July 24, 2014

Wally and Jean-Pierre

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A face-to-face meeting with tribal leaders, their rich culture, their customs, their unique dances, and beating drums were the highlights of the 1959 Airstream Wally Byam African Caravan.

One of the places that had the largest impact on us was the Belgian Congo. Our guide, Jean-Pierre Hallet, took us to places the average tourist didn’t, shouldn’t, and even couldn’t go.

Jean-Pierre, who was already familiar with the Airstream Caravan, attempted to have a Congoland USA developed in Kern County, California. The area would be a refuge for the pygmy peoples of this part of Africa, who were endangered by constantly warring factions and the constant civil and military unrest that plagued the area.

He wanted to populate the safe haven with animals indigenous to their homeland. Unfortunately, the county board couldn’t find common ground, so the plans never became a reality.

Since the Wally Byam Caravan Headquarters at that time were situated in Bakersfield, there was no doubt that Wally Byam and Jean-Pierre discussed the possibilities of a Congoland in California.

Possibly the largest and most complete artifact collection in private hands belonged to Jean-Pierre. He later gave the trove of objects to UCLA.

Jean-Pierre Hallet is noted for his “Pygmy Fund.” His attempt to protect them from outside pressures and assure them that their way of life could co-exist with a changing continent.

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