The New Chiefs of Kilangulangu

Africa, Documentary, Leprosy, travel

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In March I was working in Kasai-Occidentale province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is one of the most challenging places to work in terms of travel, and out of the 3 weeks I had in Kasai I spent only about 10 of those days shooting. The rest was travel by car, bike and foot.

On this particular day, near the Angolan border, we had to walk for about an hour and half from where the car could go no further to find a man affected by leprosy (well what else would I be photographing?). The long walk there and back under the midday sun was tiring, and we treaded silently, slowly through several small villages. Many of the children froze when they saw me. Foreigners don’t come out to these villages, and most of the children had never seen “Le Blanc“.

One of the villages we came across – I swear it was no more than about 6 houses – had a small gathering underneath a tree. The two men in the centre of the photo (can you tell they’re wearing face and body paint?) shouted over to me to take a picture. The two men stood still and for a second everything fell into place. Afterwards they told me they’d just been made chief of the village. One or both of them, I don’t know. It was a 30 second diversion from a walk where all I could think about was getting back to shade and my crate of water. I realised later it was a pretty unusual thing to witness. I blame the heat…

 

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