Book Review

William Wheeler - Archers of the African Rain Forest

Book Review by Graham Mackintosh for  


Efe pygmies: Archers of the African Rain Forest is a sumptuously illustrated tome that will long grace my coffee table. The main part of the book - a subtle photographic study depicting the Efe subsisting precariously but harmoniously in the depths of the Ituri forest - is preceded by a brief but fascinating scene-setting section of white-on-black text.

The author presents vivid visual and verbal images of his subjects making baskets, carrying hunting nets, filing their teeth, smoking tobacco, playing music, dispatching a net-caught antelope, touchingly expressing grief at the death of a newborn, and fleeing from their leaf huts into the night beneath a cracking and crashing, lightning-weakened tree. 

Skillful, intimate photography makes us yearn for the easy laughter and simplicity of these gentle, peaceful people, yet we are simultaneously made aware of the dangers and discomforts they must constantly face. 

It is a fitting tribute to a people as "primitive" and untouched by global culture as any on earth, and the precariousness of their independence. Moreover, it is a compelling and persuasive insight into our own hunting and gathering origins, and the thoughts, feelings, and reactions we all share as part of the human family.

While William Wheeler's book may not lead us to put on treebark loin cloths and chase wildlife through the forest, it is an evocative portrayal of another culture, one that can teach us something about how to live surrounded by danger and dark forces and yet keep on reverentially singing, laughing, and living for the moment. 

Although the Efe are clearly too humble and happy a people to bother sending missionaries to us for our edification, this beautiful and moving book affords a glimpse of what such a mission might convey.