Part of our History: The story of a friendship with the Bagyeli in the Cameroons

Little sister Magdeleine's intuitions

Bipindi foundation time!Bipindi foundation time!

The Pygmies were the first inhabitants of the tropical forest. They have been there for thousands of years, living in the great forest which lies on either side of the equator and crosses all of Africa, from Cameroon and Gabon right up to Rwanda including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo Brazzaville. In the Cameroon there are 40,000 Pygmies: the Baka to the East, the Bagyeli and Bakola in the South, the Medzan in the centre.

Little sister Madeleine wrote in the 'Green Booklet' to the first little sisters:

‘Look on the map of the world and see if there is not some small out of the way place where a handful of human being live, who are not of interest to anybody simply because they are only a handful, perhaps scattered over a large area, inaccessible to other forms of apostolate.’

During her world trip in 1952-53 Little sister Magdeleine made these words a reality. She established communities among marginalized people of every continent, in deserts, steppes and forests. It was at this time that she went to meet the Pygmies of the forest in Southern Cameroon and in Kivu in the Congo.

She put out an appeal to all the little sisters, writing this in her letter of 13 February 1951:

'I will only be at peace when I have found on the world’s surface that tribe which is the most misunderstood and despised and the person who is the poorest so that I can tell them: the Lord Jesus is your brother and has raised you up to himself and I’ve come to you to ask if you will be my brother or sister and my friend. One day we learned that in the forest there were Pygmies who other tribes treated as slaves and despised as having no soul. We wanted to meet them so as to love them and confide them to the little sisters.’

She writes about her encounter with them in March 1951:

‘When I meet them for the first time I am very moved.  The forest is more and more beautiful. One feels so very small, lost in its immensity.  The forest is at the same time so silent and so full of life and you learn to recognize the song of birds and animal cries. There are at least four rivers to cross on tree-trunks.  Finally we reach the Pygmy camp.  They have a very fearful attitude.  They rely on the richest people in the village, almost as if they were their slaves, hunting for them and cultivating their ground.’

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Then she asked the Little sisters:

‘Who would like to go and live our life of friendship among them?’

So the next day we started out with Little sister Magdeleine, Little sister Jeanne and Bishop Bonneau to get to know our new acquaintances.  Father Voillaume was with us as well and he wrote:

'We got there at about midday to the hill where about a dozen families live.  This is a permanent camp which they return to after a hunting expedition.  They show how happy they are by organizing a spontaneous dance accompanied by drums.’

The leader of the camp, Pam, asked us:

‘How did you get to hear about us to come so far to meet us?’
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That is how our friendship with Pam and his family began.