ISSN: 1570-016X

Volume 1, Issue 3 (12 December 2001)

Commenting Kalundi's comments: Notes on the ethnography of translating the "Vocabulary of the town of Elisabethville"

Johannes Fabian

University of Amsterdam


Dept of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Amsterdam
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185
1012 DK Amsterdam
The Netherlands

© Johannes Fabian



Commenting Kalundi's comments, is, first of all, an ethnography of reading and translating the Vocabulaire de ville de Elisabethville, a history of the colonial town of Elisabethville/Lubumbashi (DR Congo) written in a peculiar literary variant of local Swahili. A "native speaker's" contribution to establishing a text and its translation is usually mentioned and acknowledged but seldom documented. In Archives of Popular Swahili, the reader can find a text containing responses and remarks by Kalundi Mango, recorded in conversation with J. Fabian. In the following, that text is provided with an extensive comment based on the ethnographer's understanding of linguistic form and content of Kalundi's remarks and responses.
Second, this paper is offered as an example of ethnographic writing that, as the author has argued elsewhere (Fabian MS, submitted for publication), is likely to emerge as a new genre. This genre -let us call it "commentary"- is made possible by a new kind of presence our ethnographic sources acquire when deposited in a virtual archive.

1. Recording Kalundi Mango's comments

2. Language and content of the Vocabulaire

3. On colonial bureaucracy and corruption

4. On Monseigneur De Hemptinne

5. On friendship, mutual aid, and social life

6. On the massacre among strikers at the Union Minière

7. On mutinies and rebellions

8. Why the name "Vocabulaire"?

9. About the author and domestic workers, sponsors of the Vocabulaire

10. About similar documents and writing in Swahili



About the author

1. Recording Kalundi Mango's comments

Point of departure and return of the commentary to be presented here has been a remarkable text, a written and published history of the colonial town of Elisabethville/Lubumbashi, capital of mining region of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Vocabulaire de ville de Elisabethville (ca. 1965). The document, written in a peculiar literary variant of local Swahili, was sponsored by an association of former domestic servants ("boys") and composed/compiled by a certain André Yav of whom we know only the name and the fact he was also the author of a history of the Lunda state (written in Lunda).

Three steps preceded current work on the Vocabulaire. First, the text was edited, translated, annotated, and published, with an analytical and interpretive essay, in a book, History from below (Fabian 1990). Second, text, translations, and notes were included in Archives of Popular Swahili, Vol. 4 on the website of LPCA. Finally, during a stay in Lubumbashi in 1986, I had worked with Kalundi Mango Albert on reading and translating the Vocabulaire. Most of our exchanges were recorded and parts of our conversations that contain Kalundi's more extensive comments were deposited, in a transcript and a translation, on the same site (see APS, Vol. 4, Issue 5 - Kalundi Mango's comments). The text will be referred to as Kalundi's Comments (KC); here is a brief report on how it was produced.1

We usually met in a large, almost empty room at the Ethnological Museum where Kalundi was employed as an administrator. Our sessions started on June 16 with a recording of Kalundi reading aloud the original text of the Vocabulaire. As a contemporary of its author he was familiar with the peculiar literacy of this document. Kalundi's reading was, on the whole, fluent; he had prepared himself for the task by marking, on the copy I had given him previously, many word- and sentence-boundaries (the most challenging problem the Vocabulaire poses). The reading was finished on June 17; then followed five sessions when we came together to work on the translation. I had prepared drafts and brought along a copy of the text which I marked at the places where I needed help with the lexicon and syntax or intended to ask questions about the content. Much of the information provided by Kalundi Mango (given in the course of brief conversations) was recorded. This was completed on June 27.2

Kalundi's comments were invaluable when it came to problems with translating certain phrases and decoding many names and other designations that, because of the Vocabulaire's peculiar literacy, would have remained meaningless or incomprehensible for the outsider (much of that information was included in the notes to the translation). But in his longer comments he also spoke as an independent witness to the history of Elisabethville and he did this, as we shall see, from a perspective quite different from that of the domestic servants who sponsored the Vocabulaire.

KC is a discontinuous and "mediated" text; only in a few instants Kalundi offered spontaneous comment on the Vocabulaire. Our agenda, as it were, was not set directly by the original text but by the ethnographer's problems and questions.

Before I add my commentary to the topics that appear as headings of the sections of KC I should like to note some observations on what one could call the material shape of the text as it reflects the communicative situation in which we worked. The first exchange (LANGUAGE AND CONTENT OF THE VOCABULAIRE) was recorded immediately following the arduous task of reading aloud the original version of the Vocabulaire. We were both somewhat tired and that accounts for traits of the text that make it appear at times out of focus, if not incoherent. Our conversational exchanges -- what we say in turn -- are often short and elliptic; after two people have talked to each other at length much "goes without saying." This may be bothersome as long as one thinks that extracting information is the aim of the ethnographer and that mediations such as actual speech -- a communicative performance -- can be neglected as mere vehicles of information. Another performative feature shows up when frequently answers and responses, single words, phrases, and whole sentences are repeated (by both participants). Such repetitiveness is a way of keeping the dialog going while we think about questions posed or answers received, or about another topic or other approaches to the same topic. A conversation may then come to resemble a tennis match with long sequences of volleys and returns preceding a "point." More than in Kalundi's answers, fatigue shows up, for instance, in the halting, stumbling manner in which I search for words or make several starts in putting together the elements of a word of sentence. This sort of stop-and-go speech is something to which, by its structure, Swahili lends itself easily; notice that it sometimes also shows up in Kalundi's speech where it cannot be said to reflect a lack of linguistic competence.

If KC is compared to my conversations with Tshibumba Kanda Matulu one will notice that the features noted above seem less pronounced in the latter. There are many reasons that account for the difference. Tshibumba had a narrative to tell and there were always the objects -- his paintings -- that gave focus to questions and answers. Also Kalundi and I had a different relationship. For several years in the seventies (when he was my administrative assistant in the department of anthropology and sociology at UNAZA) and later during his two stays in Amsterdam (when we worked on Le pouvoir se mange entier, see Archives of Popular Swahili, Vol. 3 and Fabian 1990), we had worked together daily. We had formed a deep relationship, characterized by friendship as well as by a kind teacher-student relation -- Kalundi was in many ways quite an authoritarian. By the time KC was recorded, he made few if any allowances to my still limited competence in Swahili. The latter shows up in the gaps of the transcript that are usually caused by his speed and lack of concern for clear articulation.

2. Language and content of the Vocabulaire

[see the section LANGUAGE AND CONTENT OF THE VOCABULAIRE in Kalundi's comments]

The published edition of the Vocabulaire, History from below, came out as Volume 7 in a series called "Creole Language Library" and devoted to the documentation and study of a type of language that has become a special field in linguistics. But apart from a linguistic sketch by Walter Schicho of the variety of Swahili in which the text was written (Fabian 1990:33-54) and some comments, mainly on lexical items, in the notes to the translation the book contained no formal analysis of the language. Linguists and historians who reviewed it were critical of Schicho's approach; they were bothered by the translation (really an oralization) of the written text into spoken Shaba/Katanga Swahili (Sh/KS), a step which I had found necessary for my translation of the Vocabulaire into English. They either did not see the need for an intermediate text that was not an authentic historical source but an attempt to make the ethnographic work of translation visible, or they wrongly inferred that the English translation was not based on the original. That I had taken care, again and again, to point to difficulties and limits of understanding the Vocabulaire was appreciated by some but counted as an admission of failure by others. Others again were bothered by an approach that does not compartmentalize linguistic form and historical content and would have preferred a clearer separation of, as it was put, objective text edition (including linguistic analysis) and subjective interpretation.

In spite of these expressions of critique and disagreement, almost all reviewers praised History from Below as valiant and original. Without exception they recognized the Vocabulaire as an extraordinary document. But I sometimes think that I was unable to convey the lessons I learned from my ethnographic approach to reading, translating, and interpreting this text. Let me list a few of them:

In a situation as it obtained in Katanga/Shaba it is not "natural" to assume that a given text -- leaving aside the case of multilingual texts, which the Vocabulaire is not -- comes in a "given language." The text, especially one that is based on a precarious literacy (precarious for both the writer and the reader)3, must be creatively appropriated. Far from being just a decoding of graphic signs, reading such a text requires an oral performance without which the writing would be a quaint example of literary incompetence (lacking orthography, misrepresenting morphological and syntactic structure), a caricature of speech (and, by implication, of thought).4

The precariousness of the text's literacy is tied to the precariousness of the linguistic medium to which it is applied. When we say a given document is in French or English (or any other of the scores of languages in which texts are printed or into which texts may be translated) we are rarely moved to raise questions regarding the variety of that language (the assumption is almost always that it is the "high" or standard form); nor do we usually expect that choice of a spoken variety will significantly affect literary form, much less expressed content. But this is exactly what ethnographic work on and with languages like Sh/KS makes us discover: The language -- "Swahili" -- is not given; it is made, invented in every instance, including literary efforts such as the Vocabulaire,5 whereby inventiveness applies not so much to an abstractly conceived grammar or lexicon (linguists can easily show that any given instance of parole mobilizes elements of langue) but to the necessity of having to chose between linguistic resources from several varieties of a language and, indeed, from different languages.

And there lies the interest of the first section of KC. The Vocabulaire expresses the precariousness of its linguistic medium, it does not stop to reflect, for instance, on Sh/KS itself as a document of colonial history. When I asked Kalundi Mango what kind of Swahili the Vocabulaire employs, it was immediately clear that this was to him a meaningful question. He had formed an opinion and was prepared to offer explanations.6

When I began by asking Kalundi whether the language of the Vocabulaire was local Swahili I expected him to deny this and to confirm my own view, which was that the writer, though obviously competent in Sh/KS, had taken recourse to an idiom or register that he and his readers would regard as literary and close to "Standard" Swahili, kiSwahili bora (a conclusion confirmed by Schicho in Fabian 1990:35-36). Instead, Kalundi affirmed the local character in the strongest possible way: this kind of Swahili derives from Lamba. Though this is linguistically doubtful it correctly links the adjective "local" to Lamba (closely related to Bemba spoken mainly in Zambia), the language of the people who had lived in the area prior to colonization and industrialization. In popular consciousness Lamba were the owners of the land on which the colonial state and mining company built the town of Lubumbashi. Kalundi did not elaborate on the Lamba-connection, it was more important to him to tell me that Swahili comes in different varieties and that the one we were concerned with was a "vehicular" language, not the language of the Swahili people. He must have read this technical term (probably not just once but repeatedly) in colonial texts.7

I then made another attempt to get confirmation for my view by reminding him how difficult it had been for him to read the text of the Vocabulaire aloud without frequent hesitations (implying: this would not have happened if it had really been written in local Swahili). Kalundi declared bluntly that his difficulties were caused by the fact that the Vocabulaire employed "bad" Swahili. Pressed to back this up with examples, he changed his strategy. Rather than responding directly he reminded me that, being a person "from Lake Tanganyika," he was a competent speaker (and writer) of good Swahili. Having made "good" Swahili his own put him at a distance from the local population and in a position to judge other varieties. He was undaunted when I reminded him that he was born and raised in Lubumbashi and we ended this part of our conversation with a kind of compromise: whatever variety the writer of the Vocabulaire employed, he was not used to writing it.

For reasons I don't recall (perhaps it was just fatigue, as already mentioned) I did not confront Kalundi with a contradiction (something that will occupy us throughout this commentary): From all we know about the history of Swahili in Katanga, children growing up in town during the twenties had an important part in assembling what we now consider a distinct and stable variety. Yet, like other speakers of Sh/KS (certainly like most who have had a certain education), he likes to dwell on the "bad" quality of a language that probably was his first and certainly one which, at the time when we discussed the matter, he spoke daily in private and publicly. Such a consistently negative attitude to what is an all-encompassing8 means of communication, in fact, of a way of life and the medium of a complex urban culture remains hard to understand for social scientists who think of communication, community, and cultural identity as inherently positive. We will have to consider more examples in this conversation of negativity and contradiction before we can attempt to offer interpretations.

Critical as he was of its linguistic/literary form, Kalundi found little or no fault with the content of the Vocabulaire. He considered it truthful and complete and he based his judgment on the fact that he had been a witness to most of the events recounted in this document. Incidentally, an interesting misunderstanding occurred at this point when in my questioning I used the French term for event. Evènement was incorporated in local Swahili not in its general meaning but as a specific designation of unrest, fighting, and other upheavals that occurred in the early sixties around Independence and during the secession of Katanga (another expression frequently heard was (ma-)troubles). That Kalundi (who is fluent in French) misunderstood my question shows what he liked to disclaim -- his familiarity with local speech.

Notice also that, exactly like the Vocabulaire, Kalundi talks of historical knowledge as knowledge of names. This had been my principal explanation for the term Vocabulaire (Fabian 1990:169-75) in the title of the document. We addressed this in another part of our conversation and it will be interesting to see that Kalundi, though he confirmed my interpretation here, took a somewhat different approach later.

A question that remains open at this point -- one that appears all the more urgent in view of Kalundi's negative evaluation of the Vocabulaire's language and his positive opinion of it as a truthful account: What is the relationship between linguistic form and historical content? We will have an occasion to return to this topic later on.

Following this first part of our conversation we made an attempt to record Kalundi translating the original text into French. The idea was to do this without interruption (either for comments on his side or questions on mine). This proved impractical; as could have been expected, Kalundi constantly paused or interrupted himself in search of alternative or better expressions; he changed word order within phrases, opted for different sentence boundaries, and so forth. In other words, he acted as a reader/translator of a text, not as a performer of speech. This was, certain difficulties not withstanding (see above), in marked contrast to his reading aloud of the text in Swahili.

3. On colonial bureaucracy and corruption

[see the section ON COLONIAL BUREAUCRACY AND CORRUPTION in Kalundi's comments]

Although the Vocabulaire covers also the first five years after the Congo became independent in 1960, it is essentially a colonial history. It is not just its general perspective, that of people who were physically closest to the colonizer, that qualifies it as "history from below." Its value lies above all in the countless ways it documents concretely and materially how the people of Elisabethville confronted their experiences of colonization and of life in a town that owed its existence and shape to the copper industry of the region. Labor recruitment and management, public administration, urban and territorial bureaucracy -- all these are recalled as elements of daily life; they had to be conceptualized and symbolized in order to be understood and dealt with.

In the experience of Africans -- going back to the period of "exploration" and occupation that established Leopold's Congo Independent State -- a key instrument and means of domination was the mukanda (a term current in Swahili, Lingala, and other languages of wider communication).9 In Sh/KS it can be a synonym for barua, letter, but it refers more widely to all sorts of documents of identity, travelling papers, labor tickets, medical attestations, letters of recommendation, and so forth, that Africans needed to live in a place, to move within a territory, to find employment, and to claim the services of the colonial state. Kalundi's comments on this aspect of daily life were informed by his decades of service in the urban and territorial bureaucracy before independence and in the university administration afterwards. In his comment he showed that what the people of Elisabethville designated by the term passeport included several services under the territorial administration. It was also a place in town. Those who needed papers had to be there early in the morning, wait endless hours in line, probably often only to be told that they had stood in the wrong one. When Kalundi recalled the chicanery an administration inflicted on Africans who had to be identified so that their movements could be controlled10 he repeatedly referred to "those days" simply as Belgian, confirming another characteristic of the Vocabulaire, which recounts colonial history without employing the French term colonial as a general designation either of the period or of the regime.11 In works of popular historiography, in answers to my questions regarding the past, and in countless casual remarks I overheard, colonial relations were not depicted as abstract relations and "The Belgians" were not let off the hook of their political and human responsibilities by treating them as but one of many colonial regimes (see as an example the story of the white man and his dog in the Vocabulaire, pp. 27-29; also Fabian 2001: ch. 10).

Another interesting lexical item showed up in one of Kalundi's recollections that I translated as "the people arrived starting at five o'clock, because before [in those days] every one who travelled needed his travelling papers." In local speech (French and Swahili), the French term used by Kalundi was avant, before. In Sh/KS it had taken on a specific meaning (analogous to the narrowing we noted with évènements); most often it was used without a qualifier (before what or whom?) because it was commonly understood to mean "before independence." Like other terms that take their meaning more from connotation than from denotation it is fraught with "ideology" (an observation made by Roland Barthes that I have found useful in other contexts). Avant is a temporal marker that ties remembering the past to traumatic events. It resembles the terms "pre-war" or "ante-bellum" in American English and we would expect that its meaning would be quite different for the two parties involved, the South and the Union, or, in our case, the colonizers and the colonized. Avant were the good times for the Belgians and bad times for the Congolese.

But matters are more complicating and troubling than that, as the next part of our conversation would show. The Vocabulaire speaks of two breaks, one between promising beginnings of the colonial encounter (symbolized by the regime of Leopold II!) and later deterioration, the other between life before Independence and after.12 Some Western commentators on the seemingly hopeless situation of most African countries like to cite Africans who deplore the advent of independence and cultivate nostalgia for colonial times. Kalundi liked to make statements to that effect, except that he, the historiographic documents on which we are drawing, and practically all persons I questioned about this, also expressed contrary opinions, revealing a consciousness that, far from being simply false, reflects unresolved contradictions and incomprehensible complexities.

One of the literary traits of the Vocabulaire are lists of names, mostly of businessmen and of officeholders on all levels in various colonial institutions. Most striking about them -- and most difficult to decode -- is their orthography. With few exceptions, they are misspelled (in a few cases beyond recognition). This gives us a glimpse at one aspect of the composition of this text. Consistent misspelling of names indicates that they were learned and transmitted orally and aurally rather than copied from printed documents. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that the author/compiler of the Vocabulaire was unfamiliar with most of the many French names. Did he simply listen to informants reciting lists of names and then write them down as he heard them? It would seem more plausible that he reproduced in his account lists (and quite likely other parts of the text) that his sponsors had agreed on and written down. Still, one wonders about method in what appears as orthographic madness. Phonic (mis-) appropriation, perhaps a kind of mimesis, of European (French and Flemish) and other foreign names has been a characteristic of popular speech in Sh/KS: a weakness, due to the absence of standards (or worse, yet another "proof" colonials liked to cite for the inability of Africans to understand European matters correctly); or a strength inasmuch as imposing familiar phonic shape on foreign (colonial) names and terms can be taken as a token of appropriation.13

An occasion to bring the matter up at this point was Kalundi's referring to one of the of the most visible colonial officials, the "lord of the passport," as "M. van Waremberg" (in a French pronunciation). Most likely this was Paul van Arenberg, a close collaborator of Maron and (later?) attorney general (see Fetter 1976: 153-4). As I noted before, Kalundi was able to decode the "correct" spelling of most of the names in the Vocabulaire; he was prepared to look at popular literacy from the outside (a position he also liked to assume in his opinions about local Swahili). Yet he revealed again and again that he remained steeped in local culture. He must have seen the name spelled correctly in the documents he typed and handled as a clerk in the administration where van Arenberg served. When he pronounced it in our conversation he recalled a sound, a memory he shared with the population. Incidentally, when decoding some of the more difficult items in the Vocabulaire (mostly names but sometimes also verb forms, or peculiar syntactic features) he sometimes showed signs of dismay -- presumably with the writer's incompetence. But often he chuckled or laughed, expressing, I felt, amusement or even fondness rather than derision.

The next question I raised in this section was one that I found impossible to resist and that Kalundi resented. My reasoning was that an oppressive bureaucracy must breed corruption. Kalundi, a person who had experienced, and lived, colonial contradictions always took pride in his long career as an employee of the administration. I expressed my insinuation in a local idiom14 referring to practices that had been endemic certainly as long as we knew each other. His immediate, emotional response was to deny that corruption existed "in those days." I insisted, he stuck to his position, going only as far as admitting "rumors." Nor was he, initially, taken in by my appealing to his imagination (and memory) when I pointed out that there must have been lower-echelon (implying: badly paid) middlemen out to profit from their position. Eventually he did feel cornered and admitted that, if at all, there was a "secret" form of corruption: small presents -- eggs, a chicken -- were offered to him at his home, never during office hours. What remained unsaid was a difference that obviously mattered to him: "old time corruption" was practised privately and with presents "in kind." Much of post-colonial corruption was public and almost always monetary. He reminded me that had seen me practice it in one of those situations that were part of daily life in Lubumbashi, in this case, when soldiers stopped our car for "controls" to extort the customary (and usually small) tribute they counted on for their own survival; they were paid badly and often not at all.

The examples of "secret" corruption Kalundi recalled, may in fact indicate that it had not so much a private as a communal character; it was both a continuation of practices of village life, where presents helped to gain favors and create mutual obligations, and a collectively accepted means to subvert the power of colonial administration.

4. On Monseigneur de Hemptinne

[see the section ON MONSEIGNEUR DE HEMPTINNE in Kalundi's comments]

When the people of Elisabethville/Lubumbashi recalled colonial times, sooner or later talk would get to Jean-Félix de Hemptinne, one of the pioneer Benedictine Missionaries in Katanga and later Bishop of the diocese of Elisabethville. Most Belgian expatriates I met would speak of him with admiration and fondness; to them he was a hero and a towering figure in their country's oeuvre civilisatrice. This image is thoroughly and convincingly deconstructed in Fetter's history of the town (1976) where the prelate is shown as an ardent collaborator of the colonial administration and the mining company. He was obsessed with protecting Africans (among other things as a prominent member of the Committee for the Protection of Natives) against laicist (socialist and liberal) Belgian and foreign "communist" influences (attributing the latter mostly to Anglo-Saxon protestant missions). In matters of colonial policy he was a leading proponent of "assimilationism," advocating the Europeanization of Africans without regard for their traditions.

De Hemptinne also figures prominently in Tshibumba's History and in the Vocabulaire. Both report an intriguing popular opinion or rumor according to which the bishop was a child of King Leopold II. I began the first part of this section or our conversation by reading to Kalundi the relevant sentence from the Vocabulaire. Kalundi immediately dodged the implied question by asking me whether the story was true. He gave no sign of recognition of the rumor and expressed his doubts. I insisted: Should we assume that the Vocabulaire reported a lie? Only then he felt that he had to take a position. He began by correcting the Vocabulaire's peculiar renditions of the bishop's name and then offered a conjecture. Maybe the Belgians put out the word for some purpose; they had their (secret) understandings.

Kalundi's response is surprising in two respects. First, it is quite unlikely that he was unaware of the fact that the story was widely believed and much talked about in the African population. This would mean that Kalundi once more took an outsider's (actually an expatriate's) position "above" popular rumors but why in the case of de Hemptinne's alleged filiation? Aside from the possibility of its being literally true, the popular story highlighted and condensed de Hemptinne's notorious colonialist attitude and his collaboration with the regime (more about that later).

Second, when Kalundi hinted at Belgian "agreements" he suggested that Africans were manipulated into believing in a filial relationship -- not necessarily to be taken literally but with all the weight carried by filiation in this cultural context. Of course this interpretation would preempt the potentially subversive effect of popular rumor. In Kalundi's version, de Hemptinne was to gain authority by royal descent; popular rumor reveals a colonial "secret" -- a bastard son of royalty serving as the bishop of Elisabethville.

But there is a complication. In the Vocabulaire's perspective, no longer shared by Tshibumba nor -- and as far as I can tell -- by the population in the seventies (I heard the story from many people) King Leopold belongs to the "good" beginnings of colonization. In that case, rumors of filiation could only serve to emphasize contrast and moral outrage regarding de Hemptinne: How could he behave as he did, being King Leopold's child?

Then I took another tack by invoking the striking physical resemblance of Leopold and de Hemptinne (with their long beards as the most prominent feature). Kalundi had seen photographs of both but remained unconvinced by my attempt at a "realistic" explanation of popular imagination and stuck to his theory of a Belgian conspiracy. So I dropped the topic and asked him to tell me about de Hemptinne from his own experience. Again he first dodged my question with platitudes. My response -- "We know that, baba" -- expressed impatience; at the same time, the polite and intimate term of address baba (father) prompted him to abandon his caution and tell me what he really knew of de Hemptinne. He still hesitated. I told him that I could stop the recording and he agreed with an embarrassed chuckle. Only when I suggested that he might be afraid and reminded him that what we talked about was history he gave in though not without first throwing a dialectic loop, matching positive statements (a builder of the cathedral and a staunch catholic) with condemnation (too Belgian, a racist). Then he gave one of his eye-witness accounts (which he resumed in a later section) of the killing of striking workers at the Union Minière. This was a traumatic event in popular memory in which, according to Tshibumba and the Vocabulaire, de Hemptinne played a crucial role by giving his blessings to the shooting. In the end, Kalundi leaves no doubt: "He was a bad one."

After this I brought up the story of de Hemptinne's scandalous racist speech to the évolués of Elisabethville. The painter Mwenze Kibwanga had told me about it during a recorded conversation. He had witnessed the event and recalled above all an image de Hemptinne used to speak about the beginning of the mission. "When we first came," he had said, "you Africans used to live like monkeys up in the trees. We had to put salt on the road to lure you down." Kalundi could not confirm the story, at the time he had lived in Albertville/Kalemie. He knew that de Hemptinne called Africans monkeys but did not think he was exceptional in this. Throwing a barb at me, he observed: "You (the whites) still do it." I went on probing and asked whether de Hemptinne ever shook hands with Africans. To express what I had in mind I should have said kupa mukono; the phrase I used actually means "clap hands, applaud." Kalundi sensed the direction of my questioning and thought I had wanted to say "beat a person." But then he understood what I had meant and our exchange continues without explicit repair of my mistake. His response was unequivocal: De Hemptinne never shook hands.15

In Kalundi's mind, this issue was associated with de Hemptinne's active role in controlling the associations of educated Africans. In one particular action it came to arrests of Africans by the Security Police. Kalundi points out that these measures were also directed against a liberal faction among the expatriates that supported African efforts at self-improvement. As a representative of that faction I mentioned Verbeken (whom Kalundi knew quite well). Auguste Verbeken had had a long career as a district commissioner with a reputation of being exceptionally close to Africans (he had a "recognized" son by an African woman). In Elisabethville, while still in the colonial service, he had been involved in an investigation of ball-room dancing (finding none of the alleged abuses). He then resigned from the administration and went to Belgium to return to Elisabethville as a private citizen. There he founded (investing all his savings) a newspaper for Africans, written, apart from his own contributions, by Africans, Ngonga, The Bell (starting in June 1934). It met with massive opposition from Maron and de Hemptinne, and was boycotted by the white business community (who refused to place advertisements in the paper). Ngonga folded after only eleven months.16

Earlier I called attention to the often contradictory elements in African colonial memories. Kalundi ended this part of our conversation wistfully, at first still withholding an unambiguous opinion. But then he stopped equivocating: "They" -- de Hemptinne and the missionaries -- "went too far." Of this he was sure.

5. On friendship, mutual aid, and social life

[see the section ON FRIENDSHIP, MUTUAL AID, AND SOCIAL LIFE in Kalundi's comments]

Next we stopped to discuss a remarkable statement the Vocabulaire makes about the effects of the economic crisis of the late twenties: "... we took care of one another without making distinctions according to tribe." Kalundi affirmed that this was generally true "in the old days" and then volunteered some information that corrects any simple image of "diffuse solidarity" (to use a phrase coined by Durkheim) in the face of adversity. Community was valued more highly than ethnic affiliation. This also went for individual relations that were not based on kinship but on the fact that the two persons involved had the same name (they were majina in local parlance).

With that Kalundi allows us a glimpse through the cloud of "ethnicity" which he depicted as the curse of post-colonial times and we know to be an almost obsessive topic in current research. The timing of his observation -- bringing the name-relationship up in a discussion of communal vs. tribal solidarity -- reveals important social and political aspects of what has been a well-known ethnographic fait divers.17

The majina relationship had been important in cross-cutting kinship ties before people moved into town. That it should have become an important means of creating ties and obligations in an urban society where people could not always count on the kinship networks they may have had in the village and where colonial authorities promoted (by labor- and housing-policies) the nuclear family as a unit of production and consumption seems obvious. Less obvious is the fact that, in town, this relationship seems to have been mediated mainly (though probably not exclusively) by Christian first names acquired either through baptism or through colonial practices of registration where Christian first names were inscribed in documents of identity, labor contracts, property titles, and so forth, for almost all Africans, including non-Christians. Of course, the logic of the system demanded that name-relationships were also recognized across racial and social boundaries. This was usually not the case -- except in a casual, playful way, without acknowledgment of obligations (as I can confirm from experience).18

In spite of their social and economic importance, our knowledge of actual practice in the matter of name relationships remains painfully incomplete. We don't know to what extent, in the urban context before Independence, Christian-name based relationships replaced the ones based on traditional names (traditional names often were recognizably regional-tribal). Nor do I know of any study regarding changes that are likely to have come about after Independence with the rise of tribalism.

Also, one important difference was that traditional names were, as a rule, not gender-specific. How important were gender-crossing name relationships in the village context? Name-relationships based on female Christian names certainly existed but were they as important (emotionally, economically) for women as for men? And what about male and female forms of the same Christian name (Joseph-Josephine)? Did this ever result in gender-crossing name-relationships in the urban context and how did these differ from same-gender relationships?

When we returned to the topic of contemporary tribalism/ethnicity (and the overlap of ethnic and regional identities) Kalundi unequivocally blamed "Independence" for rampant tribalism which he considered a deplorable development. The same person to whom it was important to call himself Tabwa had no use for the current abuse of ethnic labels. Clearly, to him, affirming identity and making discriminating distinctions were not complementary.

Then I questioned him about social activities in colonial times. We began with malinga, European-style ballroom dancing organized by African associations, that was fashionable at the time. In the Vocabulaire (and Kalundi's comments) malinga figure as amusements shared by an urban population. For the colonial administration of Elisabethville, they were above all a matter of concern (because of alleged moral and alcoholic excesses) and a target of control (see Fetter 1976:158).19 It is possible that an interesting fact made officials nervous. When I first heard of African ball-room dancing in Elisabethville I imagined it as a rather staid petit-bourgeois pleasure: couples dressed up in their (European) sunday's-best turning around to the sound of a gramophone playing fashionable dances like Tangos and Rhumbas. Photographs I had seen seemed to confirm this. Kalundi changed my image thoroughly. Yes, gramophones were used but apparently live music was more important. It was performed by groups who competed among each other. Their names indicated that they were organized along tribal/ethnic lines. When Kalundi told me this I naturally assumed that such competition divided audiences and I pointed out that this contradicted what he had said earlier about African solidarity having been more important than ethnic divisions. Undisturbed by my objection, he reminded me that these competitions were "play," part of the amusement offered by ball-room dancing.20 Again, he insisted that only in the post-colonial situation did ethnicity become divisive to the point of denying common humanity to members of other groups.

I kept pressing him on the issue and brought up the existence of ethnic associations (other than dancing associations). Kalundi responded with another, detailed affirmation of solidarity "in those days." Notice that he contrasted earlier "play" with present-day "politics." I still expressed doubt, assuming that he remembered what he had told me earlier about the political measures taken to control and suppress these associations. "The old days" were not free of politics. Still, the image of ethnicity that appears here as "memory" may have its truth in that ethnicity before independence was played out in a commonly created space of freedom, whereas "politique" -- as a synonym for oppressive pursuit of power -- perverts the game of diversity into strategies of difference and exclusion.

Once again we had a situation where, on the surface, Kalundi's statements seemed contradictory while in fact, here and elsewhere, he reasoned (and talked) dialectically; contradictions were left standing to be resolved by the total picture that emerges in the course of a narrative or conversation. As I think I demonstrated in the case of Tshibumba (Fabian 1996: 309-16) and in a paper where I discuss certain characteristics of story-telling in Lubumbashi (Fabian 2001: ch. 5), such dialectical reasoning is a common trait of popular thought and talk. In everyday conversation one often hears ni kweli lakini ni bongo, "this is true but it false," or, on the same pattern, ni muzuri lakini ni mubaya, "this is good but it is bad." When such statements occur at the end of a narrative or conversation they prevent closure; more often they precede an argument. Of course, sometimes they just express a view of the world.

6. On the massacre among strikers at the Union Minière

[see the section ON THE MASSACRE AMONG STRIKERS AT THE UNION MINIERE in Kalundi's comments]

Kalundi had not waited to bring up this traumatic event until we got to it as we went through the Vocabulaire; as far as he was concerned, it belonged in the story of de Hemptinne. In this second telling he added, as it were, color and sound. Detail, such as the whistling of the bullets, makes him all the more credible as a witness. Compared to the Vocabulaire's two short paragraphs his account of the massacre is longer but less, or differently, focused. He spoke as a bystander who was close to, but not on, the scene and to him, it seems, the most outrageous thing that happened during the event was that women who were on their way to the fields got hit by bullets. Also, it was important to him to point to the proximity to each other of the Union Minière grounds, the governor's office, and, he could have added, the bishop's residence. This was the compact physical setting for close collaboration among the three colonial powers and it is likely that demonstration of unity among the tree powers at a dramatic moment was one reason that made the suppression of the 1941 strike stand out in popular memory.

It was easy to overlook (I did, at first) that Kalundi, who gave many of his comments and recollections as an eyewitness,21 nevertheless drew on common popular memory. Several passages in his story of the strike contain dialog between the opposing parties that he could not have overheard personally. He must have imagined these exchanges or, more likely, he quoted stories that circulated in Elisabethville and, in this respect, his "memory work" resembled that of the author of the Vocabulaire.

7. On mutinies and rebellions

[see the section ON MUTINIES AND REBELLIONS in Kalundi's comments]

I began my questioning of Kalundi on the topic of colonial resistance with a reference to the notorious 1944 military uprising at Luluabourg (one in a string of mutinies that had occurred in the colonial army since its beginnings). At first he thought I was talking about unrest around Independence but then he remembered the event. He could not put an exact date on it except that it happened during World War II. Also, he immediately put this specific instance in a wider (but at the same time local) context and, to my surprise, returned to a theme that had occupied us earlier: Africans meeting in clubs later to be called cercles d'évoloués. According to Kalundi, literacy made them rebellious. His remark was too off-hand and brief to permit anything but a guess that he may have known of the notorious memorandum to the colonial authorities by Luluabourg évolués, occasioned by the 1944 mutiny. It was later published by the Elisabethville daily L'Essor du Congo where Kalundi could have read it.22

When asked about the impact of the Luluabourg events on the situation in Katanga, Kalundi remembered, apart from the earlier miners' strike, no violent confrontation in Elisabethville. Nevertheless, the reaction among the expatriates to reports of rebellion in the Kasai region was panic. Kalundi, who worked for the Public Works office at the time, witnessed an exodus to the south, one of many that have occurred since the sixties. Private businessmen and government agents took the train to South Africa, convinced that the rebellion would get to Katanga. It didn't. As far as the Africans were concerned, news travelled quickly but not quick enough -- that was the gist of his answer. The local African military was in touch with Luluabourg but they hesitated to go into action. The plot was discovered by the Belgians "and they were purged."

8. Why the name "Vocabulaire"?

[see the section WHY THE NAME"VOCABULAIRE"? in Kalundi's comments]

We had finished our reading of the text of the Vocabulaire when I decided to ask Kalundi a few more questions on matters of form and function. We began with the first thing that strikes one about this document, the term "vocabulary" as the label for the history of a colonial town. The exchange that followed is not easy to paraphrase without repeating much of it. Our problem was to get away from the sort of general translation of the French term with the help of a Swahili gloss that Kalundi offered in the beginning. What makes the term vocabulary intriguing is not its translatable meaning but its occurrence in a place where it appears to designate a genre of text. I knew that Kalundi was familiar with the usual meaning. He had owned a Tabwa-Swahili vocabulary and knew that vocabularies were like dictionaries, not like stories. So the author/compiler of the Vocabulaire must have had something else in mind when he used the term. But what?

Kalundi kept searching his mind and eventually came up with two ingenious solutions for this puzzle. Yes, a vocabulary usually is a kind of dictionary; vocabularies serve to translate. Translate what? Not other vocabularies but stories (using the French term récit). So, if I call a story a vocabulary I want to say that it serves to translate something, namely experiences, things one has seen and lived. In other words, the term vocabulary, far from being just an awkward or thoughtless choice of a word, a sort of mimicry of an authoritative colonial genre, one of the possibilities mentioned in History from Below (Fabian 1990:170), makes a subtle, critical point. It announces that the story that follows is a collection and representation of memories, a composed and "arranged" literary product. Notice the hint he made at this point to the dictionary he had seen me using, as if to remind me that the popular historian's and the ethnographer's work were not all that different.

He suggested another solution in a casual remark at the very end of this part of our conversation: Vocabulaire indicates that this text is a condensed story, lit. "a story by means of a summary." We did not explore this last point but it shows that, by evoking its often schematic, list-like composition, Kalundi was still looking for another common trait between a vocabulary and this history of a town when we dropped the theme and took up another question.

9. About the author and domestic workers, sponsors of the Vocabulaire


When the Vocabulaire was edited and published we faced a problem. Although the text itself was published anonymously, we knew the name of its author/compiler from the circumstances of its "collection" (Fabian 1990:165-9). Eventually, André Yav appeared as the author on the title page of History from Below. That the question of anonymity may have been dealt with too casually is indicated by Kalundi's strong reaction when I brought up authorship in our conversation. He had noticed that an author's name was nowhere mentioned in the text and to him this expressed the fact that he just wrote down what "his comrades" recalled of the history of Elisabethville. When, in a rather authoritarian manner, I told him that we knew his identity he remained unimpressed and returned to an issue he considered --rightly, I should add -- more important: No single person could have accomplished such a task, it must have been a collective effort.

Had he ever seen a document like the Vocabulaire? Kalundi's answer was more pointed than my question: No, when he looked at the copy of the text I had given him, this was the first time. And then, as if to excuse his ignorance in this matter, he surprised me with the remark that he did not pay much attention to the affairs of domestic servants. With that he moved the discussion from literary to social authorship and his own position outside the world of house-boys. No one among his relatives had ever worked as a boy and that was not accidental. In the mainly rural north-eastern region where his family came from, education by the Missions was geared at training the personnel for their schools and for the health service. There was some employment in the mines near Manono but, Kalundi reminded me, you don't call workers "boys."

Now that the topic was on the table, I took the occasion to get Kalundi's thoughts about what I presumed to have been one of sources of tension and ambiguity in African domestic work.23 Male domestic servants (mostly cooks, who also did house-cleaning and laundry, and gardeners) had to do chores that in their own culture were considered women's work. Was this not a problem for them? His response took some time and a few detours to get worked out but it was unambiguous: Men who did domestic work had no reason to be troubled; there was nothing shameful about earning wages that would feed their families. Though nothing was said explicitly to that effect, I still feel somewhat embarrassed (especially by Kalundi's very last remark) when I look at this exchange. Projecting anthropological expectations of a clash of cultural values onto a situation that seemed exemplary, I kept questioning Kalundi about conflict of gender roles that may have existed or not. My questions ignored, and his responses revealed, what counted most for Africans caught up in urban-industrial colonization: survival.

One of the detours taken by Kalundi was a lesson on the semantics of kazi, work. To support my view of cultural conflict I reminded him of divisions of labor along gender lines in village life. In so many words, he objected that I made a logical (or category-) mistake when I equated salaried labor in expatriate households with women's work as defined by tradition. When an African man cooked, cleaned, and did the laundry this was imposed to him by politics and economics, it was a colonial fact. When his wife did these chores at home this did not make her his "boy." Her work made him respect her as his wife.24 True, on another level, this could have raised the question of gender-based inequality and exploitation in traditional society (and, while Kalundi made his remarks, I could not put out of my mind that he liked to play the male chauvinist) but that was not the issue of our debate.

More than in other sections of our conversation, the transcript of this part reveals how content may be represented by linguistic features. An extraordinary amount, or degree, of code-switching between Swahili and French shows just how troubled Kalundi was with my failure to recognize that the pragmatic necessities of survival may count more than idealized cultural values. An example of this occurred when he tried to make me understand the difference between a house-boy's and his wife's domestic work. "So, this is not work" I challenged him. He repeated my question (which was in Swahili) in French, affirming his position.25 Kalundi, who easily and often playfully switched to French in this and other conversations, clearly wanted to make sure that I understood the difference he had in mind. As often, on the surface the problem was that he seemed to contradict himself -- which he did, but in an effort to convey an understanding that goes beyond a simple translation of the term kazi. Yes, the, or one, French translation for kazi is travail. But, he said in effect, while all travail maybe kazi, not all kazi is travail. The latter is a term that belongs to labor relations, not in an African household. So the code switching in this case neither serves as just a stylistic device (creating a "doublet," employing rhetorical parallelism, cf. de Rooij 1996) nor as a lexical translation (which, he knew, I did not need) but as a linguistic evocation of two different worlds, the private household and the public labor market.

Another example of an iconic relationship between thought processes and linguistic expression may be found a few exchanges later, just after I had recited a list of traditional women's chores . When we look at his response ("Yes. Furthermore, I cannot -- for example...") it is perfectly clear what Kalundi wants to say (that his picture of the traditional tasks of women is an ideal and that things have changed); still, I could not give a more literal translation of this sentence than I have tried. It is as if, while in his mind he kept considering objections and alternatives, he made several starts and changed directions in his speech.

10. About similar documents and writing in Swahili

[see the section ABOUT SIMILAR DOCUMENTS AND WRITING IN SWAHILI in Kalundi's comments]

We were coming to the end but I still wanted to know more about literacy in Swahili: did people write down their memories, collect stories, or note their dreams -- was this done? Kalundi's response was cautious, almost hesitant. Yes, people wrote down their memories, perhaps even customs and stories, and when they did they would do it in Swahili rather than in French. However, it was his impression that this hardly happened any more at the present. When I broadened my question to include personal letters, he got impatient. Of course people wrote letters; they had gone to school. Again (see above), his impatience showed up linguistically. Here and below Kalundi switched to French (for a whole sentence) and used the expression nègres, negroes or niggers (which he often did jokingly, but not here). The change of language vividly depicted, or enacted, what was the case in those days: To stay in touch with one's friends and relatives, one had to send written letters and thereby enter the colonizer's world. Even if the postal service was as informal as it was described here, it meant walking to some office that was often far away from the village and probably having to wait around until a carrier left. There was no literacy without bureaucracy.

Not much that had not been said earlier came up in the last part of our conversation, except that Kalundi gave one more twist the form/content question when he used a remarkable form of speaking about language. To show this, we need to go back to the transcript and my translation. The question was whether, as author of a document like the Vocabulaire, Kalundi would write it more or less in the same manner. Well, "anaandika biSwahili yake", lit. he wrote his Swahilis (plur.). What does this mean? With much effort we could break a rule and use a plural such as "Swahilis"26 but we would only do it in a translation, assuming that a reader could figure out that the speaker/writer had something like "varieties of Swahili" (back to the singular!) in mind. I translated the phrase as "the different things he had to say" because I knew that use of a plural prefix with Swahili was idiomatic in Shaba/Katanga. Through the years I had come upon several instances and I have argued elsewhere that this usage can only be explained if one assumes that Swahili not only designates a linguistic code or form but also a manner of speaking that language (including dialect varieties) and a specific content (knowledge, opinion) expressed in that language (see Fabian 1991b:4). It now occurs to me that I never heard other language names (such as kiLuba, kiSanga, etc.) with a plural prefix. This tempts me to add another possible interpretation. Perhaps the plural form biSwahili did not strike speakers who used it (all of them qualifying as speakers of a Bantu language) as grammatically wrong because, ideologically, Swahili does not quite count as a language (something that Kalundi affirmed earlier in so many words, for instance at the beginning of the first part of our conversation where he also used the plural biSwahili with a French gloss, langue véhiculaire).

Always good for a surprise -- and by now obviously running out of patience -- Kalundi put yet another question of mine regarding the content of the Vocabulaire back into my lap. I would like to help, he seemed to say, but in the end we talk about this document because you had found it interesting. If you want to know more, go and ask others, for example, Ngoi Léon, one of the pioneers mentioned in the Vocabulaire.27


1 In the commentary that is to follow I assume that the reader has the original text and my translation always available on this website. Because KC is relatively short, it should be easy to follow the commentary with but a few explicit references and quotations (this is also why paragraph- or line-numbering did not seem necessary).
2 I kept a written record of our meetings and noted additional observations and pieces of information in my fieldnotes.
3 By precarious I mean writing that is not ruled by fixed orthographic standards, not even by routine. Documents such as the Vocabulaire were not produced routinely. The latter was the case with private letters that speakers of Sh/KS, though not literate in that language (most had learned reading and writing in French or one of the local Bantu-languages), had been exchanging for a generation or two. This practice had resulted in a remarkable degree of uncontrolled standardization, something I have referred to as common sense orthography (and used as a model for my own transcriptions).
4 That reading should be regarded as a performative activity was the main point in an essay on the ethnography of reading where I drew on my experiences with the Vocabulaire (Fabian 1992, reprinted in Fabian 2001: ch. 3).
5 I am aware that, on a certain level of linguistic and philosophical reflection, this applies to all languages. But our cultural habits regarding literacy in "major" language tend to make differences of degree into differences of kind. This happened in the early days of linguistic description when African languages were consistently called dialects, idioms, jargons, or parlers and depicted as ill-structured, logically confused, lexically poor, and semantically inaccurate. Often African speakers of these languages were credited with extraordinary rhetorical abilities as if these were needed to compensate for linguistic shortcomings.
6 His response was by no means exceptional. Throughout my work on and with Sh/KS I was struck by the interest that similar questions caused among respondents. It was evident that they had had occasions to reflect on the matter, that Sh/KS was a topic of discussion among its speakers, an object of evaluative statements, and sometimes a target of jokes.
7 Such as in C. Annicq's Le Swahili véhiculaire published by Imbelco in Elisabethville in 1967, a manual intended for Europeans.
8 By all-encompassing I mean to indicate Sh/KS served in all conceivable domains of contemporary life (even at the university it was used, though not as the language of instruction); it was however part of a context of pronounced multilingualism, its ever-present raison d'être.
9 Another instrument and symbol of this kind was fimbo, the whip used to administer physical punishment usually, but not only, in prisons. For some reason, fimbo figures more prominently in (post-colonial) painting than in the Vocabulaire. For an interesting study of fimbo in the memory of former colonial administrators see Dembour 2000.
10 The background was not just that of "normal" procedure in a civil administration but the fear of popular resistance and uprisings, shortages of laborers due to desertion, and migration across pervious colonial frontiers.
11 There are only two occurrences in the original text that do not contradict this. In the heading of one chapter (XVII, Vocabulaire, p. 19) the old post office is located near the MONIMENT FEMMES COLOGNIALES and the membership of one of the African associations is said to consist of sisi watu wote ya kila Colognial (Vocabulaire, p. 23) where the context shows that the phrase means people "from every colony."
12 This also shows up in Tshibumba's History, though he is much more ambiguous about Leopold as well as about Independence (which the Vocabulaire calls "rotten," p. 33).
13 This makes a link between a linguistic trait and forms of mimesis as ways to deal with alterity, something that has been commented on as a strategy of appropriation in African art (Kramer 1993), in various theatrical and musical performances known as "dance" (such as the Kalela dance described by Mitchell 1956) and, an example that will come up in a later section of our conversation, the popularity among urban African of European ball-room dancing.
14 Kukata bidomo, lit. "to cut lips, keep a person from talking" is perhaps best paraphrased as "to arrange for a short cut in a difficult and potentially lengthy affair by paying graft."
15 Refusal to shake hands -- expressing refusal of bodily contact as much as denial of equal status -- was wide-spread in colonial times, even among missionaries. This probably explains a certain hypertrophy of the gesture in the post-colonial situation.
16 In Ngonga, Verbeken published in instalments what later became his Petit cours du Swahili pratique (1938, initially sponsored by the Union Minière; by 1965, the year Verbeken died, it had reached eleven editions and a print run of 50 000). See on this Fabian 1991b: 152-7. On Verbeken see also Fetter 1976:134-5,137,152,158,164-5.
17 The political and moral aspect of this relationship also figures in the Vocabulaire where it is invoked at a crucial moment in a traumatic event, the shooting of the spokesman of striking workers by Governor Maron. The Vocabulaire made its point dramatically but also poetically, because the Governor's Christian name, "Alphonse" was invented. His real first name was Amour, a fact brought to my attention by Kalundi (see on this Fabian 1990:154, n125, also on the LPCA website, note 125 to the English translation of the Vocabulaire). But not only the spokesman's first name remains uncertain. Perrings, in his account of the massacre, quotes an eyewitness, according to whom a certain Mpoy Léonard was a (the) delegate among the strikers who was "the first man to be shot down" (1997: 226; he quotes from an interview conducted on June 3, 1975). Now I find among material collected in 1974, in a number of the weekly Mwanga (September 28-October, p. 8), the first instalment of an interview with a "Mpoyi (ex-Victor)." A "moniteur-chef" (headmaster of an elementary school) in 1941, he claims that he was chosen by the workers to head their delegation.
18 "Playful" does not exclude serious poetic use mentioned in the preceding note and, while the relationship remained casual when it was invoked between Africans and expatriates, my namesakes I met seldom failed to bring the matter up in conversation.
19 See also note 10 above. One of the most openly anti-colonial earlier dance associations -- the Beni or "Belges", active in performances that parodied the colonizers -- is not mentioned in the Vocabulaire.
20 During the conversation I was slow to take his point. I still had to do much thinking about popular culture -- malinga dancing was undoubtedly one of its earlier forms in the forties before the spectacular emergence of popular music and dance in the Congo. Regarding my later conclusions that ethnicity has not been a significant element in the emergence of popular culture see Fabian 1998:75-9.
21 See also the findings on the salience of "seeing" in the Vocabulaire (Fabian 1990:178-82).
22 It appeared again in an anthology of articles about the rebellion, Dettes de guerre (Rubbens 1945:128-9). See on this C. Young 1965: 77, 274-5. The (anonymous) memorandum revindicated African rights; it also reminded the addressee that the educated Africans of Luluabourg had remained loyal to the colonial administration during the military uprising.
23 In earlier work on the colonial appropriation of Swahili (Fabian 1991b) I had given some thought to change from female to male domestic servants, a change that reflected transition from European exploratory travel to actual occupation and settling-in when colonial authorities promoted the hiring of married European personnel (as a means to maintain racial barriers). What I knew of urban house boys came from my own experiences as an employer, from countless stories and anecdotes told by expatriates, and from many conversations with the house boys I met in families I visited in the course of other research projects. A thorough historical and anthropological study of domestic work in this part of Africa only appeared at about the time I recorded the conversation with Kalundi (Hansen 1986).
24 Kalundi knew that, quite recently, things had begun to change and some expatriates employed African female servants (usually as children's nurses or maids, not as cooks). Maybe because I thought I could guess his answer I did not ask him whether he would respect his wife were she to work as a domestic servant. I didn't think he would consider even the possibility of his wife taking on a job in a household.
25 I selected this example because here, in its abruptness, the switch to French is especially illustrative. But notice that some unusually long passages in French had occurred earlier on, setting, as it were, the general tone in this discussion.
26 The plural form does not seem to pose any problems as a term for Swahili people, but it would then be a translation of waSwahili, and there is a convention in Africanist writing to avoid the plural -s (Bantu, not Bantus).
27 With Kalundi's help I was able to have a meeting with Ngoi. Our conversation, almost entirely in French, was recorded in Lubumbashi on June 8, 1986 (see A conversation with Baba Ngoie-Day Léon, JLPCA Text Archives, Vol. 3).


Annicq, Camille. (1967). Le swahili véhiculaire. Lubumbashi: Imbelco.
Dembour, Marie Bénédicte. (2000). Recalling the Belgian Congo. Conversations and introspection. New York: Berghahn Books.
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About the author:

Johannes Fabian is professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. Previously he taught at Northwestern and Wesleyan Universities and at the National University of Zaire in Lubumbashi. He did research on religious movements, language, work, and popular culture in the Shaba mining region of Zaire (1966-7, 1972-4, 1985, 1986). In his theoretical and critical work, he addressed questions of epistemology and of the history of anthropology. As an ethnographer he worked on and through Shaba Swahili. A comprehensive list of his publications is available elsewhere at the LPCA website.

© Johannes Fabian
Revisions: 6 June 2002 (hyperlink and hyperlink anchor to The times of the "Vocabulaire", JLPCA 2(1) added)