Close this search box.

Patrick Willocq: I am Walé Respect Me

A self-taught photographer, Patrick Willocq had a midlife rebirth. It was a return trip to Congo (where he grew up) in 2009 that made him quit the professional activities he had been carrying out for twenty years in Asia, in order to devote himself fully to photography, a thirty-year commitment.

France –

Through this project, I aim to create an artistic and documentary photography, very close to the daily experience of Ekonda pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For the Ekondas, the most important moment in the life of a woman is the birth of her first child. The young mother (usually 15 to 18), called Walé (“primiparous nursing mother”), then returns to her parents where she remains secluded for a period of 2 to 5 years (usually if her husband disappears). During her seclusion, a Walé is under very special care. Her mother introduces her to her new social role. By strictly respecting the sex taboo during this whole period, she is given a similar status to that of a patriarch. The end of her seclusion is marked by a dancing and singing ritual. The choreography and the songs have a very codified structure but are unique creations specific to each Walé. She sings the story of her own loneliness, and with humor praises her behavior while discrediting her Walé rivals.


Epanza Makita, batwalé.For pygmies, a bat is a very unique creature, half animal, half bird. By comparing herself to a bat, Walé Epanza Makita (19 years old, married, 1 year in seclusion, mother of Lotitia) talks about her superiority. Her rivals (here Walé Lokito) will not be able to copy her because she is unique (the Walé ritual is highly competitive as it’s all about having more prestige and power than your rivals). Ensansa : Bokéngé nyama, bokéngé mpùlú, n’sùname ng’ósunámá, bònkómo w’éngolo Song: part animal, part bird, I face upside down, bat the great © Patrick Willocq


I’ve always been fascinated by native tribes because I feel they have in them a wealth that we ourselves have lost. The ritual of the Walé woman is a tribute to motherhood, fertility and femininity, which is why I proposed to five Walés, whom I know for over a year, to participate in staged set ups to witness a part of their personal history, each image being a visual representation of an intimate thought she will sing the day of her release from seclusion.

This series is a personal reflection at women in general and the Walé ritual specifically, but it is first and foremost the result of a unique collaboration with five pygmies women, their respective clans, an ethnomusicologist, an artist and many artisans of the forest. Working together, our mutual experiences become richer giving birth to “I am Wale Respect Me”.


Written and Photography by – Patrick Willocq

Related Posts

Lens Kumari – Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati

Nepal – BEING NEPALI in the New Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal Tharu. Chhetri. Danuwar. Gurung. Lohar. Newar. The Nepali people …

Colin Pantall on Christoph Bangert “War Porn”

Germany – During the Spanish war with Napoleonic France, Francisco Goya made The Disasters of War. In three series of …

Kentaro Takahashi The Riverbed

Kentaro Takahashi: Reminders Photography Stronghold Grant Announced

Japan –  “The flowing river never stops and yet the water never stays the same.” —Kamo No Chomei, “My Ten-Foot …

Anna Fox: ‘Resort 2’ – British Adult Parties and a Photographic Carnival

United Kingdom –  For two years British photographer Photography Feature –  Anna Fox documented holiday culture at the iconic Butlin’s …

Jordi Ruiz Cirera Los Menonos

Jordi Ruiz Cirera: Los Menonos

 Bolivia –  Comprising of images taken between 2010 and 2011 in the Mennonite colonies of Santa Cruz, in Eastern Bolivia, Los Menonos …

Momo Okabe: “I truly wanted to destroy everything I had”

Japan –   Momo Okabe’s photographs depict the bare situation. Be it the sexual act, a wasteland, or the wake of …

Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber: Nothing To My Name

China –  Music plays an important role in subcultures and protest movements. Music brings people together – both in clubs, …

Alberto Lizaralde: “everything will be ok”

Spain –  In life we all go through good times and bad times over and over, tirelessly. I went through …

Cuong Do Manh : TWINS

Vietnam – “Twins” is an intimate portrait of Huy and Hung – a pair of albino twin brothers who live …