I am Walé Respect Me
I dove deeply here into an initiation ritual and aimed to create an artistic and documentary photography, very close to the daily experience of Ekonda pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Ekondas believe that the most important moment in the life of a woman is the birth of her first child. The young mother, is called Walé (‘primiparous nursing mother’). She returns to her parents where she remains secluded for a period of 2 to 5 years. By strictly respecting several taboos during this whole period, including a taboo on sex, she is given a status similar 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.
I have always been fascinated by native tribes because I feel they have a wealth that we have somehow lost. To document this beautiful tribute to motherhood, fertility and femininity, I proposed to some Walés, whom I’ve known for over a year, to participate in staged photographs that bear witness to a part of their personal history. Each set-up worked as a visual representation of one of the subjects that the Walé would sing about on the day of her release from seclusion.