The Cataracts

Andrew McConnell

Camera: Andrew McConnell
Edit: Panos Pictures

In 1876 the explorer Henry Morton Stanley first encountered the Lualaba River in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stanley was convinced that the Lualaba was connected to the great Congo River which the Portuguese had first sighted 400 years earlier on Africa’s west coast. Though easier than traveling overland the river proved treacherous, especially when facing the Wagenia tribe and the inland cataracts. Made up of seven rapids over a stretch of 100 km, Stanley’s exhibition had to drag boats overland to avoid the dangerous waters, constantly under attack from the Wagenia.

Against the odds, Stanley overcame the obstacles, naming the rapids Stanley Falls and founding Stanleyville. Today, Stanleyville is called Kisangani and the falls have been renamed to Boyoma Falls but one thing that hasn’t changed is the method of fishing used by the local Wagenia tribe which Stanley described in 1877. Using only natural materials, Wagenia fisherman make woven, funnel-shaped baskets which they suspend into the fast-flowing water from wooden frames, waiting for fish to swim into them and get caught. In a country where fish is a major source of nutrition, the Wagenia have perfected a technique to fish in the mighty Congo River that hasn’t changed in centuries.

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