Makongo Review: The Power of Good Grub

Observational film chronicles a Pygmy community’s fight for education

2 mins read

(Central African Republic/Italy/Argentina, 72 min.)
Dir. Elvis Sabin Ngaïbino

Traditional grub feeds a community’s future in Makongo. This quietly effective observational film by Elvis Sabin Ngaïbino explores two men’s desire to provide children with the access to education that they enjoyed. Ngaïbino follows the efforts of Albert and André, who are among the few members of their Pygmy village to have received formal educations. They recognize that the world is changing and that the children should enjoy proper schooling as well to ensure the survival of the community. Resources, however, are scarce, so Albert and André devise a fundraiser based on traditional hunter-gatherer skills to harvest the local delicacy—caterpillars—and sell roasted bugs by the tub in the nearby village.

The film highlights the challenges that the community faces, which are relatively plentiful. Poverty, for one, hangs over every frame of the film, particularly when Albert and André visit the village to sell their goods. Ngaïbino observes stark cultural contrasts that live in close proximity.

Despite the relative bleakness of Makongo’s first act, Ngaïbino finds hope in the caterpillar harvest. The community comes to life with the energy of the hunt. They forage through dense woods and wade through waist-high swamps, following the two men who know the secret to a belly full of grubs. Observing the hunt without treading upon outsider ethnography, Ngaïbino documents the practice of harvesting the local delicacy.

When Albert and André finally bring their roasted snacks to the village, Makongo witnesses the insatiable appetite of capitalist culture as locals in the market nearly create a feeding frenzy. The power imbalance in the transactions emphasises the need to create opportunities for the children to access education, for the work that goes into harvesting and preparing the bugs hardly pays a fair dividend. But the final scenes of the Makongo illustrate how some rewards bring far more than dollar values, and provide the first steps towards sustainable futures.

Makongo screens at Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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