Sent to the jungle of Zaïre, in the time when Mobutu was President, to help forest communities develop clean water supplies, I found commuting from the town impractical and moved to a mud hut in a remote forest village nearer to my work. The village chief, together with a local government official from our Sector and an extraordinary witch-doctor, conspired to resolve one of their village problems by getting me to provide a foster home for an orphaned girl of fourteen. The arrangement worked well until an unpleasant man, the political head from the neighbouring Sector, came and demanded that I set her bride price as he was looking for a wife.
His motives were suspicious, his manner was offensive, and Abélé was terrified of him. The problem was compounded because the man had invoked the local custom, and whilst I was obliged to give him an answer, my friends and neighbours were not permitted to advise me. But they could tell me how their own wives’ prices had been set and the factors that gave value to their daughters.
During a tense meeting before witnesses, I named the price for Abélé and sent the man home to think about it. The price was perfectly reasonable, but the conditions about how it was to be paid meant his ego got in the way. His reaction was as unexpected as it was violent. A grim train of events followed swiftly, culminating in a gruesome jungle barbecue which effectively ended his suit.
Soon afterwards, whilst we were building a new village meeting house, a young man from the village asked me to name Abélé's bride price for him. On the night we inaugurated our new meeting house, before the assembled villagers, he made his request public. I answered him with the same price as before.
Mputu accepted without hesitation, but the way in which he paid the price produced more than a few surprises.
This book will take you into the dark unseen regions of the steamy jungle of central Africa, and introduce you to some wonderful people who are perfectly adapted to that environment. Their lives are rich with traditions and bizarre customs, and riddled with superstitions, taboos and magic. They are self sufficient, relying on the forest to feed and supply them, and they live largely apart from the outside world, needing few of its trappings and seldom seeking anything as base as money. At the same time, they have a vibrant culture and sense of proportion which fits well in their environment and society. It made living among them exciting, varied, tremendous fun, and most rewarding. If you are new to Africa you will get to the last page feeling all this and wondering "Wow! What hit me?"
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