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 CNS Story:

CAMEROON-PYGMIES Mar-20-2009 (260 words) xxxi

Cameroonian Pygmies give pope send-off, gift of a turtle

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS) -- A group of Pygmies showed up to give Pope Benedict XVI an unscheduled send-off from Cameroon, and presented him with a live turtle to take back with him to the Vatican.

The 15 Pygmies from the Baka ethnic group came to the pope's residence at the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde March 20 as the pontiff was preparing to leave for Angola. They built a ceremonial hut out of leaves in the garden of the residence, and the pope came out to greet them.

The Pygmies, including grandparents, parents and children, sang songs and danced to the beat of drums, and then gave the pope three gifts: a basket, a cloth mat and a turtle, which is a symbol of wisdom in Cameroon.

The fate of the turtle was a little unclear at first. Vatican officials aboard the papal plane to Angola told reporters it had been left behind in Cameroon.

But a few minutes later, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, walked into the journalist section of the plane carrying the turtle in a woven cage. Reporters snapped photos as the brown turtle, about eight inches long, poked its head out from under its shell.

The spokesman said he wasn't sure if the turtle would make the return trip to Rome and take up residence in the Vatican. He suggested it might find a home in the Vatican gardens.

The Baka Pygmies inhabit rain forests in southern Cameroon. A hunting and gathering people, they number fewer than 30,000.


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