Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880-1960 (Africa and the Diaspora)

Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880-1960 (Africa and the Diaspora)

Jan Vansina

Language: English

Pages: 357


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

What was it like to be colonized by foreigners? Highlighting a region in central Congo, in the center of sub-Saharan Africa, Being Colonized places Africans at the heart of the story. In a richly textured history that will appeal to general readers and students as well as to scholars, the distinguished historian Jan Vansina offers not just accounts of colonial administrators, missionaries, and traders, but the varied voices of a colonized people. Vansina uncovers the history revealed in local news, customs, gossip, and even dreams, as related by African villagers through archival documents, material culture, and oral interviews.
    Vansina’s case study of the colonial experience is the realm of Kuba, a kingdom in Congo about the size of New Jersey—and two-thirds the size of its colonial master, Belgium. The experience of its inhabitants is the story of colonialism, from its earliest manifestations to its tumultuous end. What happened in Kuba happened to varying degrees throughout Africa and other colonized regions: racism, economic exploitation, indirect rule, Christian conversion, modernization, disease and healing, and transformations in gender relations. The Kuba, like others, took their own active part in history, responding to the changes and calamities that colonization set in motion. Vansina follows the region’s inhabitants from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, when a new elite emerged on the eve of Congo’s dramatic passage to independence.

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but from a host of nations. During its first three years of existence the place counted traders from Portugal, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Belgium. Like elsewhere in Congo the personnel of the administration, missions, and businesses alike were recruited from nearly every European country, including even Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, as well as from the United States. That reminds one that while the Congo Independent State belonged to the king of the Belgians, it was still an

asylum at Luluabourg with eight hundred followers. While this move provided the state with a well-armed ally around this post, the ravages further east only worsened. They culminated in 1890 with the first of several largescale raids organized by Ngongo Leteta, the most notorious of all slavers and at that time an Arab ally. Two years later his plundering in eastern Kasai became so destructive that a large portion of the Luba population there was uprooted and, like Zappo Zap a few years earlier,

at least a decade or so. They held that Europeans actually lived in the sea and that was why their eyes were colored like those of fish and why their skin was bleached. So if anyone had told the Bushong or Kete in November 1885 that they had just become part of a new Congo state ruled by a bearded king somewhere underwater or overseas it would have sounded to them like a fairy tale. It probably was King Leopold’s portrait, however, that inspired the account told to a trader for the Dutch rubber

elsewhere outside of the kingdom. At this point the reader may well feel overwhelmed by the incredible intricacy of the communal organization to be found within any seemingly anodyne village: every person in his or her place arranged in hierarchical order within several different overlapping social webs in such a way that no two individuals ever occupied the same social spot. A detailed description of the economic life within a village with its complex system and know-how of food production and

Perhaps it was news of this development that prompted Morrison in Luebo to then send the following demand to de Grunne, who was also operating in the Ngende area: “In the name of the traders and missionaries both Protestant and Catholic who live in the region, I demand that you hold yourself in readiness for a reprising [uprising] on the party of the Bakuba people.”12 The message went all around central Kasai until a note from Torday in Nsheng to de Grunne in Ngende country quashed the rumor. For

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