Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGM staff
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGM staff

How Butterflies Shed Light on Central Africa’s War

A farmer turns their wings into artistic scenes of more peaceful days.

This story appears in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Butterflies are abundant in the Central African Republic. It is home to nearly 600 identified species, many brilliantly colored, some as big as a saucer. Clouds of the fluttering insects often appear suddenly—a striking contrast to a landscape that’s been ravaged during the past four years by a brutal civil war.

View Images

This Graphium policenes is one of nearly 40 species of swordtail butterflies known to inhabit Africa.

Farmer Philippe Andé finds solace in the creatures. For four decades he has been collecting butterfly wings from his fields and turning them into works of art. With nothing more than tweezers, a razor, and some rubber cement, Andé carefully assembles the wing sections to render scenes of Central African life: a boy harvesting coconuts, women pounding cassavas to make flour, the nation’s multihued flag (above). Each tableau is like a stained glass window, says National Geographic senior editor Peter Gwin, who writes about the country in next month’s issue.

Andé began creating these pieces so he could sell them to tourists to supplement his income. But because the area has become so plagued by violence, customers are now scarce.

Still Andé keeps at his art. It’s a form of healing, he says, a way of capturing his country’s true beauty and recalling the peacefulness it once had.

To go FURTHER into what life is like in the war-torn Central African Republic, read Peter Gwin’s feature story in the May issue of National Geographic.