“The Broken Chains of “Lunatics””
In Ivory Coast near the village of Akobro, to the south of Bouake, Alou lives chained to a dead trunk. Like Jérémi N’Agussan who is taken « in the wood », one of his legs is trapped inside a block of wood by an iron structure.
Many thousands of mentally ill Africans are either tied up or kept prisoner for years on end, often until the last days of their life.
Under pressure by « prophets » of local sects, certain families pay out as much as one third of their monthly salaries to the self-proclaimed « prophet » to keep the mentally ill individual in chains. Another frequent practice « to chase away evil spirits » means that patients, many of them schizophrenics, are whipped.
One man, Grégoire Ahongbonon, from Sainte Camille association, tries to help these people.
“…and then these shattering images, which have been haunting me ever since I saw them, of men chained to trunks - yes, legs bound to trunks or feet through the hole in the wood, or the terrible image of a leg that looks as if cast in the wood like concrete, all the possible ways to chain a man to the stone of a trunk and its wood.
These are your strongest images, dear Alexis…You know, I told you, one night, in Sarajevo, what I hold for the greatest scandal in this world: the moment when, in a body, one mutilates and tries to obliterate this intimate, ultimate glow which the light of a humiliated face is… And, consequently, you know what, according to me, makes the greatness of journalism - you know that literature, when it turns journalist, should be nothing but the revenge of faces on this death without number, without name and, thus, without face that is death inflicted by the great modern barbarities…
I have seen so many so-called witnesses wallow in the death of others that I am happy to be able to salute these other testimonies, yours: snap shots of death and life; silent conversations with survivors; photos like lifesavers thrown to those treated inhumanely; these depressing images which are, at the same time, as many lessons in life.”