previous chapter
11— The Formation of the Political Culture of Ethnicity in the Belgian Congo, 1920–19591
next chapter

The Formation of the Political Culture of Ethnicity in the Belgian Congo, 1920–1959[1]

Bogumil Jewsiewicki

A Prolegomenon

It may very well be that this chapter has been written with expectations in mind that cannot be fulfilled within its compass. Yet it will serve a purpose only to the extent that its sights are set high. It represents a gamble more than a project, a reflection on research more than an exposition of current knowledge on the subject of that unique form of collective cultural identity[2] and political culture in Zairean society known as 'ethnicity'. I will therefore strive systematically to avoid two pitfalls. The first would be to treat ethnicity as a given gauge by which individuals may be assigned to communities and communities to 'organic' wholes deemed meaningful, operational, and eventually able to be manipulated by an outside power.[3] The second would be to direct the study to practitioners or adherents of a theory which reduces social problems to being merely the proving grounds for the refinement of or disputing of an abstract theoretical paradigm.

Theorizing in the past two decades has been all too often engaged in for theory's sake alone, which, in the terms of any of the conditioning theories—neo-marxism, structuralism, Freudian psychoanalysis—has meant that the beauty and the coherence of the theoretical construction have had to be kept out of the sight and grasp of the social actors. The latter have been thus reduced to being raw material for one theoretical system or another and have ceased to attract the attention of the researcher, who, in his struggle against empiricism, has produced a world without humanity.[4] In such situations, knowledge, as that which produces rationalization in Weber's sense of the word, and which is also a product of it, presents itself as an instrument for imposing an order upon the world so as to circumvent what is unforeseeable in human conduct and to impose structuring identities on individuals so that they might be shaped in accordance with norms established for their 'optimal' use.[5] These formulas, be they associated with the Left or the Right, are developed without regard to contradicting reality, if not in contempt of it, and they operate according to the twin projections of, first, a theoretical model built according to the logical assumptions and the historical experience of a particular society and, therefore, not applicable in terms of what is described for other societies, and, second, the belief in the necessity, or at least the inevitability, of the homogenization of social actors, thereby in fact aggravating their actual alienation.

Without wishing to involve myself here in the debate over the dilemma which


Dawe touches on in saying, 'human agency becomes human bondage because of the very nature of human agency'[6] , I do believe it is necessary to emphasize the dual nature of ethnicity as both structure and process. As a cultural identity and consciousness laden with possibilities for political mobilization and as a discourse which arranges collective memory as a basis for political action,[7] ethnicity is a specific form of historically grounded relationships between individuals. It is comprised of numerous human relationships of a political nature, giving structure as it itself is structured. It has its roots in a collective identity drawing on two complementary images structured by Darwinian conceptions of the evolution of society. One of these is the notion of a necessary solidarity and an inevitable specificity which link together the descendants of a common ancestor. The other stresses the historical competition between communities, a competition which selectively reinforces their identifying traits, thereby seemingly transforming social characteristics into hereditary biological law.[8] If these relationships take root in existing consciousness and culture, they profoundly transform them, giving rise to the largely autonomous process which, acting as the apparent basis of political mobilization, intertwines with either current or emergent socioeconomic class relationships. We may paraphrase E. P. Thompson's comments on class to say that ethnicity 'cannot be defined abstractly in isolation but only in terms of relationship with other [ethnic groups]; and ultimately the definition can only be made in the medium of time-that-is, action and reaction, change and conflict . . . [the ethnic group] itself is not a thing, it is a happening'.[9] Or, as Lonsdale has stressed, it is an unending thing, as there is no specific institution, such as the nation state, to arrest it and appropriate it.[10]

It seems to me unnecessarily restrictive to consider the dynamic relationship of 'action and reaction, change and conflict' solely within a framework of limits set by relationships between ethnic groups or even between 'cultural identities'. It is more appropriate, I suggest, to view this relationship in the context of a greater whole in which the notion of structure reassumes its rightful place as a universal given, ordering the relationships between inequality, solidarity, and competition. Three axes order all concrete manifestations of this structure: gender, cultural identity, and class identity. The groups or communities organized along one of these axes, or in accordance with a combination of them, never act alone on the socio-political scene, but act and react only in response to other groups and institutions. As a principle of political action, the invocation and acceptance of a culturally based ethnic identity inevitably serve to create the ordering and/or restructuring of other cultural identities on the same basis, eventually leading to the shaping of a wider political culture which imposes ethnic discourse as the appropriate means of expressing social conflicts.[11] As a function of the political and socio-economic stakes at a given historical moment, a political culture grows which favours, and eventually legitimizes, one or another axis of the inequality/ solidarity structure. Every industrial society appears, therefore, to be operating within a political culture of confrontation between, on the one side, cultural identity—originating in the confusion of the historical community with the biological community, or vice versa, as is indicated in terms such as 'nation', 'region', 'ethnic group'[12] —and, on the other side, class identity.[13] Not only has no industrial society (or one undertaking industrialization) been left unaffected by the dialectical tensions inherent in the inequality/solidarity structure, but it would appear, moreover, that confrontation is in fact necessary to these societies in order that their development as collective assumed identities should succeed. There is, however, no absolute historical rule to go by. In certain historical situations, as in the Soviet Union for example, the discourse of class conflict is


used to express all social conflicts. In other instances, as in western societies for example, it is discourse based on a grammar of cultural and/or biological identity which serves the same purpose.

Anti-Semitism, that almost indispensable ingredient of modern western nationalism, seems to me to provide an excellent example of the functioning of this dialectic. Once set off culturally, the Jew is transformed into a biologically specific stereotyped being who is depicted and perceived as a threat to society, perhaps even in spite of himself. The vices which have been ascribed to 'the Jew' have served to heighten the 'national' society's self-esteem and pride in its own perceived virtues and, by the same token, have served to turn the society into a quasi-biological community confronting an internal enemy. In an economy which is becoming internationalized, the political 'advantages' of having an internal enemy present are obvious.

At the same time, moreover, to the Jew have been attributed bourgeois virtues transformed into biological vices. This process allows class conflict to be channelled into the language and practice of racial conflict, thus strengthening the bonds linking national identity to the safeguarding of a healthy marriage between the state and national capital. It is also typical of the popular democratic countries that alleged Jewish evils should be those associated with the bureaucracy and that the State should take the place of Capital for the role it plays in imagined Jewish conspiracies. If it is often presumed that all 'capitalist' Jews are inherently bourgeois, so every 'socialist' Jew is presumed in anti-Semitic discourse to be a bureaucrat and an intellectual. Just as Jews in the first category are branded as the deicidal people, those of the second category are denounced as imperialists.

However, these dominant forms of discourse are neither necessarily permanent nor culturally determined. Class discourse plays an important part in the expression of gender relations and even of regional identities in the post-industrial West, while in the socialist countries, nationalist discourse and, hence, anti-Semitism, is supplanting class discourse.

The Invention of 'the Luba' in the Belgian Congo

The situation in twentieth century Africa differs substantially, as a discussion of colonial Zaire demonstrates. For lack of any long-standing cultural, ideological, or religious unity spread through western-type schooling, and given its very particular history of industrialization, an internal enemy is lacking to the generality of African peoples in modern Zaire. Whites fill this role only to a certain extent on account of the economic and political might of the West. At the level of popular discourse, race relations are used to express class relations by the likening of the black bourgeoisie/bureaucracy to the white race.[14] In the context of a national political culture, meaning may be most ambiguous, and various stereotypes of whites play many different roles according to the then current state of affairs. It is because of this situation that, on the ground which hegemonic and popular cultures hold in common, the 'white' embodies the image opposite that of the 'native', the important difference being, however, that a 'black' may presently become 'white'. If the crowd shows occasional hostility towards the white, envy and the pursuit of patronage leaves little room for contempt. This is a far cry indeed from the case of the chronically politically marginalized Jew in the West.

Internal enemies have been seen as existing in Zaire, but many of these were identified as foreign: the 'West Africans' and whites from the outlying zones of Europe. The Portuguese and the Greeks in colonial times ordinarily symbolized the evils of mercantile exploitation. In the political culture of the 1960s and


1970s, however, another internal enemy was added to the earlier list of 'strangers'. This new enemy's actual identity varied, mirroring and personifying the ills inflicted by Zairean national mercantile and bureaucratic domination of more parochial regional groups and interests. 'The Luba' (the name given to those people native to Kasai who use the Luba language when speaking with whites and who have worked for them) were one example of this phenomenon of the internal enemy that was identified throughout the country. The country's individual regions, however, possessed their own particular examples in varying degrees, determined by local mechanisms of colonial and post-colonial domination.[15] Even if, in both instances, the 'foreigner' and domestic enemy partially complemented one another, any resemblance with the case of the Jew in the West can only be partial, given the country's distinctive history and its current socio-economic condition. Yet there are similarities.

A certain early tolerance in the Belgian Congo of the small mercantile careers of 'foreigners' by the dominant political powers provided opportunities for their growth, as did also the preference of western big businesses for 'foreigners' as their local agents. This early attitude, which was underpinned by fears of the development of a local national black bourgeoisie, was transformed during the industrialization of the 1920s when the climate was marked by nearly open hostilities.[16] This change was accompanied by a rise in popular resentment of 'the exploiters' and by the fragmentation of these 'exploiters' into smaller groups who pursued the only avenue open to outcasts, small businesses on the fringes of legality.

The disruption of the country's main economic networks that began after Independence in 1960 offered to these marginalized businessmen the opportunities of a huge market, activities which, licit or illicit, they rapidly monopolized. Small businessmen, grouped in ethnic communities or family arrangements, replaced the more formal credit institutions and the supply systems which were previously inaccessible. Because of their unique position as the sole people 'institutionally' equipped to confront the collapse of the country's economic system and to tackle the reeling state apparatus, they reaped profits. But they also paid dearly for it later, when they were caught between growing popular resentment, which was fed by the economic crisis of the 1970s, and the mounting hostility manifested towards them by the state's bureaucrats who themselves were hoping to invest in commercial activities. Altogether removed from political circles, and thus possessing no political influence, they were relatively easily eliminated from the national scene in the 1970s, expelled gradually as 'undesirables'.

In contrast with what has been observed with regard to so-called 'foreign' enemies, the mechanisms necessary to the 'production' of domestic enemies have been quite different, the direct—which is not to say planned—effect of colonial social action in the context of industrialization. The case of the Luba probably goes back farthest, and because it concerns a group known for its numbers and its important involvement in the country's industrial development—especially that of the Shaba area—it has acquired a national significance and merits discussion here. Numerous analyses, as well as popular perceptions, clearly indicate an initial relationship in the shaping of Luba ethnicity which was at once contingent in regard to partners and necessary as far as its structure was concerned.[17]

During the final decades of the nineteenth century, a vast and rather heterogeneous group of agricultural peoples dwelling in the Kasai Basin of Central Africa had come under pressure from neighbouring predatory groups. Caught frequently between African agents of commercial penetration from both


the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts, on the one hand, and Belgian colonial penetration on the other, many people had been driven to migrate. These came to rely on the protection of various new colonial institutions such as missions, business enterprises and the embryonic colonial state. Groups and individuals alike settled under the protection of Catholic missions, state posts, and, later, capitalist enterprises in general and, especially, the Forminière company.[18]

Beginning with the schooling of catechists and the fixing of a written language, originally for purposes of evangelization, a conceptualized model of a Luba 'language' was established with Catholic and Protestant missionaries creating two different standards of its written form. At the same time, a new Luba culture was created through the process of selection of various local, cultural elements as appropriate. This process was encouraged by the fact that, outside the protected areas, especially in Christianized villages, where the socialization and cultural conditioning processes which accompanied the creation of a wage-earning class were strongly felt, the Kasai region as a whole continued to be prey to black and white predators alike until the 1920s. For the 'protected' people the way was thus paved for future receptivity, by both individuals and the collectivity, to the wage system, agricultural production for the market and formal schooling, together with the conversion of the children to Christianity and values associated with it.

In the 1920s, at the time when the new institutions of the colonial administration were being set up, middle-range power fell to a new indigenous bureaucracy presented as possessing 'traditional' power. This process took place rather easily, as there was a lack of organized opposition to it, and the Belgian bureaucracy met with little political resistance when it implemented 'native' colonial policies. Thus the Luba, who already were seen as stout, hard-working and intelligent collaborators, found themselves being offered, rather forcefully perhaps, three quite 'untraditional, opportunities: (1) wage-remunerated work in the mining region, at a time, during the 1920s, when working conditions in Industrial Upper Katanga (Haut-Katanga Industriel) were improving considerably; (2) cash-crop agriculture in the new villages lining the Bukama-Port Franqui railway; and (3) school education in the missionary-codified written Luba language. At the same time, colonial anthropology and the first formally trained Luba intellectuals were beginning enthusiastically to elaborate the cultural and linguistic model for being 'a Luba'.[19] The rapid spread of the market economy, bolstered by the authoritarianism of colonial society, opened the way for this in that it demanded the restructuring of African society in accordance with the principles included in a new public model of social and economic organization of the indigènes ('natives') predicated upon an assumed lineage-based mode of production that was predominantly patriarchal in character. This approach constituted the kernel of the so-called indigenization policy.[20]

During the 1920s heavy investment in the establishment of industrial capital had occurred and this was accompanied by the regionalization of the colonial administration. For the Luba, then, two objective conditions for a specifically ethnic integration were brought together. But the question remained as to whether the necessary subjective conditions were already present in the people's collective consciousness. In fact, the shock of the period between the 1880s and the 1920s had prepared them for their collective socialization as a wage-earning group and for their reception of a unique common ethnic culture to replace the pluralism and heterogeneous village culture of former times. The missions had begun the training of an indigenous (local and later national) elite whose socio-political fortunes became tied to the advancement of a posited homogeneous culture which, however, would always remain distinct from the hypothetical


colonial culture of the Christian, French-speaking Belgians.[21] The suppression of the missions' political autonomy and the implementation of the official policy of the indigenization of blacks provided this potential elite[22] with its social base.

The widespread use of a Luba language that was greatly simplified out of local dialectal variants and coded for use in trade and work as a lingua franca of the colonial world offered many opportunities to Luba-speakers, its use both setting limits to the importance of having a command of French and eliminating competition from other 'ethnic' groups. The demands by the colonial administration for indigenous African lieutenants and by commercial enterprises for local African agents to serve as clerks made participation in the exercise of power a possibility for Luba-speakers. The opening of the Bukama-Port Franqui railway in 1928 gave new life to Luba as a language of colonial communication and confirmed the Luba-speakers in their role as agents of economic activity. In addition to the Luba colonialization effort favoured by Forminière, moreover, regional recruitment of Luba workers by the Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK) was begun at the same time that Luba agricultural resettlement along automobile routes and the railway was occurring. The Luba language took its place alongside Swahili (Kingwana) in the UMHK's worker compounds despite the fact that the company adopted a policy of ethnic mixing following ethnically organized resistance to the lay-offs of the Depression years. The company nonetheless actively encouraged the reinforcement of the ethnic identity of its workers who were then settled in the compounds. Marriages, for example, were arranged at the worker's home village by the local recruiter, missionary, and administrator, with the local chief also participating, while visits of the rural chiefs to the camps were also organized. In fact, Luba replaced the Bemba language, the use of which declined when the company ended recruitment of workers from Northern Rhodesia. An urban Luba-speaking culture gradually developed as may be witnessed by the importance of 'modern' popular songs in Luba by the end of the 1950s and 1960s.[23]

However, it was Swahili which in Katanga would become the language of the workplace and hence the language of colonial communication.[24] There were two reasons for this, and they need no extensive elaboration. First, the decision, in keeping with state policy, to entrust schooling and evangelization in the camps to Catholic missions effectively offered to the missionaries the choice of the language for communication in the colonial situation. The choice appears to have been determined on the basis of whatever language was already in use among the members of the religious orders charged with evangelization and education in the region. Many such orders, such as the Benedictines, decided to use Swahili as an expression of their 'modernistic' views which showed their opposition to indigenization and as part of their strategies to eliminate rival institutions.[25]

Second, the reorganization of the administration between 1931 and 1933 created Kasai Province, which incorporated the region of Lomai, thereby establishing the administrative separation of the Kasai 'storehouse' from the Katangan workplace. Thus, the Luba of the Kasai were effectively divided between the areas in which they produced crops to supply industrial workers and the place of their employment as wage-earners, existing as it were in different parts of a linked and unified city-country space. An administrative framework was thus created for Luba emigration and the underdevelopment of the Kasai.[26]

The emphasis placed on indigenization as a guiding administrative and political principle, combined with the destruction of provincial political autonomy, drove the white colonial world to seek a new basis for provincial specificity. The cultural identity represented by the use of a specific local language meant that the Kasai


was to be set apart by the prevailing use of Luba and the Katanga by the use of Swahili.

To the extent that my argument that the autonomy of the colonial state depended on its ability to draw reality out of the fiction of indigenous society is valid, it is only logical that there was a realization of this on the provincial level. It came about, in fact, through the conscious breaking up of the economic bases of provincial autonomy. Thus the political creation of a Congo-wide national space was accompanied by an initial phase involving the development of specific regionalisms. Since they could not be based on economic realities over which there was any local African political control, collective identities took shape as those ethnic consciousnesses which best expressed and gave form to the social solidarities necessary to survive in a world subject to an imposed, arbitrary political order.

Thus regionalism occurred as a nascent political force prior to 1930 and took ultimate shape as a specifically Katangese collective identity because of the policies of white society.[27] It survived and assumed a particular importance during the turmoil of 1960 essentially through the efforts of the white Katanga society and through the manipulation of African resentment—in large part that of the Lunda—over the successes of the Luba in being integrated into colonial structures. This distinction suggests that regionalism is a form of political articulation of collective identities in societies where national integration in the form of the complete mobility of the workforce and of capital is only a gradually realized event. Ethnic identification and awareness would then be a type of political framework belonging to societies where wage-remunerated migrant labour and non-economic management of the workforce and the means of production are dominant. It would, in this view, be a form of white political management, but it would be a form of African internal control over the city-country space for as long as the social autonomy of the cities and the capitalization of agriculture had yet to be accomplished.

Towards the end of the 1930s the Kasai, under administrative supervision, became a storehouse that supplied workers and agricultural products alike, responding to the competing demands placed on it by enterprises in Industrial Upper Katanga, by the industrial and administrative centre at Léopoldville, and by the demand for crop exports. If Luba-speaking people contributed in important ways to these developments and were thereby involved deeply in the monetary economy, it should be pointed out that the policies of indigenization and the imposition of a system of mandatory crop production throughout the entire African agricultural sector ruled out the possibility of any real capitalization of African agriculture. Therefore, only commercial activities, such as small business opportunities, which became increasingly accessible to Africans in the 1940s, and membership in the industrial wage-earning class-in-the-making offered the possibility of a rise in socio-economic standing and permitted 'investment' of consequent earnings. Both avenues, however, led necessarily to the resettlement of Luba-speaking people in areas outside the Luba-speaking region, where, moreover, the thorough knowledge of this language of colonial communication could be relatively advantageous to them. All non-agricultural activity thus automatically placed the local African world in a direct juxtaposition to the white colonial world. In this way, the Luba progressively became the 'cultural brokers' (intermédiaires culturels )[28]par excellence, first in the Kasai, then in the south, and then even in the centre of the country, with the exception of the Lower Congo area. And, as they did so, they became internally derived 'strangers' in the country.


The Growth of a Common Luba Culture'

The course the Luba followed in the Kasai and in South Katanga was made easier by the conflicts between Luba wage-earners and agents, on the one hand, and the local African populations of the mining regions or in the future urban areas on the other, just as these conflicts would lead ultimately to the Luba's post-colonial exclusion. The Luba-speaking men initially worked as labourers, something which was considered degrading by the local peoples and as equivalent to being slaves of the white man.[29]

Through their status as the whites' assistants, however, Luba men were able to carve out a privileged niche for themselves through the acceptance of schooling, the establishment of written Luba as an officially recognized colonial language, by their role as foremen of the established power, and by the adaptation of their social structures to the demands of the colonial world to such an extent that their culture and language became starting points for the 'discovery' by Europeans of African cultures as ethnic cultures equal to, but basically different from, the cultures of the rest of humanity. As members of the model indigenous African society of the region, during the 1930s and 1940s many Luba found it appealing to cooperate with European researchers and missionaries in selecting and assembling cultural elements in order to elaborate a Luba theodicy and philosophy as a system of thought and to work with European researchers and administrators in constructing a judicial system that conformed to their expectations.[30] It is no accident that an ethnic philosophy on a par with its western counterparts should have been 'discovered' in Luba culture by Tempels following in Possoz's footsteps and not in some other local African culture.[31]

The modern 'Luba' ethnic culture was thus selected and developed as a modern 'traditional' system through the combined efforts of Luba-speaking intellectuals, including catechists and school-teachers, chiefs, and other notables incorporated in the colonial administrative structure, and the colonial dispensers of learning, the missionaries, the administrators and the magistrates. The sorting out of cultural data and the creation of particular meaning for a term were all guided by the perception of a 'tradition' as being fixed and unalterable by material conditions.[32] Such an attitude was a widespread fixture of both European and African resistance to the reality of socio-political ills engendered by colonial industrialization and of European opposition to any kind of Creole culture.

The relative success of Christianization and schooling, which made it possible from an early time to set down the elements of an African cultural pattern compatible with white men's 'law and order', played a large part in the advancement of the Luba cultural model. It was owing to this fact that 'the Luba' could be exhibited and even protected by colonial power. Rather scholarly on the whole, the Luba-speaking elite was able to propagate notions of a shared heritage, beginning with a canon of written language, 'customs' and history. There were early missionary publications for Africans, then history books, and then an anthropological literature. At the time that the chiefdoms as administrative units were being created in the 1930s, the selective reading of or listening to ethnographic surveys reinforced those cultural traits which the colonial agent as survey-taker found positive, in keeping with a dynamic peculiar to situations of unequal power. A complex set of values centring on the notion of patriarchal power, including sexual morality, is a good example of this. Furthermore, it paved the way for the creation of a pseudo-theory of demographics that held that a high birth-rate was a reward for good morals; it was another step towards what became a theory of a vital ethnic force.[33]


It is important to emphasize, however, that between the 1920s and the 1950s, knowledge of culture, and hence the image that one projected and received of culture in one's surroundings, followed no steady upward path corresponding to any specific conscious project. Rather, it was a relationship characterized by a constant fluctuation that the Luba 'cultural brokers' kept in motion. These brought colonial 'high scientific culture', which remained prey to the epistemological blind spots which are peculiar to Western culture as it pursued its own objectives of rationalization and taxonomic classification, into contact with authentic Luba-speaking peoples cultures, which were then being transformed and homogenized under the socio-economic impact of industrialization and through the standardization of language and personal standing. Gender roles and judicial and political customs were all written down by the administration, placed in archives, and checked for accuracy, and the racial underpinnings of colonial society transformed these various locally derived elements into an applied model of common ethnic culture.[34] The subtle balance between what was spoken of—or written about, rather—and the different sorts of lived experience was maintained, on a collective level, by the Luba 'cultural brokers' or through the changing conditions of their integration into the colonial world.

Two points should be made in connection with this process. The first is concerned with the relationship existing between the Luba-speaking cultural brokers—a modernized elite—and the so-called traditional elites, the chiefs (chefs médaillés ) and notables who were recognized as such by the administration. The former, who acted from within the colonial world, were generally learned, Christian and urbanized, and stood as the executors and manipulators of colonial power. They considered themselves the agents of progress. The latter were usually unlettered and necessarily rural. Their legitimacy, in fact, stemmed only from the authority of the administration and its fiction of a 'native' society, but their success as chiefs can be accounted for in their ability to engage in double-dealing with the colonial administration and in avoiding the use of military force against their people. In this role, they were indispensable as they granted a measure of credibility to this fiction of a coherent 'native' society and guaranteed the autonomy of the colonial state.

Even if colonial legislation formally divided the 'elites' into two groups which were separate in all respects except race (they both shared 'native' status) and reserved the exercise of local power to the so-called 'traditional' elites, it should be noted that, in practice, both the European administration and rural societies showed an empirical tendency to put in power as chiefs those who possessed at least some experience of the white world. Thus, while the principle of separation between the two elites remained strong, at the same time there were strong mutual needs drawing the two closer together. From the end of the 1920s onwards, with growing industrialization in the Congo, the majority of whites—as elsewhere throughout southern Africa—came to condemn 'westernized' and 'detribalized' blacks. The white colonial world no longer desired rootless African individuals. Urban African popular culture was also widely condemned in the 1920s.

The judicial system of urban communities did not permit Africans to have any civil status that was not recognized by 'traditional' customary law. In these circumstances it became important for urban-dwelling Africans to belong to, or at least to be said to be involved in, an ethnic 'customary' culture. At the same time, new efforts were continually being made that aimed at controlling workers' movement through legal sanction, and thus the importance of specifically written legislation in the field of customary law increased. Moreover, the spreading monetization of social and economic relations, as well as the growing ability of


chiefs to act as political brokers in the distribution and management of land, conferred on the chiefs an important role vis-à-vis both the colonial power and the urbanized members of the chiefdoms. The migration of many people to earn wages through migrant labour and for schooling, as well as the increased amount of income from cash crop production from the 1940s onwards in the rural areas, facilitated the entry of secondary cultural brokers to positions of influence in the rural sector and strengthened their bonds with those dwelling in the urban areas.

The second point that needs to be made involves successive changes that affected the role of chiefs. The chiefs of the rural administrative units (cnefferie or secteur ) that were recognized by the administration were named to their positions upon the recommendation of the territorial administrator. His advice was based on an investigation into the customary titles of the candidate and, hence, into the historical identity of his group. This situation raises an important point for understanding the revision of local perceptions of what constituted 'tradition'. This was embedded in the very concept of 'native rural district', which shifted from being in the 1920s and 1930s a chiefdom based on ethnic affiliation to an area defined on the bases of its economic organization, and the duties which the chiefs carried out, or were supposed to carry out, with respect to the rural community and the colonial power. After a short, feverish period of research into local particularities which aimed at establishing 'traditional chiefdoms' and at identifying the dominant political body within them during the 1920s and the first part of the 1930s, local cultures followed the general tendency towards ethnic standardization, probably very strongly so. Later, language usage and a rather vague historical tradition defined and fixed the 'indigenous' bases of the native administrative units for which economic viability (that is, the ability to be self-financing through the use of a supplement to the capitation tax and other local taxes) was the fundamental criterion. This change, which was embodied in a decree of 1933 and implemented from 1935, coincided with the recovery in the demand for supplies of foodstuffs and for workers from the Kasai, a demand for which the Luba would once again both pay the price and reap some profit.

Without going into the details of the events occurring between 1935 and 1958, it may be shown that this demand for food and workers, which remained strong throughout most of this period, benefited above all the Luba established along roads and the railway line. They were at the same time farmers and members of peasant groups who found themselves in a precarious property situation, involving them with neighbours who were often not Luba-speaking.

Thus, the role of the chief changed at the local level. Since 1935, it has become increasingly bureaucratized and divorced from capitalist accumulation, while the growing profitability of farm production for those near the road or railway made the chief less and less of a supervisor over agricultural work. On the other hand, his role gained in importance whenever the property lines were redrawn. He was above all instrumental in maintaining a distinct identity as against the autochthonous communities whose own ethnic consciousnesses followed the later rise of economic aspirations and expectations. In this way, the norms of the newly fashioned Luba culture were interiorized in villages being settled during the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, moreover, the community of political goals shared by 'traditional' elites and their 'modernized' Luba counterparts grew stronger. The conversion of many Luba cultivators, especially from the area surrounding the railway, into either part-time or full-time suppliers to the colonial economy, not only reinforced the monetization of social relations but also intensified individual movement between the urban wage-earning class, agriculture and the unregulated sector of small businesses, the sexual services of young women, and


other services, thereby strengthening city-country, urban-rural links.

The Entrenching of a New Luba Identity

This brings us to the nagging question of why this process strengthened ethnic consciousness and identity instead of resulting in their elimination in the face of a double-layered identity corresponding to class and nation. As paradoxical and as unjustified as the following affirmation may seem in an essay of this kind, it was, in fact, the growth of ethnic consciousness and identity, and not class identity, that was provoked by the last wave of colonial economic development in the 1950s. This phenomenon surprises me personally, especially when compared with the experience of western industrialization. Yet it may readily be explained on the macro-sociological level, provided that one forget any 'necessary' relation—be it derived from evolutionist or functionalist theory—between industrialization as an economic phenomenon and the socio-cultural change that has accompanied it in Western experience. Socio-cultural change, moreover, does not equal simple adaptation but rather a political effort, ever selective and contradictory, toward gaining control over material processes and individual adaptive reactions.

The specifically ethnic politicization of social change during the 1950s and its continuation afterwards may be explained, I think, by several factors: (1) the authoritarian nature of the colonial state and its absence from any local social involvement; (2) the fundamental racial division underlying colonial society and the existence in the Congo of a political culture of race; (3) the fundamentally uneven growth of the colonial economy which was intensified in the 1950s; (4) the internal necessity for the dominant groups within African society of containing the economic emancipation of women and youth[35] that was based on the increasing monetization of society; and (5) a tentative and ambiguous convergence of the interests of the 'traditional' rural elite and 'modern' urban elites.[36]

This last development is explained by the progressive transformation during the late 1940s and 1950s of the role of the 'traditional' chief in the community. As his position as executor of the decisions of the colonial administration regarding land and agriculture passed to agents specially trained as agricultural advisers, the chief acquired authority as a political representative of his people in dealings with the administration. This late renaissance of the political function of the chiefs under fundamentally new circumstances coincided with the creation of new political duties for the urban elites as well. The only available ground for collaboration in the colonial context was in the specific form of the political culture of ethnicity. We should remember that even as the dominant culture tried to rob it of its originality, popular discourse became a force in the world of the dominated as a means of achieving political mobilization which had as its goal the seizing of the colonial state from the white bureaucracy.[37]

In the history of societies which have evolved within Belgian colonialism's space, the case of the Luba is unique without being unusual. In a situation which offers many analogies to the pattern of the regional group which remains beholden to the state while profiting from their association at the same time, the Lingala-speakers from Equateur Province are now playing out in contemporary Zaire a political scenario that recalls the drama enacted by the Luba.[38] In both cases, allowing for the elapse of several years' time between the two and for the marked differences between the rhythms of their unfolding, one may observe a sort of double-barrelled achievement, the individual aspects of which are mutually reinforcing. First, there is the detaching of the group which eventually becomes


'Luba' or 'Lingala' from the continuities of pre-colonial life as embodied in village social practices. Second, there is the group's insertion in a tradition constructed out of a vision of the past which ignores the profound upheavals of the second half of the nineteenth century.[39]

It should be noted here that the term 'Luba' did not initially denote a group of villagers whose historical traditions and/or spoken language were linked to the Luba model. The development of the model is concomitant with the formation of an 'association' of immigrants, and by the beginning of the twentieth century the colonial writings already made a distinction between Luba from new 'colonial' villages and others.[40] In the colonial socio-economic reality, there was on the one hand the Luba of the proletarianized space of the city or workplace who approximated to the model as individuals, and on the other hand there were specific rural communities, organized in chiefdoms, and later in 'sectors' (secteurs ), which, although possessing their own historical tradition and language (which then became described as 'dialects') became 'Luba' on a collective basis. Tshundolela Epanya has demonstrated how the ethnic conflict between 'the Luba', immigrant workers who were Luba-speaking yet originated from other rural communities, and the Bakwa Anga, a Luba cultural group in the anthropological sense of the term, involved the very same mechanisms as those present in the unambiguously ethnically-articulated conflict between the Luba and the Luluwa in Luluabourg or between the Luba and the Lunda in Industrial Upper Katanga.[41] This constant of ethnic consciousness in the industrializing world must be kept in mind as it is that which links ethnic formation to national formation.

Historical traditions, a model language, social norms, and standards of intellectual culture (folklore) comprise a synthetic creation by a professional group which manipulates diverse materials so as to elaborate an instrument for new processes of socialization.[42] The group in its human reality takes form, then, through a double process. First, it breaks away from the rural community, which, on the ideological level, stands as one of the theoretical terms of the group's reality in its own collective imagination. Second, it has links with a new identity, the basis of which derives in reality more from association than from community even if ideological stress is placed upon the community. Thus it is this imposed identity which lies at the origin of the proletarianized ethnic community.

The anthropological 'tradition(s)' rationally constructed from outside the actual social practices of the group in question fits a model which ignores local political practices. It does refer, however, to the new power structure and is involved in the development of a class structure. This is what is known as the formation of a 'national identity' and national ideology, such as we understand it, for example, in the case of nineteenth century France, where this process was divorced from the politicization of the masses. For lack of a national bourgeoisie and its control over the state and the economy, building a national market that encompasses all factors of production has been accompanied in Zaire by the creation of areas of ethnic reference which are politically powerless because they are cut off from access to the state.

It is in this political context that the absurd takes on the aspect of reality. A European missionary is considered to have perfect command of the 'ethnic' language because it is he who is producer and judge of the linguistic norm he fixes in writing. In a similar way, an ethnological treatise—the work of a foreigner—establishes the ideal cultural model for the community itself. It is in this way that a mechanism is built into the ethnic framework which allows for the dichotomization of national social and cultural space into a situation of there


being oral forms of knowledge which are said to be unaware of their own existence and written forms of knowledge which set standards.[43] Through ethnologists' holding a mirror up to him, the 'native' sees himself as The Other, and in so doing becomes an immigrant to his own 'culture', the inferiority of which he accepts.[44]

The Contradictions in being a Luba

The success of the Luba—or, rather, the success of the Belgian state's indigenizing policies[45] —was marked by a profound contradiction. The members of the Luba colonial elites, which constituted a potential national state bureaucracy, were condemned by virtue of their peculiar position of being in close alliance with the colonial state itself. The capture of the colonial state seemed to figure in their destiny, yet the realization of impending independence would in fact only lead to their exclusion from the national political scene. Their strengths were what contributed to their ultimate exclusion from the national political scene, as much on account of fears of a Luba palace coup as on account of the weakness of their own regional base, which could only lead to a regional secession that was condemned from the outset. The regional and ethnic reactions against the social and economic success of Luba modernization were outstanding examples of reactions, by proxy, to the pax belgica . They often represented a last-ditch effort to save the colonial order in its essence and, as such, they were encouraged by the colonial administration, as may be witnessed in the Luba-Lulua conflict.

The greatest weakness of the Luba—the very reason for their spectacular success in colonial society through adoption of the model of the ideal colonial 'native' as expressed in the legal and political concept of indigène —lay in their immigrant character in a 'national' space that had been systematically 'indigenized' since 1920. The Belgian colonial order's concept of political legitimacy was grounded in two complementary principles: seniority (history) and conquest, with the latter, having priority over the former, provided that it be compatible with the interests of the colonial state, a condition not met in the case of other nineteenth century conquerors, such as the Swahili, the Chokwe, and others.

The departure of the colonial state, set up as it was as the absolute political arbiter, came about in 1960 at the moment when 'native' political instability had reached its climax. The economic policies in effect at the time and the practical possibilities for economic exploitation and administrative penetration made it possible in the 1930s and 1940s to create a socio-political model based on regional symbiosis (or rather symbioses), pairing ethnic/regional colonial 'elites' with the political system based on the double intervention of the Roman Catholic Church and the state. The implicit regionalization of economic exploitation placed the regional training of 'modern native' elites, the ethnic elites par excellence, in the hands of religious bodies who practically monopolized the teaching profession. These future African intellectuals were already being cut off from the rural world by schooling as they became acculturated according to a normative and synthetic cultural-linguistic model.[46] They were in residence at the mission station during the whole period, and their return to the village was discouraged. The administration directed the rural societies which, with the help of the so-called 'traditional' authorities and in the absence of the elites referred to above, had been shattered by the law into mosaics of 'native administrative units'.

The 'modern elite'—that is, the elite which was integrated into the industrial economy—was deeply involved in the building of an ethnic culture of which,


moreover, it was temporarily the principal if not sole consumer. However, through the functioning of the judicial system and the colonial political organization of the urban proletariat (operating through the para-traditional centres which, from the 1940s on, superseded the worker camps), ethnic culture and language spread to the workers who were becoming increasingly stabilized in the city and were establishing families there. Ethnic culture thus ceased to be an arbitrary construct of colonial knowledge and took on a dynamic of its own, constituting as a set of practices necessary, first, to survival and, soon thereafter, to the expression of social and political conflicts in the urban areas, conflicts which eventually spread throughout the city-country, urban-rural space. This stage, so important for understanding the formation of ethnicity as both a political culture and a social product of colonial industrialization—as well as a framework for social protest—has been largely overlooked because, at the very moment when the rapid expansion of the wage-earning class and the monetary economy in the countryside created in the 1950s the objective conditions for cooperation between the urban elites and the 'traditional' authorities, colonial sociology consecrated a firm, but bogus, dichotomy between city and country, thereby producing the dualist model of African societies and economics.[47]

Understanding the process which I have just described should help to make the formation of class society in the rural-urban space of 'native' societies in the colonial system more intelligible. In this setting two factors are especially involved from a time prior to the acceleration of the process in in the 1950s. First, the rapid development of bonds of personal dependence occurring through the phenomenal increase of client-patron relationships penetrated every level of colonial society without regard to the barrier of race and was abetted by the arbitrary nature of the system.[48] If it was important to have 'one's white', it was no less important to have 'one's blacks' in order to fill any office having political aspects to it. The client-patron system constituted the principal political force in the transformation of the colonial 'native' system according to the anthropological model. It was also patronage that unified the city-country, urban-rural social space.

The rapid development of interwoven patronage networks was to result in the post-colonial Zairean state's becoming the 'great absent one' while still remaining all powerful. The shifting of the state's horizons towards the juncture of the 'national' economy and the world market, which had previously been in the province of the metropolitan political apparatus, gave it, by virtue of its control over the centralization of surplus production and its investment, mastery over the matrix of relations pertaining to centralization and/or marginalization. The mechanisms for the extortion of surplus which accompany proletarianization became identified with the state, which assumed political responsibility for them. On the other hand, redistribution of surplus was carried on within the client-patron networks which could only be temporarily halted by political marginalization, which the state had control over; economic marginalization, or peripheralization, was, on the other hand, a long-lasting phenomenon, as the case of the Kasai goes to show. The political and economic mechanisms of this system were in place in the colonial society of the 1950s and are clearly demarcated in the Ten-Year Plan prepared on the eve of independence in the 1960s. Thus today one mentions Zaire in connection with its 'unending crisis' as a way of tacitly recognizing the relative stability of its political society as it is increasingly stratified along class lines.[49] To understand why the state, by its leaving vacant the national social scene, produces such a political system, it is necessary to look into specific patterns of historical proletarianization.

The second factor involved in the formation of a class society is the social


concept of slavery. As Luc de Heusch has recently asserted, the 'two major steps towards a class society are without a doubt, the introduction of slavery on the one hand, and the development of links of personal dependence on the other',[50] in order to affirm that for the Tetela, as for the Pende, the slave is a dependant who finds that he is an outsider in relation to the dominant social bond.[51] It should be noted that this social bond determines the legal access to resources, including the means of production. It is only to be expected that the Tetela considered forced cotton cultivation during the colonial period as state slavery. De Heusch considers this an accurate assessment. According to the social meaning given this form of social dependence in central Africa during the nineteenth century, slavery was socially equivalent to the proletarianization that occurred later.[52] A slave is he who, once 'liberated' from any politically recognized social bond, by force, or, more rarely, in accordance with his own will, is cut off from legal access to resources. He acquires this access by being placed, or by placing himself, in a position of dependence toward someone who, in becoming his 'father' or 'mother', re-establishes the social bond. It was completely natural, therefore, that soldiers and workers who had first been recruited by force came to be considered slaves of the state. It was also just as natural that the later mandatory cultivations which sanctioned de facto control by the state of a portion of agricultural lands should be seen as a form of partial enslavement, that is, proletarianization.[53]

The acceleration in salaried socialization, beginning at the end of the 1930s, and in the general monetization of the rural economy in the 1950s had as a cumulative effect the destabilization of the system, which was at the same time rigidly held in political place by the administration, and the calling into question of the functions carried out by the 'elites'. In spite of colonial society, if not without its knowledge, an internal—one may say in colonial legal terminology, 'native'—control of the proletarianization process began at the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s. The chiefs, incapable of imposing a socio-economic control over those who left the rural chiefdoms for the cities, or else themselves involved in 'non-traditional' activities, became increasingly the simple agents of the colonial administration, to the extent that, in 1958, on the eve of independence, the administration was ready to replace 'tradition'-based investiture of chiefs by local elections. Many chiefs kept their distance from the administration's notion of 'traditions', attempting to maintain social and political control of their groups, exercising it henceforth in the city-country space. By so doing they came to control membership in the group as well as access to land, two areas which became arenas of confrontation with the state. It was the chiefs who held the ultimate sanction of proletarianization, to the extent that a migrant who had cut off his ties to his ethnic group could see his legitimate access to land cut off as well, the latter condition taking form in his exclusion from consultation and/or participation in the never-ending discussions over land, thereby confirming his status as proletarian/slave.

Furthermore, the reaction of the members of the 'modern' elites (évolués ) to the black soldiers' mutiny at Luluabourg in 1944, together with the alleged existence of plans for their political conspiracy, only go to show that it was not white colonial society alone that was afraid. For the first time, in 1944, the évolués became conscious of the political void in which they were suspended. What they learned about the unfolding of the revolt at Masisi and the mutiny at Luluabourg demonstrated the risks of their position.[54]

When the demand for a particular political status to bring them closer to white society was not satisfied, the évolués turned as individuals towards the real political world where they were potential proletarians, and then set about establishing their own network of alliances. It was also at this moment that the


Church, whose monopoly of school instruction started eroding during the 1950s, reinforced its training and supervision of the évolués in the ethnic framework of the delocalized space over which it believed itself to be in control. I am referring here above all to the growing political role of associations of graduates and former students from which the future political leaders sprang.[55]

In the political space where the évolués and the traditional authorities both moved, the political aspects of the culture of ethnicity developed quickly. It was in this context that the cultural models largely created and transmitted by the évoluées intersected with traditional political practices while the men and women who were being continually buffeted by the forces of colonial proletarianization struggled for individual and social survival.

It was therefore in city-country space—a space staked out and delimited by industrialization—and in the face of the authoritarian state, that there arose and grew the political culture of ethnicity on the one hand, and specific social practices, holding as much to patronage as to class solidarity, on the other. The 'folkloricization' of intellectual culture and of collective consciousnesses by their being arbitrarily lumped together in accordance with the models of the 'Belgian Ethnographic Library',[56] without any regard for their real political context, erects a screen of ethnicity which obscures a whole set of social practices that in fact integrate the mechanisms of class conflict, ethnic solidarity, and national pressures. It is on account of these different thrusts that we may observe nowadays a contradictory tendency towards regional and even gradually a national standardization of collective identities and, at the same time, a race within the field of national scholarly ethnography and history to set down models for increasingly smaller groups.

The current political dynamic in Zaire which keeps the crisis of the state stable owes as much to the national grand bourgeoisie as it emerges, but sets itself off from the political clique, as it does to the limited political space[57] , where the state is still present. In this space solidarities operate as much as a function of class positions as they are defined as a function of regional identity, for the latter refers to the political circumstances and the economic structures shaping the national space, whose guarantor remains the state.[58]

Women and Ethnicity

Finally, ethnicity has been implicitly recognized until now as strictly a matter involving men, because, according to the patriarchal model, men transmitted only identity to their offspring. This was so because the indigène in colonial society was excluded from the Napoleonic Code and could legally convey no property to his descendants. A more accurate hypothesis would suggest, however, that men, as the only recognized wage-earners in colonial society, transmitted class position to other men. As, despite massive evidence demonstrating it, the real proletarianization of women was never recognized by either colonial legislation or historians, African women transmitted a legal status of 'native', the basis of which lay in race. On the other hand, the resultant cultural identity[59] —and this signifies the language being used as much as the whole process of socialization in urban culture—was transmitted by women and peer groups (children and adolescents of the streets, neighbourhoods and compounds) which formed according to principles we have not yet learned and whose impact on the reproduction of the expressed identity we are unable to determine. The school provides an impetus for wage-class socialization and status-related (racial) identity, which at the time was embodied in the term 'native'. And, of course, in the Belgian Congo the


school meant the Church. We should not underestimate the importance of this type of socialization (as we have all done until now) in analyzing the 'native' category in its relation to the reproduction of the political system, as well as for the political culture of ethnicity. The 'native' was a largely negative juridical concept as all 'natives' were excluded from the Napoleonic Code, which grouped together, by its own definition, ethnic beings, or rather, ethnic men. This situation recalls one existing in many parts of the West before World War II, in which the bourgeoisie was perceived as 'national' while the people were seen as 'ethnic'.

On the political level, ethnic culture was, and is, a purely male culture. At its top, the associations of graduates and, later, the ethnic associations such as Abaco ignored the very existence of women. In the colonial culture of the urbanized African male as expressed in the missionary press or in the first magazine for blacks. La Voix du Congolais, she is either the villainess—the 'free' woman (prostitute) who corrupts the race and is responsible for the fall in the birth rate, with the drop even in the rural areas attributed to her loose behaviour—or the faithful, reproductive shadow of her husband, who is himself in turn depicted as the loyal servant of the civilizing European. The ideal woman is effectively the shadow of a shadow.

I can only provide several clues into the matter, as its investigation awaits completion. For a very long time, at least until the 1940s, the principal strategy underlying the relationships between men and women in the city seemed to follow the very principle of the economy responsible for imposing proletarianization: individualism and trade, which means absolutely nothing as far as the social mechanisms of reproduction in the village were concerned. According to their own perception of things, those who went to the city, by force or by their own will, found themselves cast in the role of slaves because their legitimating ties with the rural community had been temporarily cut.[60] They tried in this environment to take advantage of the uncertain opportunities represented by wage-earning and the market, and it was essentially for these reasons that associations of every sort, ranging from recreation to mutual assistance, became so common. It was here that men and the rare women lived, each on their side of the barrier separating male wage-earners from their female counterparts who were ideologically excluded from the wage-earning class. It was in this way that a trade developed which conformed nonetheless to the practice of bourgeois society in general and to colonial society in particular. The sexual relationship was a matter of ownership—either one owned a woman by virtue of a contract, or one purchased her services sporadically.

What is more, as the men were practically all either wage-earners employed by 'civilized' masters, as white employers were termed in legal terminology, or 'undesirables', the economic life of the African urban centres was carried out by women. As the number of women in the urban areas grew from the 1940s onwards, economic life intensified. They circulated more easily than men, whose assignments were controlled by the state. Finally, they were able to cross ethnic and even racial barriers, if they were willing to pass from one man to another as wife or cohabitant. With the development of native urban centres, administrative practice recognized their importance in what would today be called the informal economy,[61] but what at that time was considered illicit for all purposes except tax collection. The women sold sex and alcohol which they produced themselves in those urban centres or in the surrounding villages. The fact that there was a tax on 'single women' and a tax on beer allowed many families in para-traditional centres to survive, for the colonial state found it to its fiscal advantage to permit women to remain in the urban areas.


The wage-earner's spouse, who had been brought to the urban industrial centre to stabilize the man's labour in one place, was a perfect proletarian since she was denied a wage and was, for a long time, even deprived of the food ration that was a legal component of her husband's salary. Without any resources whatsoever, she had to live and support her children by miraculously multiplying her husband's food ration which the employers had calculated as adequate to sustain a single working man. In the city she had neither relatives, nor land, nor even a house, which ordinarily belonged to the employer. Contrary to the situation in the rural 'extended family', which could be observed existing in a continuum ranging from 'households' to residence communities, and to relatives, the woman proletarian assumed a narrowed role in an institution specializing in the reproduction of labour and which was subjected to definite cycles.[62] Her social status was undoubtedly worse in the urban area than in the village, because, although 'ethnic' law, whose codification was based on an abstract anthropological model, epitomized arbitrariness in the village setting, economic activities were fewer in number and less strenuous there. Three things allowed the colonized woman to get around the role of spouse that colonial ideology placed upon her: trade, which could only be illicit in terms of the existing legislation; solidarity between women and relatives; and, to an ever-increasing degree, the production of children, as the colonial world considered the woman only as a reproducer and protected her in this role alone.

It is significant that African 'modernity', which is basically equivalent to the production of the wage-earning world and the évolués, in its principal religious expression as Messianic, hence essentially Christian movements, is not only basically male-oriented but openly hostile to women. The witchhunt ordered by Mwana Lesa in the 1920s aimed at women particularly, while Khakism commands woman to be a sexual instrument in the service of her husband.[63]

Women established their own social and economic space in the city, however, by the 1950s at the latest. This was essentially that city-country space which assured the circulation of consumer goods as well as the movement of children. At one time, children used to be sent back to the village but increasingly from the end of World War II they came to the city from the village to be introduced to urban culture, to go to school and, in the 1950s, to allow the 'father' to become eligible for family allowances and the extra food ration for children under his guardianship. The women in cities were legally powerless, but through their social practices they gave shape and form to this space where the real identities of their children's generation developed: identities which were moulded before these children later became wage-earners or members of the lumpenproletariat. It is probably this fact which explains the importance which the poets of Négritude give to filial devotion toward the mother and which seems to me to be specifically a characteristic of urban culture in the colonial world and not necessarily one belonging to 'tradition'.

However, one ought not to yield to the illusion of autonomy for popular female activities. Women were rigidly controlled unless they left this mixed space for the lumpenproletariat,[64] where, being exposed to the arbitrary nature of the colonial state, they oscillated between prostitution and impossible wage-earning conditions.[65] With the perhaps essential complicity of the colonial institutions, the existence of the dowry and its manipulation structured the exploitation of women and the youngest male family members,[66] and 'traditional' authorities still controlled its mechanisms.



Ethnicity is both a principle and an ideologically lived experience which gives structure to and is structured by the political culture of domination that two competing poles of social control—the modern évolués and the 'traditional authorities'[67] —split between them in the Congo. It should also be remembered that the reproduction of this culture's specific contents is guaranteed by the survival practices of its basic components, which for ethnicity are represented by modern nuclear families.[68] Finally, it is the state and its practices leading to proletarianization which constitute an indispensable element of this political culture which is characterized by two civilian societies (white and native) that were made in the colonial state, and by a state without a political society. It is in this way that ethnicity as nationalism is Janus-like in character,[69] showing a profile of resistance from one side and a profile of oppression on the other.

previous chapter
11— The Formation of the Political Culture of Ethnicity in the Belgian Congo, 1920–19591
next chapter