National Geographic : 1960 Feb
MICHEL Bustle of plantains on a tumpline bows a sturdy f foot wife. Bantu supplied the fruit, which is coc before eating. Plantain contains more starch and sugar than the related banana. and he wore three strings of red plastic beads. The groom met the bride's procession and led it to two banana-leaf cushions that had been placed on the ground. There they all stood still for quite a time. Meanwhile, the village matriarch sat fanning the cushions, and the other villagers filed past, giving the couple a slap and putting presents in a plate. Some of these gifts were symbolic. The bride's Bantu mistress, for example, laid down a gourd cut to look like a lamp, indicating that the village would eventually give the couple a real one. Pieces of broken and twisted grass represented beads that would sometime replace them. Then, too, there were real gifts: pots, beads, cigarettes, franc notes, and two old-fashioned iron bracelets once used for wedding money. As each guest deposited his present, he had the right to hit one of the bridal party and smear ashes on the crone who was fanning the cushions. If she were to stop, even when 302 rubbed with hot ashes or coals, the wed ding would thereupon be off. Now came the dancing, led by a male Pygmy beating on an antelope skin. Following was a number by female pre cision dancers waving leaves. Last came a conga line-the Pygmies called it a monkey dance-of eight people, each clinging to the bark-cloth garment of the person ahead. Finally, the married Bantu women lectured the bride on how to be a good wife. Sikapawa hung her head and looked wretched. She actually burst into tears when told that if she were a bad wife, her husband would beat her. Then the Bantu women invited the bride to the stream, where they would wash her. The groom had been silent all this while. "Who will wash you?" I asked. "He will wash himself," the Bantu women said. Their departure for these ablutions concluded the ceremony, but there was still some skylarking among the youths and the bridesmaids. I deposited my gifts-a pot, some cigarettes, fish, manioc, and ten bottles of banana wine HUT-and left. our- When my Pygmies got home the next )ked day, they were exhausted. They had less sung and danced all night and had mixed banana wine with bottled beer. No work was done around my place for several days. As Christmastime approached, I decided I had had my fill of witchcraft, superstition, and pagan rituals. I wanted to share the holi day joy with my white neighbors, and so I invited them to Camp Putnam for a party. My boys understood and helped me decorate. We hung the living room with green vines from which we strung red fruits from the for est. Candles were margarine cans wrapped with green leaves and filled with palm oil. For dinner we had guinea hens the Pygmies had killed for me with bows and arrows. It was good to sing the old familiar Christmas carols instead of trying to join in the Pygmy chants. When I saw my guests out, moonlight flooded the Epulu as it flowed calmly through the Ituri Forest. The trees beyond the river were so high that the outline of their tops was like the crest of a mountain. More than ever I felt in love with my African home.