For the Ekondas pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the most important moment in the life of a woman is the birth of her first child. The young mother is called Walé (‘primiparous nursing mother’).
A walé carries both responsibilities and status: she returns to her parents, where she remains secluded for 2-5 years, and must adhere to several strict taboos during this time. She takes on a nickname to differentiate herself from walé rivals, and engages in an elaborate beautification ritual to draw attention to herself.
In this series from Patrick Willocq (1969, France), a continuation of his elaborate staged scenes with the walé, he portrays this characteristic ritual in ornate colour and intimate proximity. Willocq explains the presentation further: “She spreads a red preparation, a mixture of powder of ngola wood with palm oil, over her own body. The sophisticated hairstyles, made of a mud-like paste, a mixture of ashes from bopokoloko leaves and palm oil, are yet another way for walés to flaunt their uniqueness.”