“But the forest does know it...” Persistence of omusitu in the BaNande culture and thought (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Article English OPEN
Francesco Remotti (2016)
  • Publisher: Università degli Studi di Torino
  • Journal: Kervan. International Journal of Afro-Asiatic Studies (issn: 1825-263X)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.13135/1825-263X/1883
  • Subject: forest | destruction | consciousness | History of Asia | DS1-937 | History of Africa | DT1-3415

The BaNande, farmers of the hills of the North Kivu (Democratic Republic of the Congo), call themselves proudly abakondi, the young and strong men who cut down the trees, who destroy the forest. Almost their entire culture is based on the principle of the “cut” (eritwa), as well as their social and political organization is due to the historical achievement of their territory wrested from the forest. Even the erotic activity is designed with the typical categories of abakondi. But the traditional culture of the BaNande was not geared only to this sense of conquest of the forest. The author of this article tries to show how the forest (omusitu) would be made to survive in different ways. First, not all of the forest was destroyed. Indeed islands of forest remain here and there, such as supplies of food, timber, medicines, as memory of what had been destroyed, and as headquarters of the forest spirits. Second, whenever a chief died, he was buried on his hill not underground, but imprisoned by the trees of the forest planted all around his body. These tree tombs, real historical monuments of vegetable nature, are called by the BaNande amahero and are designed as “small forest” (singular akasitu). Finally it was diffused in the nande culture the awareness that the destruction of the forest doesn’t happen with impunity. The pride of abakondi is replaced by the recognition of omusitu (forest) as autonomous world, which demands to be at least partially preserved, both physically in the territory, both as an entity with even “consciousness”. Once, the BaNande thought of not being able to break free from this consciousness, and this ecological anxiety emerged especially in the most significant moments of the reproduction of their culture, i.e. when in the olusumba (their rite of initiation in the forest) they had to form their new men. But this conscience belongs to the past: on the hills of the Bunande the “spirits of the forest” have disappeared, replaced by the “spirit of the capitalism”.
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