West Africa

Literature of the Republic of Congo Part II

Female writers

Many women writers have been featured in the Republic of Congo. However, most of them have a little extensive writing. One of the main reasons for this is probably the view of the woman who has characterized the sub-Saharan countries: Many believe that women’s tasks are primarily related to family life, and therefore they have had limited opportunity for literary pursuits. Women without a man and especially without children have traditionally had a weak position in African societies. They have often been incapacitated by other family members and have been ostracized by the social community. Much of the literature written by female writers is about women who do not want or are unable to adapt society’s expectations to them.

When it comes to the earliest female writers, one does not always know their year of birth or life cycle. This applies, for example, to Paule Etoumba, who was the first woman to publish a fiction book in French in the Republic of the Congo, namely the poem collection Un against fracasse un avenir (1971, “A Word Crushes a Future”). In 1980, Amélia Néné, born in 1954, debuted the wife of author Jean Baptiste Tati – Loutard. In the same year, the first collection of poems was published by Marie – Léontine Tsibinda (born 1958). She has published a number of collections of poems and short stories.

In the 1980s, among others, Cécile – Ivelyse Diamoneka (born 1940) and Jeanette Balou – Tchichelle (1947–2005) debuted. Mambou Aimée Gnali (born 1935), who had high political positions both nationally and internationally, published an autobiographical narrative in 2001 and her first novel in 2016. This book is a protest against the fact that young African women are often forcibly married to older men.

Women’s challenges

Several women writers from the Congo had their breakthrough at the turn of the millennium. One of them was Aleth Félix – Tchicaya (born 1955). She made her debut in 2003 with Lumière de femme (“Woman’s Light”), a book about a young woman who feels that her father will not recognize her. In 2010, Les Mamelons de Jam arrived (“Jaman’s nipples”); a description, based on their own experiences, of how it is experienced to be diagnosed with cancer and then manage to overcome the disease. Tchicaya is otherwise concerned with humanitarian work and has built up one of the Republic of Congo’s most important institutions for orphans.

Both Brigitte Yengo and Sylvie Boko were born in 1960. They both went to an early monastery and wrote about their experiences; the first in his autobiography, the second in short form. Adèle Caby – Livannah (born 1955) is one of several authors who have written children’s books and collected old folk tales from the region. Noëlle Bizi Bazouma (born 1959) published a number of books in the 1990s; novels, children’s books and books on health issues. There is uncertainty surrounding her fate after the turn of the millennium.

Authors in exile

The most prominent novelist from the Republic of Congo in the 21st century is arguably Alain Mabanckou (born 1966). He is one of many Congolese poets who have moved to France, but in recent years he has mainly lived in the United States. His books show that he is strongly critical of the former colonial power, but he also abandons the Marxist-Leninist system that has largely held power in his own country after liberation. He has written poems and novels, and especially the novels have achieved success. His style is characterized by great imagination. and it is often said that he is a kind of modern Baroque writer. In several of the books, he parodies ancient African adventures or other oral literature from the region

Léopold Congo Mbemba (1959–2013) was the most famous lyricist of the Republic of Congo of his generation. He received strong impetus from the representatives of the négritud e movement; Aimé Césaire in particular had much to say about his development. But also North American writers and artists with an African background and a rebellious frame of mind mattered to him. Particularly important to his development has been James Baldwin. Mbemba’s lyricism has an introverted character and encourages rebellion and protest. It is characterized by great originality in both content and form. However, many critics believe that Mbemba reaches the highest when he does not want to appear as a political poet, but merely portrays his own love and consciousness of death.

Marie – Louise Abia (born 1964) is a teacher in a suburb of Paris. She is a practicing Catholic, but because she is concerned about the threat posed by AIDS in Africa, she fights in her novels for birth control and family planning. She has also written a novel about the love between a married woman and a young Catholic priest. They force themselves to go their separate ways, but they never manage to overcome their feelings.

A literature in crisis

In the 20th century, the Republic of Congo was one of the countries of French-speaking Africa with the richest literary life. Particularly after independence in 1960, a number of important writers emerged. They asserted themselves within different genres. Many of them evolved away from the social-realist style that was so dominant in African literature at the time, and towards forms of expression that were previously unknown in their region. Often the authors were in opposition to the rulers of the country, and this dedication seemed to inspire their literary activities. But the difficult political conditions in the Republic of Congo also gradually contributed to the literary renewal for which the country had been known, not continuing.

It seems that the civil war in 1997 is one of the main reasons for this development: Although the country still has significant writers, one no longer sees a constant renewal in literature, as was seen in the second half of the nineteenth century. And while the Republic of Congo previously had a richer literary life than Congo-Kinshasa, the situation today seems to be the opposite. One must therefore fear that a major epoch in the literature of an important African country these days is about to end.

Republic of the Congo