I am Walé Respect Me



For his series I am Walé Respect Me, Patrick Willocq (b. 1969, France) dives deep into an initiation ritual of the Ekonda pygmies, the indigenous people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rite is specific to women, following the birth of a first child, reflected in the word Walé itself which means 'primiparous nursing mother'. Willocq explains that a Walé is usually young (15-18 years old) and returns to her parents' care where she remains secluded for a period of 2 to 5 years, during which she observes a strict taboo of sex and she is introduced to her new social role with the help of her mother. The end of the Walé's seclusion is marked by a dancing and singing ritual.

Willocq used a collaborative approach to his series, composing elaborate scenes in concert with the clans, and he explains that "each image [is] a visual representation of an intimate thought she will sing the day of her release from seclusion". He aims for the series to serve as a tribute to motherhood, fertility and feminity.