Fragmento del reportaje publicado en Mundo Negro en Enero 2003
República Democrática de
Legu is some 500 kilometers north of Kisangani and about 100 kilometers south of Isiro. "Legu" is the word, in the Kibudu language, for the tree from whose bark clothing used to be made. The tam-tam keeps the rhythm and encompasses the life of these Upper Congo inhabitants.
In Legu there are no towns such as we are accustomed to see in movies or documentaries.Although we may see clusters of seven, eight or more huts, they are a family group. Polygamy exists and in each hut lives a wife with her small children.Another hut is the baraza where visitors are received and people get together. It is like the living room of our houses.
From one family to another there can be a 500-meter distance. Each family has its own plot and an animal or two. This allows them to be self-sufficient. There is a small tam-tam, which is their "telephone," and various instruments to enliven their songs and dances.
One night I was lying on my bed in total darkness, and I heard sounds coming from the jungle. Suddenly I heard the sound of a tam-tam that was accompanying mourning songs from a kilio (wake). Not far from my hut there was a celebration and another tam-tam was creating the rhythm for the dances
Depending on the direction of the wind, I would hear the tam-tams separately or at the same time, as if two different radio bands were interfering with each other, one tam-tam superimposed on another. During the night the tam-tams, mixing their songs of grief and joy, made me feel like a part of Africa.
When someone dies, vigil is held over the body for two or three days and nights. The songs and cries of grief happen with a frantic rhythm as each relative arrives at the hut of the deceased, reaching heights of drama during the night.
The mother palm tree
People cook in the street and life happens outdoors. Basically the meal consists of tapioca, a tuber plant similar to boniato that is eaten as purée, and the leaf of that plant is used to make the national Congolese dish, sombe or mpundu. Previously they would have mashed it in the kinu, a sort of giant mortar. For us, to add oil or salt is something very simple and economical, but for them it is a great luxury not always within their means. Salt is obtained by burning papyrus leaves. Once the ashes are formed, they are filtered with water and then evaporated. What remains is the salt, but with a high percentage of potassium chloride. They use it as a cure for diarrhea, but its continued use results in water retention, and that is not good.
The oil is from the palm tree. The man is the one who climbs the palm tree, with considerable caution because in the branches there could be a snake (ñoka). He will cut a branch that will be mashed in the kinu. Then it is squeezed by hand, mixed with fine clay and, drop by drop, the precious condiment is produced.
With the sap of the palm tree they make palm wine. It is quite sweet and has only three percent alcohol. The trunk, in putrefied state, produces an exquisite and much appreciated food in these latitudes, namely the waposes, worms that are eaten either fried or smoked. In the African district of Le Matongue, in Brussels, they can be purchased smoked for about 25 Euros a kilo.
In the diet there is not much meat, although everyone has a goat or a hen. Generally they eat only the eggs. The animals are used to repay favors, to give as gifts, or to sell. Very near Legu flows the Nepoko River from which they obtain fish. From time to time they go out hunting and if they succeed in bringing down a monkey, that means a feast.
Fire, tamtam and mosquitoes
In every mugini (cluster of huts) there is always a lighted fire that is distributed by torch from house to house. To deny someone fire is one of the worst offenses.
The tam-tam continues to be the means of communication for sending messages between settlements: to warn of danger, of a birth, of a death, to call a meeting, to send an invitation to a celebration, etc. These calls of beats of the tamtam are not like a Morse code by which all kinds of words and numbers can be interpreted. It is rather a code of established beats, just as with the bells in our churches.
Although Legu is in the middle of a jungle, there are few wild animals like lions, panthers, elephants, etc. In this region, as in the rest of Africa, it is very difficult to see one of these animals in the wild. They are all on reserves or in nature parks. But there certainly are some very small, almost invisible animals that continue to be very dangerous and are a leading cause of death. They are the mosquitoes in general and the Anopheles in particular that carries malaria.
Also in this area is one of the most poisonous snakes in Africa, the black mamba or "African widow."One of the "White Friar" missionaries gave me a black stone and told me that if a snake bit me that I should make a tourniquet and apply the stone with pressure on the wound to absorb the poison. Luckily, I didn't need it. It is very rare to meet up with a snake and even more rare that it attacks you unless you have the bad luck to step on it. One must discount the stories in which snakes appear everywhere. (<<Go to: Complete report in the January edition of the magazine, Mundo Negro [Black World]).