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Babinga life consists of hunting and dancing


Lary Shaffer
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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Now here's my companion on this trip, as it were, a photographer, a wonderful man, Lary Shaffer, a professor of animal behaviour at New York University, and he was Nico Tinbergen's, the Nobel prize winning animal behaviour professor at Oxford, he was his film cameraman. And so this time I got some wonderful pictures. I don't always say whose they are, of course. Now, the first thing you do, as you should, when you go to Brazzaville or Africa, you go to visit a feticheurs, a sorcerer, to see... pay your respects, really. And she casts these cowrie shells across the mud floor of the hut. And then became very agitated and looked at us, and she said, with her eyes shut, 'One of you is very ill right now.' Now, that's a very sensible thing to say if you're a feticheurs anywhere in the Congo, because where two people are gathered together, sure as hell one of them will be ill. But Lary really reacted, covered in sweat, this super-rational scientist, tough guy. And he said, 'It's me, it's me. I have this thing. It's called multiple sclerosis and I lost my sight for a time, but I'm alright. I've just cycled across America, coast to coast', he said. West to east. And he said, 'Well, look, looking at me, well look, all I can't do, I can't run. That's all.' And of course, wherever we went, people would say, when such and such happens, you run. He was immensely brave, and apparently, when you've got MS like that, you're in pain all the time, and he never, never complained. And he was a very good foil for me, because old decadent European, given up on moral judgements, really, but Shaffer was appalled that people were routinely seeing other women just because the wife was pregnant and so on. He just couldn't deal with it, and a very practical man, he's built three houses for himself in his life, so that was good, too. He'd look around this great clearing, these villages, and say, 'Good God, there's more grade one timber than the whole of New York State. Why don't they get themselves a proper house?'

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Oxford University, No Mercy: A Journey Into the Heart of the Congo, New York University, Brazzaville, Africa, Congo, USA, New York, Lary Shaffer, Niko Tinbergen

Duration: 3 minutes

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009