“But the forest does know it...” Persistence of omusitu in the BaNande culture and thought (Democratic Republic of Congo)

  • Francesco Remotti Università di Torino


The BaNande, farmers of the hills of the North Kivu (Democratic Republic of the Congo), call themselves proudly abakondi, the young and strong men who cut down the trees, who destroy the forest. Almost their entire culture is based on the principle of the “cut” (eritwa), as well as their social and political organization is due to the historical achievement of their territory wrested from the forest. Even the erotic activity is designed with the typical categories of abakondi. But the traditional culture of the BaNande was not geared only to this sense of conquest of the forest. The author of this article tries to show how the forest (omusitu) would be made to survive in different ways. First, not all of the forest was destroyed. Indeed islands of forest remain here and there, such as supplies of food, timber, medicines, as memory of what had been destroyed, and as headquarters of the forest spirits. Second, whenever a chief died, he was buried on his hill not underground, but imprisoned by the trees of the forest planted all around his body. These tree tombs, real historical monuments of vegetable nature, are called by the BaNande amahero and are designed as “small forest” (singular akasitu). Finally it was diffused in the nande culture the awareness that the destruction of the forest doesn’t happen with impunity. The pride of abakondi is replaced by the recognition of omusitu (forest) as autonomous world, which demands to be at least partially preserved, both physically in the territory, both as an entity with even “consciousness”. Once, the BaNande thought of not being able to break free from this consciousness, and this ecological anxiety emerged especially in the most significant moments of the reproduction of their culture, i.e. when in the olusumba (their rite of initiation in the forest) they had to form their new men. But this conscience belongs to the past: on the hills of the Bunande the “spirits of the forest” have disappeared, replaced by the “spirit of the capitalism”.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Francesco Remotti, Università di Torino
Francesco Remotti is Professor Emeritus of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Turin. He conducted ethnographic researches among the BaNande of North Kivu (DRC) and ethnohistorical investigations on the pre-colonial kingdoms of equatorial Africa. He has also developed several theoretical interests, as is evidenced by his most significant publications: Noi, primitivi (Torino 1990; 20092); Luoghi e corpi. Antropologia dello spazio, del tempo e del potere (Torino 1993); Contro l’identità (Roma 1996); Contro natura. Una lettera al Papa (Roma 2008); L’ossessione identitaria (Roma 2010); Cultura. Dalla complessità all’impoverimento (Roma 2011); Fare umanità. I drammi dell’antropo-poiesi (Roma 2013).


Breda, Nadia. 2014. Il grande vivente. Alberi nella città diffusa. Alberofobia, resistenze, restituzioni. Macerata: Quodlibet.

Condominas, Georges. 1982. Nous avons mangé la forêt. Paris: Flammarion (1a ed. 1957. Paris: Mercure de France).

Remotti, Francesco. 1987. « Catégories sémantiques de l’eros chez les Wanande du Zaire ». L’Homme 27.3: 73-92.

Remotti, Francesco. 1993. Etnografia nande I. Società, matrimoni, potere. Torino: Il Segnalibro.

Remotti, Francesco. 1994. Etnografia nande II. Ecologia, cultura, simbolismo. Torino: Il Segnalibro.

Remotti, Francesco. 1996. “Che il nostro viaggio generi degli uomini”: processi rituali di antropo-genesi nande. In Carlo Buffa, Serena Facci, Cecilia Pennacini, Francesco Remotti (a cura di), Etnografia nande III. Musica, danze, rituali. 163-245. Torino: Il Segnalibro.

Remotti, Francesco. 2004. “Il secco e il putrido. Luoghi dei vivi e luoghi dei morti tra i baNande del Nord Kivu”. La ricerca folklorica 49: 15-26.

Remotti, Francesco. 2008a. “Bananeti e tombe arboree: ‘scomparire’ o ‘rimanere’ tra i Banande del Nord Kivu (Congo Orientale)”. Scienze dell’Antichità. Storia Archeologia Antropologia 14.2: 1083-1103.

Remotti, Francesco. 2008b. Una forma di antipotere: l’omúgúla tra i baNande del Nord Kivu (Repubbli-ca Democratica del Congo). In Alfredo Lombardozzi e Luciana Mariotti (a cura di), Antropologia e dinamica culturale. Studi in onore di Vittorio Lanternari. 99-112. Napoli: Liguori.

Remotti, Francesco. 2009. “I Banande e le loro epoché culturali”. In Paola Bacchetti e Vanni Beltrami (a cura di), Afriche. Scritti in onore di Bernardo Bernardi. 399-430. Roma: Istituto per l’Africa e l’Oriente.

Remotti, Francesco. 2011. Cultura. Dalla complessità all’impoverimento. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Remotti, Francesco. 2013. Fare umanità. I drammi dell’antropo-poiesi. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Turnbull, Colin Macmillan. 1965. Wayward Servants. The Two Worlds of the African Pygmies. Garden City (New York): The Natural History Press.

Turnbull, Colin Macmillan. 1979. I Pigmei. Il popolo della foresta. Milano: Rusconi (1961. The Forest People. New York: Simon and Schuster).

Turner, Victor. 1992. La foresta dei simboli. Aspetti del rituale ndembu. Brescia: Morcelliana (1967. The Forest of Symbols. Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell University Press).

Movement 3: Consciousness and Plants: Image-Tree-Word / Coscienze vegetali: immagine-albero-parola