- Approches du roman et du théâtre missionnaires
In its “Recherches en littérature et spiritualité” collection, Peter Lang has published the proceedings of a colloquium held on September 17–18, 2002, at the University of Metz (now, Université Paul Verlaine, France), with the title “The Missionary Novel, a Genre of Conversion.” The editor explains at the very start the agenda of studies brought together for this meeting: “La collection est ouverte aux travaux de chercheurs extérieurs à l’Université de Metz pour peu que leur ouvrage porte sur la poétique et l’esthétique des textes littéraires, sur leur relation avec le fait spirituel et ses manifestations, et cela, quel que soit leur contenu religieux ou idéologique” ‘The collection is open to studies by scholars from outside the University of Metz as long as their work bears on the poetics and esthetics of literary texts, on their relationship with the spiritual and its manifestations, no matter the religious or ideological content’ (ii). The project, set within the framework of “missionary novels,” attempts to analyze publications from the colonial period, dealing principally with the campaign for evangelization and Christianization in “Central Africa.”
The colloquium brought together ten or so participants, and their contributions are arranged in three areas that sufficiently indicate the goals of the organizers:
1. approaches of missionary theater in Africa: this section is composed of only two studies devoted to the analysis of dramatic works that appeared in the 1950s (especially as related to Father Bontinck) and that were destined above all for future priests from among the seminarians to prepare them for an active apostolate;
2. sensitization of Europe: the analysis of historic documents devoted to the “Martyrs of Uganda,” widely disseminated in Belgium, allows us to note recurring themes in the work of Christianization and ones that lead to a fitting commentary borrowed from Cardinal Lavigerie (quoting Monsignor Livinhac): “Je le dis à la gloire de Dieu qui seul, il y a dix-huit siècles, comme aujourd’hui, a soutenu et inspiré tous ces ouvrages: son esprit étant toujours le même, vous ne vous étonnerez pas si, sur les lèvres de ces pauvres Noirs ignorants, se retrouvent, au moment du combat, des paroles non moins sublimes que celles des martyrs de la Carthage romaine . . .” ‘I say this to the glory of God, who alone, eighteen centuries ago, just as today, sustained and inspired all these works: since his spirit is always the same, you will not be surprised if, upon the lips of these poor, ignorant Blacks, are found, at the moment of struggle, words that are no less sublime than those of the martyrs of Roman Carthage . . .’ (67).
3. literary and mission writing: the study devoted to the novel Sang noir (Black Blood) by Abbé Vigneron (1893) constitutes the major piece of discourse on the double thematic of colonization-evangelization; the didactic works by Father Alfons Walschap, called “le convertisseur et le converti” ‘the converter and the convert,’ endeavor to describe the “âme nègre” ‘black soul’ in relation to Christian doctrines. [End Page 150]
The texts are inspired by books written by the Belgian missionaries and they are particularly concerned with the historical periods of the colonization of the Congo, despite the fact that the authors affirm that they are referring to Central Africa. In his introduction, the presenter of these “actes avait bien indiqué que la production littéraire (le roman et le théâtre missionnaires), si elle n’a guère retenu l’attention des historiens et des critiques, n’en a pas moins connu un développement considérable et joué un rôle fondamental dans l’histoire des cultures modernes en Afrique, pour ne rien dire de sa place dans l’auto-image de l’Occident” ‘proceedings had indeed indicated that the literary production (the missionary novel and theater), even if it has not retained the attention of historians and critics, has nevertheless experienced a considerable development...