Filled with vibrant images that highlight the area’s magnificent flora and fauna, this photographic project, which was three years in the planning and execution, offers an exciting opportunity to learn about nature and the environment and it delivers an optimistic message about trust, cooperation, and conservation for the next generation of policy makers.
“Congo Tales,” a new book published recently by Prestel, began as a call to action to save the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the heart of the Congo Basin, which is the second-largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, from the threats of climate change.
It soon became a book about the stories of the people who live there.
A team including Pieter Henket, a Dutch photographer; Eva Vonk, a Dutch producer; Steve Regis “Kovo” N’Sondé, a Congolese artist and philosopher; his brother Wilfried N’Sondé, a Congolese writer and musician; and a group of conservationists and researchers spent five years in the basin. There, they collected and translated the tales of the people of the Mbomo region. The stories were then edited by the N’Sondé brothers, a job suited to the pair who grew up with stories passed down from their grandmother.
“These stories, through the values and symbols they carry, are our legacy,” said Kovo N’Sondé. “When I say our, I don’t only mean Congolese citizens or Bantu peoples, I mean mankind. These stories are all about wisdom, knowledge, ethical and aesthetic principles.”
A project of this nature is bound to draw scrutiny and face skepticism about exploiting native peoples and rituals. But this collaboration offers an opportunity to grapple with what an ethical approach to storytelling might look like. “Storytelling is such a powerful thing with which we pass on information from generation to generation,” Vonk said. “Any authenticity I have gained is just by listening and not trying to explain.”
Henket, who photographed the community members’ re-enactments of the stories, viewed his presence as more about offering technical expertise, such as lighting and composition. “What I wanted to do with the Mbomo people was to really let them tell the stories how they wanted to see it,” he said.
Sources: NYTimes By Lovia Gyarkye Photography: by Pieter Henket