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How the people of Butembo were chosen to embody 'the New Congo': an analysis of the Congo ya Sika myth and its after-effects

Kristien Geenen (UGent)
Author
Organization
Abstract
In the paper, I translate local narratives about one particular event into a reading of a city as a whole. The city concerned is Butembo, a secondary city in the North Kivu province (DRC). The incident relates to the appearance of a foreign flower in the late fifties. This water hyacinth – named “Congo ya Sika,” which means “the New Congo” – had already caused severe damage in the rivers, lakes and waterways of the Belgian Congo, as it obstructed navigation, and caused fish starvation, amongst other negative effects. The colonial authorities decided to mobilise the population in order to eradicate the plague. Pamphlets and posters were spread, with the request to destroy the pictured flower when spotted. People of Butembo reacted in a most particular way to the appearance of these posters in their city, ascribing the Congo ya Sika flower mythical proportions right from the start. They were not aware that the flower had already appeared in large parts of the Congo, and that it needed to be destroyed because of its damaging consequences. In their interpretation, the appearance of the flower was a sign that ‘the new Congo’ would rise in their town, endowing their place exclusively with a particular force. Whereas the Congolese population as a whole were struggling against the botanical plague, people of Butembo considered themselves to be ‘the chosen people.’ I scrutinise the myth’s origin and analyse its social meaning, in an effort at a better understanding of Butembo’s society. Throughout my analysis, special attention is paid to (self)representation, and to noise in media discourse.
Keywords
media, noise, myth, urban anthropology, DRC, Butembo, North Kivu, Congo ya Sika

Citation

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Chicago
Geenen, Kristien. 2010. “How the People of Butembo Were Chosen to Embody ‘the New Congo’: An Analysis of the Congo Ya Sika Myth and Its After-effects.” In Tuning in on African Cities, Abstracts.
APA
Geenen, Kristien. (2010). How the people of Butembo were chosen to embody “the New Congo”: an analysis of the Congo ya Sika myth and its after-effects. Tuning in on African cities, Abstracts. Presented at the Tuning in on African cities.
Vancouver
1.
Geenen K. How the people of Butembo were chosen to embody “the New Congo”: an analysis of the Congo ya Sika myth and its after-effects. Tuning in on African cities, Abstracts. 2010.
MLA
Geenen, Kristien. “How the People of Butembo Were Chosen to Embody ‘the New Congo’: An Analysis of the Congo Ya Sika Myth and Its After-effects.” Tuning in on African Cities, Abstracts. 2010. Print.
@inproceedings{4080471,
  abstract     = {In the paper, I translate local narratives about one particular event into a reading of a city as a whole.  The city concerned is Butembo, a secondary city in the North Kivu province (DRC).  The incident relates to the appearance of a foreign flower in the late fifties. This water hyacinth – named “Congo ya Sika,” which means “the New Congo” –  had already caused severe damage in the rivers, lakes and waterways of the Belgian Congo, as it obstructed navigation, and caused fish starvation, amongst other negative effects. The colonial authorities decided to mobilise the population in order to eradicate the plague.  Pamphlets and posters were spread, with the request to destroy the pictured flower when spotted. People of Butembo reacted in a most particular way to the appearance of these posters in their city, ascribing the Congo ya Sika flower mythical proportions right from the start. They were not aware that the flower had already appeared in large parts of the Congo, and that it needed to be destroyed because of its damaging consequences. In their interpretation, the appearance of the flower was a sign that ‘the new Congo’ would rise in their town, endowing their place exclusively with a particular force. Whereas the Congolese population as a whole were struggling against the botanical plague, people of Butembo considered themselves to be ‘the chosen people.’  I scrutinise the myth’s origin and analyse its social meaning, in an effort at a better understanding of Butembo’s society. Throughout my analysis, special attention is paid to (self)representation, and to noise in media discourse.},
  author       = {Geenen, Kristien},
  booktitle    = {Tuning in on African cities, Abstracts},
  keywords     = {media,noise,myth,urban anthropology,DRC,Butembo,North Kivu,Congo ya Sika},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Birmingham, UK},
  title        = {How the people of Butembo were chosen to embody 'the New Congo': an analysis of the Congo ya Sika myth and its after-effects},
  year         = {2010},
}