Nelly Bassily | July 29, 2013
(Originally published on January 21, 2013)
A year ago, Nelie Mouloumou began removing shrubs and grass on her plot of land. The land had been given to her for free by her neighbour. After clearing her field, she planted it, for the first time, with cassava cuttings. For her this is a new experience.
Ms. Mouloumou is an indigenous woman who lives in Mayéyé district, about 230 kilometres from Pointe-Noire, in Congo-Brazzaville. Following her husband’s death almost 10 years ago, Ms. Mouloumou worked as a farm labourer in the fields of Bantu women.
She recalls weeding, sowing, planting, and transporting her employers’ crops. She worked long days that would start at 7 am and end at 6 pm. She says: “At the end, they gave me only 500 CFA francs (about one U.S. dollar) per day. It was humiliating.”
In Congo-Brazzaville, indigenous peoples traditionally lived by hunting and gathering. However, logging and urban sprawl have made game and fruit trees rare. Indigenous peoples have been forced to change their lifestyle. Many find themselves working for very poor wages on the farms of the Bantu.
Blaise Mantsiémé is the Bantu neighbour who gave Mrs. Mouloumou part of his land. Mr. Mantsiémé is happy to see an indigenous woman working her own land. He explains: “The land belongs to nature, so why would I grab hold of it? My wish is to see the subordination of indigenous peoples [to the Bantu] become a bad memory.”
Prosper Pinda is a sociologist who works in the Social Affairs Department for the area. “It reminds me of slavery,” says Mr. Pinda about indigenous peoples working for very little pay. He adds, “The indigenous peoples must therefore learn to become more aware [of their rights].”
That’s something that Ms. Mouloumou is now more aware of. She says: “I have my hands, my feet and my head. I do not see how [I could continue to] work for a Bantu who will not pay me in relation to the work I’m doing.”
Ms. Mouloumou is waiting to harvest her cassava in three months. But she is already benefiting from it. She often picks cassava leaves to sell in the small Mayéyé market. With the money she earns, she will buy palm nuts. After boiling the palm nuts, she uses the yellowish boiled water to prepare saka-saka, a Congolese dish made from mashed cassava leaves.
But Ms. Mouloumou’s problems are far from over. After harvesting her cassava, she will have to deal with dilapidated roads and exorbitant transportation costs to deliver her crops to major centers such as Sibiti, Dolisie, and Pointe-Noire.
But that’s not going to stop her. She’s relying on her crops to cover school fees for her three children. She says: “My children must be educated much like those of the Bantu so that one day they can properly defend indigenous rights.”
Ms. Mouloumou also hopes to earn enough money to build a brick house for her and her children in the town of Sibiti.