Chief Bile Balando is the head of the Mankaba Tribe and village with the same name. We're talking village in the deep forests of Congo, Africa. All chiefs in the villages I visited were dressed in red colors. That is how you know who's "da boss". I met him after a ten days walk through the rainforests when I was covering the project REDD+ Congo in 2019.
While there I met so many wonderful people, a never-ending bunch of hilarious kids and a few of the chiefs in these remote villages. They rule over their tribes with a different story than the chiefs in the forests of the Amazonas. These Congo tribes didn't choose to live there, they had to move away from the populated areas during the brutal times of colonization. This was back in 1885 when King Leopold II from Belgium felt he had the right to take what he laid his eyes on. In the Amazonas however, the tribes have been living in the deep forests since before time was even invented.
Nevertheless, Chief Bile Balando's tribe is considered indigenous. On top of that he has that spectacular look a photographer like me want to see. And he was a nice man – welcoming, generous and kind, but also seemingly "tough" in his leadership style. In my interview with him I asked about his happiest moment in life..."When my papa came back after three days hunting. He had killed an elephant by himself", was his immediate answer. That was obviously not only a happy memory for him as a kid, it also brought privileges into his bloodline and family. It made his father a Chief back then...
Eight years before my visit, there was another white person in the area – a woman. The village next to Makaba is Ilee, the villagers in Ilee were very disappointed that she didn't visit them as well back then. I went for a visit to make up for that unfortunate absence. In Ilee I met with their chief. Dressed in red of course, but a man with a different personality – soft and gentle, humble and compassionate. Despite the short visit I could sense the difference in the atmosphere in these two villages. A thought struck me – leadership styles are crucial and mirrors the entire community culture in so many ways, no matter where you set your foot – in a village ten days walking into the deepest of jungles, or in a hyped company in any modern mega city center.
I am grateful for the opportunities given me through this Congo adventure, and I look forward to tell you more stories. It is just still too soon after coming home. So welcome back to this page in times to come.