Friday, September 28, 2012


"One of the most fascinating stories about the effects of evolution on human relations is the story of Ota Benga, a pygmy who was put on display in a zoo as an example of an evolutionarily inferior race. The incident clearly reveals the racism of evolutionary theory and the extent to which the theory gripped the hearts and minds of scientists." ~Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.(

In 1906 the crowds thronged the monkey house exhibit at the Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Park). Here were man's "evolutionary ancestors" - monkeys, chimpanzees, a gorilla named Dinah, an orangutan named Dohung and an African pygmy tribesman named Ota Benga.
                       Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, posed at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.

Ota Benga was brought from the Belgian Congo in 1904 by noted African explorer Samuel Verner along with other pygmies and displayed in an exhibit in the 1904 St. Louis world's Fair. Ota Benga (or "Bi", which means "friend" in his language) was born in 1881, had a height of 4 ft. 11in. and weighted 103 lbs. Although he was referred to as a boy he had been married twice. His first wife had been captured by a hostile tribe and his second wife died by a snake bite.
  At 21, Ota Benga was brought to the United States by African explorer Samuel Verner. Verner displayed Ota Benga alongside six other male and female pygmies of the Mbuti tribe at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904)

After the St. Louis exhibit, Ota found himself at the Bronx Zoo which at that time was under the direction of Dr. William T. Hornaday, who was considered a bit eccentric. Hornaday believed animals had nearly human thoughts and personalities, and he could read the thoughts of zoo animals. He "apparently saw no difference between a wild beast and the little Black man" and insisted he was only offering an "intriguing exhibit". (Jerry Bergman, Creation Ex Nihilo, Vol 16, No 1 Dec 1993-Feb 1994 p. 49, quoting Carl Sifakis, "Benga, Ota: The Zoo Man", in American Eccentrics, Facts on File, New York, 1984, p. 253)
The exhibit was immensely popular and controversial; the black community was outraged and some churchmen feared that it would convince people of Darwin's theory of evolution. Under threat of legal action, Hornaday had Ota Benga leave his cage and circulate around the zoo in a white suit, but he returned to the monkey house to sleep.
                      A photograph of Ota Benga showing his sharp teeth taken at the 1904 World’s Fair.
"Teeth sharpening is practiced by both men and women in the tribes of the Congolese Pygmies and the Mentawai people of Indonesia. Children from both of these tribes file their teeth as part of their spiritual practices and rites of passage —to prove themselves worthy to the tribe."
In time Ota Benga began to hate being the object of curiosity. "There were 40,000 visitors to the part on Sunday. Nearly every man, woman and child of this crowd made for the monkey house to see the start attraction in the park - the wild man from Africa. They chased him about the grounds add day, howling, jeering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him." (Creation Ex Nihilo, quoting Phillip V. Bradford and Harvey Blume, "Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo", St. Martins, 1992, p. 269, from the "New York Times" Sept. 18, 1906) At one point, he got hold of a knife and flourished it around the park, another time he produced a fracas after being denied a soda from the soda fountain. Finally, after fabricating a small bow and arrows and shooting at obnoxious park visitors he had to leave the park for good.
After his park experience, several institutions tried to help him. He was placed in Virginia Theological Seminary and College but quit school to work in a tobacco factory. According to Hornaday (who probably had evolutionary racist views) "he did not possess the power of learning" (Creation Ex Nihilo, Vol 16, No. 1 Dec. 1993-Feb 1994, pp. 48-50).
Growing homesick, hostile, and despondent Ota Benga borrowed a revolver, and shot himself in the heart, ending his life in 1916.
    Ota Benga (the second man from the left) and other Congolese pygmies are at the exhibition in St. Louis (1904).

The Scandal at the Zoo


                           Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, posed at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. The “exhibit” did not 
                    last as a scandal flared up almost immediately, fueled by the Indignation of black clergymen.
WHEN New Yorkers went to the Bronx Zoo on Saturday, Sept. 8, 1906, they were treated to something novel at the Monkey House.

At first, some people weren’t sure what it was. It — he — seemed much less a monkey than a man, though a very small, dark one with grotesquely pointed teeth. He wore modern clothing but no shoes. He was proficient with bow and arrow, and entertained the crowd by shooting at a target. He displayed skill at weaving with twine, made amusing faces and drank soda.
The new resident of the Monkey House was, indeed, a man, a Congolese pygmy named Ota Benga. The next day, a sign was posted that gave Ota Benga’s height as 4 feet 11 inches, his weight as 103 pounds and his age as 23. The sign concluded, “Exhibited each afternoon during September.”
Visitors to the Monkey House that second day got an even better show. Ota Benga and an orangutan frolicked together, hugging and wrestling and playing tricks on each other. The crowd loved it. To enhance the jungle effect, a parrot was put in the cage and bones had been strewn around it. The crowd laughed as the pygmy sat staring at a pair of canvas shoes he had been given. “Few expressed audible objection to the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions,” The New York Times wrote the next day, “and there could be no doubt that to the majority the joint man-and-monkey exhibition was the most interesting sight in Bronx Park.”
But the Ota Benga “exhibit” did not last. A scandal flared up almost immediately, fueled by the indignation of black clergymen like the Rev. James H. Gordon, superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn. “Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes,” Mr. Gordon said. “We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.”
One hundred years later, the Ota Benga episode remains a perfect illustration of the racism that pervaded New York at the time. Mayor George McClellan, for example, refused to meet with the clergymen or to support their cause. For this he was congratulated by the zoo’s director, William Temple Hornaday, a major figure not only in the zoo’s history but also in the history of American conservation, who wrote to him, “When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage.”

The Bronx Zoo, which opened in 1899, was a young institution during the Ota Benga scandal. Those at the zoo today look back at the episode with a mixture of regret and resignation. “It was a mistake,” said John Calvelli, senior vice president for public affairs of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which owns and runs the zoo. “When you reflect on it, you realize that it was a moment in time. You have to look at the time in which it happened, and you try to understand why this would occur.”
That understanding may deepen with a recent spike in interest in Ota Benga, who died in March 1916 when he shot himself in the heart. His story has inspired writers, artists and musicians, and there is even an effort to exhume his remains from a cemetery in Lynchburg, Va., where he spent the last six years of his life, and return them to Congo.
“This was his wish,” said Dibinga wa Said, a Congolese involved in the exhumation campaign. “He wanted to go home.”
Ota Benga, the Congolese pygmy with his huntin spear once lived at the Museum of Natural History (where he was forced to wear a duck costume!) before being scandalously exhibited for a short time in the Bronx Zoo monkey house in 1906. 

From the Bush to the Bronx
Ota Benga had already lived an eventful life by the time he arrived in the Bronx. According to the 1992 book “Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo,” by Phillips Verner Bradford and Harvey Blume, he was a survivor of a pygmy slaughter carried out by the Force Publique, a vicious armed force in service to Leopold II, the king of Belgium and the ruler of what was then called Congo Free State. Among the dead were Ota Benga’s wife and two children.
The killers sold him into slavery to a tribe called the Baschilele. He was in the slave market when his deliverance appeared one day in the form of Samuel Phillips Verner, 30, an Africa-obsessed explorer, anthropologist and missionary from South Carolina (and a grandfather of Dr. Bradford, the author).
Mr. Verner had been hired to take some pygmies and other Africans back to St. Louis for the extensive “anthropology exhibit” at the 1904 World’s Fair. There, for the edification of American fairgoers, they and representatives of other aboriginal peoples, like Eskimos, American Indians and Filipino tribesmen, would live in replicas of their traditional dwellings and villages.
After examining Ota Benga and being particularly pleased by his teeth, which had been filed to sharp points in the manner common among his people, Mr. Verner bought him from his captors and, along with several other pygmies and a few other Africans, took him to St. Louis. When the fair was over, he took them all back to Africa as promised.
Ota Benga was unable to make a successful transition to his original way of life, and continued to spend a lot of time with Mr. Verner as the anthropologist pursued his interests in Africa, which included the collection of artifacts and animal specimens. Their friendship grew, and Ota Benga asked Mr. Verner to return with him to “the land of the muzungu” — the land of the white man. The blond South Carolinian and the pygmy arrived back in New York in August 1906.
            Bronx Zoo, around the time Ota Benga was displayed to the public

Their first stop, as Dr. Bradford and Mr. Blume recount in their book, was the American Museum of Natural History, whose director, Hermon Bumpus, agreed to store not just Mr. Verner’s cargo of collectibles, including a couple of chimpanzees, but — temporarily, at least — Ota Benga himself. Mr. Verner, who was broke, left for the South to try to raise some money, and the pygmy’s residency in the Museum of Natural History began. He was given a place to sleep and seems to have been free to roam the museum. Mr. Bumpus bought him a white duck suit.
Before long, though, the African became difficult to control. Among other things, he threw a chair at Florence Guggenheim, the philanthropist, and almost hit her in the head. Fed up, Mr. Bumpus suggested that Mr. Verner explore the possibilities at the zoo. Hornaday, the zoo’s director, was receptive, agreeing to lodge not just Mr. Verner’s animals but Ota Benga, too. Toward the end of August, the defining chapter in the pygmy’s strange life had begun.

Degradation and Darwin
                           William T. Hornaday, the zoo director, defended the exhibit.
Ota Benga was free to wander the zoo as he pleased. Sometimes he helped the animal keepers with their jobs. In fact, Hornaday described the African as being “employed” by the zoo, though there is no record he was ever paid. He spent a lot of time at the Monkey House, caring for Mr. Verner’s one surviving chimp and bonding as well with an orangutan named Dohong.
Contrary to common belief, Ota Benga was not simply placed in a cage that second weekend in September and put on display. As Dr. Bradford and Mr. Blume point out, the process was far subtler. Since he was already spending much time inside the Monkey House, where he was free to come and go, it was but a small step to encourage him to hang his hammock in an empty cage and start spending even more time there. It was but another small step to give him his bow and arrows, set up a target and encourage him to start shooting. This was the scene that zoogoers found at the Monkey House on the first day of the Ota Benga “exhibit.”
                                                        Ota Benga in Bronx Zoo

The next day, word was out. The headline in The New York Times read: “Bushman Shares a Cage With Bronx Park Apes.” Thousands went to the zoo that day to see the new attraction, to watch him carry on so amusingly, often arm in arm, with Dohong the orangutan.
But the end came quickly. Confronted with the protests of the Colored Baptist Ministers’ Conference, Mr. Hornaday suspended the exhibit that Monday afternoon.
To the black ministers and their allies, the message of the exhibit was clear: The African was meant to be seen as falling somewhere on the evolutionary scale between the apes with which he was housed and the people in the overwhelmingly white crowds who found him so entertaining.
“The person responsible for this exhibition,” said the Rev. R. S. MacArthur, a white man who was pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, “degrades himself as much as he does the African. Instead of making a beast of this little fellow, we should be putting him in school for the development of such powers as God gave him.”
It was not just racism that offended the clergymen. As Christians, they did not believe in Darwin, and the Ota Benga exhibit, as Mr. Gordon of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum said, “evidently aims to be a demonstration of Darwin’s theory of evolution.”
“The Darwinian theory is absolutely opposed to Christianity, and a public demonstration in its favor should not be permitted,” Mr. Gordon said.
                      (Ota Benga, a Congolese Pygmy who was an unfortunate victim of King Leopold's Genocide of his tribe. He was locked-up in the monkey cage at the Bronx Zoo, NY, USA in the 1906. Slavery in the USA ended in 1865. but this man was enslaved to be a public spectacle for the profit and benefit of the Bronx Zoo. In the land of the free and the home of the brave)

As for the press, The Evening Post reported that Ota Benga, according to the zoo’s animal keepers, “has a great influence with the beasts — even with the larger kind, including the orang-outang with whom he plays as though one of them, rolling around the floor of the cages in wild wrestling matches and chattering to them in his own guttural tongue, which they seem to understand.”
The New York Times wrote in an editorial: “Not feeling particularly vehement excitement ourselves over the exhibition of an African ‘pigmy’ in the Primate House of the Zoological Park, we do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter. Still, the show is not exactly a pleasant one, and we do wonder that the Director did not foresee and avoid the scoldings now aimed in his direction.” The editorial added, 
“As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.”
The New York Globe printed a letter from a reader that said: “I lived in the south several years, and consequently am not overfond of the negro, but believe him human. I think it a shame that the authorities of this great city should allow such a sight as that witnessed at the Bronx Park — a negro boy on exhibition in a monkey cage.”
And The New York Daily Tribune, evincing little interest in facts, wrote of Ota Benga’s past: “His first wife excited the hunger of the rest of the tribe, and one day when Ota returned from hunting he learned that she had passed quietly away just before luncheon and that there was not so much as a sparerib for him.”
Hornaday remained unapologetic, insisting that his only intention was to put on an “ethnological exhibit.” In a letter to the mayor, he defended “my action in placing Dr. Verner’s very interesting little African where the people of New York may see him without annoyance or discomfort to him.” In another letter, he said that he and Madison Grant, the secretary of the New York Zoological Society — who 10 years later would publish the racialist tract “The Passing of the Great Race” — considered it “imperative that the society should not even seem to be dictated to” by the black clergymen.
The public, at any rate, had not yet had its fill of Ota Benga, whose name was now a household one. Though no longer on official display, the African was still living at the zoo and spending time with his primate friends in the Monkey House. On Sunday, Sept. 16, 40,000 people went to the zoo, and everywhere Ota Benga went that day, The Times reported, the crowds pursued him, “howling, jeering and yelling.”
The newspaper reported, “Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him.”
Suicide, and MySpace
Toward the end of September, arrangements were made for Ota Benga to live at the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum. Eventually he was sent to the asylum’s facility in eastern Long Island. Then, in January 1910, Mr. Gordon arranged for the pygmy to move to Lynchburg, where he had already spent a semester at a Baptist seminary.
In Lynchburg, Ota Benga had his teeth capped and became known as Otto Bingo. He spent a lot of time in the woods, hunting with bow and arrow, and gathering plants and herbs. He did odd jobs and worked in a tobacco factory. He became friendly with the poet Anne Spencer, who lived in Lynchburg, and through her met both W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.
No one can be absolutely sure why Ota Benga killed himself that afternoon in March 1916. Dr. Dibinga, the Congolese who wants to return the pygmy’s remains to Congo, agrees with the view expressed in a Lynchburg newspaper report of the time: “For a long time the young negro pined for his African relations, and grew morose when he realized that such a trip was out of the question because of the lack of resources.” Mr. Verner himself wrote that Ota Benga “probably succumbed only after the feeling of utter inassimilability overwhelmed his brave little heart.”
Dr. Bradford, the author, would like to see the zoo erect a statue or some other sort of memorial to Ota Benga, but Mr. Calvelli of the Wildlife Conservation Society says he does not think that is necessary. He argues that the best way for the zoo to remember Ota Benga is for the wildlife society to keep at its efforts to preserve wild places in Congo.
“Congo is a very important area for us, and we’ve been there for many, many years,” he said. “The way we memorialize the Ota Benga experience is by making sure that the place where Ota Benga came from remains a place where his people can continue to live.”
After 100 years, Ota Benga seems to be having the last word. His name has been adopted by the Ota Benga Alliance for Peace, Healing and Dignity in Congo and by a Houston-based collective of African-American artists called Otabenga Jones and Associates. This spring he was the subject of a three-day conference in Lynchburg that included lectures, readings and an ecumenical service. Dr. Dibinga and other participants in that conference are hoping to have an even bigger one next year, with Congolese pygmies in attendance.
A sculpture of Ota Benga, in storage at the American Museum of Natural History.

In 2001, “Ode to Ota Benga,” a “historical lecture with piano improvisations” by the performer and composer Lester Allyson Knibbs, was presented at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. In 2003, the Brooklyn-based alternative band Piñataland recorded the song “Ota Benga’s Name,” drawing many of the lyrics from a poem that appeared in The New York Times on Sept. 19, 1906: “In this land of foremost progress/ In this wisdom’s ripest age/ We have placed him in high honor in a monkey’s cage.”
To make the return of Ota Benga complete, he even has a page at www.myspace .com. The “About Me” section quotes the sign that hung briefly at the Monkey House, including its final phrase, “Exhibited each afternoon during September.”

On Sunday, September 9, 1906, a freshly painted sign greeted visitors to the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoological Gardens:

The African Pygmy, “Ota Benga.”
Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches.
Weight 103 pounds,
Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa,
by Dr. Samuel P. Verner.
Exhibited each afternoon during September.
Inside, in a large open-air cage whose floor had been artfully strewn with bones to suggest its occupant’s supposed savagery, sat a diminutive man in a hammock, wearing a jacket and trousers but no shoes, quietly weaving mats and occasionally getting up to shoot arrows at a bale of hay. Late in the day an orangutan was let into the cage, and man and ape were encouraged to play together, hugging and chasing each another while the mostly white crowd laughed and applauded: ”. . . the pygmy was not much taller than the orangutan,” The New York Times reported, “and one had a good opportunity to study their points of resemblance. Their heads are much alike, and both grin in the same way when pleased.”
It is a tribute to the astonishing resilience of the human spirit that the displaced Pygmy was ever even momentarily pleased, as a fascinating but flawed new book about him makes clear. Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo(St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, $22.95) was written by Harvey Blume and Phillips Verner Bradford, the grandson of Samuel Phillips Verner, the missionary-adventurer who found the little man in the African forest and brought him back to the New World—twice. Read more:

Thursday, September 27, 2012


King Sundiata Keita ( (circa. 1217–c. 1260) also known as  Sunjata Keyita, Mari Djata the first or just Sundiata. Djata means Lion in Mandinka so he is often referred to as the Lion King. He was a weak.
sickly and a crippled boy who rose to greatness. He created the Empire of Mali, which lasted about 300 years.
                   Artistic impression of the "heroic founder" of the Kingdom of Mali,Sundiata (painting is courtesy Miss Fofana:

"By unifying the military force of 12 states, Sundiata becomes an emperor known as the Lion King of Mali, who controls tribes from the Niger River west to the Atlantic Ocean. Walt Disney Studios reprised the story of Sunditata in 1994 as an animated film, The Lion King, with animals substituting for the humans of Mali legend."
Ellen Snodgrass,

Sundiata Keita was born  around 1217 in Niani, Mali close to the boarder of Guinea. The story of his life is mostly known through oral tradition, passed on by generations of Mandinka griots (historical story tellers).  Sundiata Keita spent the largest part of his life building a strong army to overthrow the King of the Ghana Empire, Sumaoro Kante.

His father’s name was Naré Fa Maghann Konaté Keita and was a handsome Mandinka king who one day had a visit from a divine hunter at his court. The hunter predicted that if the king marry an ugly woman who would soon appear at the city gates, she would give birth to a son that would one day become a powerful king. King Naré was already married to Sassouma Bereté and had a son, Dankaran Toumani Keita. But when an ugly hunchbacked woman, also known as the buffalo woman, Sogolon appeared at his court he married her and she soon gave birth to a son, Sundiata Keita, who was crippled and unable to walk throughout his childhood. But King Naré was already married to Sassouma Bereté and had a son, Dankaran Toumani Keita as well as 10 male older children with other women. Soon afterwards, such a woman did 
appear. Her name was Sogolon Koudouma, but she was hunchbacked and so ugly that she was nicknamed “Buffalo Woman.” The king took her to be one of his wives. They had a son. This child would eventually become known as “Sundiata” and he could not talk, crippled (He walked on all fours and was always eating) and unable to walk throughout his childhood.
                   Sundiata, "the lion of Mali" and a great hero in Mali's folklore and oral tradition

Sundiata was a big disappointment to his father. Unable to believe that this backward child could become a great ruler. Despite his disappointment Nare Fa Maghan  made it clear that he wanted the prophecy to be respected, but after his death Sundiatas older brother Dankaran took the throne around 1224.  Legend has it that after Nare Fa Maghan’s death, Sogolon ordered her seven-year-old son to walk. To everyone’s surprise, Sundiata did so, although with great difficulty. He also spoke for the first time, saying, “I will walk now.” One version of this event tells how he used an iron rod to pull himself up. In the process, he bent the rod. This display of strength was impressive but also worrisome.  Dankaran Touman’s mother began to fear that Sundiata might be a threat to her son’s kingship. Sundiata’s mother feared that her son—now viewed as a possible rival to Dankaran Touman—might be in danger. Sundiata was exiled out of the Kingdom together with his mother and two sisters. Their wanderings eventually led them to the city of Mema, where they stayed for three years. Mema’s ruler, Mussa Tunkara, had no children and treated Sundiata like a son. He taught Sundiata the arts of warfare. Sundiata became a mighty warrior, winning battles for Mema. In the meantime, a king named Sumanguru was trying to rebuild the empire of Ghana. He had conquered many kingdoms, including Manding, where Sundiata was born. 

When Sundiata learned of Sumanguru’s conquest, he began raising an army to reclaim his homeland. At the same time the people realized that Dankaran could not protect them against their enemies, the oppressed Mandinka people turned to Sundiata for help. 
                                          Sundiata, Afriky Lolo’s 2010

In 1235, Sundiata and Sumanguru met in battle at Kirina. According to legend, both were sorcerers and had magical powers. Sundiata is said to have terrified Sumanguru’s troops by roaring like a lion. Sumanguru is regarded as one of the true champions of the Traditional African religion and was the inventor of the balafon and the dan (a four-string guitar used by the hunters and griots). His power was strengthened by eight spirits, who appeared above his head. Nevertheless, Sundiata’s magic was stronger. He hit Sumanguru with an arrow that he had specially prepared. The arrow had the desired result of taking away Sumanguru’s power. Although the arrow did not kill him, it caused Sumanguru to flee. 
Sundiata pursued him and his retreating troops. When he reached Sumanguru’s kingdom of Sosso, Sundiata destroyed it by fire.Creating an Empire Following his victory at Kirina, Sundiata created the Empire of Mali. 

He invited twelve kings of lands in the African savannah to the Gbara, or Great Assembly. There he “divided the world” with his allies. He created a constitution and outlined the Empire’s organization. Each king would 
remain ruler of his own lands, but all would be united within the Empire. Sundiata became Mansa, meaning “king of kings” or “emperor.”Sundiata established the Empire’s capital at Niani, a city located on the upper Niger River. He set about improving agriculture. Soldiers cleared land for the planting of cotton, grain, 
and other food crops. Agriculture became productive. Sundiata understood the importance of 
trade. He established Mali’s trading center at Niani. Situated on the upper Niger, it was 
ideally suited for trade. Mali was rich in gold and copper—items that formed the basis of its 
trade. Merchants and traders from as far away as France and England purchased Malian gold.
Sundiata laid the groundwork for a thriving empire. Although he died around 1260, the Empire of Mali lasted for more than 300 years.
                                 Drama on king Sundiata at a theatre
For elaborate read follow this link:

The epic of king Sundiata Keita of Mali was the inspiration for the Disney film the lion king. However the film itself just scratched the surface of the richness in culture, heritage and history of the actual story. see the story below:

Was "The Lion King" story based on the Mali legend of Sundiata?

January 17, 2012

"I expect better from the Daily Planet," says an upset commenter on my review of the stage adaptation of Disney's The Lion King. "The Lion King story was stolen from the Mali people. It's loosely based on its founder Sundiata Keita. This account is a well-known oral tradition. And all these European influences/renditions is nothing but an attempt to capitalize on it without giving the people its proper credit."
As evidence to support this claim, the anonymous commenter cites a 1994 paper presented at an annnual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English. Though the paper describes parallels betweenThe Lion King and the epic of Sundiata—a traditional tale of Mali—the paper presents no evidence that the filmmakers, who have acknowledged debts to Shakespeare'sHamlet and the Biblical tales of Joseph and Moses, were familiar with the story. I responded to the commenter:
"Stories of jealousy and conflict over royal succession are common across a number of cultures, and while I defer to more knowledgeable sources as to whether The Lion King is a fitting tribute to or a reductive distortion of African cultural traditions, I don't see evidence to support your claim that the story was 'stolen from the Mali people.'"
The commenter responded defensively, citing the authority of the paper's academic source—which is irrelevant, since I was never questioning the paper's accuracy. "Maybe they're not using the words stolen," says the commenter, "but the historical story of Sundiata is never given its proper credit."
"Again," I responded, "where is the evidence that the filmmakers knew the story of Sundiata? For them to have stolen the story, they would have to have known it in the first place."
At this point I went off to do my own research on the Internet, and found several blog posts and study guides repeating the claim that "the Disney movie, The Lion King was based in part on the legend of Sundiata." That quote comes from a Kennedy Center study guide, but like the other posts, it cites no evidence to support the claim. I also found several references to the paper cited by the Daily Planet commenter, describing the paper—accurately—as one that notes parallels, not one that provides evidence that the Disney team were familiar with the Mali legend.
It may well be that they were, and that they felt no more need to credit the African legend than they did to credit Shakespeare or the Bible. But now you've piqued my curiousity, Internet, and I'd like to get the story straight. Can anyone cite proof, beyond the circumstantial evidence I've seen thus far, that the makers of The Lion King were familiar with the legend of Sundiata?
                                           King Sundiata
Note: The link to "Title: The True Lion King of Africa: The Epic History of Sundiata, King of Old Mali,' has been removed so please email 
see: Sundiata Keita of Mali, The real lion king
The epic of king Sundiata Keita of Mali was the inspiration for the Disney film the lion king. However the film itself just scratched the surface of the richness in culture, heritage and history of the actual story.
                                           The lion king
‘David Winiewski’s 1992 picture book version of the African epic “Sundiata, Lion king of Mali” and the actual historical account of the 13th century lion king, Sundiata, are both badly served by Disney’s “The lion king”. Disney has been praised for using African animals as story characters; for using the African landscape as a story setting; for using African artwork as design motifs: and for using African- american actors as the voices for the film characters. If the film succeeds in having African culture accepted by people usually resistant to recognizing any other culture but their own, then it deserves to be noted for this small breach in the racial divide. Nevertheless, in the larger sense, the film diminishes the culturally rich heritage of history and story from which it derives. Sundiata was the 12th son of the king of Mali, and he was viewed by the kings “griot” as destined for greatness. He grew to manhood in exile, but he returned to fight the evil forces of his brother and return the kingdom to it’s rightful sovereignty. The film converts the real heroes private pain and struggle against truly wrenching physical and political disabilities into a screen situation of sentimental, tearjerker shallowness. An interdisciplinary approach would allow English and social studies teachers to present the epic from a historical and literary perspective.’ (Paterno 1994)
This story belongs to be amongst epics such as Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia, ancient Greek the Iliad, Aeneid of Italy and the wonderful story of Beowulf from Anglo-Saxon literature.
This is a story of a True king who founded the west African kingdom of Mali an empire whose marvels left a bright heritage of culture, riches enlightenment and ancient wisdom. In fact one of the pearls of this empire Timbuktu, many times over ignited the imagination of western explorers and ironically this same splendor prompted European exploration of the west coast of Africa.
The most notable things from this empire Sundiata, Mansa MusaTimbuktu, Gold, Islam, Ancient manuscripts, International trade and Commerce.
references :

                            King Sundiata                                                                                                                  

Further Reading

An exciting and colorful full-length account of Sundiata's life in English is D. T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (1965). Otherwise, there is almost no literature dealing mainly with Sundiata. Several general works that touch on him and his times are A. Adu Boahen, Topics in West African History (1966), and Basil Davidson, A History of West Africa to the Nineteenth Century (rev. ed. 1967; 1965 edition entitled The Growth of African Civilisation). 
                              Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali [Paperback] D.T. Niane

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The very existence of the Hadza people of East Africa the last true hunter-gatherer foragers in Africa is an astonishing phenomenon at best. And even more so in a world where relentless ‘progress’ and limited resources have extinguished so many traditional cultural practices. Yet this small community of some 300 indigenous inhabitants found along most of the perimeter of Lake Eyasi in the Great Rift Valley in present-day Tanzania, where we as a species evolved, has managed to sustain a way of life that has prevailed for thousands of years. Living lightly on the land, consuming only what they need, the Hadza have suffered neither the agony of deprivation nor the bitter conflicts caused by surplus."

The Hadzabe are the last functioning hunter-gatherers in Africa. There are only just under 1000 Hadzabe left. Most of them live around Lake Eyasi, much as their ancestors have for thousands or even tens of thousands of years. Scientist have agreed that an ancient homo sapien may have evolved from these people (watch this video;!)
The Hadzabe are not closely related to any other people. Recent research has shown that their DNA is the most divergent from any other humans in the world, suggesting that they were the first, or at least among the first, surviving peoples to have split off the human family tree. Based on DNA analysis, in 2003 Alec Knight and Joanna Mountain of Stanford University suggested that the three primary genetic divisions of humanity are the Hadzabe, the Juǀʼhoansi (a tribe living in Botswana) and relatives, and everyone else.

                                 Hadza men at archery practice. Image courtesy of

The Hadzabe are moving around in small groups consisting of around 30 persons, which are 3-4 families. Like many predominantly hunter-gatherer societies, they are predominantly monogamous, though there is no social enforcement of monogamy. The division of labour between men and women is rather apparent: While men specialize in procuring meat, honey, and baobab fruit, women specialize in tubers, berries, and greens. However, women will also occasionally gather a small animal or egg, or gather honey, just as men will occasionally bring a tuber or some berries back to camp.
                                 Hadzabe men making arrows

The Hadzabe groups typically stay at one place for around 2 weeks before moving to other areas. During the dry season they build very simple temporary shelters from branches and leaves, during the rainy seasons they still stay in caves.

Small groups of 2-4 men usually go hunting with bow and arrow in the very early morning hours around dawn. Although hunting is illegal in the National Parks, the Tanzanian authorities recognize that the Hadzabe are a special case and do not enforce the regulations with them, just as the Hadzabe are the only people in Tanzania not taxed locally or by the national government.

                             Hadzabes, the Africa`s remaining Archers

The Hadzabe get their arrowheads from members of the Tatoga tribe that are sharing ground with them. Whereas the Tatoga have learned how to recycle soft metals by smelting them and casting arrowheads, knifes and other metal tools, concerning their tool-making skills, the Hadzabe still live in the Stone Age. On their arrowheads, the Hadzabe use poison that they extract from the branches of the shrub Adenium coetaneum.

It is impressive to follow the Hadzabe bushmen on their hunt with bow and arrow. On bare feet, several Hadzabe men run through the savanna at impressive speeds, focussing the prey at large distance, taking into consideration the direction of the wind to approach the prey from various sides and then, without any further communication shooting their arrows at the animal while still running. Their archery skills are truely impressive just as their skills to predict animal behaviour, both of which are abilities that fathers teach their sons from early childhood.
    A Hadza hunter in Tanzania. The skills need to kill animals for food have now been dated back to two million years ago. Photograph: Nigel Pavitt/Corbis .Humans hunted for meat 2 million years ago
Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 1.6 million years earlier than previously thought

While the arrow with the herbal poison can instantly kill small animals such as birds or a dick-dicks, the poison's effect will take longer with large animals such as kudus. As a consequence, the large animal which has been hit by a poisoned arrow can still run away several kilometers and it's then up to the Hadzabe to read the animal's tracks on the ground to find it once it's going down. The Hadzabe also use dogs to assist with hunting, however this is a custom only recently adopted from other local tribes.
                             Hadzabes returning from hunt with their dogs

When they successully hunt a larger animal, they usually butcher it right on the spot. They also start a fire using their traditional drill firemaking technique to grill and eat the inner organs which are considered the best parts of the animal. The other parts of the animals are then carried to the camp.

"Ninety-five percent of the tribes diet comes from what they gather or kill. With bows and poisoned arrows, the men hunt a variety of animals: lion, zebra, wildebeest, baboon and birds, everything but elephants, due to their size. Arrowheads are fashioned from nails they trade with the honey they collect and poisoned with the boiled sap of the desert rose. Boys as young as 8 hone their skills by killing monkeys.
Women raise the children and are the gatherers, collecting fruits, berries and nuts and digging up a variety of tuber plants, mostly the Ekwa, which is found on flat ground and rocky hillsides. Wild tubers are rich in energy and nutrients and may have higher levels of carbohydrates and protein than domestic tubers such as cassava and sweet potato."

Women forage in larger parties, and usually bring home berries, baobab fruit, and tubers, depending on availability. Men and women also forage co-operatively for honey and fruit, and at least one adult male will usually accompany a group of foraging women. Women's foraging technology includes the digging stick, large fabric or skin pouch for carrying items, knife, shoes, other clothing, and various small items held in a pouch around the neck. Men carry axes, bows, poisoned and non-poisoned arrows, knives, small honey pots, fire drills, shoes and apparel, and various small items.

During the wet season, the diet is composed mostly of honey, some fruit, tubers, and occasional meat. The contribution of meat to the diet increases in the dry season, when game become concentrated around sources of water.

These Paleo diet hunter-gatherers also have a way of trading. The Hadza gather honey from wild bees and trade it for items they are unable to make themselves, like metal objects and fabric or clothes.
Perhaps the most fascinating enterprise is honey collection. For the Hadza, honey is the gold of life. Pursuing it is much more predictable than hunting and it is valued even more than meat and fat in their dietary preferences, the Hadza say. They harvest the honey from wild bees of seven different species. Honey is most prized but the larvae, pupae and pollen are also important to them.
Collecting the honey demonstrates ingenuity, sensitivity to nature and skill. The Hadza locate the honey with the guidance of the honeyguide bird, who helps find new hives or those whose location has not been passed on by the gatherers through the generations. The Hadza use smoke to pacify the bees, who often build their colonies in tall trees. This is a perfect symbiotic relationship: the honeyguide leads human beings to the honey and in turn benefits from the spoils of wax and larvae left behind."

                                       Hadzabe honey hunter

The Hadzabe speak their own language which seems unrelated to any other languages spoken by African tribes. It is a click language. Their life is full of mysteries and tales which are presented in a comprehensive way on

                             Hadzabe`s habitat

Excerpted from “Hadzabe: By the Light of a Million Fires” by Daudi Peterson, Richard
Baalow and Jon Cox
                                  A member of the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, a young boy practices his archery skills

We are Hadzabe, we are Tanzanians. Our people number
about 1000 and we live in the Lake Eyasi Valley and
surrounding hills. In our oral history we have always lived
here. We have no record of living somewhere else. Our
language is not related to any of the different languages of
our neighbors who have moved into this area more recently.
This is OUR story as told to us by our fathers and to them by
their fathers by the light of a million fires. Watching the
sparks fly into the African night, we listen mesmerized and
watch as the elders enact our history–the history of
humanity–before our very eyes. They hold our wisdom and their stories–our stories–
become alive, attaching themselves to our minds so that they will never be forgotten.
                      Hadzabe tribe`s boy 

And, when the time comes, we will pass them on to our own children as the sparks of
another fire pierce the night. These stories are an essential part of our early schooling
but when dawn breaks, it brings new lessons and the learning process continues as we
tag along behind our parents while they hunt and forage.
We are hunter-gatherers. We live off the land and have done
so successfully for thousands of years even though our
homeland in the Lake Eyasi region is harsh and dry. Our
neighboring tribes, dependent on water greedy crops such as
maize, and on large herds of cattle and goats, often face
recurring famine. Sever droughts force them to turn to the
government for help and famine relief. We, on the other hand,
have no record of severe famine since we rely on many
different plants and animals, all of which are adapted to this
particular environment.

                         Hadzabe man having a quiet time after hunting

Unlike many African tribes where the women are
subordinate to the men, our women stand proud beside
us, certain in the knowledge that their gathering of food
alone could sustain us. We the Hadzabe love meat, fat
and honey above all else, but these are only supplements
to our predominately plant-based diet.
Our God, Haine, along with Ishoko the Sun and Seeta the
Moon, have provided well for us. Every day we set out
with the sun to eat from nature’s table. The men sharpen
their arrows, tighten their bowstrings and focus their eyes. Thanks to the skills passed on to us by our fathers, we can hunt successfully enough to thrive one day to the next. Sometimes the honeyguide, an insistent little bird, will distract us with its rattling call and the promise of sweet honey melting in our mouths. Who are
we to deny it! We follow it through the bush as it hops from tree to tree leading us
towards a beehive.

The women too sharpen their digging sticks and grab their bags at daybreak. They are
sure to come back with enough tubers and fruits to feed us all. No matter the time of the
year, nor the fickleness of the weather, there is always some bush bearing fruit or some
tuber brimming with moisture lurking just beneath the ground, waiting to be harvested.
When the abundant fruits from the baobab trees ripen, they provide enough
nourishment to keep us all healthy for months to come.
Before the sun reaches its summit, almost everyone will be
back at camp with full stomachs and there will be no need
to go out again until the sun is low in the sky. For the men,
the hottest hours of the day are spent making bows and
arrows, or resting, smoking our stone pipes and telling
stories. Some days the men brew poison from the sap of
the desert rose or grind the other poison we use, to smear
on their arrows, replacing those lost during the morning hunt.
                                Ethnic Baby Sling Hunter-Gather Wa-Hadzabe Tribe Tanzania

The women tend to the children, make beaded
jewelry, and pound the pulp of the baobab fruits into flour
for porridge, while others rest and chatter incessantly in our ancient click language.
If a man has not returned by noon, there is no cause for worry but instead reason for
hope. It could be that he has been led far away by a honeyguide or even better, he
might be following the spoor of a big animal hit by his poisoned arrow. If the latter is
true, there will be enough meat to feast on until our stomachs distend and the last bit of
fat and sinew is picked off the bones. Even the bones will be cracked open for the
delicious marrow within. Nothing will be wasted and even the hyenas will skulk away,
tail between their legs, to whoop their disappointment to the stars.
Because we know for certainty that each day will provide us with food, we don’t need to
store food for tomorrow and we share whatever we have today with everyone. But to
ensure that we have enough for tomorrow, we live a nomadic life that allows the land to
recover in our wake. When we return, we find the land
healthy and plentiful once again.

                 a mother and her daughter cutting freshly prepared monkey

By using no snares or traps and hunting only with our self-made bows and arrows, we have no lasting impact on the wildlife populations. We don’t cut trees to build houses or enclosures for domestic animals and crop storage. Likethe rest of the world we depend on trees but we do not destroy them. We drink directly from springs and return for more when we are thirsty. Digging out the springs for crops and livestock lowers the water table, making it impossible for the wild animals to drink. If the wild animals find no water, they will be forced to move on and where would that leave us? Our houses are only temporary shelters built out of dry grass thrown over a frame of intertwined branches, like a bird nest upside down. They melt back into the ground as soon as we move on and we build new ones when we return.

We live in harmony with our environment because we live and depend directly on the
land. We look after it and it looks after us. We have lived in the Eyasi region for
thousands of years and have left no mark upon the land. This, ironically, seems to be
the cause of our present plight. Other tribes, passing through this area must have
thought it uninhabited and so settled here. We didn’t have a problem with that initially
since our land was plentiful and could sustain us all. But we soon realized the harm
caused to the environment by farming, by cutting trees for cattle enclosures and
houses, by making charcoal fuel out of trees, by huge herds of cattle overgrazing the
land, and by digging waterholes until the water sources retreat deep into the ground.
Finally when we decided to complain and make a stand for our land, our pleas went

We are discriminated against because we are hunter-gatherers. People who don’t
understand our economy and culture treat us as if we are backward or primitive.
Because we have maintained our environment in its natural state, they consider our
land empty and unused and our basic rights as Tanzanians are denied.
Over the last few decades we have lost more than three quarters of our land to
practices that continue to destroy it. Contrary to popular opinion, we Hadzabe are not
opposed to development. We are, however, opposed to the unsustainable use of the
land. We believe it is possible to develop while keeping our cultural heritage and putting
our profound knowledge of the environment to good and sustainable use. Our first
priority, therefore, is to obtain our rights over the land that has supported us for
thousands of years and which we have preserved intact for the generations to come.As we lose our land and the plants and animals we depend on, we lose the only
foundation that will enable us to develop alongside our fellow Tanzanians. The
continued loss of our natural environment will leave us homeless and its destruction will
not benefit our neighbors or our nation of Tanzania, now or into the future. Our fellow
citizens will lose a culture rich in knowledge accumulated over millennia–knowledge that
complements the lives of both our children and theirs.

As Hadzabe we wish to promote the understanding of our culture and economy–an
understanding that will lead to greater respect for our land and our basic human rights.
Only a better understanding and respect for who we are will allow us to join the future
with dignity as Tanzanians.
“We are Tanzanians, we are Hadzabe.” (

                                                   Hadzabe man on his way to hunting

          Hadza men sit around a fire before going hunting.The Hadza are the last hunter-gatherers in Africa.

                                                   wooden cigar

                                      Hadzabe boy smoking his wooden cigar

hadza arrows are of three types: wooden for hunting birds and rodents, metal for medium sized animals and with poisoned metal arrowheads for hunting big animals

hadzabe boys learn to hunt at the age of eight. at the age of ten their only food is the one they hunt themselves

                                                                           Hadzabe kids


                         Hadzabes going for hunting

                                      Preparing for the hunting

                               Hadzabe Archer with a his hunting prize bird. Birds are the easiest prey for the hadzabe people. and in some times the only food that they recieve during the day apart from berrie.