When a woman from the Ekonda pygmy tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo gives birth to her first child, she enters a period of partial seclusion with her newborn, leaving strenuous work and her partner behind. Known as a walé, the new mother is helped by those who have come before her. This semi-isolation can last up to five years, and when the walé reenters her community, she participates in an intricate ritual. Photographer Patrick Willocq interprets these moments in his dream-like series, I Am Walé, Respect Me.
Willocq works with the women and Congolese ethnomusicologist Martin Boilo Mbula to translate the rituals, which are built on song. Willocq then creates a mise-en-scène, like the one seen here. Using local textiles and bamboo poles, he built the set for Lokito, who, after two years in seclusion with her child, sang “I leave this room/In this room I look for belongings.”