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18 books about Congo (Democratic Republic) [sort by author]      

Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880–1960
Jan Vansina
University of Wisconsin Press, 2010

What was it like to be colonized by foreigners? Highlighting a region in central Congo, in the center of sub-Saharan Africa, Being Colonized places Africans at the heart of the story. In a richly textured history that will appeal to general readers and students as well as to scholars, the distinguished historian Jan Vansina offers not just accounts of colonial administrators, missionaries, and traders, but the varied voices of a colonized people. Vansina uncovers the history revealed in local news, customs, gossip, and even dreams, as related by African villagers through archival documents, material culture, and oral interviews.
    Vansina’s case study of the colonial experience is the realm of Kuba, a kingdom in Congo about the size of New Jersey—and two-thirds the size of its colonial master, Belgium. The experience of its inhabitants is the story of colonialism, from its earliest manifestations to its tumultuous end. What happened in Kuba happened to varying degrees throughout Africa and other colonized regions: racism, economic exploitation, indirect rule, Christian conversion, modernization, disease and healing, and transformations in gender relations. The Kuba, like others, took their own active part in history, responding to the changes and calamities that colonization set in motion. Vansina follows the region’s inhabitants from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, when a new elite emerged on the eve of Congo’s dramatic passage to independence.
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A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo
Nancy Rose Hunt
Duke University Press, 1999

A Colonial Lexicon is the first historical investigation of how childbirth became medicalized in Africa. Rejecting the “colonial encounter” paradigm pervasive in current studies, Nancy Rose Hunt elegantly weaves together stories about autopsies and bicycles, obstetric surgery and male initiation, to reveal how concerns about strange new objects and procedures fashioned the hybrid social world of colonialism and its aftermath in Mobutu’s Zaire.
Relying on archival research in England and Belgium, as well as fieldwork in the Congo, Hunt reconstructs an ethnographic history of a remote British Baptist mission struggling to survive under the successive regimes of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State, the hyper-hygienic, pronatalist Belgian Congo, and Mobutu’s Zaire. After exploring the roots of social reproduction in rituals of manhood, she shows how the arrival of the fast and modern ushered in novel productions of gender, seen equally in the forced labor of road construction and the medicalization of childbirth. Hunt focuses on a specifically interwar modernity, where the speed of airplanes and bicycles correlated with a new, mobile medicine aimed at curbing epidemics and enumerating colonial subjects. Fascinating stories about imperial masculinities, Christmas rituals, evangelical humor, colonial terror, and European cannibalism demonstrate that everyday life in the mission, on plantations, and under a strongly Catholic colonial state was never quite what it seemed. In a world where everyone was living in translation, privileged access to new objects and technologies allowed a class of “colonial middle figures”—particularly teachers, nurses, and midwives—to mediate the evolving hybridity of Congolese society. Successfully blurring conventional distinctions between precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial situations, Hunt moves on to discuss the unexpected presence of colonial fragments in the vibrant world of today’s postcolonial Africa.
With its close attention to semiotics as well as sociology, A Colonial Lexiconwill interest specialists in anthropology, African history, obstetrics and gynecology, medical history, religion, and women’s and cultural studies.


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Colonialism in the Congo Basin: 1880-1940
Samuel H. Nelson
Ohio University Press, 1993

This exceptional study of the Mongo people of the upper Congo River basin focuses on the evolution of Mongo work patterns from the period of the late nineteenth century to 1940, the high-water mark of the colonial period. It brings new evidence from oral histories, anthropological research, and archival records to build on or to correct colonial ethnographic accounts. From this fresh vantage point, Nelson reassesses colonial labor policies and relates them to today’s rural poverty and underdevelopment.
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Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of the Central Pende
Z. S. Strother
University of Chicago Press, 1998

Who invents masks, and why? Such questions have rarely been asked, due to stereotypes of anonymous African artists locked into the reproduction of "traditional" models of representation. Rather than accept this view of African art as timeless and unchanging, Z. S. Strother spent nearly three years in Zaire studying Pende sculpture. Her research reveals the rich history and lively contemporary practice of Central Pende masquerade. She describes the intensive collaboration among sculptors and dancers that is crucial to inventing masks. Sculptors revealed that a central theme in their work is the representation of perceived differences between men and women. Far from being unchanging, Pende masquerades promote unceasing innovation within genres and invention of new genres. Inventing Masks demonstrates, through first hand accounts and lavish illustrations, how Central Pende masquerading is a contemporary art form fully responsive to twentieth-century experience.

"Its presentation, its exceptionally lively style, the perfection of its illustrations make this a stunning book, perfectly fitting for the study of a performing art and its content is indeed seminal. . . . A breakthrough."—Jan Vansina, African Studies Review
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Kings And Clans: Ijwi Island And The Lake Kivu Rift, 1780-1840
David Newbury
University of Wisconsin Press, 1992

By reconstructing the history of kings and clans in the Kivu Rift Valley (on the border of today's Rwanda and Zaire) at a time of critical social change, David Newbury enlarges our understanding of social process and the growth of state power in Africa. In the early nineteenth century, many factors contributed to the creation of new social relations  in the Lake Kivu region—ecological change, population movement, the expansion of the Rwandan state from the east, the rise of new political units to the west, and the movement of many population groups and their ritual forms through the area.  Newbury looks in particular at the role of clans in the establishment of a new kingdom on Ijwi Island in Lake Kivu.
     Drawing on detailed ethnographic observations of the social and ritual organizations of Ijwi society, an extensive  body of oral data, and evidence from written sources, Newbury shows that the clans of Ijwi were not static formations, nor did the establishment of a royal family on the island emerge from military conquest and internal social breakdown.  Instead, clan identities changed over time, and these changes actually facilitated the creation of kingship on Ijwi.  Through a detailed examination of succession struggles, of local factors influencing the outcome of such struggles, and of specific clan participation in public rituals that legitimize royalty, Newbury’s study illustrates the importance of clan identities in both the creation of state power and its reproduction over time.
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Kinshasa in Transition: Women's Education, Employment, and Fertility
David Shapiro and B. Oleko Tambashe
University of Chicago Press, 2003

After decades of tremendous growth, Kinshasa-capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo-is now the second-largest urban area in sub-Saharan Africa. And as the city has grown-from around 300,000 people in the mid-1950s to more than five million today-it has experienced seismic social, economic, and demographic changes.

In this book, David Shapiro and B. Oleko Tambashe trace the impact of these changes on the lives of women, and their findings add dramatically to the field's limited knowledge of African demographic trends. They find that fertility has declined significantly in Kinshasa since the 1970s, and that women's increasing access to secondary education has played a key role in this decline. Better access to education has also given women greater access to employment opportunities. And by examining the impact of such factors as economic well-being and household demographic composition on the schooling of children, Shapiro and Tambashe reveal how one generation's fertility affects the next generation's education.

This book will be a valuable guide for anyone who wants to understand the complex and ongoing social, demographic, economic, and developmental changes in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa.
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The Land beyond the Mists: Essays in Identity & Authority in Precolonial Congo and Rwanda
David Newbury
Ohio University Press, 2009

The horrific tragedies of Central Africa in the 1990s riveted the attention of the world. But these crises did not occur in a historical vacuum. By peering through the mists of the past, the case studies presented in The Land Beyond the Mists illustrate the significant advances to have taken place since decolonization in our understanding of the pre-colonial histories of Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Congo.

Based on both oral and written sources, these essays are important both for their methods—viewing history from the perspective of local actors—and for their conclusions, which seriously challenge colonial myths about the area.
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The Okapi: Mysterious Animal of Congo-Zaire
Susan Lyndaker Lindsey
University of Texas Press, 1999

"This book will have long-lasting effects on conservation of the okapi and preservation of the forest: the authors' research will heighten awareness of the plight of the okapi, and their royalties will go directly to helping . . . the Ituri Forest conservation program. You will be helping if you buy this book and encourage your friends to do the same. Okapis have a special place in the natural world, and it is up to us to ensure that they and their forests survive." --Jane Goodall Congo-Zaire contains Africa's largest remaining tracts of intact rain forest, making it one of the most important regions for biodiversity conservation. Its Ituri Forest is home to plants and animals native to nowhere else on earth, including the elusive and little-known okapi. In this popularly written book, three long-time observers of the okapi present a complete, contemporary natural history of this appealing relative of the giraffe. They recount its discovery by European explorers and describe its appearance and life cycle. They also discuss current efforts to preserve the species, both in the wild and at zoos around the world. Illustrated with charming line drawings, The Okapi will be a valuable resource for conservationists and zoo visitors alike--indeed anyone fascinated by the mysterious animal of Congo-Zaire.
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The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Mines, Money, and U.S. Policy in the Congo Crisis
David N. Gibbs
University of Chicago Press, 1991

Interventionism—the manipulation of the internal politics of one country by another—has long been a feature of international relations. The practice shows no signs of abating, despite the recent collapse of Communism and the decline of the Cold War.

In The Political Economy of Third World Intervention, David Gibbs explores the factors that motivate intervention, especially the influence of business interests. He challenges conventional views of international relations, eschewing both the popular "realist" view that the state is influenced by diverse national interests and the "dependency" approach that stresses conflicts between industrialized countries and the Third World. Instead, Gibbs proposes a new theoretical model of "business conflict" which stresses divisions between different business interests and shows how such divisions can influence foreign policy and interventionism. Moreover, he focuses on the conflicts among the core countries, highlighting friction among private interests within these countries.

Drawing on U.S. government documents—including a wealth of newly declassified materials—he applies his new model to a detailed case study of the Congo Crisis of the 1960s. Gibbs demonstrates that the Crisis is more accurately characterized by competition among Western interests for access to the Congo's mineral wealth, than by Cold War competition, as has been previously argued.

Offering a fresh perspective for understanding the roots of any international conflict, this remarkably accessible volume will be of special interest to students of international political economy, comparative politics, and business-government relations.

"This book is an extremely important contribution to the study of international relations theory; Gibbs' treatment of the Congo case is superb. He effectively takes the "statists" to task and presents a compelling new way of analyzing external interventions in the Third World."—Michael G. Schatzberg, University of Wisconsin

"David Gibbs makes an original and important contribution to our understanding of the influence of business interests in the making of U.S. foreign policy. His business conflict model provides a synthetic theoretical framework for the analysis of business-government relations, one which yields fresh insights, overcomes inconsistencies in other approaches, and opens new ground for important research. . . . [Gibbs] provides a sophisticated analysis of the conflicts within the U.S. business community and identifies the complex ways in which they interacted with agencies within the government to form U.S. foreign policy toward the Congo. . . . This is a well-crafted analysis of a critical case of U.S. postwar intervention which should be of general interest to scholars and others concerned with the domestic bases of foreign policy."—Thomas J. Biersteker, Director, School of International Relations, University of Southern California
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Power and Performance: Ethnographic Explorations through Proverbial Wisdom and Theater in Shaba, Zaire
Johannes Fabian
University of Wisconsin Press, 1990

In 1985 Johannes Fabian, while engaged in fieldwork in the Shaba province of Zaire, first encountered this saying. Its implications—for the charismatic religious movements Fabian was examining, for the highly charged political atmosphere of Zaire, and for the cultures of the Luba peoples—continued to intrigue him, though its meaning remained elusive.  On a later visit, he mentioned the saying to a company of popular actors, and triggered an ethnographic brainstorm.  “Spontaneously, they decided it would be just the right topic for their next play.  On the spot they began planning—suggestions for a plot were made, problems of translating the French term ‘pouvoir’ were debated, several actors cited sayings and customs from their home villages. . . .” 

Power and Performance
examines traditional proverbs about power as it illustrates how the performance of Le pouvoir se mange entier was created, rehearsed, and performed. The play deals with the issue of power through a series of conflicts between villagers and their chief. Both rehearsal and performance versions of the text of this drama are included, in Swahili and in English translation.

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Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life during War
by Zachariah Cherian Mampilly
Cornell University Press, 2011

Rebel groups are often portrayed as predators, their leaders little more than warlords. In conflicts large and small, however, insurgents frequently take and hold territory, establishing sophisticated systems of governance that deliver extensive public services to civilians under their control. From police and courts, schools, hospitals, and taxation systems to more symbolic expressions such as official flags and anthems, some rebels are able to appropriate functions of the modern state, often to great effect in generating civilian compliance. Other insurgent organizations struggle to provide even the most basic services and suffer from the local unrest and international condemnation that result.

Rebel Rulers is informed by Zachariah Cherian Mampilly's extensive fieldwork in rebel-controlled areas. Focusing on three insurgent organizations-the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) in Congo, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Sudan-Mampilly's comparative analysis shows that rebel leaders design governance systems in response to pressures from three main sources. They must take into consideration the needs of local civilians, who can challenge rebel rule in various ways. They must deal with internal factions that threaten their control. And they must respond to the transnational actors that operate in most contemporary conflict zones. The development of insurgent governments can benefit civilians even as they enable rebels to assert control over their newly attained and sometimes chaotic territories.

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The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State
Crawford Young and Thomas Edwin Turner
University of Wisconsin Press, 1985

Zaire, apparently strong and stable under Presdident Mobutu in the early 1970s, was bankrupt and discredited by the end of that decade, beset by hyperinflation and mass corruption, the populace forced into abject poverty. Why and how, in a new african state strategically located in Central Africa and rich in mineral resources, did this happen? How did the Zairian state become a “parasitic predator” upon its own people?
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Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire
Bob W. White
Duke University Press, 2008

Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1965 until 1997, was fond of saying “happy are those who sing and dance,” and his regime energetically promoted the notion of culture as a national resource. During this period Zairian popular dance music (often referred to as la rumba zaïroise) became a sort of musica franca in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But how did this privileged form of cultural expression, one primarily known for a sound of sweetness and joy, flourish under one of the continent’s most brutal authoritarian regimes? In Rumba Rules, the first ethnography of popular music in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bob W. White examines not only the economic and political conditions that brought this powerful music industry to its knees, but also the ways that popular musicians sought to remain socially relevant in a time of increasing insecurity.

Drawing partly on his experiences as a member of a local dance band in the country’s capital city Kinshasa, White offers extraordinarily vivid accounts of the live music scene, including the relatively recent phenomenon of libanga, which involves shouting the names of wealthy or powerful people during performances in exchange for financial support or protection. With dynamic descriptions of how bands practiced, performed, and splintered, White highlights how the ways that power was sought and understood in Kinshasa’s popular music scene mirrored the charismatic authoritarianism of Mobutu’s rule. In Rumba Rules, Congolese speak candidly about political leadership, social mobility, and what it meant to be a bon chef (good leader) in Mobutu’s Zaire.

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Rural Society and Cotton in Colonial Zaire
Osumaka Likaka
University of Wisconsin Press, 1997

     This masterful social and economic history of rural Zaire examines the complex and lasting effects of forced cotton cultivation in central Africa from 1917 to 1960. Osumaka Likaka recreates daily life inside the colonial cotton regime. He shows that, to ensure widespread cotton production and to overcome continued peasant resistance, the colonial state and the cotton companies found it necessary to augment their use of threats and force with efforts to win the cooperation of the peasant farmers, through structural reforms, economic incentives, and propaganda exploiting African popular culture.
     As local plots of food crops grown by individual households gave way to commercial fields of cotton, a whole host of social, economic, and environmental changes followed. Likaka reveals how food shortages and competition for labor were endemic, forests were cleared, social stratification increased, married women lost their traditional control of agricultural production, and communities became impoverished while local chiefs enlarged their power and prosperity.
     Likaka documents how the cotton regime promoted its cause through agricultural exhibits, cotton festivals, films, and plays, as well as by raising producer prices and decreasing tax rates. He also shows how the peasant laborers in turn resisted regimented agricultural production by migrating, fleeing the farms for the bush, or sabotaging plantings by surreptitiously boiling cotton seeds. Small farmers who had received appallingly low prices from the cotton companies resisted by stealing back their cotton by night from the warehouses, to resell it in the morning. Likaka draws on interviews with more than fifty informants in Zaire and Belgium and reviews an impressive array of archival materials, from court records to comic books. In uncovering the tumultuous economic and social consequences of the cotton regime and by emphasizing its effects on social institutions, Likaka enriches historical understanding of African agriculture and development.
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Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire
Marie Beatrice Umutesi; Foreword by Catharine Newbury
University of Wisconsin Press, 2004

    Though the world was stunned by the horrific massacres of Tutsi by the Hutu majority in Rwanda beginning in April 1994, there has been little coverage of the reprisals that occurred after the Tutsi gained political power. During this time hundreds of thousands of Hutu were systematically hunted and killed.
    Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire is the eyewitness account of Marie Béatrice Umutesi. She tells of life in the refugee camps in Zaire and her flight across 2000 kilometers on foot. During this forced march, far from the world’s cameras, many Hutu refugees were trampled and murdered. Others died from hunger, exhaustion, and sickness, or simply vanished, ignored by the international community and betrayed by humanitarian organizations. Amidst this brutality, day-to-day suffering, and desperate survival, Umutesi managed to organize the camps to improve the quality of life for women and children.
    In this first-hand account of inexplicable brutality, day-to-day suffering, and survival, Marie Béatrice Umutesi sheds light on a backlash of violence that targeted the Hutu refugees of Rwanda after the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1994.  Umutesi’s documentation of the flight and terror of these years provides the world a veritable account of a history that is still widely unknown. After translations from its original French into three other languages, this important book is available in English for the first time. It is more than a testimony to the lives and humanity lost; it is a call for those politicians, military personnel, and humanitarian organizations responsible for the atrocious crimes—and the devastating silence—to be held accountable.


“Umutesi’s tale, told with honesty and eloquence, is a tribute to the human spirit, a searing indictment of the agents who perpetrated these horrors, and a reproach to those who turned away.”—Catharine Newbury, African Studies Review

“Restores a human dimension that has been lacking in the history of the genocide and massacres in Rwanda.”—Danielle de Lame, African Studies Review

“A vivid account of the grueling nightmare experienced by tens of thousands of Rwandan civilians whom the world had deliberately forsaken. . . . An outstanding call for justice.”—Aloys Habimama, African Studies Review

 “A towering work. . . . An epic for our times, a tale to ponder for the lessons it conveys, testimony so powerful and moving that it reaches an unintended literary greatness.”—Jan Vansina, African Studies Review

“Of all the current books and films ten years after the Rwandan genocide, none is more effective than Surviving the Slaughter . . . . This book carries one along, often as if running with the refugees.”—Anne Serafin, Multicultural Review

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Weaving the Threads of Life: The Khita Gyn-Eco-Logical Healing Cult among the Yaka
René Devisch
University of Chicago Press, 1993

For the Yaka of Southwestern Zaire, infertility is a tear in the fabric of life, and the Khita fertility ritual is a trusted way of reweaving the damaged strands. In Weaving the Threads of Life Rene Devisch offers an extended analysis of the Khita cult, which leads to an original account of the workings of ritual healing.

Drawing on many years among urban and rural Yaka, Devisch analyzes their understanding of existence as a fabric of firmly but delicately interwoven threads of nature, body, and society. The fertility healing ritual calls forth forces, feelings, and meanings that allow women to rejoin themselves to the complex pattern of social and cosmic life. These elaborate rites—whether simulating mortal agony and rebirth, gestation and delivery, or flowering and decay; using music and dance, steambath or massage, dream messages or scarification—are not based on symbols of traditional beliefs. Rather, Devisch shows, the rites themselves generate forces and meaning, creating and shaping the cosmic, physical, and social world of their participants.

In contrast to current theoretical methods such as postmodern or symbolical interpretation, Devisch's praxiological approach is unique in also using phenomenological insights into the intent and results of anthropological fieldwork. This innovative work will have ramifications beyond African studies, reaching into the anthropology of medicine and the body, comparative religious history, and women's studies.
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The Year of the Gorilla
George B. Schaller
University of Chicago Press, 1988

"A sensitive and articulate observer, [Schaller] is at his best when he is describing the forest itself . . . . This is an exciting book. Although Schaller feels that this is 'not an adventure book,' few readers will be able to agree."—Irven DeVore, Science
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The Year of the Gorilla
George B. Schaller
University of Chicago Press, 2010

This seminal work chronicles George B. Schaller’s two years of travel and observation of gorillas in East and Central Africa in the late 1950s, high in the Virunga volcanoes on the Zaire-Rwanda-Uganda border. There, he learned that these majestic animals, far from being the aggressive apes of film and fiction, form close-knit societies of caring mothers and protective fathers watching over playful young. Alongside his observations of gorilla society, Schaller celebrates the enforced yet splendid solitude of the naturalist, recounts the adventures he experienced along the way, and offers a warning against poaching and other human threats against these endangered creatures. This edition features a postscript detailing Schaller’s more recent visits with gorillas, current to 2009. 

“Whether the author is tracking gorillas, slipping past elephant herds on narrow jungle paths, avoiding poachers’ deadfalls, or routing Watusi invaders, this is an exciting book. Although Schaller feels that this is ‘not an adventure book,’ few readers will be able to agree.”—Irven DeVore, Science

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