Songs for the Forest – above the Congo

the widower MayaliMingi
When his wife was alive Mayalimingi never lacked a smile and a quick quip. Now he seems to just be waiting.

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.

map of northern DRC with Okapi Reserve inset
The Nduye joins the Epulu. The Epulu and the Nepoko join the Ituri. The Ituri joins the Congo and the Congo joins the Atlantic.

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.

Through the dust the celebration continues
A light rain blurred the photo, but not the energy of clapping sticks, drums, singing and dancing.

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…

a feisty lady
…For the old…

the young girls
…for the young…

Makubasi's son
…for the close of kin.  The son of Makubasi sings with the others.

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.

One Comment

  1. colleen
    Posted 2012-05-15 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I love the idea of dancing and singing and music for funerals – I think that could be one of the most interesting cultural differences between us. In fact, one of the most famous Congolese bands is actually a Funeral music band – Konono no1 – and they are amazing. Thank you again and again for all your wonderful posts.

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