So, the big day dawns this week and I’ve packed and re-packed. My dreams are filled with cardboard cartons and the squeal of brown sticky tape as it comes off the dispenser. This is my last post for a short while as I discover the delights of a left-hand drive vehicle and wend my way to SW France.
I wonder what I’ll really find when I get there. How close will vision and reality meet? but, more to the point, I wonder what my new neighbours will make of me? Hopefully they’ll not find me quite as amazing and outlandish as Colonel Harrison’s Pygmy Troop when they turned up in England in the early years of the twentieth century.
Whilst moving to France is nothing unusual these days, (may even be de rigeur), the story of the Pygmy Troop is totally out of tune with today’s attitudes and culture. However back then curiosity, ignorance, imperialism and a general sense of superiority over the rest of the world all played a part in bringing this type of entertainment to England. Oh dear that does remind me of some expats I’ve met!
Moving swiftly on, here’s the story.
In 1904 Colonel James Harrison of Brandesburton Hall in the East Riding of Yorkshire was travelling through the Congo river basin. This was not as odd as you might surmise since he was not only a soldier but also an explorer and big game hunter. Travelling in darkest Africa is what explorers are supposed to do.
There in the remoteness of the Congo he made the acquaintance of the Pygmy tribe of the Ituri forest. No doubt after a deal of huffing and puffing he persuaded six of his new “little pygmie friends” to return to England with him. So it was that Bokane, Quarke, Mogonga, Matuka, Amurape and Masutiminga arrived in 1905, to take London by storm. Appearances at the London Hippodrome, Olympia and even the staid old House of Commons were followed by a tour of the whole country when all and sundry could pay up and gawk at them.
In their “down” time the group stayed at Brandesburton Hall and went hunting in the parkland there. They made appearances at various venues in East Yorkshire including the coastal resorts of Hornsea and Withernsea where they met with much interest…to put it mildly. During their stay they made a record of their stay, speaking in their native language – I intend to do something similar in writing. Watch this space.
All six survived their English tour and returned to their homeland in 1907/8. Whether I shall eventually follow their example is in the lap of the gods.