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A Dance of Assassins

Performing Early Colonial Hegemony in the Congo

Allen F. Roberts

Publication Year: 2012

A Dance of Assassins presents the competing histories of how Congolese Chief Lusinga and Belgian Lieutenant Storms engaged in a deadly clash while striving to establish hegemony along the southwestern shores of Lake Tanganyika in the 1880s. While Lusinga participated in the east African slave trade, Storms' secret mandate was to meet Henry Stanley's eastward march and trace "a white line across the Dark Continent" to legitimize King Leopold's audacious claim to the Congo. Confrontation was inevitable, and Lusinga lost his head. His skull became the subject of a sinister evolutionary treatise, while his ancestral figure is now considered a treasure of the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Allen F. Roberts reveals the theatricality of early colonial encounter and how it continues to influence Congolese and Belgian understandings of history today.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Because this study has extended over more than forty years, I hold no hope of being able to thank all of my friends in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as the Republic of Zaïre during my research of the mid-1970s), Belgium, the Vatican, the United States, and the several other countries where I have consulted relevant museum and archival collections ...

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pp. 1-12

This book is about a beheading. The event occurred in December 1884 and has been articulated ever since through competing Congolese and Belgian histories attuned to particular audiences and political goals. Two protagonists engaged in a deadly pas de deux driven by immense ambition, each violently striving to establish hegemony ...

Part 1: The “Emperor” Strikes Back

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1. Invitation to a Beheading

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pp. 15-49

In the mid-1970s, people living in the large village of Lubanda in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), readily recalled the name and a few of the exploits of Bwana Boma, despite his having lived there for a mere two years nearly a century before. ...

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2. A Conflict of Memories

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pp. 50-75

Storms’s account of Lusinga’s demise will be left here in order to turn to Tabwa narration of the same events. Such alternative histories can move our understanding of fraught political relations beyond nineteenth-century European “idiom[s] of doubt” that would deny agency to soon-to-be-colonized Africans. ...

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3. Histories Made by Bodies

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pp. 76-98

Because of the strength of Lusinga’s forces, Storms felt obliged to wait until his troops could be bolstered by those of Paul Reichard before attacking the chief’s mountain fastness in early December 1884. He then added men from local chiefs who were loyal to him so that he could deploy over a hundred warriors for the expedition. ...

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4. Tropical Gothic

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pp. 99-126

Early in Storms’s days at Lubanda, IAA Secretary General Strauch made it clear that he was discontent with the amount of information the lieutenant was forwarding to him and asked for more. Storms responded that he spent his days otherwise, with the implication that he had little time for such idle niceties as correspondence. ...

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5. Storms the Headhunter

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pp. 127-140

Among points that deserve further attention is Lusinga’s decapitation by Bwana Boma’s men. There is nothing mysterious about the taking of heads in such days of violence, and clearly Storms was not the only one to be doing so, for at least some Tabwa, Yeke, and others demonstrated similar obliviousness to restraint. ...

Part 2: Remembering the Dismembered

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6. The Rise of a Colonial Macabre

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pp. 143-156

We have not yet finished with Lusinga’s head. Émile Storms’s reasons for taking it may seem as obvious to readers nowadays as they may have been to the lieutenant and those in Europe to whom he explained his efforts through his various reports and letters: Bwana Boma was simply trying to put an end to a “sanguinary potentate” ...

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7. Art Évo on the Chaussée d’Ixelles

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pp. 157-173

Storms took Lusinga with him to Europe in another way. When his men brought him the chief’s head, they also brought Bwana Boma a most remarkable wooden figure embodying Swift-of-Foot’s dynastic title and matrilineage.1 Storms carried this and other trophies back to Belgium with him, and a series of photographs taken in 1929 ...

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8. Lusinga’s Lasting Laughs

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pp. 174-192

The continuing “life” of the “Lusinga” figure as it stood on Storms’s mantelpiece raises “what if” questions: if the sculpture had remained in Lusinga’s hands— supposing, of course, that the “sanguinary potentate” had managed to hold on to his head—what might it have represented to and, more significantly, done for the chief and his people? ...

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9. Composing Decomposition

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pp. 193-217

What funeral practices might have been undertaken had Lusinga met a natural— or at least a local—demise? While I would assert that Lusinga explicitly engaged in “culture-building” as he sought to validate his emerging authority through the commissioning of statuary and other visible and performative means, he was not doing so from whole cloth. ...

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10. Defiances of the Dead

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pp. 218-230

Storms’s African souvenirs remained in his widow’s possession until the early 1930s. As Boris Wastiau comments, by then they had become “family relics, metonyms of the deceased, . . . thereby implying new ‘rituals’ of remembrance and devotion”—to Henriette Dessaint Storms and her family and friends, that is, ...

Appendix A: Some Background on Our Protagonists

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pp. 231-234

Appendix B: A Note on Illustrations

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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-242


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pp. 243-266


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pp. 267-298


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pp. 299-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007599
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253007438

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures