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ISO LA BENDELE (WE AND THE WHITES): Considerations by Paul Ngoi on the traditional life of the Mongo and their confrontation with Belgian colonization (1938)
PRESENTATION / by Honoré Vinck
The author of the text, Paul Ngoi (1914-1997), was one of the main informants of Edmond Boelaert (1898-1966; Congo 1930-1954) and of Gustaaf Hulstaert (1900-1999; Congo 1925-1990). At the time the periodical 'Africa' (London) had programmed a yearly contest for a literary composition in an African language. Under the influence of Hulstaert, Lomongo had been indicated for the year 1939 as a language in which texts could be presented. Under the impulse of his two mentors, Paul Ngoi participated with a manuscript relating in detail and with numerous comments the earlier traditions of the Mongo. He puts particular emphasis on the period of the arrival of the first Europeans in his region, not fearing critical remarks like those by Boelaert (see his bibliography). At the time of the composition of the text the author was committed to the printing office of the Catholic Mission in Coquilhatville, up to then under the direction of Edmond Boelaert. The composition has not been crowned but received a honourable mention [Africa 12(1939)471-472 and Aequatoria 3(1940)30.]
Two points remain especially important in this text:
One can ask how far the author has been influenced by Boelaert's indigenist and
anti-colonialist ideology who was his school director when the author was a teacher in the
Junior Seminary in Bokuma (1931-1936). The text is not free of internal contradictions.
- H. Vinck et Charles Lonkama, Tradition et modernité mongo. Bio-bibliographie de Paul Ngoi
(1914-1997), Annales Aequatoria 19(1998)335-391
Publications of E. Boelaert near to this text
- Uit mijn negerij. Bepaling van plaats en tijd. Godskennis en godsdienst, Hooger Leven,
Averbode, VIII, 1934, 51, 1612-1 613. (L'auteur décrit Bokuma, situé à 50 km de Coquilhatville
et expose les tribulations dans la région avant l'arrivée des premiers Blancs. L'arrivée de
Grenfell, puis de soldats sous le commandement d'Ikoka et enfin l'arrivée de Ntange Fiévez.)
[A set of articles (in Dutch) on the problem of the culture shock in 'Nieuw Vlaanderen and Hooger Leven' 1939]
Contemporary publications of G. Hulstaert on the problems evoked by P. Ngoi
- Losilo jwa bonanga bokiso, [The extermination of our country], Mbandaka 1937, 15 pages
Follows two excerpts of the text of Paul Ngoi "Whe and the whites":
The present booklet expresses our customs before the arrival of the Whites. Because, even
at present, most Whites think that our ancestors were very wild animals, without any morals,
and with all kind of shortcomings, without any virtue. That is why the reader will find how
our ancestors previously lived there, and how we are living now since the arrival of the
Whites. It is only this way that we shall be able to find out their thoughts.
CHAPTER 6: THE ARRIVAL OF THE WHITES
1. THE WARS
While our ancestors normally attended to their occupations, the White strangers arrived; it
was an awful spectacle in the beginning, because one had never before seen similar people.
Most people didn't dare to look at them, but those who were courageous enough did not run
away. The fact that Blacks accompanied them stimulated the courage of those that were unafraid
The Whites finally got settled in our country. They then introduced the trade of products
of our country. They first asked our people to bring copal and cassava. They exchanged these
products against brasses of iron, pearls, and cloths. Some harassment began with the cassava.
Those that brought insufficient quantities were aligned and were killed by rifle. It was very
atrocious. These slaughters provoked the extermination of whole populations groups.
3. THE DAMAGES MADE TO THE VILLAGES
3.1. The destruction of villages
The distress of our villages began with the arrival of the Whites. That is to say that a lot of people abandoned their families for going to live elsewhere. Others became the workforce of the Whites or became their soldiers. They got settled in the stations created by them. There, they didn't observe the true custom anymore; they ended up adopting the mentality of the soldiers that the Whites had brought from downstream. These soldiers had shown bad behaviour. And our people only imitated them. Therefore they began to have some talisman to pull a rifle, and to protect them against all attack.
3.2. Destruction of the authority
Our forebears had the habit to expose the remains of a dead leopard to the chief of the village. At their arrival, the Whites didn't recognize the authority of the chiefs they found. They invested unentitled persons or strangers. The reason is that some of these people went along with the Whites and that they learned a little how to read and to write. They didn't follow the order of succession as foreseen by the tradition anymore. The village complained that their authority was not respected. One accepted these people by fear to be executed. The administrative organization as conceived by the Whites indeed ridiculed our villages structures, respected by so many of us.
4. THE NEGATION OF OUR CUSTOMS
4.1. The family's destruction
After having experienced these distresses, everything became very bad. We didn't know the end of it. The elderly didn't know anymore what to say, even us, the young. Previously, there passed five months or six, and sometimes a whole year without a death. In those times, our people liked to see a corpse. That is why, when one learns that there was a death somewhere, all flowed there to see what became to the person who died. It was a period of a spectacular fertility. The women had lots children. Barrenness was very rare. But in these days fertility was disrupted. Women made abortion and numerous became sterile. We didn't know how to manage this business.
4.2. The destruction of the households
The conscientious conduct that the women had in their marriages and households didn't exist anymore. At the time of the forebears, the marriages were not broken lightly. Desertions of the conjugal roof were non-existent and rare were the divorces. The worse occurred with the arrival of the Whites concerning the households. There were adulteries without limitation. Previously the women were afraid of the hindrances and the pitchforks. But currently, when they abandon their husbands there is nothing which stops them. Is there any pressure left concerning the marriage? The women themselves gather the necessary money and repay the dowry. The amount paid, she presents to the judges, to repay to her husband the money of the dowry. The husband can explain himself, but the judges force him to take his money. One remains aghast before this spectacle. One is as in frenzy. A little happiness is noted maybe at the people who live close to the mission (Catholic or Protestant). Even there also, there are some rare women who desert their husbands or do cause quarrels.
4.3. The irruption of the illnesses
ur ancestors told that every village had a specific illness, for which villagers know the
cure. Serious illnesses didn't exist.
5. THE REFUSAL OF OUR CULTURE
5.1. The language
Since this upheaval, all became shaky. The arrival of the Whites became the source of all disruptions. Here, indeed, one begins to refuse the maternal language. They like the language of the strangers. They even manufactured a language that they use together with the language of the Whites in the cities. In the villages, people are not happy with this situation; they don't agree that the children speak these foreign languages, especially when these children participate in the assemblies of the adults. But those that live in the cities, even the elderly, don't have any consideration anymore for the maternal language. Coming from the village and continuing to speak the mother tongue, the city-dwellers are going to challenge you in these terms: "You, with your mother tongue, don't you know how to leave it behind when in the European city?" Ans also, some people learn these foreign languages in spite of themselves
5.2. Our precepts
The Whites don't believe that something positive exists in our culture. All is bad
according to him. They make clean sweep of the precepts bequeathed to us by our forebears, to
which precepts they substituted European precepts. Some new precepts are good, and we are
grateful for them. But we notice that the Whites are without mercy. They punish
unrelentlessly. They never give anyone the necessary time to grow better by persuasion. When
one presents him a palaver, he doesn't think to send back the parts in conflict to the elderly
to judge them. In spite of all, our own laws had in the past governed the society very well.
No one complains with regard to the introduced faith. With the exception of some old people who refused to be baptized. In spite of it, one doesn't complain with these imports of the Whites. Some refuse being baptized before their death, others accept it. The laws of the faith are more coercive than ours; which is why baptisms are refused. But, all account made, we thank the Whites to have brought us the faith. And we estimate that if everything that the White had brought was as the faith, our country should live in peace as at the time of our forebears. They appreciate especially the fact that the faith extols the virtues of conjugal fidelity. A lot of people want to know the foundation of it. But it is regrettable to note that the faith is not even deeply rooted in our country. Maybe that there is an obstacle, we don't know much of it. To say truly, in our country no one complains that the Whites brought the faith. We thank the Whites vigorously for it.
6. LEANINGS TOWARD WEALTH AND LUST
6.1. Leaning for wealth
Emulation is the basis of the search for richness by all people in our country. Even previously, at the time of our forebears, emulation existed between people. The old were guided by the desire to make themselves know each other, and to pay mutual visits. At present, everybody, old and young, even between friends, has a great desire to have what possesses his mate, and possesses what the other has. Emulation generates pride and the leaning for wealth. The pride together with the leaning for wealth obsesses everybody. It invades the whole country, and cannot be stopped.
6.2. Sexual intercourse
There are no novelties to tell in this domain. Previously, at the time of our forebears, there was no formal interdiction to have sexual intercourse. All people, especially the young, made it with discretion and dignity. At the present time, sexual intercourse is taken lightly as a sport. It is not more discreet as in the time of our forebears who cursed whoever among the young dared to adulterate themselves before them. The dignity that surrounded the sexual intercourse doesn't exist anymore. We also notice that most people don't have fear of their parents in this domain. Elsewhere they act with modesty. Strangers, who have abandoned their villages, don't worry about anything. They excited our people to behave thus. In our custom, one didn't have any sexual relations during the day. Currently, there is not any restriction anymore: it occurs whenever and where one meets. At the time of our forebears, the women had a lot of restraint before the men. That is no more the case today. They don't have any reticence anymore, and they make advances to the men. One pronounces and one sings some obscenities as if it was about a popular song. Besides these are the only songs that are executed while at work. The women don't have any modesty as previously, and especially when they pronounce some obscenities. Everybody disowned his responsibility as a parent. When a woman calls someone "dad", this person answers him: "Did I ever put you to the world?" And when a young man calls a woman "mom", there follow the retort: "Did I ever put you to the world? Since when are you my son?". Before a similar spectacle, everybody is confused. All man, White or Black, here by us, display a disturbing behaviour in the domain of the sexual intercourse, and we don't know why it is so. Our wives have become those of other people.
7. OUR DEPOPULATION
The White introduced a lot of innovations in our life style. They abolished the laws of our forebears and substituted them with their own. According to the Whites, there is equality between young and old: they even wish that the young disobeyed the elderly. The elderly become therefore unhappy. Their discontent linked with their innate power causes the depopulation of our country. The violation of our customs, the humiliation of the elderly, and the repudiation of our sources, all promote the depopulation of our very country. We frequently attend the death of the aged, but the birth-rate is not acceptable anymore. Not only are the Whites at the origin of this curse. Both the Whites and the Blacks are responsible for it. The responsibility of the Whites is in the fact that they destroyed our customs. We have accepted it while refusing the mentality of our forebears, while damaging and disowning the foundations of our life. The alliance with the forebears in our society is finished. And depopulation is only beginning. Most people begin to realize it, with the exception of the girls and young people obsessed as they are by the beautiful and fashionable spectacle. And if the country comes to depopulate itself completely, who will remain to perpetuate the ancestral heritage? If the Whites don't concede us a part of our customary laws, and if they don't recognize the prerogatives of the elderly as previously, the country will be without inhabitants. And if we, the natives, don't abandon the repudiation of our culture and stop imitating others, notably the strangers, and if we don't give up disparaging our country, our country will stay empty. Some people of Black race left their regions in a state of high fertility. They came here to delude us while inciting us to abandon our culture. Then, they go back home and when we will be gone, who will stay here?
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