May 31, 2005

Bones of Contention

TIME Asia has a wonderful story on the modern-day pygmies of Rampasasa:
"In those days we ate our meat raw, like animals." The speaker is Viktor Jurubu, an Indonesian farmer in his 60s, who, in his T shirt and sarong, looks little like the cavemen he's describing. Except for his height, which is about 140 cm. In the world of anthropology, Jurubu's small size is big news because he and his 246 fellow villagers of Rampasasa on the remote island of Flores say they are descended from a tribe of tiny, hairy folk whom they call "the short people." "We didn't have knives but used rocks," he explains. "We didn't even know how to make fire." Jurubu, a soft-spoken man with close-cropped gray hair, high cheekbones and deeply inset eyes, looks to the 30 or so villagers sitting in a circle around him for confirmation. They nod and grunt assent, and he proceeds to talk about the time their shy ancestors hid themselves from the outside world in Liang Bua, a high-ceilinged cavern scooped out of a limestone hill about a kilometer away. Again a chorus of agreement. "Tell how Paju left the cave and married one of the normal humans," calls out a voice from the crowd, "[and] how we came to live here in Rampasasa." Jurubu hesitates. After a pause, he opens his mouth to speak, but his words are drowned out by an impatient babble of voices competing to tell the story.

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