Sephora Mianda: “Lele” (Clothing) Collage on tissu, Kinshasa 2020
Posing in a white dress, on which several sentences in Negro-African Mandombe script are inscribed, Sephora Mianda questions the paradigms of Africanness. The Dutch Wax, the fabric of the dress, for example, is today considered typically African, whereas it was originally imported from Europe. This work therefore addresses the notion of appropriation, while at the same time being a call for the valorisation of local fabrics.
IN THE WATERMARK
The adjective “daily” refers to what is part of everyday life and has nothing exceptional. This non-exceptional character of everyday life is often described as “banal”. The adjective “banal” refers to what is very ordinary and lacks originality and is often pejorative. This adjective can be used to describe something that has become common and anonymous, through extensive use or exposure.
In the context of this project, the daily life in Kinshasa has been for us a vast field to explore and linger on the omnipresence in the collective unconscious, until today, of a system and a mechanism of thought insidiously put in place during the colonial era.
We will therefore here, explore some “banalities” that are often overlooked, in order to shed light on the sediments of the colonial era that became diluted in the speech of most inhabitants of this city. What normally should draw attention and be questioned has become normal, banal and part of the language and collective imagination without distinction of categories of people. Additionally, the history of these sediments has been so abstracted throughout time that they became rooted and installed, like a “system software”, controlling everyday life without ever being questioned. A kind of software, not yet uninstalled, which continues to guide psyches and feed an inferiority complex, echoing the past.
Denial, lack of self-esteem, self-shaming, repulsion of one’s identity, self-flagellation, lack of self-confidence, fatality, exoticism, etc., all emanate from this software.
System software controls the operation of the computer. It manages the essential, but often invisible, work related to the maintenance of files on the hard disk, screen management, etc. System software is therefore part of an operating system.
This analogy, using computer vocabulary, is used here to enable us to be concrete and schematic in this study focused on the perpetuation of mental colonisation. As Georges Poirier explained so well: “the colonial system survived the end of colonisation not only as after-effects; its constituent elements became part of a specific whole”.
Achille Mbembe echoes this statement, when he says that: “in African narrations of the self, the colony appears as a native scene that not only fills the space of memory, in the manner of a mirror. It is also represented as one of the signifying matrices of language about past and present, identity and death. It is the body that gives flesh and weight to subjectivity, something that is not only remembered, but experienced viscerally long after its formal disappearance”.
To develop this theory of system software and to put it in the context of this work in a referential approach to language, let us go for example to a bar in Kinshasa where a few comedians sometimes present their latest jokes – which some would describe as banal, to entertain their audience:
“My dear, my intentions to get married in Europe are detrimental to me because the women there have names that start in French and end in tenderness: Shakira from Monaco, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé. But the women from Congo have names that begin in chaos and end in intimidation: Ana Luboloko, Sandra Kunzula, Eyenga Ekobolo, Merveille Maboso. What a heavy pronunciation: Boso!
You will hear in Europe, when a musician quotes his name, it provokes screams of joy and enthusiasm among women: Michael Jackson, Nelly, Akon, 50 Cent… But here at home, whether it is a Christian or a profane musician, his name vibrates: Lifoko Du Ciel, Patrice Ngoyi Musoko, others are even frightening: Kibinda Nkoyi.
In Europe they have great names of football players: Messi, Neymar, Adriano, Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Zidane. But in our country, each player’s name is intimidating, others sound like a hit in a ball, or like an exploding grenade: Papala, Mputu Mabi, Bolasie, Isama Peko. For others, it sounds like Emeneya pronouncing it: Mbokani! “
(Excerpt from a joke by the humorist “Kizubanata”, which has been circulating in Kinshasa’s bars since 2017).
Let’s not make a fuss about it, this joke is only meant to cheer us up! But unfortunately, it contains traces of unease. One that Mupapa Say describes in these terms: “The practice of the Europeanisation of names during the colonial period was a response to the desire to remove from the name its typically African consonance, which was considered barbaric. Thus, some people managed to change their name so that it “sounded good” to the ear, and so that it could resemble a European name as much as possible: -Ndama would become Damat or Damar; -Dibuka would become Debouck or Deboek; -Mbila became Billa or Bilat.
Moreover, the author specifies that “the family name was qualified as ‘Kombo ya mboka’, meaning ‘name of the village’, with all the things pagan, barbaric and uneducated (in the sense of uncivilised) this name could inspire.”.
In this same logic, we hear from the mouth of a large number of Kinshasa inhabitants (the Kinois) the expression “Nga naza mundele!”, “(I am a white man!)” or “Yo oza mundelee!”, “(You’re a white man!)”.
These expressions are often produced in specific situations. They are symptomatic and are used until today by the vast majority of Kinois. They stem directly from the colonial period. At that time, those who were called “evolved” actually fantasised about this status in order to benefit from the honours associated with it. As a result, they ate “like a white man”, took a nap “like a white man”, dressed, wore their hair, spoke “like a white man”, and learned to “laugh in French”. They wore sunglasses even at night to imitate white men. In short, in all circumstances of life, doing “just like the white man” was a commonly used expression: in Lingala “lokola kaka mondele mpenza”, in Kikongo Munukutuba “mutindu kaka mundele penza”, in Tshiluba “anu bu mutoke menemene”, in Swahili “kama muzungu kabisa”. These expressions all refer to the idea of being evolved, serious, lawful, perfect, immaculate, respectful, etc.
In Kinshasa, popular music and its actors have long played a major role in the dissemination and reproduction of these ideas. Thanks to their popularity, some artists have transmitted, perhaps unconsciously, this fantasy of the “evolved” class.
In one of the most famous hits of the singer Jean Bedel Mpiana, the artist communicates his fantasies that compete with those of the “evolved” of the colonial era. Take for example lyrics such as:
“The winners are those Congolese who live in Europe and who have dominated and confirmed their domination during the last century and who will do the same during this new century, let’s appreciate them because they are great! Do you know that this young man dresses well and that he owns a house, has his own business and eats on a table? Really?! Of course! That’s how it is… Actually, the others don’t know what ideology is, I told you that these are big statements! Let the young understand this well… Going to Europe is not synonymous with going to heaven, going to Europe is not synonymous with becoming a white man…”
(Excerpt from the song “Lauréat 2000” by Tshituka Mpiana Jean-Bedel, known as JB Mpiana; from the album Toujours Humble released in 2000.)
This excerpt shows how much identification with the white man, as the so-called ‘evolved’ have done it, persists until now among the Congolese. Clearly, for the artist, there is only one step between the identity of the ‘evolved’ and that of the ‘laureates’.
For his part, Kalonji, aka Bill Clinton, sings:
“The white man says that he is the creator of the turkey, eh! The white man lied to me when he said that he created the turkey to justify the fact that he eats its bum and that Ethiopians eat the legs. We content ourselves with the curse (the rumps)”.
(Popular song interpreted in ” Style Mombeer ” by Kalonji Didier aka Bill Clinton, then musician of Ngiama Makanda Noel, aka Werrason, in the album À la queue leu leu).
The “turkey”, in Kinois jargon, refers to the rumps of fried or grilled turkeys, which can be found in several corners of Kinshasa, eaten with chikwangue (cassava stick), chilli pepper and onion.
This part of the turkey, being in fact the bottom part of the bird, evokes a curse. Indeed, in DR Congo, in general, when an elderly person curses someone, they show them their buttocks while tapping it and cursing.
It is not uncommon to hear Congolese people asking themselves “Mboka oyo nani aloka yango? Who cursed this country? “or “this country is unlucky”. All the more, so since many people say: “Mundele esi asala nioso” (no need to tire ourselves, the white man has already invented everything). These preconceptions are certainly linked to the belief that black people are victims of a curse, as the slave theories based on the biblical passage of Genesis 9: 20-27 assert.
According to Mupapa Say, “Naturally, priests and religious were the first to find a similarity between this biblical text and the situation of black people, both in the colonies and in the faraway lands of their deportation. A column published by PRÉSENCE AFRICAINE provides information on the thoughts of a Catholic priest who made a career in Africa: Monsignor Augouard, then a simple priest, affirmed to his mother in one of his many letters that he was really certain, now that he was living with black people, that they were indeed Cham-descendants, which sounds very regrettable under the priest’s pen…
In 1906, the Rev. Father A. Vermeerch S.J. wrote:
“… And to express the overall impression produced by the descriptions of the character of the Congolese and their customs and habits, the initiation of the sons of Cham by those of Japhet into life and into marching, may be laborious, but it does not appear impossible. The Sovereign King, must not despair of his black subjects; it would be unjust to apply to their morals the proverb that says that if you wash the head of a negro, you lose your washing powder.”
The various examples discussed in this text are often taken lightly by the general public, while they constantly affect the opinions we hold about ourselves and our environment. Kalonji Didier’s song, however, has a subversive side to it. The ironic tone can be understood as a criticism of the dispossession of colonised and the myth of the cursed people.
The System Software, which is discussed in this text, continues to function flawlessly and haunts people’s minds to the extent of becoming one with the collective imagination, while regulating the circulation of ideas, all based on fantasies and dreams of becoming the other: the West which is moreover considered a perfect model imitate. It should be noted that this system seems to have a bright future ahead of it, especially within the next generation – spreading through the national education system, which is almost infested, in its form and content, with colonial traces that are invisible and have become normal in the eyes of all.
Poirier G. “Dépendance et Aliénation, de la Situation coloniale à la Situation Condominiale” in Cahiers Intern.de Sociologie, vol.XL, January-June 1966, p 75-88.
Mbembe M. (2007). “De la scène coloniale chez Frantz Fanon”. In Collège international de la Philosophie ,n°58, 2007/4. Cf.http://fr.scribd.com/doc/169859402/De-la-scene-coloniale-chez- Frantz-Fanon#scribd.
 « Yaya, na lingi na bala na poto, namemi ngambo ; muasi ya poto kombo ezo banda na français ezo suka na tendresse : Shakira de Monaco, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce. Mais muasi ya congo kombo ezo banda na loyenge, ezo suka na intimidation : Ana Luboloko, Sandra Kunzula, Eyenga Ekobolo,Merveille Maboso ; yoka kombo kilos : Boso ! Oko yoka na poto musicien atangi kombo muasi akangami : Michael Jackson, Nelly, Akon, 5Ocent…Mais biso awa, ezala musicien chrétien ezala profane kombo ezo vibrer :Lifoko du ciel, Patrice Ngoyi Musoko, mususu pe ebangisi yo : Kibinda Nkoyi.
Na poto oko yoka player: Messi, Neymar , Adriano, Ronaldo,Thiery Henry, Zidane. Mais biso awa, Joueur na joueur kombo ezo ya na intimidation nango ; mususu lokola lisasi, mususu lokola grenade, okoyoka kaka :Papala, Mputu Mabi, Bolasie,Isama Peko ; Mususu ezo bima lokola Emenaya mutu azo loba ngo : Mbokani ! »
Mupapa, S. M.-A. (2004). Le Congo et l’Afrique à l’orée du troisième millénaire: La pathogénie d’un sous-développement. Kinshasa: Presses universitaires du Congo, p.85.
During the colonial period, this status specific to the Congolese concerned “any man who has studied and who respects everything he has studied, who respects the rules of good manners, the laws of God, the laws of the State and especially those of his superiors… Emulation served to be the model of the “mundele ndombe”, black-skinned Europeans. This is why Byzantine differentiations, modelled on the appreciation of the coloniser, were used in their remarks: primitive, bushmen, “basendji” and “bahuta” for whom contempt and condescension were shown; evolving; evolved or civilised; and above the pyramid, the “elites”. See Mutamba, M., & M’Bokolo, E. (1998). Du Congo belge au Congo indépendant, 1940-1960: Émergence des “évolués” et genèse du nationalisme Kinshasa: Publications of the Institute for Training and Political Studies. p.48-49
“Ba laureaaats, bana ya poto basimba mikili ba confirmaaaa, na siècle oyo eleki pe ba ko confirmeeer, na siècle oyo ya sika to ndima bangoo, baza danzee!… Is ozo yeba that young man yango alataka true, aza na palace naye, na makambu naye, pe adamaka na mesa? You bet! But yes ! eza ndenge wana …But no, bazo yeba ideology te, nayebisaki bino koramikorakoza, oyo eza ba big talk ! Ba petit na biso ya kin bo capter yango na ndenge ya simalobe … Kokende poto ezali synonym yakokota bokonzi ya lola tee, kokende poto ezali, synonym yakokoma mondele teo…”
“Ye mundele alobi ye mutu asala Dindon, eeee! Mundele akosi nga que asala Turkey! Po ye alia mukongo, na Ethiopie bala mupende , biso tolia libabe…”.
M-A. Mupapa Say.op cit, p.110-111