build square huts. Maybe somewhere else in the Central African Rain Forest, but not around these parts.
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HIV, AIDS, MMR, NPR and WTF?

Thirty years ago yesterday, “the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMR) published a report of five young men with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia who were treated at three different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.” (see This Blog Post for details). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly is a really fun journal to read. It contains the latest reports of, well, death and serious illness as a means of disseminating information in a way that will allow quick response. So, if there are suddenly a bunch of cases of some disease scattered across the country, this kind of reporting may allow the connection to be made to an event … quite literally, like the Superbowl or a Marching Band Competition or whatever … at which the disease spread, or perhaps a region of the country where vaccinations are being skipped, or where swine-based flu has jumped the fence into a human population, etc.

In the case of this report, the disease being reported was to eventually be named AIDS and the infection that caused it HIV.

So, happy anniversary AIDS epidemic!

I just have two comments on this: First, how I found out about a certain aspect of HIV infection (which turned out to be unimportant) and second, how everybody else found out about AIDS
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A Bend in the River: Get Bent

On of my favorite books is A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul. It is a story set in at the junction of a native and expat community in an African rain forest country with a not very despotic leader (the “Big Man”) at a time when a civil war was about to arrive on the scene. I like the book because of the writing, because of the story, because one of the character is supposedly based on someone I vaguely know (that’s always fun) and because I was there …. living at the juncture of an expat and native community in a rain forested African country with a not-to-despotic leader named Mobutu Sese Seku. And I read a few of Naipaul’s other books and liked them to.

The, I go and find out he’s a dick.

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Wild angry baboons on the high cliff

We three had somehow wound our way down into the canyon without experiencing any really steep slopes, but having walked for several miles in the sandy dry riverbed, Trusted Companion, Young One, and I were now looking rather hopelessly at unsafe-to-climb cliffs on both sides, covered with imposing vegetation of the kind that sports a thorn every few inches. The sun was low enough that the canyon floor was in a dark shadow, and the air was beginning to chill down. We were far enough from the vehicle, lost enough, and sufficiently plan-free that it would be perfectly reasonable to worry that we might not make it across the remote African Savanna before the leopards and hyenas came out to hunt. It was even possible that we’d have to spend the night huddled in some spot we could convince ourselves was protected from the elements and the wild animals. All this dark and scary truth had dawned on me over the last hour as we continued heading up a seemingly endless side canyon in search of a place to climb out of this river valley known among international extreme outdoors people as one of the most treacherous in the world, and known among the more traditional local folk for its dragon-like 50-meter long human-eating snake that was supposedly mythical.
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No Way Home

When wildebeest, such as those famous for crossing the Mara River in Tanzania during their annual migration, run into a crocodile or some other danger it is often the first time they’ve seen that particular thing. This is because most wildebeest don’t live very long so many are on their very first migration. One wonders what would happen if you killed all of the wildebeest migrating in a particular year and set new ones out on the landscape to take their place. Would the migration continue?
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Africa. Some time in the early 1990s.

… Continued …

I started out walking a good six feet behind her, to avoid the sand she was kicking up and the occasional thorn-lined branch that might swing back in the wake of anyone walking through the African Bush. We were traversing open country in the Kalahari, in an area sealed off from people owing to the presence of unfriendly lions and other dangers. We were doing this in part because we both felt like we had been locked up for days and needed some freedom; We needed freedom from confinement, freedom from the people we were with, freedom from patronizing park employees, freedom of movement, freedom from the sound and smell of a diesel engine in a “safari vehicle,” and a taste of the freedom, which I can’t describe, you get when you walk through the wild bush in Africa knowing that you are being slightly annoying to the unfriendly lions and have the chance of almost anything happening and no way to stop it. Over every dune was a question, in every cluster of brush and camel-thorn tree was a mystery, in every patch of long grass a cobra or a rodent or a game bird or, at least, some kind of interesting spider or something.
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Things are not going well in Libya (and: Where is Libya?)

The son of Libyan leader Gadhafi/kadafi claims that the “government” (which is not really true but its complicated) will fight to the last bullet against people engaged there in an uprising.

Even as Seif al-Islam Gadhafi spoke Sunday night, clashes were raging in and around Tripoli’s central Green Square, lasting until dawn Monday, witnesses said. They reported snipers opening fire on crowds trying to seize the square, and Gadhafi supporters speeding through in vehicles, shooting and running over protesters. Early Monday, protesters took over the office of two of the multiple state-run satellite news channels, witnesses said.

The protests and violence were the heaviest yet in the capital, a sign of the spread of unrest after six days of demonstrations in eastern cities demanding the end of the elder Gadhafi’s rule.

Details
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