Fight for the Forgotten (Congo)

book cover

Advanced Reader Copy Courtesy of Auntie’s Bookstore

I started chapter one of this book and within minutes I was in tears. I just spent 9 months getting to know Indian Country in the U.S.: their heartbreaking historical trauma and ongoing suffering today. In this book, I learned that one indigenous group, the oldest people on the planet, have it even worse.

They are the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest in the Congo: Enslaved by other tribes, starved, refused treatment at hospitals, dying of preventable disease due to drinking filthy water, hunted down and cannibalized in the belief that “eating a Pygmy will make a soldier invincible.” Legal slavery, in 2015! Cannibalism: really? I was shocked.

King Leopold
Leopold’s genocide in the Congo makes Adolph Hitler look like an amateur

Before King Leopold of Belgium came along, the Mbuti Pygmies lived in the forest which they considered sacred, hunting and gathering. (Wiki references their genetics dating back to 60,000 years ago.) Then came colonization, genocide, deforestation, gold mining, civil war and slavery.

The Mbuti used to have a working relationship with the Mokpala where each people group provided the other with things they couldn’t hunt, find, or make themselves. But when the trees were cut down, the balance was destroyed. Having nothing to give the Mokpala, the Mbuti became their slaves, working 14-16 hour days for a patch of goat fur to eat, (this is a deliberate insult) or two tiny minnows.

Enter the fighter

map of the CongoAuthor Justin Wren is a former MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter from Dallas who decided to use his skills to fight for the Pygmies. He became a Christian to do so. I’m not normally a fan of “let’s go convert those pagan people”, but Wren is so obviously focused on loving the oppressed by improving their living conditions that I was able to read those passages with an open mind. It helps that he admits that Christianity has an ugly side, one which put him off organized religion in his younger days. He’s really honest about his experiences whether with drugs, churches, being bullied as a child or getting scammed the first time he went to the Congo.

I liked that he insisted on living with the Pygmies instead of walking to their homes from a hotel every day. I liked that he was adopted by a family and really considers them his family. I liked how he admitted that he hesitated to act, for fear of making things worse. The passages about the romance with his fiancé “EmmyBear” were a little syrupy for me, but hey, I’ve been married 13 years!

The American Bubble of Comfort

black mamba
A black mamba slithers through the Pygmy camp one night, causing considerable alarm. I was fascinated by its black teeth and black mouth. Brrrrr!

As I sit here drinking my coffee and writing this, it is hard to imagine that on the other side of the world, people are waking up and having to drink water that isn’t clean. That they suffer diarrhea, dysentery and malaria for their entire lives, many of which end before age 50. That it’s such a struggle just to find food and clothing.

The Mbuti Pygmy tribes that Justin Wren came into contact with lived beside a river, but it had been polluted by Chinese miners and by chemical dumping allowed by the corrupt Congolese government. Justin and his team drilled 12 water wells for different Pygmy groups on land that a local university purchased. Slaves were freed. It was really interesting to read about well drilling and the difficulties they ran into.

Fight for the Forgotten is an interesting read and will open your eyes and your heart to the suffering in Africa that we, as Americans, are partly responsible for. Our wealth increases their poverty. Our consumer decisions, our corporations, our politics, and our history have all contributed to this sorry situation, although we aren’t hunting down the Pygmies and eating them ourselves. This has to stop.

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