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The missionaries' influence on Mongo national consciousness and political activism 1925-1965 / By Honoré Vinck
First published in French in: African Review of Mission Studies (Kinshasa), n. 4, June 1996, p.131-147
"Kilolo is capable of expressing the nicest shades of meaning and is amply adequate, we feel sure, of conveying to the native mind a knowledge of the Great Father's love and of the blessing he has store for them" (J.B. Eddie, An English Kilolo Vocabulary, 1887, p.v.)
1. The Mongo and the ecclesiastical circumscriptions
The Mongo people is a conglomerate of human groups occupying what one calls the Congolese Central Basin. They have patrilineal and segmental structures. Some groups live in symbiosis with pygmies of varied origins. All speak 'dialects' that refer to one 'standard' language(1). Before colonization, the region had partially been touched by Arab incursions and a system of domestic slave trade oriented downstream was in place. The colonial occupation of the Mbandaka region started in 1883, and spread slowly toward the interior. It can be considered as accomplished around 1910. The Leopoldian system of exploitation touched this people's vital strength seriously, and, together with imported illnesses (sleep sickness, syphilis, among others) it decimated the population (2). The agricultural disposition of the region made that many rubber, coffee and cocoa plantations spread over the country, dominated by the Société Anonyme Belge (SAB) from 1888, and by the Lever Company from 1920 onwards. Christianization started in 1883 by the Protestant English Baptists, who were soon replaced by American Baptists (Disciples of Christ) in the southern part and by the Congo Balolo Mission (English) in the northern part. Catholics made their entry with the Trappists of the Abbey of Westmalle (Belgium) in 1895, followed by the fathers of Mill Hill in 1905 in the north, the Lazaristes among the Ekonda and the Ntomba (1928), the Passionistes among the Atetela, the Picpus among the Ndengese, and the Scheutists in the rest of the region, each of them arriving at varying dates. Before their definitive departure in 1925, the Trappists had covered an area as east as Wafanya, 700 kms from Bamanya which was their main Mission Station. Five other stations were founded in the meantime. The Trappist Superior in Europe judged the missionary life incompatible with their monastic vocation (3). The local bishop, Mgr E. De Boeck called then upon the Missionaries of the S. Heart (MSC). The MSC recalled their Belgian members out of Oceania to start the Apostolic Prefecture of the Tshuapa (later of Coquilhatville) in 1925.
2. The awareness of Mongo ethnic identity and the missionaries
For the Trappists period (1895-1925), nothing has been
recorded that could be interpreted in the sense of an awareness, among those Africans the
Europeans later brought together under the single ethnonym 'Mongo', of their belonging to one
group. The Trappist Fathers 'knew' that this was a single people or at least closely related
groups. After some years of use of the Bobangi language, or the trade variety thereof, they
introduced the Lomongo language everywhere around 1903 (the year of appearance of the first
Lomongo catechism). They timidly embarked on the study of local customs; some of these
Trappist Fathers published valuable essays (4). With the arrival of the Missionaries of the S.
Heart, things changed very quickly. The Apostolic Prefect, Mgr E. Van Goethem (5), after 20
years of experience in British New Guinea, applied himself to the knowledge of the language
and the people's customs and took a positive attitude towards the Mongo culture. This was not
always in line with other tendencies observable among the White clergy at the time, i.e. to
disapprove or ignore local cultures, considered as incompatible with Christianity. He himself
published several ethnological studies. He encouraged his missionaries to respect, to
understand and to penetrate the culture and the language of the people (6). But the great
impetus comes thanks to Father Gustaaf Hulstaert (7) who arrived in 1925. Persuaded that, in
order to christianise well, it is necessary to understand the people correctly, he started
acquiring a good knowledge of the language, key of all human relations. His extreme natural
curiosity pushed him to scrutinizing and to studying everything that moved around him, nature
and men. In 1930 Father Edmond Boelaert arrived (8). Priest for 6 years, he was a very gifted
author. He became a teacher in the Junior Seminary of Bokuma (9).
3. The preaching of the Mongo awakening
The people is one, the language is one. This was to be
proved through linguistic investigations of relationships between what Hulstaert himself
established as 'dialects' in relation to the 'standard' variety which he himself had
proclaimed (from 1937 on)(15). Hulstaert drew maps where the Mongo territory spreads by every
new version (16). On behalf of other components of the autochthonous culture (17) like music
and literature, other missionaries joined their talents. A. Walschap (18) admirably
assimilated the African rhythm and recreated, even for its use in Church, the ancestral tunes
with the appropriated instruments. They tried to introduce the traditional basketwork in the
schools (19). All this appears to be obvious today but it was not so at the time. A powerful
instrument of the propagation of their ideas became the periodical Aequatoria, founded in
1937. Very early (1941-42) it had been contested by the ecclesiastical authorities because of
its stands against the Lingala language propagated by Mgr E. De Boeck. In 1945 it was
threatened with suspension, for having an opinion on colonial questions, without his
permission, His Greatness Dellepiane, the Apostolic Delegate, "who liked so much the "tra la
la" " (20). They preached the necessity of respecting the traditional institutions, even
temporarily those that appeared to be against the Christian principles. Disturbing a society
opens the door to pure and simple destruction, the drop in the Mongo birth rate was a proof of
it. That was the state of affairs when started the last period of the Belgian colonization of
the Congo. The first results began to appear: in spite of the recalcitrant introduction of
French by the Dear Brothers of the Christians Schools (Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes), the
school system was equipped with a panoply of high quality manuals in Lomongo. The language was
unified by Hulstaert, who endowed it with a 'standard' variety and a qualification of the
other varieties as 'dialects' (21). The diocese of Basankusu adopted the theses of Hulstaert.
Among the Ndengese, Mgr Six imposed otetela, and the Atetela didn't adapt to the Lomongo of
Hulstaert. The Lazaristes never integrated the people's language in their method of
evangelisation. The Scheutistes of Inongo, after some attempts of the use of the the Lokonda
variety of Lomongo, listened to their bishop of Léopoldville, who imposed lingala, the
language of the capital (1940) (22). Truncated and reduced geographically, Hulstaert and
Boelaert intensified their efforts with local publications in Lomongo: "Le Coq Chante"
(1936-48), "Etsiko" (1949-1954), and "Lokole Lokiso" (1955-1960.1962). Lokole Lokiso throws
the defiant cry: "We are not Bangala." (23). Investigations on history, poems, fables, the
rules of the traditional law, fill up the pages of the magazines. Hulstaert began to prepare
the scholarly editions of these texts that would become later the subject of research in the
Western universities (24).
4. The reactions
A. By the Blacks
The cultural and popular nationalism of the missionaries has been judged sometimes severely. J. F. Iyeki (30), a Mongo and former student by the Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes exclaims: "We want French in our schools."
The attachment to the Lomongo and to its cultural values were some times bitingly blamed, as being a means to exclude the Blacks of progress and the access to the modern and remunerative world. So Iyeki continues:
There is no doubt that a certain number of "evolved Congolese" (Evolués) of the years 40-50 agreed with the attitudes of Boelaert and Hulstaert. Testify the letters, the points of view, the discussions, and the polemics in the local magazines. The attacks of Iyeki didn't remain without reaction. Paul Ngoi and Augustin Elenga (31), Ferdinand Ilumbe, Dominique Iloo and others as well didn't lack any words to defend their culture and their language with gusto.
In 1958, F. Ilumbe published a text in "Lokole Lokiso" under the title: "Live our customs above all, let's improve them afterward". In 1962, he answered the challenge thrown by Hulstaert while writing:
In spite of this handicap, the most intelligent had understood where the best intellectual investment was. A former student of the Junior Seminary of Bokuma in the forties testified later that during his studies of agronomy in Gembloux, he had experimented the advantage to have learned the matter before in Lomongo, thanks to what he had not only learned by heart, but also understood.
B. By the Whites
Among the fiercest objectors, it is necessary to mention, according to the testimony of Hulstaert, were the Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes and the Scheutist Fathers in Lisala and in Léopoldville (33).
Western scholars after independence, belonging to dominant and devastating classes of cultural minorities, classified the efforts of respect of the deepest human values, as being "parochial nationalism", finally harmful. "It seems clear that the ethnocultural polices and attitudes of the missionaries contributed to the political fragmentation along ethnic lines which took places in Congo just prior to and after Independence" (34). Many Africans adopt this point of view. Situated at the other extreme, Fabian blames the Church for having helped the State in the exploitation and in the taming of the popular masses by the imposition of a foreign language, i.e. African lingua francas (35).
There were, at the time, sympathizers for the action of Hulstaert too. First of all some missionary friends worried of the respect for the people's culture and history: Van Caeneghem at the Baluba, Van Wing and Bittremieux at the Bakongo, Tanghe at the Ngbandi/Ngbaka, without forgetting Tempels (36). One continues to refer to the linguistic work of Hulstaert and his colleague's missionaries. The Editor in Chief, Paul Ngoi wrote in 1962 in Lokole Lokiso:
This statement refers to a previous contribution (December 1st, 1956, p. 1. 5. 6), which noted a correspondence between the African Linguistic Commission and the Editor. In 1955 the Commission began a program of investigations and studies for the unification of the languages of the colony. In Coquilhatville, already before the independence, the provincial Radio had begun to insert some broadcasts in Lomongo (37).
5. The independence
In 1959 under the impulse of Bolamba, the "Union Culturelle Mongo" (38), a pre-political group in Kinshasa, unveiled its plan of action with a explicit reference to Father Hulstaert: "One will mention some authors as Hulstaert and Boelaert who became renowned in this matter." Hulstaert continued to receive the protagonists of the political tendencies. De Rop tried to influence them from Kinshasa and Boelaert met them in Belgium. A political party, the "Union des Mongo" (UNIMO) was founded in 1960 by the politicians of the first generation: Bomboko, an exquisite follower of Hulstaert, Engulu, Ndjoku, e.a. The Party Manifesto wrote down the ethnic dimensions of its political program with a reference to the publications of Hulstaert. The idea of a Mongo State would take a realistic shape with the raising of the "Etat de la Cuvette Centrale". Engulu, its president declared: "It belongs to the Union des Mongo therefore and especially to its leaders to raise the Mongo to the rank of a people organized, respected, proud and prosperous." (29-9-1962) (39)
Some disciples of Hulstaert, around Paul Ngoi and Augustin Elenga, tried to establish a cultural influence within the local political structures while enlivening the Provincial Department of Culture. They founded in 1962 a "Institute Cultural Mongo" (40) with the idea to make it evolve into an "Academy Mongo". Father Hulstaert was solicited as a counsellor. They testified: "It is a pride and a luck for us to belong to the ethnic group of the Mongo whose language has been studied in its details by the R.P. Hulstaert." (41).
In 1965 the Second Republic made irruption, and in spite of appearances, it wouldn't make big case of the people's cultures and languages. The teaching continued in the schools of the mission to be dispensed partially in Lomongo; one also continued to pray in Lomongo. The "coup de grace" arrived with the nationalization of the schools in 1974: program of the state, civic education, Lingala and French.
* In 1992, Mr Thomas Van LANGENDONCK presented a dissertation at the University of Gent: De Invloed van de Missionarissen van het H. Hart op het etnisch en politiek bewustzijn van de Mongo (1925-1965), 207 p., unpublished. I have been implied at the time in the development of this text and I used it for this article. In the present contribution I put the accent on the ecclesiastical adherence of the protagonists.
Ann. Aeq. = Annales Aequatoria
(1) G. Hulstaert, Les Mongo. Aperçu général, Tervuren 1961.
(2) Vangroenweghe D., Du sang sur les lianes, Bruxelles, Didier Hatier, 1986; et E Boelaert, "Ontvolking door kolonizatie", Aequatoria, 8, 1945, p. 92-94.
(3) O. Vermeir, La fin de la Mission des Trappistes à l'Equateur (1920-1926), Annales Aequatoria 1(1980)I,213-238 et A. Claessens, Les péripéties de la contemplative des Pères Trappistes à l'Équateur (1895-1909), Annales Aequatoria, 1(1980)I, 87-115.
(4) The Trappists refused to use Lingala for the predication and the catechism as testifies R. Dries: "The Lingala that is spoken at the Equateur by the Whites and the foreign Blacks are an amalgam of all dialects of the Central Basin (and quibusdam aliis), clumsy and infantile, and not flexible and not rich enough in vocabulary to teach the Christian doctrine" in Onze Kongo, 2, 1911-1912, p. 139.
(5) E. Van Goethem, see Esser J., "Un indigéniste éminent, Mgr Van Goethem", Aequatoria, 12, 1949, p. 133-137 et B.B.O.M., VII, C, 181-182.
(6) The theological Conferences organized by the bishop at that time scheduled the following points: the difference between bokonji (proprietor) and bokulaka (Lord); the best word for Creator, etc. The research on a correct religious terminology continued during all this period. See: Vinck H., La terminologie religieuse en Lomongo, CEEBA, III-8, Bandundu, 1983.
(7) On Hulstaert G., see Vinck H., Annales Aequtatoria, 12, 1991, p. 7-76 and ibidem, 14, 1993, p. 392-400.
(8) On Boelaert E., see Storme M., in Bulletin des Séances de l'ARSOM, 1967, p. 167-192 et VINCK H., Annales Aequatoria, 12, 1991, p. 564-570.
(9) On the Junior Seminary at Bokuma, cf. De Rop A., Contribution à l'histoire du Petit Séminaire de Bokuma, Ann. Aeq., 1(1980)137-147.
(10) Vinck H., Terminologie scolaire en Lomongo, Ann. Aeq., 11(1990)281-325.
(11) Les Ngombe: "Ngombe Mongo bale nk'eleng'ekio. Bafosongi la Mongo. Bale banto ba jale la bitumba. Joi likio lileki bobe wate baleki oambaka bete. Lolaka lokio lofosongi la lokiso nye. Etsikwanelo Mongo el'eko'." [The Ngombe, actually, have their own manners. They don't look like the Mongo. They are awful and quarrelsome people. They excel in sorcery] - Buku ea mbaanda 1, Mbandaka, 1935, p. 74.
(12) One notes in a report: "Bikoro leaves, but mainly because of the lonkundo. They refuse in class to note a text in lokundo. They require French". Archives Bokuma, Report 1937 et 1938, Archives Aeq., 91, 2069-2070.
(13) Boelaert E., Ontvolking door kolonizatie, Aequatoria, 8, 1945, p. 92-94: "As our forebears quoted the murderous pestilence as 'the black death', our Nkundo can speak alas of the 'white death.'
(14) Correspondence Hulstaert - De Boeck, Ann. Aeq., 15(1994) 504-575. Citation from p. 557.
(15) Cf. Annales Aequatoria, 15(1994)429-431.
(16) On the significance of Van der Kerken, Hulstaert G., Boelaert E. and Rop A., on the ethnic and political awareness of the Mongo see Crawford Young, Introduction à la politique zairoise, 2nd ed., P.U.Z., Kinshasa, 1979, p. 118-120.
(17) Boelaert E., De culturele kenmerken van de Mongo [The cultural characteristics of the Mongo], manuscript in the Archives MSC-Congo, Borgerhout) and: Coups de sonde, Aequatoria, 5(1942)26-30.
(18) On Walschap A., see Ann.Aeq., 13(1992)505-516 et BBOM, IV, p. 933-936.
(19) Notes sur l'enseignement des arts et métiers indigènes dans les écoles du Vicariat Apostolique de Coquilhatville, Brousse, 12(1947)3-4; 11-16; Boelaert E., "Exposition d'art à Coquilhatville", Brousse, (1940)IV, 7-9.
(20) On Dellepiane and the Aequatoria dispute, cf. Zaïre-Afrique, 1987, n. 212, p.79-102. As for his 'tra la la', Hulstaert confirmed to me having heard it of the mouth of Mgr Dellepiane himself.
(21) The strongest expression of the lack of concern towards the languages and cultures are found in the manual of the Congo Balolo Mission, published in 1930: "Bonkanda wa nsango ya banto la nyama la belemo la balako ba français". On page 180, we read: "Congo is a country, Belgium is also a country. (... ) Here people speak Congolese, there they speak French." Father Hulstaert applied from 1937 the alphabet proposed by the International African Institute of London. The Protestants never accepted it and therefore Lomongo is written in several written forms.
(22) Lingala had already replaced partially Lokonda and Lotomba in 1942 in the schools (second degree). Rombauts (1903-1973) a former missionary at the Ekonda and later secretary of Mgr Six in Kinshasa, writes on September 27, 1951 to Hulstaert: "After the war, he has not given the permission to reprint the catechism in Lokonda, Lotomba and Kisakata. And now the catechism and the prayers in Lingala has been imposed in all schools of the Lake (...) When suddenly this decision has been taken, I made a last effort with a text that sums up thus: Inadmissible. Abuse of power on behalf of the church, to impose to small children as a condition of admission to the first communion and to the baptism, the catechism and the prayers in a foreign language." Aequatoria Archives. Corr. Hulstaert, n. 185 (translation from Dutch). The Ndengeses should have adopted Otetela on order of Mgr Six of Kinshasa, in 1942. See also aussi Vinck H., "Terminologie scolaire du Lomongo", Ann.Aeq., 11(1990)281-325.
(23) "Nous ne sommes pas des Bangala" [We are not Bangala] and the disputes with the Journal "Mbandaka" dans "Lokele Lokiso", 1 août 1956, p. 1; 15 octobre 1956, p. 1; 1 novembre 1956, p. 1-2; 15 décembre 1956, p. 6; 15 janvier 1957, p. 1.3.7.; 1 mars 1957, p. 3-7; 1 avril 1958 p. 1-3; 25 août 1962, p. 3.
(24) On Mongo oral literature see a special bibliography by De Rop A., Cahier du Cedaf, 2, 1974, and Vinck H., Ann.Aeq., 9(1988)257-258.
(25) Nsong'a Lianja is the founding epic of the people Mongo. According to Van der Kerken, L'Ethnie Mongo, p. 650-656, the reference to this common ancestor is one of the essential elements to affirm the unity of the Mongo people. Hulstaert contested this affirmation. See: Hulstaert G., "Lianja et l'histoire", in Ann.Aeq., 12(1991)167, Vinck H., "Nsong'a Lianja, épopée exclusivement Mongo ?", in Ann.Aeq., 14(1993)529-534 and Wufela Yaek'Olingo A.: A propos de l'article"Nsong'a Lianja épopée exclusivement Mongo ?", Ann. Aeq. 18(1997)489-492.
(26) Boelaert E., "Vers un état Mongo?", in Bulletin des Séances de l'ARSOM (1962), p. 382-394; See Van der Kerken, L'Ethnie Mongo, vol. 2, p. 522.
(27) De Rop A., Notice Biobibliographie, Vinck H., Ann. Aeq., 2(1981)193-195 et 15(1994)487-497; Jacobs J., Bulletins des Séances de l'ARSOM, 1981 p. 82-85.
(28) Frans Maes is mentioned in the bibliography of the MSC as the author of the Bosako wa Mongo [History of the Mongo], published in Boteka in 1957 for 5th and 6th primary years. He was the editor of several others excellent schoolbooks during the 50 as well as several articles of applied pedagogy in Aequatoria. In fact this famous booklet is a compilation of texts of Paul Ngoi and G. Hulstaert. See also: H. Vinck, The teaching of history to the Congo Belgian.
(29) Correspondence Hulstaert - Boelaert, Arch. Aeq., CH n. 15; microfiches:120-129. 141. In his correspondence with the superior in Belgium, Mgr Hilaire Vermeiren (1889-1967, BBOM, VII, p. 365), watch little esteem for this colleague.
(30) Jean-François Iyeki, see Vinck H., Ann.Aeq., 9, 1988, p. 247-255. The quotations are taken from "La Voix du Congolais", 1952, p. 462 and 464: "La langue française, outil de notre civilisation". Later he wrote: "We want French in our schools" (La Voix du Congolais, 1956, p. 701-703). In a local magazine, Mbandaka, Albert Bolela and Louis Ilufa abound in the same sense (e.a. January 19, 1957).
(31) On Augustin Elenga, see Charles Lonkama, Ann.Aeq., 11, 1990, p. 409-411. The index of the local magazines published in Mbandaka (1936-1962) gives hundreds of articles for Elenga, Ngoi, Ilumbe and Iloo. On Ilumbe, see Vinck H., Ann.Aeq., 15, 1994, p. 283-284. Paul Ngoi, as for him, clearly makes an allusion to the missionary influence when he writes: "Tosime fele joso bakulaka bane (Homage to the Gentlemen: Mgr Van Goethem, Fathers Hulstaert G., Boelaert E., De Rop A.), Lokole Lokiso 1 janv. 1959, p. 5 et 8.
(32) "Lokole Lokiso", 29 juin 1962, p. 2.
(33) Hulstaert composed a voluminous file of 138 pages on his problems with the Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes in Bamanya and in Mbandaka, mainly at the time when he was an inspector of the Catholic Schools of the Vicariat of Coquilhatville (1936-1946) (Archives Aequatoria, E 3-8/microfiches E-29 to 31). For the attitude of the Scheutists of Lisala Hulstaert mentions (letter to Mgr Van Goethem the 19-9-1945): "All Scheutists tell that the Apostolic Delegate, on the occasion of the consecration in Lisala of Mgr Van den Bergh, successor De Boeck, said publicly that if Aequatoria dares to write again against Lingala, he would suppress it (the periodical Aequatoria)." For Léopoldville we can mention the letter of the Mgr Six's Secretary (next to the letter already mentioned in note 21): "I wrote him e.a.: an abuse asking for vengeance: to impose the prayers and the catechism in Lingala as condition for baptism and first communion, to the small Ekonda and Batswa children. If a similar thing happened in Flanders!" (18-12-1951).
(34) Markowitz M., The political Role of Christian Missions in the Belgian Congo, 1908-1960, Stanford University, Hoover Inst., 1973, p. 35.
(35) Fabian J., Revue Canadienne des Etudes Africaines 17(1983)2, 165-187, and Language and Colonial Power, Cambridge, University Press, London, 1986; Reply from Hulstaert G., Annales Aequatoria, 12(1991)527-533.
(36) See also Bibliographies.
(37) Lomongo à la Radio. see report of the meeting of 9 July 1957of the Commission de linguistique africaine (Tervuren), and also: "Lokole Lokiso", 1er juillet 1959, p. 3.
(38) On the Union culturelle Mongo, see "Lokole Lokiso", 15 octobre 1959, p. 1.
(39) Archives MSC-Congo, Borgerhout (B).
(40) On the Institut culturel Mongo, see "Lokole Lokiso", 10 novembre 1962, p. 2 and 18 novembre 1962. "Minutes of the meeting of March 21, 1962, Archives MSC-Congo Borgerhout.
(41) Procès-verbal of the meeting of 21 Mars 1962, Archives MSC-Congo, Borgerhout.
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