Documentary Photography

Documentary photography is a vital tool to communicate an injustice, a social problem, or other current issues.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pygmies of Eastern Congo

The second Congo War, also known as Africa's World War and the Great War of Africa, began in August 1998 in the DRC, and officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Democratic Republic of Congo took power (though hostilities continue to this day).  By 2008 the Second Congo War, and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation, making the Second Congo War the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War 11. Millions more were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighboring countries. Despite a formal end to the war in July 2003 and an agreement by the former belligerents to create a government of national unity, 1,000 people died daily in 2004 from easily preventable cases of malnutrition and disease.
The Pygmy tribe or Twa, are one of the oldest tribes in Africa.  They have lived a very primitive life in the forest, by hunting animals such as antelopes, pigs and monkeys, fishing, and gathering honey, wild yams, berries and other plants. They ate porcupine which they believe the quills of the porcupine cures all diseases.  For them, the forest is a kindly personal god, who provides for their needs.  They relied on nature for everything, food, shelter, water, and plants for herbal medicine.
 A field of tea leaves to Buyungule Village.
I had the honor of spending time with Chief Ncavuna and his beautiful and graceful wife Antoinette.
The kindness, generosity I received will forever be remembered. They have absolutely nothing and wanted to give me rice. Buyungule Village has 350 pygmies and is at the foothills of a National Park where a group of Interhamwe live.  They live in fear of attacks on a daily basis.
They are being chased out of the forest by Interhamwe, FDLR, Congolese Soldiers, and the Government.  They are given a very small piece of land. Pygmies have seen their rainforest homes threatened by logging, and are driven out by settlers. In some places they have been evicted and their land has been designated as national parks. They are routinely deprived of their rights by governments, which do not see them as equal citizens.
If a Congolese woman works she will get $1.00 USD per day and a Pygmy woman will get 50 cents per day.  The women give birth in their huts.  They are attacked almost every night, raped, their cloths, which are rags are taken, their utensils, everything they own.  They are considered the lowest caste of African tribes.  I have spent many days with the pygmies, small frail, gentle people.  Extreme poverty, in the Congo there is extreme poverty everywhere, but this is pitiful. None of the children I have met have ever been to school, they are completely illiterate, sometimes the Chief may have some writing and reading skills.  

All Pygmy groups have close ties to neighboring farming villagers, and work for them or exchange forest produce for crops and other goods. At its best this is a fair exchange, but it can involve exploitation of the Pygmies, especially where they have lost control of the forest and its resources.
I also met a woman Pygmy Chief Nabuci M'Mudumira. She is the representative in Bukavu, Goma, Rwanda, and Burundi. 
She's a tiny woman that just wants equality, peace and education for her tribe. This doesn't seem like a lot, but here in the Congo it's almost impossible to achieve these basic necessities. These women are strong and very courageous, they have been taken from their habitat in the forest and forced to live a life that is dangerous, violent, and they get no respect or justice, because they are Pygmies.  The discrimination  towards these people is  heartbreaking and cruel.  The Pygmies deserve their human rights too.

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