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  • "La parole construit le pays": Théâtre, langues et didactisme au Katanga (République Démocratique du Congo) by Maëline Le Lay
  • Judith G. Miller
Maëline Le Lay. "La parole construit le pays": Théâtre, langues et didactisme au Katanga (République Démocratique du Congo). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014. Pp. 483.

In this multi-faceted, sometimes awkwardly integrated, but rich study, Maëline Le Lay educates her readers as to why and how didacticism holds sway in Katangan theatre. She details the fascinating array of diglossic strategies (i.e. resemantization of French words and loanblends in Swahili speech; inclusion of Swahili proverbs and citations in French texts) theatre makers use to legitimize their lessons and convince their audiences. In contextualizing the mind set and artistic vision that makes didacticism inevitable, Le Lay also sets out a history of francophone literature in the Congo-Kinshasa, takes up a discussion of the changing concepts of "evolution" and "development," offers a story of the publishing industry, and most pertinently examines the destabilizing educational policy of Belgian colonizers, including the Catholic Church, who created linguistic hierarchies to separate an intellectual class from other "Congolese" peoples. Every successive strongman governing the Congo since independence (1960) has similarly instrumentalized language to divide the population and shore up power (for example, Mobutu promoting Lingala, Ciluba, and Kikongo to counter the prominence of French, or Laurent-Désiré Kabila making Swahili the language of his army.) Today's Congo promotes "la francophonie" as the path toward economic and cultural development, ironically in opposition to exiled Lubumbashi intellectual V.I. Mudimbé's well-rehearsed fear about the colonized mind (The Idea of Africa, 1994).

The instrumentalization of language permeates Le Lay's sociological and sociolinguistic approach to contemporary theatre (1970–2010) in the Congo's second largest city, Lubumbashi, capital of a province still generating wealth for the few through mining. Her admirable fifteen months of fieldwork, myriad interviews with actors, directors, playwrights, and publishers, transcriptions of Swahili-language scripts into French, and extensive reading lead her to conclude that Katangan theatre makers, whether performing in French or Swahili, imitate in their theatre the way language works in the streets. In surveying a corpus of twenty-five plays in French and ten in Swahili, she demonstrates how such theatre almost uniformly ends with a lesson contrasting tradition and modernity, rural and urban life, or the treatment of the outsider. The didacticism of colonial era literature, meant to form Africans to European norms (Christianity, patriarchy), thus undergirds the structure and dialogue of contemporary theatre—although the learning goals are frequently more pragmatic (protecting against HIV, handling adultery, getting vaccinated, countering the widespread myth of child sorcerers). [End Page 143]

Le Lay shows how French-language theatre and Swahili-language performances, while having a common ancestor in the missionary theatre of the early twentieth century, have arrived at quite different places. The first plays in French in the 1950s, which lionized African heroes to solidify national identity (as was true of African fran-cophone theatre in general), have given way to local melodramas. The Swahili companies, the formation of which signaled theatrical professionalization, have added street performances to their work in radio and television. Each has a distinct audience: plays in French are performed for a more educated population in theatre spaces usually sponsored by the French government; Swahili performances, most commissioned by N.G.O.'s or government agencies, play to audiences gathered together around a designated space in a town square. If the teaching impulse colors both forms of theatre, different dramaturgical strategies result in the greater success of the Swahili pieces. For example, in the case of Papa Mufwankolo's company, a key troupe Le Lay studies, actors have been playing fixed roles for over forty years. This makes them familiar and thus believable to their public. On the contrary, French-language texts, such as those by Katsh M'Bika Katende, another Lubumbashi theatrical star central to Le Lay's analysis, no longer seem realistic, the Swahili used, although providing local color, unsuccessfully capturing the speech patterns of the population. The francophone plays of Yvon Kibawa, another target author, read, Le Lay suggests...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 143-144
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-25
Open Access
No
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