Pende - Economy

Western Pende territory is a plateau with an average elevation of 800 meters, incised by seagoing rivers and smaller streams. The plateau forest has disappeared; the last original forest among the western Pende, the forest of Mulwa, was razed by an agent full of zeal for the war effort (1940-1945) and the planting of fibers ( Urena ). The humus rapidly disappeared, replaced by sterile white sand. Forested corridors remain in the valleys, along watercourses. On the plateau, thickets of small trees that are resistant to bush fires—particularly mikhoso (Erythrophleum africanus ) thickets, which nourish edible caterpillars—and numerous palm trees and natural oil-palm groves of Elaeis guineensis, which, until 1960, fed many oil works, are important sources of jobs and wages. Among the Pende of Kasai, the forest has likewise disappeared, and there are no more oil palms. The western Pende traditionally went as far as Tshikapa to sell their oil. Since 1960, the oil works have no longer operated except for local needs (including those of the Pende-Kasai and neighboring tribes). The efforts that were first made before 1960 to get the western Pende accustomed to cattle raising are being continued, and herds of cattle are now given to some Pende farmers. The colonial authorities also pushed for the creation of pools or fish ponds along the brooks. The western Pende energetically undertook the job of digging out pools and making dikes, work that was foreign to them. In 1956 they were ahead of all the other territories in the number and area covered by ponds, and they are still maintaining them. None of these initiatives was proposed to the Pende-Kasai, who have remained less prosperous and less developed. Although they live in a mining region, they have refused mine work. They have not yet been touched by the most elementary economic initiatives.

Founded in 1901, the Kasai Company, with a view to harvesting rubber from Landolphia thollonii plants, established three processing posts, at Kandale, Bienge, and Dumba. A man named O. Bombeek, who directed them and who provided both Hilton-Simpson (1911) and Torday (1913) with information, related that 2 to 3 tons of rubber were produced per month at Dumba, compared with 6 to 7 tons at Bienge and Kandale. The Cokwe came to the latter post to trade rubber for palm oil (a 2-liter calabash of oil for 1 kilogram of rubber), which Bombeek used to buy from the Pende. The collapse of the price of rubber in 1913 put an end to this commerce. The local economy then turned to exploiting palm oil, an activity that was more suited to the tastes and aptitudes of the Pende, who are good climbers and fruit cutters; they were recruited in large numbers to work on plantations. This activity probably insured some decades of prosperity (prior to independence) for the Pende and the oil works.

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