Introduction / History
The Lese are agriculturalists who have lived in the Ituri Forest of northeastern Congo for more than 400 years. They are believed to have been the first of the wave of Central Sudanic immigrants from the Nile valley. Traditionally they have raised plantains (their staple crop) in forest clearings, on a seven-year rotation. Now they have introduced other crops, such as rice, beans and peanuts. Traditionally, Lese homes are dome structures woven tightly with forest leaves. They have also adopted the mud and wattle structures that other Congolese groups construct.
The Lese have been resistant to change and are widely scattered in small villages and hamlets over a vast area of tropical rain forest. They have an economic relationship with the Efe (pygmies) who have lived in the surrounding forests for thousands of years following a hunting and gathering lifestyle. The Lese receive agricultural labor and forest products (game, nuts, housing material, and honey) from the Efe in exchange for produce.
Limited inroads by Christianity have been made in some areas. The Lese are still largely tied to their traditional religion, which is a mixture of witchcraft and spirit appeasement. Some Lese are becoming interested in schooling, but many remain unaffected by the country's struggling education system. A disappearing road infrastructure limits movement within most of their territory. Health services are very limited in this remote area and there is a high infant mortality rate (80%) among them. The trade languages, Swahili and Bangala, are both used in the Lese area. Many Lese, however, are still monolingual, and some are being assimilated by neighboring groups.
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