restricted access 3. Naming, Colonialism, Making History, and Social Memories
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53 3 Naming, Colonialism, Making History, and Social Memories Discourse on colonialism tended to portray colonial encounters as a one-sided process marked solely by military campaigns directed against groups to colonize.1 Although bellicosity was the epicenter of the colonial encounters, as this widespread image suggests, Congolese groups and Europeans were constantly engaged in many interactions. Some interactions were started to size up each other’s strengths and weaknesses , while other interactions were designed to build reciprocal cognitive views, determined first by earlier understanding of self and others and transformed by the reality of interaction.2 The stereotyping of Congolese villagers by Europeans and the naming of Europeans by Congolese villagers, though not always concomitant processes, illustrate the dynamics of colonial encounters and interactions.3 As early as the 1870s Congolese started naming the Portuguese, Italian, and German explorers , the Sudanese traders, and the Anglo-Egyptian officials they encountered . The practice intensified when, from the 1890s to the 1950s, the officials and agents of the Belgian colonial government established the methods, rules, and institutions for dominating the village communities, and agents of trading companies signed commercial deals with leaders of different local polities. As Congolese villagers named Europeans, they followed local customs and naming patterns that articulated and interpreted various situations created by European explorations, trade, conquests , and colonialism. This chapter contends that the meanings of names given to explorers , missionaries, officials of the Congo Free State, and agents of concessionary companies conveyed substantial information about colonial material conditions, and that the seemingly disparate bits of testimonies woven into the meanings of names, once subjected to the rules of evidence and contextualized, became valuable local commentaries on colonial rule and its impacts on the daily life of village peoples. The chapter therefore explores naming patterns, the meanings of names, the linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of naming, the significance of naming patterns to decode ideas about names as source of memories and histories of daily life of village peoples, and their understandings of colonialism. At the beginning, from about the 1890s to 1914, only local leaders, Congolese servants, office watchers, soldiers, and workers at mission stations , trading stations, and military posts observed closely the Europeans and gave them names.4 The reason only a handful of Congolese close to the Europeans named them was the paucity of Europeans in the villages. The scarcity of Europeans in the village world denied ordinary villagers the details of encounters, leaving those Congolese in colonial posts to do the naming. The name Sukuma, an imperative in Kiswahili that means “Push!” is a good example. In the 1890s, Congolese guards in Nyangwe gave the name to Captain Losange, who spent about four years there building ten office houses and a cemetery for Europeans , accomplishments that remained unsurpassed until the 1920s. These accomplishments came, however, with a high price tag for the Congolese who experienced the ruthless brutality at the hands of the officer , whose behavior was expressed accurately by the meaning of the Kiswahili verb Sukuma. Congolese guards gave him the name because he used the word for all purposes whenever he interacted with them, a practice that earned him a bad reputation. It is documented that “whenever a Black passed by the office where Losange worked without removing his headdress, he yelled out to his guard ‘Sukuma ye’ [Push him]. And whenever he saw Congolese taking a break during work hours, he shouted, ‘Sukuma nyama’ [Push the beasts].”5 The name Sukuma recorded local observations of early power relations and the methods used by the heads of posts to deal with Congolese villagers. When broadly contextualized, the name expressed anger and resentment. Like Congolese guards in Nyangwe, Kiswahili-speaking prisoners at Kasongo Prison named its supervisor Bosoni Yamba-Yamba, which means, “Defecate, defecate.” The expression Yamba-Yamba is reduplication suggestive of the frequency and intensity of actions and behaviors described by the name. Thus, the word-by-word translation of YambaYamba , “Defecate, defecate,” becomes “Frequent defecator” and defines the situations created by the name-bearer. Bosoni received the name in the 1900s because he built a central prison house, Kasongo Prison, and 54 Naming, Colonialism, Making History, and Social Memories followed policy of denying prisoners latrines, ordering them to “defecate inside the prison house.”6 Like many colonial practices, ordering prisoners to defecate inside the prison house was an extreme form of oppression that they translated by reduplicating the verb Yamba, “to defecate .” Reduplication and the story of oppression attribute a wider semantic field...


Subject Headings

  • Nicknames -- Congo (Brazzaville) -- History.
  • Nicknames -- Congo (Kinshasa) -- History.
  • Kongo language -- Epithets.
  • Congo (Brazzaville) -- Colonization.
  • Congo (Kinshasa) -- Colonization.
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