THE WALESE                                                                                                                     GO TO IMAGES OF UPPER ZAIRE (DRC)

Original in Italian by Rosa Lamonaca

Translated to english by Beverly Enwall from spanish translation by Julián Azcona

N.B. The words that are underlined, in bold or in cursive are the work of the translator in order to facilitate the reader's understanding of the content.


If we attempt to scrutinize together down through history to very remote times, we will find the Walese, a branch of the Sudanese race. Originally from the outer limits of the desert, there was a long pilgrimage. Pushed by the advancing Sahara they began their immigration south trying first to establish themselves in what today is Uganda. Confrontations with other tribes already settled there forced them to continue west beyond the great lakes into the present day Congo. In search of peace they settled in a corner of the equatorial jungle where the city of Beni now stands. Here life went on simply without problems in a climate of serenity. At sundown, next to the fire, the men commented n the day's events as they ate supper with friends and neighbors in a spirit of brotherhood.

That which is good and beautiful does not last forever! Someone, perhaps in anger, forgets to invite the neighbors to sample the succulent food so well prepared by the women. The friendship wanes and the feeling of brotherhood disappears. They separate in different directions and leave for unknown destinations, each group taking a new name, that of the head of the expedition. Thus there came about the Walese-Karo, the Walese-dese, Walese-Manvu, Walese-Avokutu, Walese-Atombi, Walese-Mambula... (these last are disappearing).

In Nduye are found the Walese Karo.

They arrived here after more than a few difficulties on a sort of Via Crucis. Let us follow them! They had no sooner abandoned Beni when they encountered the first obstacle, the number one danger: the Arabs. They had come from far away, from beyond the Graben Mountains, in search of slaves. Everyone save himself! Our group sought salvation in the legs. The jungle, mercifully, gathered them into its shadows and undergrowth. The way is difficult and exhausting. "Let us stop here," they said at last. And they camped in the environs of present day Isiro. The Azanda there welcomed them, but our Walese did not get along well with them.. . They leave to avoid the oppressions of this warlike tribe.

We have them once again on the march. Now they attempt to settle in an area of the savanna where currently the military camp of Gombari is located. They hope to find here stability and peace. But in spite of their efforts, they are unable to ingratiate themselves with the Mangbetu and are driven out.

Where to go now? Will they not find in this wide world a little corner of the earth where they can live in peace? Traveling still and weary, they take refuge in Mount Menda, halfway between Gombari and Nduye. But this place is also inhabited and the owners of the place are the Pygmies. Mistrustful, they question whether or not to extend hospitality to the new tenants. But reason prevails and the Walese are able to set themselves up here.

Little by little daily life acquires its normal rhythm. The Pygmies hunt and the Walese cultivate the fields. Nothing is lacking. They are happy and make a pact between them: a blood pact. The chiefs of both tribes, with the point of an arrow, make an incision in their arm and each sucks the blood of the other. Now they are friends forever. Nothing can separate them... But on earth nothing is forever, everything is as changeable as the man that controls them. Thus one day, playing a Mulese, an elderly Pygmy, is killed. What a complication! What will happen now? The Pygmies are silent pretending to remember the great pact and they suffer the misfortune in silence. But at night, with stealth, they steal from the Walese their spears, their arrows, their machetes and then launch a surprise attack making a sacrifice of them. The survivors to save themselves pretend to be Pygmies and flee from the place protected by the shadows of the night. Once again in misfortune they are obliged to wander in search of another place in the shade. They decide to build their houses around a tree called Ndauta, not far from the Nduye River. Life begins anew.

The Pygmies have not forgotten them. They follow them there. They need the bananas that the Walese cultivate. The blood pact is renewed. The Walese take Pygmy women as wives mingling the races. Their stature, close to two meters in height, is modified and becomes much more like that of the Pygmies. Now they are robust with thick muscles and reddish skin.

The days pass. New babies are born, new villages appear reaching to Banana on the Kisangani road.

The Arabs reappear in search of new prisoners. The Walese no longer fear them and confront them armed with war axes. Many fall in the battle. Others return to inhabit the old village around the Ndauta tree, whence they had come. The Belgians found them here.

What might these white-skinned strangers want?

Nduko, the chief, sends an ambassador with raw rubber and other native products; he would know their intentions. He receives as an answer herbs and leaves. Not satisfied, they send a new ambassador, the young Tchamunyonge. He returns loaded with gifts—glass beads, pearls, hats, vestments... happiness is great. A torrent of spit rains on the head of the young man in gratitude and blessing. The friendship with the strangers is sealed and Tchamunyonge is elected Sultan of Nduye. Even now many remember him with veneration. Currently the chief of the tribe is Apuobo Aluoka, the last of the sons of

Tchamunyonge. But how different he is from his father!


At first the only and the ultimate authority was the chief of the settlement. He was also the judge with power of life and death over his subjects. He wore a mulumba (loincloth or unstitched garment of tree bark) painted black and red. On his head, a straw hat decorated with bird feathers. He was much respected and feared. He would receive many gifts and on festival days he was invited to the banquet. Usually he was elected from among the strongest and the most able in war.

Succession was hereditary. In a judicial session he would gather the elders of the settlement around him. The young people could attend but without voice nor vote. His decisions were final. If the guilty party was condemned, he was executed on the spot; if he was granted amnesty, he must serve as a slave.

The language that the Walese speak is Kilese. It is difficult and has no written grammar. It is very similar to the language used by the Pygmies and by which it was largely influenced.

All names have meaning. For example: The place where the chief lives is called Andikau, that is, "The uncle has defeated the leopard) (Or better said: The uncle is a leopard, a wild beast.) It happened thus: one evening the uncle, who was on a journey, stopped at an old abandoned cabin and lit a fire. He went to bed. The leopard arrived and attacked him without compunction. In the fight. with one good blow, it removed his scalp skin as if it were a jar cover. They washed it, they sewed it back on with herbs, and he did not die. The fame of his courage was handed down through the generations and made him immortal.

The word "Mulese" (singular: mu-lese; plural: wa-lese) means "of little value, useless." ) (The current chief told me that was not the meaning but rather "fond of partying"). The irony of fate! Who would have given himself such a name? It seems to fit rather well. Resistant to any kind of evolution, they like to rock along in their routine, consisting of very little effort and fewer ideals. They aspire to nothing, be it ever so small. They prefer to live apart, isolated...Very few Walese have their little house near the mission.

Quick to anger, they often quarrel. The judge has an arduous task to settle their fights and disputes. Deeply impregnated still in their ancient traditions, they prefer them to all the novelties that western culture has brought them and from which they take only that which is easiest and most comfortable.


The Mulese rises at five in the morning and does not go to work if there is a rainbow in the sky or if it is a new moon, the same occasionally regarding births, mourning... After work he stretches out and takes a siesta. Around ten at night he goes out for a tour of inspection: One never knows...the enemy, the leopard...they can be lying in ambush.

He does not go hunting like the Pygmy but he is very clever laying traps. Various kinds of traps, depending on what animal he intends to trap. He knows how to use a spear, arrows, and also a thick knife called a "tukpa." He likes to go fishing and for that uses a large bottomless, cylindrical basket called "akpapu" or he kills the fish with poisons like "lulu" or "bapi" that he finds in the jungle.

He makes nothing out of wood. He does not have even a piragua (native canoe) and to cross the river he chops down two trees, one on either side of the river, and makes them fall towards the river's midpoint and ties them together with vines to form a sort of bridge. He manufactures drums from the ears of elephants, he makes pots from terracotta, and braids rattan and the bark of certain trees to make chairs, hammocks, mats, baskets....

The smith knows how to procure iron from Menda Mountain and with it he produces spears, arrows, knives...and some very thick nails (about 10 cm [4 inches]) that serve at times to pay the dowry. Nowadays it is simpler just to buy it outright.

Buildings: The house:

The village is usually built near a river, or rather on a nearby bluff in order to be able to be advised from afar an enemy and thus have time to hide or prepare a defense. The houses are lined up, not too far from each other. Rectangular in form, formerly they were made of a very soft wood called "kombokombo." Now, quite the opposite, they are made of branches and mud, covered with very broad leaves called "mangungu."

The man is the builder. Next to the house is also a kitchen, a latrine, and a "baraza," a sort of covered patio where they spend their free time, receive strangers, converse, eat.... Originally they had only the house and everything happened and was done there, including the preparation of the meal. There they also stored the harvest, the tools for work... everything they owned. Corn stocks were braided and hung from a stake to dry and were left in the patio day and night. Those were such beautiful times! No one stole. Now they use the house also for the harvest, for the hens... with a padlock.

The dwelling place of the god "Toré" is a specially marked off space. In the center a fire is lit around which they dance from time to time.

Sometimes they build a small house to lodge the medicine men, the witch doctors who claim to know how to cure the sick. If a case comes up, these doctors oblige everyone in the village to submerge themselves completely in the waters of the river twice in order to rid themselves of all the malignant vapors of the village, after which they administer their secret medicines. Thus, eating and amusing themselves they live like parasites until the sick person is either cured or dies. At the end they are paid with weapons or pieces of iron.

Fortunately the dispensaries of the whites are better. The Mulese has come to know about penicillin and willingly buys antibiotics.

The tombs

We find a very simple construction similar to a house over the tombs so that rain does not ruin the corpse. The tomb is a deep ditch, dug not far from the house with a ledge at the bottom along each of the lateral sides. The corpse, washed and wrapped in "kilipi" leaves or in a mulumba, is deposited at the bottom. There is always someone on such occasions who buys a sheet or a blanket for wrapping [the corpse]. (If they have the means, they bury it in a box.) Pieces of branches or of bamboo cut in equal lengths are placed on the ledges and covered with leaves; thus is formed a sort of roof so that earth does not touch the body.

Circumcision cabin

One last building: The circumcision cabin. Built in the jungle, it has only one wall and a roof of leaves; all around a very low wall (of mud) facilitates the control of the boys that will live there for a time.


One cannot really speak of furniture, they have none. A cot called "kalagba," some kind of chair, a basket in which to keep the mulumba, a terracotta pot, a few hollowed out gourds of various sizes to carry and drink water, a few knives, weapons, the hoe, that is all.

From the white man they have learned the usefulness of a table, of an easy chair even though made of rattan, of a metal trunk for clothing, of the radio, of the bicycle... blankets? To keep warm during the night they would light a fire in the middle of the house.

Speaking of weapons. Besides the spear and arrows they had an iron shield called "enguma." The technique of war was very simple and based on shrewdness: some of them, armed with spears and protected by their shields, would face the enemy; the others, with stealth, would surround (the enemy) and attack him from behind.


The Walese, from contact with the white man, have learned to dress like him. Some still wear the mulumba that they have made themselves. A cloth more or less rectangular that is worn between the legs with the ends fastened at the waist front and back. A straw hat adorned with bird feathers completes the outfit. The woman wears a mulumba in two pieces, one in front and the other behind, fastened at the waist and allowed to hang like curtains. For fiestas, or mourning, or dances, the panels of fabric are replaced by a little skirt of green leaves, quite elegant for its type. Metal bands adorn their ankles and arms, three on the left, four on the right. The kinky black hair is done up into very slender and very numerous braids adorned with parrot feathers. The woman has none of the jewels that make a European woman so proud, but in her poverty she knows how to adorn herself. Tattooing: On the face and body are engraved strange designs that are made permanent with oils and colorings found in the jungle. "Kura" is the tree the provides the color red. All the Walese know it well; they mash it between two stones, mix if with water and the color is ready. White is found in the riverbed in the arroyos. They call it "kei." Black, from the insides of a sylvan fruit found in the jungle. The blessed jungle! They find everything there. It is their "Upim" and competes with our European department store


To wash they use river water, scrubbing themselves with rough leaves called "kanupi." Welcome soap and bars of soap! He who can is happy to acquire it. A final touch of elegance: the teeth are filed to a point like needles; the ear lobe and sometimes the lips as well are pierced and adorned with metal rings.


And now let us take a look at their economic life.

The Walese never let the fire go out. They vigil it day and night. In case of rain the leaves will serve as umbrellas. When they travel at night, a glowing coal serves as a lantern. In the field, at work, everywhere they always have at hand a little fire to light their tobacco. If it goes out they ask for it from their neighbors. In early times they lit if rubbing between their hands some "uche" branches. now? Bah! It is much simpler: there are matches.. that they don't buy. A most ingenious story that they tell explains the origin of fire:

The devil first lit it on a mountain. A man, lost in the jungle, happened to pass by, saw it, and...stole it.

They are gluttons for salt but not all of them are able to buy it. What to do? They burn the peels of green bananas, wash the ash and evaporating it with water over a slow fire obtain "teitei", a salt rich on potassium but a little dangerous to one's health.

Oil for cosmetics is obtained from certain bitter jungle fruits.

Oil for cooking is extracted from palm nuts. The fruit is small, about the size of a plum, with reddish pulp and a large pit that has an almond in its center. They boil the nuts and, with a mortar, separate the pulp from the pit; they wash the pulp with water and squeeze is out by hand or with a rudimentary press called "lokoo." The pits with the almonds are eliminated. When the water is heated, the oil rises to the top and is skimmed off into a large receptacle. The oil is red like the pulp. They do not throw away the foamy water; cooked with chicken and peanuts, it provides a tasty dish called "mwamba." Try it with a dish of well cooked rice... It's delicious!

As for cooking pots, they buy the best aluminum ones they can but generally they also use earthenware. The technique is very simple and I think even I could do it. On the riverbanks they look for a special clay called "upu." They beat it with a flat stone, sprinkling it with water from time to time until they get an even dough. From this dough with their hands they form a sort of circular sausage that they place one upon the other. That is the first step. When the dough begin to harden they smooth it with a stone, inside and outside, letting it then dry in the sun. The fire will complete the task.


Alcoholic drinks are obtained from bananas, from rice, from corn, from palm sap and the palm tree, using different techniques for each.

They are very fond of smoking, but they have little tobacco, and this little they roll up in a piece of paper, any kind of paper from wherever. The women are much more avid smokers than the men. Girls especially smoke cannabis (marijuana, "weed"). A small hollowed out gourd with a long neck can serve as a pipe. They fill it with water to counteract the harshness of the smoke. In the side they have made a small hole into which they will put a sort of hollow piece of cane full of tobacco or cannabis; or, instead of a gourd, a long hollow banana leaf stem can serve just as well.


Let us go on to the work in the field. The man is the one who conquers a piece of the jungle, generally not at all

large even though he doesn't buy it. During the dry season he burns the undergrowth. The woman cultivates the land, sows and plants, pulls out the weeds, harvests. They particularly cultivate bananas, mandioca (tapioca), corn, yams, peanuts, rice.

Raising hens or goats is not widespread and that is why they eat very little meat, unless they acquire it by hunting. There have a fine party if they are able to kill a leopard, a wild boar, or an elephant; the dances never end and the joy is great for everyone. So much happiness has an aspect of sacrifice: the woman cannot eat leopard meat of wild dog meat, and she may eat chicken only when she is vacationing at her parents' house. The man is also forbidden certain meats. It is curious: If the grandfather has had a stomach ache after eating a certain meat, none of his descendents will ever eat it.

One last horrible fact: the Mulese were cannibals. They would eat their fellow man cooking in oil all the parts of his body without exception and would drink water from his skull. It was enough for some clash to be unleashed and the loser would wind up in the cooking pot. It seems a story...nevertheless, it is true. Now this barbaric form of vengeance has disappeared. Fortunately!


At first the Walese interchanged products (barter, even now); the market did not exist. At harvest time, on trips, and on every occasion, even now, it is always the woman who transports the merchandise. She puts it in a great basket fastened with a vegetal rope that goes over her head like a diadem and the baskets rests on her back which curves under its weight. The man follows her with the children and his weapons in hand.


Their method of transmitting news is interesting: they did not use the drum and did not even know of the tam-tam. A rope, an arrow, a chunk of wood served as the message entrusted to the "mailman." Bah!, merely a matter of understanding one another. We lose so much time writing letters... They were much more efficient.


The Mulese is most skilled in the use of poisons. He prepares them to a strength appropriate to the purpose: cures, revenge, and even proof of innocence of another. The difficulty arises in that to find the guilty party all the inhabitants of the village must submit to the test. The chief gives the order... All must obey, and all drink the poison, fortunately not lethal. The guilty one will be whoever gets drunk. His face is carved up to serve as a warning to posterity. If it involves a pregnant woman, it is interesting that the poison does not endanger her pregnancy but the baby will have fragile teeth.


Education is a matter for both parents. They forbid eating without permission. They forbid disputes and punish thefts. The father has the task of transmitting the traditions of their ancestors. The boys, between the age of 12 and 16, must be circumcised. The fathers get together at midnight to agree on the length of the ceremonies. The games begin that same night. It is totally forbidden that women, including the boys' mothers, participate in these games or know their secrets. There follows an offering to the ancestors. They put on the ground a powder called "sindike." and cover it with firewood. They kill a goat, pour its blood on the firewood and light a fire that will not be put out until the end of the ceremonies. An aside: Anyone who approaches the fire and has in his hear something against one of the boys preparing for circumcision...will instantly fall dead, struck down by the force of the "sindike" or at the very least, he will go made (superstitions, blind faith in magic...)

The goat is cooked and eaten by the men who participate in the ceremony. Now they begin the circumcision dance. The drums are warmed up in the same fire and the men put on the mulumba. They dance until seven in the morning, afterwards... they should go to work. The men continue dancing the "maipi." It is the hour of the incision. The first to be circumcised are chosen from the families that have initiated the ceremonies; the others, on the next day.

The rite is done by the "ngalima" (doctor), a man who specializes in the task. The boy standing or seated on a trunk must bear the cut without sobbing. The "doctor" dissolves in his mouth salt that has been obtained from boiling river water, he spits it on the wound and bandages it up with a special leaf. Every day the wound will be washed three times using different disinfectants: the "adogo," the "anzepi" ...found in the jungle. At sunset the dancers go to the jungle to build the circumcision cabin. As described above, it has only one wall and is covered with leaves. The boys remain naked. They lie face down on a bed made from strips of the soft Kombokombo wood so that the blood flows to the earth without irritating the wound. In the cabin the "ngalima" offers another sacrifice, slitting the throat of a wild animal. The boys, in spite of their pain, must participate in games organized by their guardians, singing hymns that can only be chanted in the jungle. Witch doctors, women and dogs may under no circumstance approach that cabin. Every day the boys receive instruction from one of their guardians: "When you return to the village you are to obey your parents, you are to obey all adult persons..." Afterwards they are struck with a cane two or three times. Magnificent!

The mother prepares the boy's meals without salt and without oil. She takes it in a basket and at a given distance calls out, "Mlakpabe?" (Shall I throw it out?") The answer comes, "Nangi Lakpa!" (Don't throw it out!) And they come to get it. The boys put all the portions together and eat together with a little stick. At a given moment someone orders "That's enough!" Satisfied or still hungry, they must stop eating... The guardians peacefully eat the rest . A little for each does harm to no one....

The circumcised boys have their bodies painted with white clay and may not wash themselves during the entire time that they are in the jungle. When the wound is healed over they return to the village in a procession. Here...endless dancing begins anew for one or two weeks. Afterwards, once again into the jungle to learn the closing dances. The last day is a fiesta. A fine banquet marks the last cycle of the ceremony. The circumcised boys entertain the guests with their dances, being content just to look at the mouth-watering banquet. Finally, they go to wash themselves. Here they receive the last blows of the canes. The chief of the guardians burns the cabin and everyone returns home. In the patio of the houses is raised a sheaf of libondo leaves (the rafia palm from which they drink the sap) to signal that the boy has

returned from the jungle. For six months he will not eat deer meet and especially not wild boar meat...I would ask, "Why so much suffering?" "To be adult men in the true sense of the word." Whoever does not submit to these rituals is a repugnant man and scorned by all.


For the young woman it is an entirely different story. The appearance of the first menstrual flow is told to the mother who at once tells everyone. Friends and relatives come at sunset to dance. Afterwards the aunt puts the girl on her back and carries her to a cabin of leaves prepared especially for her. The mother tries to stop the aunt, but that is only part if the ritual. A great pile of leaves on the floor will serve as a bed, hidden in a third bedroom, a sort of sancta sanctorum. She will remain in bed there the entire time of her stay, about two months, in the company of another young female relative. She cannot get up by herself, nor turn over, nor draw up her legs without someone's help. To go to the bathroom she will be carried, and she may go to the river to wash herself only at sunset. No one must see her. It is absolutely forbidden that men approach the cabin.

She must do nothing, not even light a dying fire; thus the mother and the aunt prepare a delicious, plentiful meal She eats four times a day to get fatter. Meanwhile, outside, the dances go on night and day. The last appointed day there is a great fiesta and meals, drinks, meat is prepared. The aunt goes to find the girl to make her dance. Poor little thing! She has weak legs and cannot. It doesn't matter. She must dance. At twilight she enters her father's house, she washes, she puts on the mulumba and she puts iron rings on her neck, on her arms, on her legs, and on her head she puts a straw heat with parrot feathers. She eats with the female companions who have tended her in her leaf prison, afterwards she goes out to dance. At two in the afternoon they seat her on a sort of throne and everybody, one by one, brings her gifts that will be shared among the relatives.

The rain will put out the fire that has been lit until now, then they will sweep the patio and all will return to its normal rhythm.


A boy wants to get married...The paternal aunt has the right to find him a wife. If the girl accepts, the young man's father pays either all the dowry or only half. Two goats and a scythe to cut field grass, or perhaps 20 pieces of iron would be enough in other times. Now? Money, a lot of money.

If the girls flees from her house because her father does not approve the marriage, the two families become enemies and there can be serious consequences.

If the dowry has not been paid, the union is illegal, the marriage is null and void, and the aunts and uncles may seize whatever children are born of it. The payment of the dowry is the legal act of the marriage and bestows the right to take immediate possession of the woman. Thus, courtship does not exist. The young woman is prepared for marriage at age 16, the young man at 20. The years used to be counted by placing a small stick aside every time they went to prepare the field. Now they know how to consult a calendar which often they don't have; or they recall an event, for example, "I was born in the year of independence."

In earlier times no one married without the family's authorizing it; premarital sex was prohibited. The father could even kill his own daughter if she was compromised. Now no one worries about it and says only, it's her business. The consequences? Depravity. Young girls with babies everywhere, illicit unions....

Before getting married the young man prepares the house in his father's village and the brothers give gifts of spears to their future brothers-in-law.

The bride, accompanied by her family, arrives at her husband's village where an abundant banquet with drinks has been prepared. The women settle in the house of the grandmother and the men in the house of the husband. At nightfall, after the meal, all come out to dance except the bridal couple. Thus it goes on for seven days. On the seventh, if the bride is a virgin, the family of the husband announce the fact and offer gifts and iron adornments to her and to her mother as well for having known how to keep her daughter well guarded. Finally the aunt puts her on her shoulders, takes her to the middle of the patio, and sets her on a chair of leaves and sits at her feet fanning her so that she does not suffocate. The family of the husband deposits beside her hoes, goats...all the while everyone sings and dances. The husband watches from a window. Afterwards the two families pretend to argue over the woman who, finally, may enter the house of her husband. Before leaving, the bride's parents fill their mouths with water and spit on her as a sign of blessing that she might bear children. All in all, the ceremony is very simple and very pagan. The Walese Christians do not entirely forget their traditions that often infiltrate to complete the fiesta.

There exists another form of contract: Instead of paying a dowry , they give in its place another girl who will marry another young man of the family.
The infidelity of the husband or the wife gives rise to an endless number of very complicated quarrels, acts of vengeance, and broken heads. Unless the infidelity is desired by both parties, that is, two men exchange wives to have children.

Another case: polygamy. The first wife has authority over the others. Each has a separate house and each tries to lure the husband to it. If the husband treats them equally, they come to love and understand one another. Otherwise....

The women is subject to the husband because she has been paid for and is to serve him. If they are alone in the house, they eat together; in the presence of guests, the husband eats in the baraza (patio) and she in the kitchen. Without the husband's permission, the wife can do nothing. Only in field labor does she have complete freedom of action. The emancipation of women here is a long ways off.

But it can also happen that the wife abandons the husband and returns to her father's house. The causes can be numerous: the husband's infidelity, venereal diseases, drunkenness... To restore peace a judge may intervene and make both parties pay a fine.

The couple sleep in the same bed. During menstruation the wife turns her back on her husband, he understands and requests nothing. If this happens when she is outside her house, first the men must leave, then she will enter. The husband may request sexual relations two or three times a week, the wife will never ask and instead either accepts his requests or in certain cases rejects them, especially if she is weak or sickly.

In the case of impotence he knows very well where to find the necessary aphrodisiac. It is called "keukeu." It is nothing more than the male organ of the goat, sliced, toasted, reduced to a powder, applied to incisions on the lower stomach, the crotch and the back just below the kidneys.

If she finds herself pregnant, after the sixth month sexual relations are avoided. After the birth of the baby the woman sleeps in the other bed to avoid contact with her husband's feet, otherwise the baby will not suckle. Thus they continue for two years until the child is weaned. During all this time the husband will go elsewhere to console himself and will not drink water in his house until he is again united with his wife, who approves this conduct because, basically, she has not time for him, she must tend to her baby.

If she does not have sufficient milk, she macerates seeds of the "kisombi" and drinks water. To abort she boils the bark of the "kokina" and drinks the water. Abortion is attempted when the pregnancy is illegal. The mother advises it so that her daughter might still have a chance to be married.


Some of the women of the village, expert in the task, help out during the birth of a baby. The birth table consists of a cape of leaves on which the mother lies as best she can. One of the helpers sits at the patient's back and keeps her held tightly between her knees, others hold her legs, a fourth with a mulumba in her hands receives the baby that is then laid on the leaves. They wash it with cold water to make it cry, then rub it with oil. When the mother is cleaned up they wrap her with a long strip of okapi fur so that her visceral organs settle back into place. They give her a light meal, without oil, so that she produces abundant milk. If the birth is difficult they make incisions in the stomach applying the ash of certain burned roots. The day after the birth they make incisions in the baby's stomach (20 small cuts) so that the mother's blood flows out. If the baby cries during the night they wash it with cold water to give warmth to the body.

Often mother and child arrive at the maternity ward with terrible infections.

The birth of a child always signals a note of happiness and is celebrated each time with a meal offered to the relatives when the baby leaves the house for the first time, usually after one month.

The brother and sister of the father have the right to name the baby. This is chosen from among dead relatives.

The baby will suckle and will be naked until it speaks its first words and begins to walk on its own. Then its hair and nails will be cut for the first time and a mulumba put on it. This is also an occasion for a little party to cheer the spirits.

If twins are born, all the family members dance for a whole week. Before resuming their work in the fields, they present to the twins' mother their tools so that she can sprinkle them with ashes from her fire. A sort of blessing and good omen that the field not burn and the crop not wither before its time. So much folklore! It is not the same when old people begin to decline.


Old people, if they have no heirs, are abandoned by all their relatives and often driven out of the village as carriers of the evil eye. Alone, unarmed, without provisions and without purpose, at the mercy of animals, they die in the blackest misery.



If the father dies and the children are small, one of his brothers will take care of them. He will treat them as if they were his, in time even paying the dowry. If they are grown, the mother will care for them.

The family goods: utensils, tools...go to the protector. The widow, if she was married following the patriarchal line, that is, if she went to install herself in her husband's house, will be taken as wife by a brother of the dead man; on the other hand, if the husband came to her house (matriarchal line) she will be free to marry whomever she wishes. The period of mourning lasts one month.

Around the corpse the women cry, shout, chant to the dead man. They dress in a malembelembe, a skirt of dried leaves cut in strips, they paint the rest of their body with white clay and sleep on the ground on leaves. Friends and acquaintances including those from a distance away come to join in the mourning.

The sisters-in-law of the widow beat her, quite rightly, because she is the one who gave the "evil eye" to her husband. The Mulese do not believe in natural death: no, it is all a result of magic... For that reason they go immediately to the witch doctor...and the widow will be subjected to a test by poison.

The corpse is washed and re-dressed in a mulumba, or a sheet or a blanket...and placed in a ditch (see above). One by one everybody goes by throwing in a fistful of dirt and cursing: "May whoever killed you die this very same week."

The burial at an end, which has taken place next to the house, they once again begin their crying and laments.


In spit of the little hospitals and modern medicine, sickness are treated by the medicine men, be they men or women. They possess the secrets of the plants and often actually do cure. Unfortunately they do not know the appropriate dosages and this can bring disaster. Many pay for such ignorance with their lives.

The Walese knew numbers and counted with their fingers: itani (1), ékué (2), etena (3)... mini (10). To count to 20, they slapped their hands on their knees or, if the calculation involved a longer time period, they set aside some place, the roof of the house for example, and put little sticks there (see above). They calculated time by observing the season: the dry season (kipwa) is near when the mustaferi, a jungle tree, produces fruit. The rainy season begins when the termites colonize. But also in this they have taken a step forward: now they even know the months of the year.

At first they particularly did not know how to explain the presence of the sun, of the moon, of the stars...They said the sun was something that Toré had given to dry up the water, to cause a drought. The moon was the light for the night that produced fever. That is why to remain in the jungle during the vigil of the moon they burned dry banana leaves and jumped over the flames with their feet together and their hands held out in front of them. Even now, the firefly is a star of the earth, a witch's lamp. If it appears in the

house it is gentle removed. If it is seen to shine outside they are frightened and insist someone goes with it to drive it off.


If for us music is an art of defined proportions, so it is for them. They make the instruments themselves using special woods that the jungle provides. Thus for example, the flute called the "leté" is a reed with holes and is played for funeral dances.

The "luma' is a sort of xylophone made with seven reeds of different lengths. It is played by striking the center of each reed during circumcision rites.

The "kata" is a sort of guitar. The resonance box is made of "kodo" wood closed with little strips of "kekele," a very soft wood.

The drum is the order of the day and is used for all occasions: games, marriages, mourning, circumcisions, births, harvests...

The horn completes the list of instruments. It serves to call together people for the harvest, for reunions of every kind.


The Walese do not have Olympic games, but they know how to devise ways to kill time. Often one sees them seated in the shade of a bush playing "opiodi." They carve in the earth 40 little holes in 4 parallel rows. Two can play, each with two rows. In each little hole are placed two little "opi" nuts (or two little stones), to be displaced according to specific techniques so that one can seize the little nuts or stones of one's adversary, emptying the little holes. The winner is whoever gets all the little nuts (or stones).

Another game is "Ikpi." The players line up in two equal rows. Each one has two sticks, one to balance the other in the air. They hit it as if it were a shovel trying to make it fall within a circle drawn on the ground. This game is only for adults because it is dangerous.

Like children the world over the "walesitos" play hide-and–go-seek. They also have their own version of Ikpi: a piece of vine serves as a rope. One, seated, having it in his hands in a semicircle hits it to the ground, another jumps in. Lifting the rope the other withdraws. The rope is batted again but from the other side and another prepared to jump. When the rope is batted into the center, one jumps into the center. Simple, no?


The Walese believe in many gods (toré): the god of rain, the god of the stars...In honor of the god they prepare food and place it as a propitiatory offering in the shade of a thick tree in the middle of the jungle where there is no undergrowth, that the god might be moved and help them with their problems.

If an earthquake shakes the earth, it is a toré going by. Then they sit, some facing others, full of fear, looking each other in the eyes, without speaking, without praying, just waiting for the toré to go on past.

If a person dies, toré descend on the tomb to gather up the soul and carry it off. From this new mansion the eyes of the dead person still observe the men on earth, which is why the living call upon him since, in such proximity to the Toré, that person has become powerful.

If the wind blows very hard and the rain

scatters the rice in the fields, they believe it is the dead who are passing, and then they raise their voices confidently in prayer: "Oh, god, help us, make this end!" The woman then takes an axe and hits the ground with it in the midst of the rain and throws fire there and leaves it until all is calm again.

The lightning is the Toré's dog that opens its wings and emits light to prove that it is strong enough to kill men on earth.

When it rains it is Toré that irrigates so that the food crops do not wither.

They still believe that the "siren" really exists. She lives in the river water half human and half fish. They fear her but they do not respect her because they consider her a malign spirit, a devil. All those who drown and disappear in the water is because she has entrapped them to suck their blood.

Finally, they believe in the witch doctor and in his performances. They live in "holy terror" of him and no one can convince them that, basically, they are dealing with an imposter. Intrigues, cruelties, persecutions...all of this is allowed and all suffer it with no courage to rebel. They fear his vengeance. His magic is based on herbs, poisons and considerable shrewdness. It is useless to recount specific examples, it would be walking into a labyrinth.

One thing is certain: Christianity has not yet succeeded in overcoming these beliefs and it is difficult to determine to what point western civilization has made any imprint on their traditions still so deeply rooted in their beings.

When will they open their eyes? When will they allow their law to be shaped by charity and love? To posterity the arduous sentence.

Original in Italian by Sister Rosa Lamonaca, Combonian Missionary in Nduye.                    <<GO TO IMAGES OF UPPER ZAIRE (DRC)