world map

Central African Rep.

Travelling on muddy roads into the depths of the forest to meet the pygmies

date of entry 04/03/1991
mileage 71,652

capital Bangui

area 622.984 km²

population 4,95 M.

GDP 2,018 Bill. US-Dollar

official language Sango/French

When Gunther and Christine Holtorf travelled to the heart of Africa in the early 1990s, the Central African Republic was a popular destination for individual travellers. It was still possible to meet tribes of pygmies leading a traditional way of life in the depths of the primeval forest. Even then, however, their habitat was endangered by logging. Now, many of them have probably settled in one place.
  • The body of the child on the left has been covered with chalk. Nature worship and belief in witchcraft are widespread among the forest-dwellers. They usually seek to invoke the spirit of the forest.
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  • Pygmies are among the oldest peoples in the world. However, the word "pygmy" is a collective term: it describes various ethnic groups of jungle peoples, as they are known, in the Central African Republic and its neighbours.
    1  of  20
  • At that time, the rivers were major transport arteries. People travelled by traditional logboats.
    2  of  20
  • The only route to the pygmy settlements on the Sangha River led the Holtorfs deep into the jungle. Once they had left the conventional roads, they were dependent on the help of local people in getting around.
    3  of  20
  • They used paths carved out by French forestry workers. As they advanced deeper into the primeval forest, they encountered fewer and fewer people. The jungle in the southwest of the country is sparsely populated.
    4  of  20
  • Local women with their children stare curiously at the European visitors’ camera. They live in traditional huts, with roofs covered by reeds.
    5  of  20
  • Women often have to carry heavy loads. Despite this, they are full of curiosity as they surround the two travellers from a strange land.
    6  of  20
  • The girls often wore their hair in elaborate braids.
    7  of  20
  • The deeper they penetrated into the forest, the smaller the huts in the villages became.
    8  of  20
  • The children faced an uncertain future. The country has an inadequate school system: more than half the population of the Central African Republic can neither read nor write.
    9  of  20
  • The forestry workers’ paths embed themselves like red scars on the jungle floor. Clearance of the primeval forest is the greatest threat to the pygmies. Destruction of their habitat forces them to settle in one place and give up their way of life.
    10  of  20
  • Kilometre by kilometre, Otto carried the Holtorfs deeper into the almost impenetrable-seeming green of the Central African jungle.
    11  of  20
  • Christine Holtorf tried to enter into conversation with pygmies at the roadside, despite the difference in height. Their everyday life is centred on small camps that they use for short periods at a time. They stay there until their traditional way of life as hunters and gatherers requires them to move on.
    12  of  20
  • The children were especially fascinated by the Germans’ vehicle.
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  • Wherever Otto appeared, large groups quickly formed.
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  • The whole village has turned out: pygmy women crowd around the much taller Christine Holtorf.
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  • Christine Holtorf talked to the villagers, but the children were interested only in the camera.
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  • The women gather baskets full of leaves, which they carry with a strap tied around their heads. The men go out hunting.
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  • Even the pygmies’ tools are much smaller than the Holtorfs’.
    18  of  20
  • The tracks often cut deep into the soft earth and can turn into veritable mud trenches when it rains.
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  • Video: Central African Republic – unusual traffic controls in Bangui

Otto was here before ...

Congo Dem.Rep.

date of entry 09 March 1991
mileage 72,893

Uganda

date of entry 24 March 1991
mileage 74,963

Kenya

date of entry 27 March 1991
mileage 75,585

Uganda

date of entry 17 March 1992
mileage 80,895

Tanzania

date of entry 27 March 1992
mileage 82,400

Malawi

date of entry 02 April 1992
mileage 84,427

Zambia

date of entry 10 April 1992
mileage 85,481

Zimbabwe

date of entry 11 April 1992
mileage 86,004

South Africa

date of entry 14 April 1992
mileage 87,014

Zimbabwe

date of entry 17 April 1992
mileage 87,875

Zambia

date of entry 25 April 1992
mileage 90,531

Tanzania

date of entry 26 April 1992
mileage 91,119

Kenya

date of entry 29 April 1992
mileage 92,740

Tanzania

date of entry 13 December 1992
mileage 95,001

Kenya

date of entry 14 December 1992
mileage 95,080

Tanzania

date of entry 16 December 1992
mileage 95,420

Kenya

date of entry 17 December 1992
mileage 95,711

Tanzania

date of entry 23 December 1992
mileage 97,169

Zambia

date of entry 28 December 1992
mileage 98,720

Malawi

date of entry 28 December 1992
mileage 98,918

Mozambique

date of entry 04 January 1993
mileage 99,985

Zimbabwe

date of entry 06 January 1993
mileage 100,275

Zambia

date of entry 09 January 1993
mileage 101,094

Namibia

date of entry 09 January 1993
mileage 101,165

Botswana

date of entry 04 February 1993
mileage 109,015

Zimbabwe

date of entry 06 February 1993
mileage 109,812

Zambia

date of entry 08 February 1993
mileage 110,246

Tanzania

date of entry 10 February 1993
mileage 111,132

Kenya

date of entry 12 February 1993
mileage 112,022

Uganda

date of entry 23 November 1993
mileage 114,042

Congo Dem.Rep.

date of entry 25 November 1993
mileage 114,583

Uganda

date of entry 29 November 1993
mileage 115,102

Congo Dem.Rep.

date of entry 30 November 1993
mileage 115,305

Uganda

date of entry 08 December 1993
mileage 115,923

Congo Dem.Rep.

date of entry 12 December 1993
mileage 116,210

Rwanda / Burundi

date of entry 14 December 1993
mileage 116,556

Tanzania

date of entry 16 December 1993
mileage 117,271

Kenya

date of entry 18 December 1993
mileage 117,897

Tanzania

date of entry 10 January 1994
mileage 119,601

Kenya

date of entry 10 January 1994
mileage 119,645