previous sub-section
6— History, Ethnicity and Change in the 'Christian Kingdom' of Southeastern Zaire
next sub-section

Two Culture Brokers for a 'Tabwa' Identity

An important caravan of White Fathers reached Lake Tanganyika from Zanzibar in 1892. Father Victor Roelens was among its members. Ordained in 1884, Roelens assisted Cardinal Lavigerie in establishing a branch of the White Fathers in Belgium. He further seconded the cardinal in organizing the anti-slavery campaign through which Lavigerie would have significant impact upon early European colonialism in Africa. Often opinionated, frequently arrogant and always controversial, Roelens found favour with Lavigerie, who admired his audacity and pluck. Roelens, in turn, has been called the 'Flemish Lavigerie' in recognition of qualities shared.[63]

Roelens displayed his difficult character during the caravan trek; he allegedly reduced one brother to tears with his 'gross insults', and life in his company was described by a fellow traveller as 'real torment'.[64] Immediately upon arrival at Lake Tanganyika, Roelens began criticizing his fellow missionaries who had preceded him there, taking special glee in castigating the brothers of the mission, not even sparing his own superior, Monsignor Lechaptois. After only days along the lake, he wrote that he feared 'the Masonic government of the Congo' would 'one day pick a quarrel' with the priests, and rescind use of Mpala mission; he said that were he in the place of Monsignor Lechaptois, he would found a new mission


which would belong solely to the church.[65] Months later, Roelens would found just such a mission at what would be called Baudouinville (now Kirungu, adjacent to Moba); a year after his arrival in Central Africa, he was promoted to Apostolic Administrator for the Vicariate of Upper Congo, and in 1895, Roelens was nominated as Apostolic Vicar.[66]

Roelens, a 'man of action, of pragmatic character', acted with a firmness and tenacity 'which often made him authoritarian'. His decisions were without appeal, and he defended them obstinately. His judgments unfortunately often lacked nuance and hardly evolved. The portrait he drew of the black man, for example, is particularly negative, despite the frequent urging of Cardinal Lavigerie that his missionaries not judge Africans too severely. Because other prelates in Africa were significantly more generous in their appraisal of their black parishioners, one recent author is left to wonder if Roelens had read the Cardinal's letters, 'or did his obstinacy blind him to such points?'[67] With tragic irony, it would be Monsignor Roelens who would sponsor Stefano Kaoze's brilliant passage through seminary and his emergence as the first Congolese ordained a priest.

A number of accounts of Kaoze's childhood exist. In each he is objectified. One account varies from another in a manner consistent with the form of milandu : each is composed for a different audience in pursuit of different goals. According to one version, Kaoze's mother was accused of sorcery and deemed responsible for slavers' attacks on her village, and three of her brothers, a husband's brother and a daughter were executed at the full moon. Kaoze was captured by slavers soon after, but was liberated by Captain Joubert.[68] Another (and, as Kimpinde and his colleagues suggest, perhaps the source for accounts like the previous one)[69] tells of how 'a tyrant, the cruel Manda' (the Zimba clan chief who would be Kaoze's adversary in interclan rivalry for position in the colonial hierarchy of prerogative) attacked Kaoze's village as a refuge of those who refused him tribute. Kaoze's mother was accused by a diviner—'a true lackey of Satan'—of attracting Manda's attacks and those of coastal slavers thereafter, and her three brothers, father-in-law and daughter were murdered at her feet. Kaoze's parents fled with him to hide in mountain caves, barely survived a smallpox epidemic, and escaped from slavers. They met Monsignor Roelens at the new mission of Baudouinville/ Kirungu and, when Kaoze's mother died, Kaoze escaped from the mean uncle to whom he was sent (but not without further tribulations) to take shelter with the missionaries.[70]

The latest version is that Kaoze's great uncle (MoMoBr), who was of 'dour and jealous character', resented the popularity of his niece, Kaoze's mother; rather than endure his 'intrigues', the woman moved to the village of her brother, very near where the Kirungu mission would be founded shortly thereafter. When the priests opened a primary school in the area, Kaoze was an early student. This plausible account is appropriate today when stereotypes and ancient conflicts are to be forgotten, not exacerbated. Appended to it is an assertion by Kaoze's surviving kinsmen (men sufficiently young that they could not know what sort of character Kaoze's great uncle may have had) and by the authors that the dramatic events of earlier versions are incorrect; and a request that 'to be true to observed facts, we hope that these rectifications will be taken into consideration in future publications, especially at the beginning of this second century of our Evangelization'.[71] This is an honourable position, to be sure, but one based upon a Eurocentric perception of absolute history which overlooks the allegorical nature of even this last version (MoMoBr as 'bad guy'). The authors cite a once-removed statement by Kaoze himself to the effect that he knew nothing of these early years. The objectification of Kaoze in these accounts—the latest included—must be


seen as an element important to the man's personal development, to his intellectual motivation and achievement; to his detachment from peers in the countryside and from White Fathers who might be his colleagues but who were never his fellows; and to the meaning Kaoze, as one of the first local African intellectuals, continues to have for people of the area, Catholic and traditionalist alike, thirty years after his death.

However one reconstructs this past, the underlying message is that Kaoze's transition from village to mission was not easy for him or for his family; other stories of the resistance of his mother's brother to his continued schooling underscore the same point.[72] From passages cited by Kimpinde, it would seem that Kaoze himself sought separation and was attracted to the classroom as a context for an enquiring mind beyond that of other boys his age. His quickness with languages (Latin and Flemish, as well as Swahili and French), his capacity to grasp the abstractions of an alien philosophy taught at the seminary, and his growing sense—evidenced in his letters and manuscripts—of how to use such forms of thought for political goals, indicate his exceptional intellect.

The White Fathers' schools at Mpala and other missions southwest of Lake Tanganyika began as orphanages to accommodate purchased slaves and other youngsters like Kaoze, who were attracted in a variety of ways, including coercion. Their organization in early years 'resembled . . . more an agricultural colony than a school', although the orphanages soon became 'places for religious instruction and Christian education from which fervent and exemplary Catholics should emerge'.[73] 3 Shortly after his arrival, Victor Roelens proposed the founding of a school for catechists at Mpala, which opened in 1893. Because of his peculiarly negative view of Africans, Roelens, 'more than other vicars apostolic, felt that only a radical transformation [and separation] of the African from his milieu could lead him to become fully Christian'. Candidate catechists were selected among orphans, and after four to six years' instruction, the missionaries chose wives for them and sent them to settle in outlying villages.

By 1903, there were eight chapelles-écoles run by catechists around the Mpala mission, and another eight around that of Baudouinville. As the years passed, the catechists obtained a great deal of local-level political power, often at the expense of traditional chiefs. As Roger Heremans has written, 'in their desire to convert Africans to Catholicism, the Fathers assembled entire populations under their direction. They created "new tribes" ' in so doing.[74] In the mid-1890s, schools were opened at the missions where reading and writing in Swahili were taught; Roelens noted that such skills might 'open these intelligences a little and render them more apt to comprehend Christian verities. But the real advantage of the school is to submit the children to a serious surveillance, absolutely unkown in pagan families', in which 'children are brought up like little animals. . . . Their school is the circle of adults seated about a fire . . . [and] they learn everything, except truth and good.'[75]

Kaoze was among the earliest students and first catechists. His brilliance noticed, Kaoze was admitted when a Lower Seminary was begun at Mpala in 1899. By 1905 he was one of two continuing the course in Latin, and began studying theology and philosophy in an Upper Seminary. He was transferred to Moba/Kirungu when a sleeping-sickness epidemic struck Mpala, killing, among hundreds of others, Kaoze's only fellow student. Kaoze was the joy of his tutors, as he mastered even the most difficult subjects with ease.[76]

While Kaoze was at seminary, he was approached by a magistrate, A. Hoomaert, and asked to write a text that would be edited by Father Vermeersch, a Jesuit, concerning the 'psychology of Africans'. The goal was to prove the 'fundamental


equality existing among all human beings'. Kaoze's 'La psychologie des Bantu ' resulted.[77] To seek to demonstrate that Africans were the equals of Europeans implies that many thought they were not, and Kaoze painstakingly demonstrated the existence of imagination, memory, intelligence and other faculties among Africans, for his European readers. He wrote in French, a language to which only seminarians in their last years of training had access, which 'created a sensation in Europe at the time. It was the first time that one read a text entirely in French written by an African.'[78]

While Kaoze was developing his thesis proving the equality of Africans to Europeans, Victor Roelens, his bishop and mentor, was working on his own 'Psychology of our Blacks.'[79] Roelens's 'Psychology' was the very antithesis of Kaoze's, a racist diatribe in which he portrayed the African as 'an impulsive [being] who obeys, without great reflection, the dominant impression of the moment'; for whom 'intelligence and will intervene rarely in the habitual circumstances of his life'; whose intelligence 'atrophies under the influence of the press of passions'; and whose 'capital defect' is 'egotism—dominant sentiments: fear, self-interest'. While Roelens admitted that 'the mentality of Blacks is an enigma for us', he explained that this is because of the blacks' impulsiveness and other shortcomings.[80] Such profound ambivalence (to use the kindest word possible) must have marked Kaoze: even as the young man separated from his peers in personal and intellectual development, he as a black was denied basic humanity by the very authority figure who gave him shelter.

The objectification of Kaoze was not limited to stories of his childhood. He was ordained in 1917, at a time when Europeans in the Congo were feeling anxious about having given arms to Africans to fight the Great War and the 'revival of passions' that pillaging, killing and general excess of war might have engendered.[81] This was a time of increasing racial segregation in the Belgian Congo, and many Europeans there objected to admitting Congolese to higher education and the Church hierarchy, since the result would be that Africans might achieve a place on earth and in heaven superior to ordinary, bourgeois Europeans. In turn, this could be a 'seed of revolution' among the colonized, the more dangerous just after the war.[82] It is to the great credit of Victor Roelens that Kaoze's ordination was made an event none could overlook.

Fifty Europeans, including Governor Malfeyt, the Royal High Commissioner for the colony, attended Kaoze's ordination, along with a great many Congolese who, in the words of one, 'dared not think that Stefano Kaoze would be a priest exactly like those come from Europe'. The effect of Kaoze giving the benediction to European priests kneeling before him during the next day's mass can be imagined. As one missionary wrote, 'this day was for us one of the most wonderful of our lives and the crowning of our efforts, of all the suffering endured over the first years of Evangelization'.[83] Yet even as it might seem that, in ordination, Kaoze had gained equivalence with his white colleagues (and he certainly did to a degree unusual for the colony at that time), he would always be kept in 'his proper place'. He became superior of a new church, but one staffed entirely by Congolese clergy, and he was never superior to a white. The white priests remained in their own walled compounds.[84]

Kaoze began to travel with Monsignor Roelens, first to a meeting of all Superiors of Congolese missions (before Kaoze himself was one), then, in 1919, to Europe. A first stop was at Algiers, where a new headquarters of the White Fathers, 'Maison Carrée', had been established; then to Rome for the beatification of the Ugandan martyrs; then to Belgium where Kaoze was received by King Albert. Kaoze visited and preached at a number of schools and churches


there, in French and in Flemish; he sang several hymns of his own composition (he would become a renowned choir master) and then 'brought the house down' with 'Vlaamse Leeuw', the Flemish national anthem, and 'Zy zullen hem niet temmen', 'they [the Walloons] will never vanquish [the proud lion of Flanders] ,' to 'unending applause' in places like Ostende. In effect, Kaoze was 'very amused by our rivalries between Walloons and Flemish, but he understood the reason for certain difficulties, and said, "So, men are alike everywhere; Europeans put tribalism between them too."'[85]

Kaoze's own sense of ethnic identity, enhanced by racism in the Congo that made it painfully obvious that blacks were not equal to whites, was given a new dimension by a first-hand view of a Belgium riven by ethnic difference. Most importantly, Kaoze, by being in Brussels at the end of 1920, was on the periphery of the National Colonial Congress (to which it seems he was not invited); in that context he met Panda Farnana, president of the Union Congolaise, first Congolese to study agronomy in Belgium, and an outspoken defender of the rights of colonized blacks. Panda addressed the sessions and mentioned Kaoze as sharing his opinions on the oppression of Congolese. Kimpinde correctly notes that Kaoze's encounter with Panda and his trip to Europe more generally had the effect of 'opening his eyes', and it was soon thereafter that Kaoze began his political writings with the first universal history of the Tabwa.[86]

Elizabeth Colson has written cogently that 'contemporary African tribes . . . represent the emergence of self-conscious nationalistic movements comparable to those of Europe', and that 'the ideology of European nationalism was transferred to Africa' via 'the school man, the intellectual, who has been most eager to advance his own language and culture and who has seen himself as vulnerable to any advantages given to the language and culture of other groups within the country'.[87] By any measure, Kaoze was a brilliant man, whose intellect was fostered in the classroom in such a way that he could regard his own society and culture from the distance of abstraction. Kaoze was a man who knew divisions: among clans of the Marungu Massif where he grew up; between the missionaries of the de facto 'Christian Kingdom' and the colonial government; between blacks and whites in a segregated colony; between Catholics and Freemasons often engaged in vitriolic exchange (in which Roelens participated as a spokesman); between Walloons and Flemish, Belgians and Germans. Kaoze was not 'amused' by Belgian 'imperial ethnicity', he lived its consequences and put lessons learned to work as he began his career as historian and patriot of clan and 'tribe'.[88]

The first published works which delimited a distinct Tabwa ethnic identity were a grammar and a Tabwa-French dictionary; a lexicon with a few folktales in Tabwa was also prepared with the assistance of Kaoze, for use by missionaries.[89] These documents undoubtedly served as 'literary instruments' in a colonial context in which White Fathers wished to define their sphere of politico-economic interests vis-à-vis claims of missionaries of different denominations, or others who would infringe upon their 'sovereignty'.[90] Kaoze soon began a different task, by writing of Tabwa history and culture in French, a language only a handful of Tabwa could read. Kaoze's intended audience was not the Tabwa people, then: he would engage the colonizers in a debate vital to him, concerning Tabwa and, ultimately, his own identity.

The context for Kaoze's first historical writing is the following: White Fathers at Kirungu had brought with them a man from north of Lake Tanganyika who had been 'burgomaster' of the Christian village around their mission at Kibanga near the Ubwari Peninsula until the mission was closed and moved to Kirungu in 1893,


due to unending harassment by slavers and brigands. Fransisko Bulani, the man in question, was an able leader and was recognized chief of Baudouinville, the village about the new mission, in 1910 by a representative of the Comité Spécial du Katanga then governing the region. Bulani was the missionaries' puppet chief, and, as his powers grew, those of the local Zimba clan chief Manda, whose lands these had been previously, declined. A young colonial administrator named Gilson—a Freemason—took up Manda's cause against Bulani in an overt attack upon the missionaries themselves for, as he wrote, 'whoever speaks of Bulani, speaks of the missionaries'. Gilson rose in the ranks of colonial administration, but his strident approach toward White Fathers at Baudouinville did not abate; Gilson was quite possibly related to an important metropolitan family of Liberals of the same name, and his career was probably furthered by such kinsmen and favour shown for his position vis-CH:224>-vis missionaries in the Congo.[91]

In the early 1920s, colonial legislation was proposed by which the 'disaggregation of indigenous authority'—6095 'independent' chiefdoms existed in 1917—would be corrected through the 'guided evolution' of chiefdoms of 'true "royal-blooded" chiefs'. 'Great Chiefdoms' would be recognized where they 'still existed' or where it was 'possible to revive them'; such distinctions were left to the discretion of particular territorial administrators to determine. Thus, by 1922 Gilson could write that 'Manda is the chief clearly indicated' by such logic, and that 'the State has as . . . its imperious duty to protect and support this chief, for 'only Manda can re-establish the traditional unity of this region'.[92] Whatever the merits of Manda's case, he was being used as a pawn by Gilson to goad priests whom he despised.

Roelens and the White Fathers felt the implementation of this policy to be an assault upon their prerogatives, a fragmentation of the Christian Kingdom they still maintained, albeit in a less overt form than that of the late nineteenth century. The Monsignor responded with a letter of his own to the District Commissioner, to which he attached a document prepared for him by Kaoze.[93] Roelens stated that he was astonished that administrators did not seek information about local Africans from the missionaries among them, and then reiterated some of the disparaging remarks current in the Belgian press as penned by Liberals and Freemasons. In this particular case, he admitted that one might assume him to be against Manda, since Bulani, the mission chief, had been given lands once Manda's; but local people wanted 'nothing to do with Manda, who in their eyes is an intruder who has no right to be chief. Kaoze's account affirmed this position.

A 'tribe', according to Kaoze, is the group of people known by a chiefs name or by that of the land he occupies as the descendant of the first occupant of the lands.[94] The clan is the basic unit of social organization, and Tabwa' (as Kaoze identified himself in the title of his offering) are those who originated in LiTabwa, a land to the south. In this, Kaoze contradicts himself, since people of the Marungu Massif inhabited other named lands (in his own case, Kasenga), and yet called themselves Tabwa; what is more, Nsama of the Zimba clan was the chief of LiTabwa whom Kaoze himself recognized as such and would not be someone with whom Kaoze would identify, particularly in a document written in complaint about Zimba chief Manda's claims to legitimacy. Kaoze used elements of milandu (although in written rather than spoken, hence debated, form) as he recounted the myth of Kyomba, the first named human in Tabwa cosmogonic myth and archetypal father of his three wives, the first of whom was Bulanda, Kaoze's own clan genetrix. Manda's ancestress was Kyomba's third and last wife. If Kaoze's written history—that, after all, of the first Congolese ordained a priest—were


accepted as true, then once and for all Tabwa would have a universal history proving the seniority of Kaoze's own clan.

Kaoze's document may have served Roelens's purpose of countering Gilson, but it was not written for that reason. Kaoze was most interested in the local-level political arena, and the contest between his Sanga clan and chief Manda's Zimba clan for land rights, especially as these were beginning to be interpreted by colonial administrators. He was also interested in the Tabwa people among whom he preached as he moved from one mission of the White Fathers to another—that is, within the old Christian Kingdom. Kaoze would continue his writings, many of which are masterpieces of ethnography for one never trained in the discipline.

Near the end of his life, Kaoze's involvement in local and colonial politics intensified. His writings included general discussions of Tabwa culture, including a version of the 'Table d'enquête' sent out from Maison Carrée to White Fathers' posts, to gain a survey of ethnographic data on the peoples they served. He had become so involved in such subjects that he asked his bishop to relieve him of his duties as Superior of the Kala mission so that he could dedicate his time and energy to his ethnographic researches. This was in part as a preparation for his participation in colonial politics, for he was to be a member of the Commission for the Protection of Natives. He would also assist the Council of Government chaired by the Governor General, in 1946.[95] Here he represented Congolese in general, but Tabwa more particularly. Kaoze continued in another arena as dear to him: he pursued his contention that Manda of the Zimba clan was not the legitimate 'Grand Chef of lands, including those of the Marungu Massif, which he believed belonged to his own clan. One of his protégés in this was Kyando Polycarpe, who just after Independence would become a firebrand leader of opposition to Manda during days when all past authority was being questioned. Kyando and several of his henchmen would be murdered then, apparently by Manda, an event lost in the swirl of political strife and confusion of the moment, and never officially investigated.[96]

Kaoze was not without his detractors, especially late in life as he rose to local and colonial prominence. His political views were at variance with the official colonial position, and he was virulently attacked by one administrator in particular. Kaoze's madness during the last months of his life (1950–1) has been attributed to this by a contemporary, and one violent argument with the administrator seems to have sent Kaoze into a fit of depression accompanied by crushing headaches.[97] 1 would suggest that this tragedy was rooted more deeply.

Kaoze was rudely separated from his family and his peers, and learned a Western philosophy at the seminary which assisted him in stepping outside his culture to describe it as an ethnographer. A true intellectual, Kaoze would synthesize the ideas of his people and write them as general history and ethnography. In an important sense, he created the Tabwa as he did so. Kaoze was also objectified from infancy, set apart, made an avatar of change, a symbol to be taken in tow and shown about. In the process, he became a spokesman for Tabwa and Congolese more generally. Tabwa began calling him 'Mulopwe ', the Luba title for 'chief of the sacred fire, of the sacred blood'; he was as influential as such a chief, and yet at the same time he was separated from his people.[98] Through ordination, Kaoze was taken into the priesthood and could eat with whites, ride a bicycle and otherwise share in the trappings of power; but he was not white, and was not an equal to his white colleagues. This other Tabwa saw.

A psychohistorian might find it relevant that in the course of Kaoze's madness, after an initial incident late in 1949, he experienced a major schizophrenic episode on Easter Day, 1950, and died exactly one year later, on Easter Day,


1951.[99] It might be argued that his was a 'created demise', and that Kaoze internalized the intense irony, chastisement, and wrenching wounds of an iniquitous colonial existence, to use some Biblical terms, suffered by all Congolese. A parable told to me by the late Kizumina Kabulo captures Kaoze's dilemma, even in death.

Upon dying, Kaoze went upwards to heaven (biaguni ), and stood in line to pass through the Gates. To go to heaven, one must be called and possess a letter to gain entry.[100] The other priests with Kaoze, all Europeans, were admitted, leaving Kaoze to stand alone.

'Where is your letter?'

'I'm with the others.'

'No, they all have letters. You go down from here. You'll see a guardian down below there, and perhaps that is your path.'

Kaoze returned downward, to Kibawa's, the place of the Tabwa dead. Kibawa asked if Kaoze had not walked by the entrance to his cavern on his way to heaven. Kaoze admitted that he had, but he had then lacked the letter necessary to enter heaven. Kibawa shouted, 'Aha! Seize him! Tie him up!' Kaoze was taken into Kibawa's and bound in his own rosary, as if in chains.[101]

In the 1970s, people from Kalemie south into Zambia called themselves 'Tabwa' sometimes. Sanga clan members said Kaoze's history, written 'as a book', was 'true, as books are'. Manda and his Zimba said Kaoze's history was a lie, and the chief gave me a copy of his own written version of a Tabwa universal history, as 'proof. In it, the same archetypal father, Kyomba, appears as in Kaoze's history; yet for Manda, Kyomba's first wife (and not his third, as Kaoze would have it) is his clan's genetrix, Kabamba Mwenya, while Kaoze's Sanga ancestress, Bulanda, is Kyomba's third wife and not his first.[102] Accordingly, the Zimba and not the Sanga are senior, superior and legitimate rulers. The argument is not settled,[103] nor, according to Tabwa logic evidenced in history through the mulandu story form, can it be.

previous sub-section
6— History, Ethnicity and Change in the 'Christian Kingdom' of Southeastern Zaire
next sub-section