Pygmies - Short People of the Tropical Rainforest


Pygmies are tribes of people who only grow to a height of under 150 cm.  Most of them live in tropical Africa, around and south of the equator. Historians think that pygmies are the original inhabitants of central and southern Africa. They probably lived there long before other tribes came from the north.

Similar people live in Asia and Australia. Although the total number of pygmies worldwide is not known there are about 200 000 to 600 000 pygmies living in Africa alone.


Most pygmies are hunters and gatherers. They live in remote places and are connected closely with nature. They believe that the forests are there to protect them and provide them with the basic things in life. Some of the tribes make handicrafts which they sell to tourists. They also trade with their neighbours in order to get the food that they need to survive.

Pygmies have started to leave their homes in the tropical rainforest and move to populated places where they can find work on farms or in mines. An increasing number of pygmies marry Bantus. They become more modern and lose their customs and traditions.

Pygmy tribes have often been persecuted in the past. During the civil war in Rwanda in 1994 thousands of them were raped and killed. In the Republic of Congo many still live as slaves of their Bantu masters.

Today pygmies are threatened by number of problems, including environmental issues. As more and more rainforest is being cleared they are in danger of losing a large part of their land. Where they live in society, they get low paid jobs and are refused basic rights other citizens have. Governments in central Africa want to get pygmies out of their natural habitat in order to sell wood from the rainforest .In some areas pygmies have to make way for the construction of new national parks. There are even reports of pygmy children who are sold to western zoos, where they pose as attractions for tourists.


There are many theories as to why pygmies are such short people. One of them claims that there is not enough sunlight in the tropical rainforest so that people do not get the calcium and vitamin D that they need to grow.

According to other experts the small size of pygmies may have helped them survive in the rainforest. Smaller people are able to move more quickly through the lush vegetation of the forests.


Pygmy family in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Pygmy family in the DR Congo



Related Topics



  • according to = as said by …
  • although = while
  • attraction = something interesting to see
  • basic = most important
  • calcium = silver white metal that helps form teeth and bones
  • citizen = person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • civil war= conflict between groups of people who belong to the same country
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • clear= cut down
  • custom = tradition
  • environment = the world around us
  • equator = line around the middle of the earth
  • gatherer = person who looks for plants and berries that they can eat
  • handicraft = something that someone has made in a skilful way, usually with their hands
  • height = how tall someone is
  • historian = someone who studies events of the past
  • including = also
  • increasing = more and more
  • inhabitants = people who live in a place
  • issue = topic
  • lush = here: very many plants and trees
  • mine = deep hole in the ground where people get coal and other minerals or metals
  • natural habitat = place where they have always lived
  • persecute = to treat someone in  a bad or unfair way
  • populated = where there are many people
  • protect = defend, guard
  • provide = give, offer
  • rape = force someone to have sex with them
  • refuse = here: do not get
  • remote = faraway
  • rights = things that you are allowed to do by law
  • similar = related, alike
  • slave = someone who is owned by another person and works for them for little or no money at all
  • society = people in general
  • survive = live on in a dangerous world
  • threaten = to be in danger
  • trade = buy and sell things
  • tribe = group of people of the same race ; they have the same customs, language and religion; in many cases they are ruled by their leader
  • worldwide = around the world