Hello. My name is Ramane Moungomo. I am a Pygmy from the Republic of the Congo. I live with my family in a small village, located deep in the tropical rainforest, in the province of Lekoumou. We are, generally, a group of people who have self-segregated from the outside world because of the continuing discrination we face from all other ethnic groups across the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Our struggles in everyday life are generally unknown to the modern world and this is why I have decided to share my story.
My father, papa Moungomo, had two wives and four children. His first wife, mama’ Loumouomou (1), had two sons, Fabien and Eric, and his second wife, mama’ Moukouala, also had two children, me and my younger sister, Moungomo Lucie. I am the third oldest of his four children.
I was maybe 2 or 3-years-old (2) when mama’ Lumouomou came down with Malaria. Because we were poor, my father could not afford modern medical treatment or medicine. As Pygmies have done for thousands of years, we rely on naturally-made medicines to cure diseases. Although my dad tried every traditional potion he knew, her condition did not improve and a few days later she died in his arms. Feelings of powerlessness, guilt, and despair overwhelmed my papa as he faced the death of his first wife. He blamed himself for her death because he was not able to provide the necessary medicine to save her life.
The day of mama’ Loumouomou’s burial, my father had an emotional breakdown. He cried uncontrollably the entire day and refused to interact with anybody. He kept murmuring to himself that he did not want to see another person he loves die in front of him because he is unable to provide for his family as man is expected to do. He felt worthless as a husband and useless as a father. The entire village wondered what he would do to prevent this tragedy from happening again. We all worried about him, not knowing what he would do in his distressful state of mind. The next day, I awoke to find that my father was gone. He had somehow managed to leave the village without anyone noticing. My mother, my brothers, my sister, and I waited impatiently the entire day hoping for his safe return, but he did not come back. I was too young to fully understand what was happening, but I remember seeing the sadness on people’s faces. The sadness only got worse as time passed on. Confused by my father’s actions, we could only wonder how our situation would be without him.
Few days later, it became clear that my father had left us and we would probably never see him again. Mama’ Moukouala my biological mom, became so distraught; she did not know what to do. She could not believe the only man she truly loved would abandon her with four children with no means of adequately providing for ourselves. She became very bitter toward men. She started saying things like, “I hate men and will never trust another man ever again.” When she would say things like this, me, yaya (3) Fabien, yaya Eric, and Lucie would start crying. We were afraid. We did not know what we were afraid of, but we were.
Just days after the death of my step-mother and my father leaving us to fend for ourselves, mama’ Moukouala, my lovely mother, did the unthinkable. In the middle of the night, she had also left the village taking Lucie, my only sister, with her. My brothers and I could not understand or believe what was happening to us…in less than two weeks; we lost both of our mothers, our father and our baby sister. As with my father, after a few days had passed, my brothers accepted the fact that our mother and sister were not coming back. I don’t know the reason why, but my oldest brother, Yaya(2) Fabien, thought it was not safe for us to stay in our village. We left our village and headed, by foot, to a village called Inde. Inde is approximately 40 kilometers from the town of Bambama and is also the village where my deceased mama’ Loumouomou was from. My older brothers knew some extended family in that village so they believed going there was our best option. There is also a primary school there, which I later believed to be another reason why my brothers decided to go there. We were hopeful that our problems would soon be over and we could resume a somewhat normal life, despite losing our parents and only sister. We could not have been more wrong.
At the age of 3 or 4, once again I can only guess, I became very dependent on Yaya Fabien, who was maybe 14 at the time. He too did not have a birth certificate as did Eric, so none us knew exactly how old we were. Fabien was in charge of me and Eric and became more like a father to us than a brother. He took good care of us and we felt safe in his presence.
When I was old enough to go to school, Fabien insisted that I should be the first in our family to learn how to read and write. We did not have enough support for me to go to school at that time, but the next year, Fabien registered me in the primary school in our village. My initial experience was very bad as I was bullied almost every day. I was picked on and humiliated because I was a Pygmy and did not have the right school supplies and because of my trashy-looking clothes. The other children didn’t know this was the best we could do with the little money we had, but even if they did know, it would have made no difference to them. They looked down on me and my people for no good reason. They hated us, they treated us terribly, simply because we looked and lived differently. This same type of unjust treatment toward Pygmies continues to this very day.
The next school year was approaching and Fabien wanted me to have better school supplies and clothes, so one day he decided to go hunting deep in the tropical rainforest where animals are plentiful. He thought he could sell the animals he killed and earn the money he needed to buy me the things he wanted me to have. He told me and Eric that he would be gone for a few days or more; he also told us to stay with a friend’s family while he was gone.
Two day later, while we were all sleeping, we were startled out of bed by a loud knock on the door. The host of the house sent me to open the door to see who was there. As I approached the door, I thought to myself “who could be here at this time of the night?” As I approached the door, I could hear people talking outside but I could not understand what they were saying. When I opened the door, there was a small group of hunters standing there…it was then I got the shocking news. They told me that my brother had been bitten by a snake and he had died. This time, I was old enough to understand and feel the immense pain. I was stunned; I couldn’t speak. I just stood there, frozen, trying to take in what I just heard. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…I thought to myself, “It could not possibly be true…not my Yaya, not my brother, Fabien”. I began to cry. It felt like my heart had just been pierced with an arrow. I followed the group of men to the next village where Fabien’s body was lying on the ground. He looked like he was just sleeping. I continued to cry; I wanted to die, too. I began to feel responsible for my brother’s death, just like my father felt responsible for mama’ Loumouomou’s death, many years ago. If I had not needed school supplies and clothes, he would still be alive. “It was my fault” I thought to myself. People tried consoling me, telling me that it was not my fault, but I did not believe them. They told me, he did what he did because he loves you…and for no other reason. I couldn’t help but think if it were not for my education, he would not be dead. That was my reality.
To this very day, at about 17-years-of-age, I still think that I contributed to the death of my oldest brother. I still cry when I think back to that time. On the day I learned of my brother’s death, my life became meaningless…a life with without purpose.
But today, the hopelessness I was feeling, the despair that had gripped my young life for so many years has been replaced with hope and goodness. I am very happy and grateful to finally see some lights at the end of the tunnel…lights that promises hope; the lights that promises life and purpose in my life.
In 2013, a non-profit organization called Espace Opoko came to my village. They came especially to encourage the indigenous (Pygmy) children in my village to go to school. The founder of the organization, Averty Ndzoy, personally promised to help us with school supplies. He told us that if we go to school, we can become whoever we want to be. He told us our dreams could come true. Most of the children did not believe what he was telling us so the majority did not sign up for classes. At that moment, I did not trust him either since Pygmies are treated like second-class citizens by people who look just like him. I was already enrolled in some classes, but I did not put much effort into completing my education. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to give it a try. I soon became fully involved in academics. At about 12-years-old, I became a student who, not only trusted but relied entirely on Espace Opoko and all the people who rescued me from a life without hope or purpose. After so many years of hardship in my life, today I can say with enthusiasm “I have a dream.” I dream of becoming a lawyer someday so I can help other Pygmy children in my community overcome the many challenges we face every day. I know with the continuing support of Espace Opoko, eSynergy organization, and others, my dream of becoming a lawyer will someday come true. I am determined to see that other Pygmy children’s dream will come true, too.
I plan to share more stories about myself and my culture in the future. I do this not only to share the story of my young life with the world and the things that are important to me, but also to improve my writing skills. Your feedback is very much welcomed and appreciated; it will only help me improve my writing skills and make my dreams that much more likely to come true.
(1)Some names were changed in this story.
(2)Most indigenous don’t know their year of birth.
(3)Yaya is a term of respect for an older brother, sister, or friend