Through this project, I deep dive into an initiation ritual and aim to create an artistic and documentary photography, very close to the daily experience of Ekonda pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For the Ekondas, the most important moment in the life of a woman is the birth of her first child. The young mother is called Walé. She gives birth, then returns to her parents where she remains secluded for a period of 2 to 5 years. During her seclusion, a Walé is under very special care. Her mother introduces her to her new social role. By strictly respecting the sex taboo during this whole period, she is given a similar status to that of a patriarch. The end of her seclusion is marked by a dancing and singing ritual. The choreography and the songs have a very codified structure but are unique creations specific to each Walé. She sings the story of her own loneliness, and with humor praises her behavior while discrediting her Walé rivals.
I’ve always been fascinated by native tribes because I feel they have in them a wealth that we ourselves have lost. Today many initiation rituals in the Congo gradually disappear. The ritual of the Walé woman still resists pressure of modern life but for how long? It is a beautiful tribute to motherhood, fertility and femininity, which is why I proposed to five Walés, whom I have known for over a year, to participate in staged set ups to witness a part of their personal history, each image being a visual representation of an intimate thought she will sing the day of her release from seclusion.
This series is a personal reflection of women in general and the Walé ritual specifically, but it is first and foremost the result of a unique collaboration with five pygmy women, their respective clans, an ethnomusicologist, an artist and many artisans of the forest. Working together, our mutual experiences become richer giving birth to I am Walé Respect Me.