The Ituri Forest is above the Congo. All the water running through its rocks and over its duff, spill into rivers that cascade down the eastern plateau towards the massive Congo River of the central basin.
The Ituri Forest has the densest concentration of the Pygmy ethnic group in all of Congo. There are about 10,000 Mbuti pygmies just living in and around the Okapi Reserve (estimate by WCS). Their knowledge of this forest is remarkable, but very local; almost none have even crossed the Ituri River to the south.
Nevertheless, the Mbuti of the Ituri are of the same group as the Pygmies of the central basin in the west, and of Albertine rift close to Tanzania. They are united by music. Each group speaks a different, often unrelated language. But long ago, in Epulu, when we played a recording of pygmy song from 900 km distant, the Mbuti all gathered around. It was as though the forest was singing.
On our return from the inselbergs we were swept into the celebration following the death of two old friends: Makubasi one of the long time Mbuti chiefs of Epulu and the wife of another chief, Mayali Mingi.
The end of mourning is marked by celebration, song, and dance. Death needs song…
Somehow the swell and breaking of voices in hocket, the alternating rhythms of the drums that continued almost none stop for 24 hours, reminds us how to live – with each other – and with all that went before and all that will come after.
Here is a little photo record of the celebration.