Land of the Balengola between the Lomami and the Lualaba

John says the accent is on the “go” in Balengola.

Here are some of his other notes:

“Finally sorting some of the mysteries of this northeastern corner of the forgotten landscape! And picking up new ones too!

For one, I found out that those pinkish polygons on the Google map west of Ubundu are NOT artisanal mining operations like we feared; they are grassy riverside prairies. They are seriously flooded now, like a lot of this region during the rainy season, but according to informants, they burn during the dry season. Natural grassy openings are frequent through this forest along the Ruiki River.
bicycle crosses and oliver with my pack
Rainy season means flooded crossings for bicycle-riding merchants or ba-toleka

The Lengola forest covers most of the TL2 landscape south of Kisangani and west, southwest of Ubundu, from nearly the Lomami to the Lualaba. A vast region which, before independence 50 years ago, was one of the country’s major centers for production of rice, coffee and rubber.
An abandoned rice-hulling plant in an empty forest clearing

We traveled west from Ubundu along forest foot paths that were once major roads emerging incongruously on looming complexes of abandoned brick building (rizeries and coffee plantations) standing in old forest clearings. Even the Belgian King Baudouin came along this road in 1957. Now it’s forgotten land. The villagers that remain eke out a meager living selling local rice and dried fish (the flooded forests are the preferred habitat of clarid catfish) to bicycle riding merchants from Kisangani.
Motorcycle and bicycle are the only vehicles down the overgrown roads

We have had wonderful hospitality from Ernest Klaibundji, the spry 60 year old Chief of Walengola-Wabira at Bagwasi, who put us up in his house and spent much of the day before yesterday helping us fill out our map of his 40,000 km2 chefferie. His stories of the remarkable economic rise and collapse are poignant. Now he has offered to guide us himself personally into his forest.
Dino explains our survey work, then Ernest explains the reality of today’s Balengola

We have opted for two circuits on each side of the middle Ruiki River .
Dino and Ernest left yesterday for Munionge where Ernest will take supplies in two pirogues and paddle three days up the Ruiki to Batitobeka village. I will join Dino tomorrow at Batibakungu village.
Crossing the Ruiki River with our motorcycle in the dugout

According to Ernest, both okapi and the “giant” chimpanzee, (as opposed to the bonobo) occur. We will see. So far, we have not been overwhelmed with evidence of wildlife.”


  1. Posted 2007-12-02 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    I imagine there are many reasons for the lack of wildlife, but what do you think is the overwhelming reason? The chief seems like a pretty cool guy.


  2. Lisa, California
    Posted 2007-12-02 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    Very interesting post. It’s a beautiful place. I hope you find some wildlife, especially the “giant” chimpanzee. Lisa

  3. Terese Hart
    Posted 2007-12-02 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    This is the northeast, so the part of the landscape nearest to big towns. It is actually between Ubundu, Opala and Kisangani. Because of that it was certainly hit hard by the bushmeat trade before it ever got as far south as Obenge. The bushmeat trade out of Obenge is still supplying Opala and Kisangani although they are much farther away. On the otherhand, there are very few permanent residents and important pockets of seemingly undisturbed forest in the Balengola forest — protected by swamp(??) So I am very eager to hear what John finds out — and (of course) really keen to know about this “giant” chimp !

  4. Paula
    Posted 2007-12-02 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Great post, keep us updated this is fascinating

  5. John
    Posted 2007-12-11 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    further comments on wildlife scarcity in the Lengola forest: Much of the Ruiki watershed is based on bleached white sands. The streams here run “black” actually the color of well steeped tea. This is due to the high content of leached tannins from the foliage. Overall these are all indicators of a basic ecology that is adapted to low soil productivity. The plants here are “protected” from herbivores by tannins and other secondary compounds…Overall a hard place to make a living–whether you are a bonobo or human…So the low wildlife densities are underlain by an overall low ecological potential.

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