CONGO by Hugo Daems

CONGO

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A candid and provocative view into the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, home to the oldest human relic and rich with both history and inventive peoples.

Daems lived among the Sonde tribe in the Congo, the west-central part of sub-Saharan Africa, from 1953 to 1961. His work as a post chief with the Belgian government had introduced him to the tribe, and he cultivated a lasting friendship with Kianza Luwano, the Sonde tribal chief and the man to whom the book is dedicated. Written in first-person narrative, Congo goes deep inside Africa’s sub-Saharan history. Revelation after revelation shows the inventiveness of the native peoples, the reasons for certain tribal traditions and the roots of long-standing regional conflicts. Throughout much of the book, ancestral practices are strictly observed, hindering the development of modern or “city” life. Some of the practices birthed by tribal ancestors kept children and families safe, such as from roaming wild animals at night. Daems also shares Luwano’s retelling of circumcision camp, a seven-year process that transitions boys into men and makes room for future tribal chiefs. Luwano recalls, “All of us boys were brought to the center of the village,” where mungandji (villagers dressed in costume as ancient ghosts) “chased us … toward the circumcision camp.” He reveals that there, the children learned survival skills, tribal customs and the importance of respecting their elders. Daems paints an evocative picture of the realm of the Sonde tribe–the area it occupies is busy with red ants, the music of tom-tom drums, palm wine, bamboo and tapioca gathering by the women. Life has a natural pulse until the birth of colonization, at which time fierce, bitter tribal wars break out. Photos, illustrations and detailed historical information help bring this first-person account to life.

A well-told history as rich and vibrant as the Congo itself.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-4343-2116-9
Program: Kirkus Indie
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