Sunday 5pm, Kingabwa, at a table outside on our compound. Noone around, a rare situation. I hear birds, children playing, someone repairing a table next door with a hammer and nails, some shouting far away (football on TV: Kinshasa – Lubumbashi) and the general background noise of the city. Also Rumba from one of the neighbours’s speakers who hasn’t gone to one of the nearby bars on Sunday afternoon. Cohette, the street of “ambience” (bars and informal dancing places), 5 minutes from here, is safer now. Police have been fighting the Kuluna (street gangs) there, I was told. Last year nobody really wanted to sit there with me. I’ve been there twice already in the first week here. It’s fantastic! Sitting, watching, breathing, listening, a Primus, watching, diving in, feeling I must say, somehow home. Francois, who had come with me, had joined me on a bike trip through Bas-Congo to Muanda last year. He works as a Wewa here in Kinshasa. Wewa is Ciluba for You. It it being shouted to call for a motocycle taxi whose drivers are reputed to speak Ciluba because they moved here from Kasai after the diamond price had fallen (in 2008?) and invested their capital in motorbikes. I am myself also being called Wewa or Mundele Wewa all the time, wherever I go with my Chinese motorbike. So the diamond price has determined my public naming here, interesting…
Eight months now since I left Kinshasa. The airport was different, with trolleys. The Chinese have not been able to finish the road works of av. Kulumba, next door from here (I ignore the reasons). There are piles of earth obstructing half the road now, like dunes of dust conquered by shop keepers now to expose their stock. Bvd Lumumba is a huge field of macadam now. Unlike the petits boulevards that run parallel. The public lighting on av. Poids-Lourds has gone for the second time. Many more small changes could be mentioned…
Mosquitoes are around now. Mont-Sinai (Église de reveil on the backside of our house) starts praying, the pastor with the rough voice. I myself spent this Sunday morning with Égl. Messianique Mondiale (EMM), “my own church” (focus of my research), not far from Boulevard 30 Juin in Gombe where they have their DRC headquarters. It was a special service given that exactly 80 years ago the “church’s” founder Mejsu Sama had received his revelation on a Japanese mountain and founded the movement (=EMM) with a global vocation. After meeting many baMessianiques (EMM’s adherents) during the week already, it was superb to see all the responsibles and members again at once. Extremely warm and welcoming!
Much info about EMM’s millennialism; The choir has continued writing songs about Mejshu Sama (“true lord of light”: the founder), the coming of paradise on earth, and the ancestors (very important for EMM). The former chief singer (and gifted composer), also a lower staff member, has had to leave the movement (I ignore exact reason so far). There were three “expériences de foi” (i.e. testimonies by individuals about dreams, miracles and the healing power of Johrei – the movement’s healing technique – etc.). Two of them, at least, I might use and want to look at more carefully (I recordered the entire session and noted the general content and starting time of each part). Testimonies were also referring to friction with the movement’s “others”, i.e. all those (mainly Christians) who think of baMessianiques as magiciens and accuse them of “occult” practices, an accusation laughed at by the movement and rather taken as a compliment of attention… During the testimonies they seemed to enjoy the provocation their messages and practices produce in the wider religious sphere, knowing that what they do is really not very different from what Christians do….
It is definitely the pastor with the rough voice (I have come to call him Gargamel) who is preaching and prophetizing behind our house. They must have a generator now because electricity just went. Papa Wemba is also singing from far now, probably from speakers on Cohette, the bar street.
After the service, this morning, I approached the man sitting in front of me. He had come in late, had “dared” to take the last empty chair inside and he was proudly wearing a big crucifix on a gold chain around his neck. He was a prophet from Kananga who, in the 1990s, had found his own “catholic” charismatic movement there. He had discovered EMM in Kananga about half a year ago and loves its “oecumenical” character. I still have to review the notes (which he seemed to like me taking). I also took pictures of him posing (as he wanted it) by “giving light” (=Johrei, the healing technique) in front of the Goshintai, the church’s holy scroll (a Japanese calligraphy). A fantastic encounter! He told me about the similarities of “imposing the hand” as a christian prophet, by touching peoples’ head, with EMM’s Johrei which transmits the same divine power (puissance divine) in another form, by holding the hand at a distance. He referred to the Bible to explain both practices…
After the service I talked to a boy suffering from Mbasu (skin disease caused by spiritual attacks). A dancer of a traditional dance company, quite famous apparently. I had photographed his leg last year already, but it clearly improved, thanks to Johrei… Good talk with him and will meet him again. So many people anyways I met again and with whom to catch up and intensify the talks.
I have already written too much and not yet mentioned my visit last week to Kinshasa’s branch of Brama Kumaris meditation centre (called yoga). In total about 7 interviews so far and many some more talks. Nor have I mentioned EMM’s flower practice (Ikebana – Japanese art of flower arrangement) with their local signification (at least as interesting as I thought). It was especially nice also to meet Ekunde again, the painter who introduced me to EMM. Tomorrow I will speak to an EMM flower expert, then visit the facilities of Soka Gakkai International, a Japanese Buddhist NRM, and, if possible, speak to another key informant on EMMs compound. On Tuesday meeting an older man who has been member of all oriental movements here whom I met at the Yoga (meditation) centre.
Quite some things are to be added, but two friends have arrived and I have to stop here. Many greetings to all who read this!
What i liked about your blog entry is that it demystifies fieldwork, makes is so ‘real’ and ‘everyday life-y’. It takes one right into the streets, with the Kuluna and Mundele Wewa. For someone born in these very parts, reading this, it opens one up to a view of the researcher as a person (not an expert or even one seeking to know but another human being seeking to know other human beings). Being no expert on Congo, I found your entry to be easy to read yet carrying very interesting perspectives on the human beings you’re interacting with, who might be thought dangerous, who might form the basis of a stereotype not only of this place, but ‘Congo.’ It left me wondering whether it’s because you’re non-threatening as such. The way you present it is so vivid–I was tempted to say, ‘Wait for me, I’m coming.’ You don’t have to be an expert on Congo to ask questions or enter the conversation.
The other value, down the line, is that, for everybody involved, this is an archive they are creating by talking about things that they may otherwise not have written, the diary they might not have kept. I suspect, way down the line, you will pull up the blog and tuck it in a reference or, into the text to locate how the trajectory of a certain thought evolved. Others too will, I suppose.
Yes, we, the Africa loving folk in Europe, definitely like this kind of relaxed comment on everyday life in Kinshasa. First, because it is something we don’t read about even in the best newspapers, second, because it takes away the fear to go there (what, you can just sit in the street without being shot or robbed?”) and third, because if gives an impression of “being there”
Greetings (and waiting for more)
Dear Clapperton and Klaus,
Many thanks for these encouraging comments! The second part should be here very soon.