Congo · Travel

the big forest

If you take the plane to the city of Ouesso in northern Congo, you’re in the realm of the forest. The forest still holds people’s imaginations and dreams here, in Central Africa. A place of mystery and magic, a safe haven where you run to the minute political situations make the city unsafe, the place everyone returns to for funerals in the village, the place of origins.

In Ouesso, you take a pirogue with a motor, and head down the river, about 80 kilometers, deep into what is called here “la grande foret”, the big forest.

You’re in the half of Congo that is north of the Equator, in the middle of the equatorial forest, and the village I was told about is a village by the river, a Pygmy village. These are forest pygmys, who have retained all the honor of their ways, the noble ways of the forest and their traditions. This Bantou country is hard for Pygmys who have always been discriminated against in Central Africa. I heard from an African that during the Rwandan genocide, the Hutus killed the Tutsis and the Tutsis killed the Hutus, but both killed the pygmys. Of course, that was hearsay, but the discrimination is real, even though these Pygmys, the Mbutis for the most part, were the first inhabitants of the country and were later invaded by the Bantous.

In many parts, Bantou people will treat Pygmys as near-slaves, and when they are settled near cities, the Pygmy populations will fall deep into alcoholism, and forget their ways.

If you find a Pygmy guide who speaks French, you can go visit the villages they live in, in that beautiful basin. The stories my friends told me about the big forest and their village made me dream, and made me decide to go, for myself, visit this place, this sort of garden of Eden, where the kids live apart from the parents, in huts of their own, and eat by hunting little birds who fly up in the heights of the palm trees.

Perhaps when I return in October. Until then I think I’ll visit that little village in my dreams.

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