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A Cruel Tradition In Congo: When Kids Die, Witch-Hunts Target Parents

A child waiting to be examined at a hospital near Bandundu
A child waiting to be examined at a hospital near Bandundu
Désiré Tankuy

DISASI As the little coffin leaves the hospital morgue in this western Congolese town, there is total silence.

Yves Ibama was 14 years old when he was taken from his parents suddenly, after a short illness. On Buzala Avenue, in the densely populated town of Disasi where the wake is being held, everyone is uncharacteristically serene. Usually, young hoodlums heckle the adults and accuse them of being sorcerers who “eat the body of the deceased.”

A few meters away, some of Yves’ former schoolmates, dressed in their blue and white uniforms, are keeping watch. Around their heads, they are all wearing a white ribbon that reads “Adieu Yves.” They sing funeral songs around the coffin.

Suddenly, a group of older youths appears. They point to Yves’ parents and shout: “They are the ones who ate their child, we must punish them.”

It is a tradition here in the western Congolese province of Bandundu. When children die, their friends retaliate by attacking their parents. They beat up the parents, wreck and burn their houses, or the house of an uncle who is suspected of having eaten the dead child.

Last year, two houses were burned down in Camp Onatra, a Bandundu neighborhood. Two years earlier, several fathers were killed and dozens of houses burnt to the ground. These last months, however, some children have started rebelling against the violence, taking action to protect the families of their dead friends.

Protecting the families

“Nothing bad is going to happen this time,” say Yves’ friends, determined to protect the parents of their deceased comrade. “No one can fight death; it is everyone’s destiny. Please respect the dead,” they say.

Their courageous spokesperson, 14-year-old Tansele Manda, reminds the hoodlums that they are here to mourn the death of their friend and share the family’s grief, and that no trouble will be tolerated. His words managed to dissuade the youths, who leave one after the other. The parents and those who were worried about being attacked and pelted with stones are relieved.

The province’s officials have started cracking down on these young delinquents. Esperant Sanduku, Mayor of Disasi, says there is a new decree that bans these kinds of indecent demonstrations. “The troublemakers will be heavily sanctioned, and the prison gates are wide open to welcome the offenders,” he says.

Yayo-Yayo, 27, has just served six months in Bandundu’s central prison. Since being freed, he has turned his life around, and has a hard time accepting that youths could be so cruel during a funeral. “They shouldn’t be breaking the law. I assure you it’s not fun to go to prison,” he says.

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