Jean-Pierre Hallet is what you would get if you crossed the Most Interesting Man in the World with Tarzan of the Apes (the badass, break-a-monkey-in-half-with-his-fists Edgar Rice Burroughs version, and not the happy-go-lucky, tree-surfing Disney version with the perfect teeth), then put him into real life and made him an unbelievably-amazing humanitarian who was so unassailably chill that it was impossible not to like him.
Hallet was born in Belgium in 1927. His father was apparently-famous impressionist painter Andre Hallet, a man whose paintings of the untamed African wilderness now hang in art galleries in nearly every country in the world, and, when you consider that this kid was fourteen damn pounds when he was born, we can only assume his mother was a pretty hardcore character as well. Jean-Pierre grew up in the Congo, (which, if the 1990s Tim Curry movie is to be believed, is populated almost entirely by giant, hyper-intelligent Laser Gorillas and fiery volcanoes that spew magma like all the time, making it pretty awesome), and while his dad was out contributing to the commendable-yet-not-exactly-skull-crushing field of impressionist oil painting, this kid was in the middle of the fucking wilderness living among Rwandan Bantu tribesmen, learning native languages, and immersing himself in African culture.
By the time Jean-Pierre was six, he already spoke fluent Bantu, dressed like the locals, and refused to speak French even to his own parents. So, naturally, he was shipped back to Belgium to receive a "proper European education". This was great and all, but after about seven years of Belgian boarding school it became significantly less great, mostly because that's about the time the German blitzkrieg rolled into Belgium on a crimson sea of blood, dive-bombers, and obliterated machinery, kicked the shit out of everyone, and firmly planted a Nazi jackboot on the faces of the entire population of the country in a most uncomfortable manner.
WWII Resistance Fighters.
Now Jean-Pierre Hallet was only 15 in 1942, but he was also 6'5" tall and 250 pounds, and this hot-blooded, freedom-loving, linebacker-sized asskicker wasn't about to sit around and let a bunch of Fascists push him around just because they had an unstoppable army of gigantic fucking panzers. This teenage warrior grabbed his hunting rifle and spent the better part 1942 and 43 blowing up German bases and raiding supply trains as part of the Belgian Resistance, and, once the Allies rolled through and liberated Belgium in 1944, he immediately enlisted in the Belgian regular Army, fought through the rest of the war, and won some war medals for bravery in combat, though sadly I wasn't able to track down any info on those – we'll just suffice it to say that he kicked the balls of some Germans and got a little bit of sweet revenge for all that crazy shit they'd tried to pull on his countrymen.
After getting a degree in sociology from the Sorbonne and a degree in badassitude from World War II, Hallet decided that Africa was way sweeter than Europe (mostly because it had way fewer Nazis/explosions), so he packed his shit and went back to the Congo as a member of the Belgian Colonial Ministry. But, amazingly, this dude's adventures were just getting started, and, in a weird turn of events, it would soon become apparent that machine gunning German stormtroopers as a member of an underground partisan unit was probably the least exciting thing this dude did in his entire life.
Hallet in the Congo.
Immediately upon arriving in Zaire with the Ministry, Hallet proceeded to completely immerses himself in the culture of every tribe in Western Africa, eventually learning to speak and understand 17 different African languages (plus French and English and who knows whatever the fuck else). He became a blood-brother of the Tutsi in Rwanda. He became the first white man to join the Bwama Secret Society – a group so mysterious that we don't even really know what the hell that even means. He hung out with the Balego, who, at the time, were pretty notorious for killing foreigners and eating their corpses, although somehow he managed to avoid becoming dinner for them and instead was adopted as a member of the tribe. At 23, Hallet became a formal member of the badass Kenyan Maasai warrior tribe, a feat that isn't as easy as it sounds (and it does not sound easy) – apparently the initiation rite involves standing alone inside a ring of chanting warriors and fighting a pissed-off lion in a duel to the death armed with only a spear and a gigantic set of testicles. Jean-Pierre Hallet, being a man who apparently was afraid of damned-near nothing, walked right into the middle of the circle, stared down the lion, and, according to a family friend of his, killed it "with bravado". I don't necessarily know what that means, but the mental image I have more or less resembles that picture I just posted above with all the pterodactyls and shit.
Another adventure has the 30 year-old Hallet wandering through the woods when suddenly he was shot in the leg by a poison-tipped blowgun dart fired by an overzealous Pygmy warrior who didn't take all that kindly to outsiders nosing around his turf. Hallet stumbled forward, pressed on to the Pygmy camp while the fast-acting poison coursed through his veins, had the tribe's witch-doctor cut a big chunk out of his leg (without anesthesia) to drain the blood, somehow survived a neurotoxin with roughly a 90% fatality rate (it's designed for taking down wild game) and then proceeded to live among the Pygmy for 18 months. By the time he left, this guy was an official member of the tribe, spoke their language fluently, knew how to build his own bow and arrows out of tree bark, and was proficient in a presumably-insane sport known as "Archery Ball". Within days of returning to the Belgian consulate, Jean-Pierre formally submitted a "Declaration of Emancipation" to the government which convinced them to grant this particular Pygmy tribe complete autonomy and freedom from the Belgian laws that covered the region. So that's a win.
Hallet with the Pygmies.
By his own count, Hallet survived nineteen near-death experiences during his epic life, including one time he was captured by AK-47 toting rebels during the Congo War and ended up convincing them to let him go. The most badass of these NDEs, however, involves the time he was dynamite fishing in Lake Tanganyika, blew himself up, and then almost got eaten by crocodiles.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Hallet had been fishing at the lake for a while in an effort to help provide much-needed food to a starving local tribe that had been hit hard by a nasty drought, when suddenly a double-stick of TNT fucking blew off his right arm at the elbow, disintegrated his boat, and dumped him in croc-infested waters. Losing blood by the pint and surrounded by man-eating creatures well known for their propensity to sense such substances when they are present in the water, Hallet somehow swam all the way back to shore, walked a mile through the fucking Congo to get back to his truck, and fashioned a makeshift tourniquet using just his teeth and his off-hand. But the danger still wasn't over – Hallet was still high in the mountains and the park gates were closing soon, so this guy friggin' floored it and hauled ass 200 miles down a narrow, unpaved mountain road, steering with one arm and holding onto consciousness despite losing blood from dozens of shrapnel wounds. He survived, made it to the nearest hospital, lived through surgery, and would eventually be fitted for a prosthetic Luke Skywalker-style replacement (though apparently decided that was "for pussies" and never wore it).
Just a few months after this harrowing experience, Hallet and some buddies were walking through the jungle when all of a sudden out of nowhere a HUGE FUCKING LEOPARD came flying out of nowhere and mauled the shit out of one of his friends. Hallet, being a completely balls-out hardass, did the only rational thing that came into his head, which of course was to RUN OVER AND JUMP ON THE THING'S BACK. With only one good arm, and presumably still week from the insane amount of surgery he had gone through just a few weeks previously, Jean-Pierre Hallet somehow wrestled the leopard off the dude, manhandled the massive beast the ground, and rolled around with this apex predator in an epic struggle that lasted nearly ten minutes. None of Hallet's buddies were badass/insane enough to jump in, but one guy helpfully flung a hunting knife vaguely in the adventurer's direction, so Hallet crawled his way over to the thing (while simultaneously avoiding the gigantic claws of a 500-pound leopard), pressed his stump arm against the creature's neck to keep it from biting him, and then stabbed it with his left hand, killing it.
Hm, I guess at this point I should note that Hallet didn't actually hate animals – it was really just the ones that were actively trying to kill him. When this dude wasn't fighting for his life, he studied the animals of the Congo, following them to their native habitats and observing them, and his books and journal articles were some of the first detailed writings on the subject of wildlife behavior on the Congo jungle. So that's something.
Hallet, seen here in the process of NOT killing an animal.
Eventually the Belgian government decided they were sick and tired of Jean-Pierre Hallet running around the Congo being totally fucking awesome, so they transferred him to another post way the fuck out on the other side of the world. Hallet resigned on the spot. The so-called "Abe Lincoln of the Pygmies" (how sweet of a nickname is that?) spent the last 45 years of his life traveling back and forth between California and Africa, and founded the Pygmy Fund, which is a charitable organization devoted to improving the lives and preserving the culture of the African Pygmies. In addition to raising awareness for the cause through a global lecture circuit and dozens of books on the subject, Hallet also lived among the Pygmies for many years, teaching them how to farm, build sturdy homes, read, and do basic math. He also bought 500 acres of farmable land for them to live on, brought them modern tools, developed an 18,000-entry Pygmy Language Dictionary, delivered nearly 500 babies (!), and assembled one of the largest collections of African art in the world (which he then sold off piece-by-piece, with all proceeds going to his charity). He's like Mother Theresa with a twelve-inch hunting knife and the ability to crush the skull of a human being with one arm.
For his work, Jean-Pierre Hallet received the Royal Order of the Lion from the King of Belgium, was declared "Humanitarian of the Decade" for the 1970s, and was once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, which is sweet because there probably aren't a lot of Nobel Peace Prize nominees who have killed a leopard with their bare hands. He died of leukemia in 2004 at the age of 76. When his sons were cleaning out his office at the Pygmy Fund, they discovered file cabinets full of personal correspondences he'd established with the people who had donated to his charity.
|"The pygmies of the Ituri Forest must be saved. They still represent the true human potential for love, peace and harmony, without crime or greed. If people are judged by the quality of their hearts and minds, the ancestral pygmies are giants of mankind. Yet, our often blind, "civilization" is now responsible for the imminent extinction of those people by systematically destroying their forest. Sophisticated technology is self-destructive. Our ultimate survival can only be inspired by saving a simple people such as the pygmies."
Eulogy at the Pygmy Fund
Hudson Galleries Biography
African Arts bio