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Paths in the eastern Congo rainforest: Vernacular histories, colonial interpretations and linguistic data on the settlement of the lower Lualaba

Des sentiers dans la forêt du Congo oriental : histoires vernaculaires, interprétations coloniales et données linguistiques sur le peuplement du Bas-Lualaba
Birgit Ricquier, Laurent Nieblas Ramirez, Alexandre Livingstone Smith, Shingo Takamura, David Kopa Wa Kopa et Daou Véronique Joiris

Résumés

L’histoire ancienne du Bas-Lualaba, la région située entre Kisangani et Lowa, est avant tout connue grâce à l’ouvrage Les grandes lignes des migrations des Bantous de la Province Orientale du Congo belge de Moeller (1936). Cet ouvrage est en grande partie basé sur des histoires vernaculaires recueillies et réinterprétées par différents administrateurs coloniaux. Nous présentons ici des enregistrements récents d’histoires vernaculaires, ainsi qu’une réanalyse de documents des archives coloniales AIMO. La comparaison des sources mentionnées permet d’établir une chronostratigraphie culturelle de la région. Les routes et les échanges culturels mis en évidence coïncident de façon frappante avec l’histoire des langues concernées. Nous concluons que les habitants actuels de la région sont arrivés durant la fin de la période précoloniale, après laquelle il y a eu un mélange culturel, surtout entre les Lengola, Mbole et Wagenya-Mokpa-Metoko. Les données issues des histoires vernaculaires et des recherches linguistiques semblent suggérer que la région était auparavant peu habitée, à l’exception de la zone des Chutes, qui bouillonnait déjà d’activités avant son occupation par les Wagenya au début du xixe siècle. Les deux types de données ne permettent pas d’accéder aux périodes plus anciennes, qui pourront seulement être révélées par de futures recherches archéologiques.

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Notes de l’auteur

Research for this paper was conducted within the framework of an ERC Starting Grant awarded to the first author of this paper. The full title of the project is “At a Crossroads of Bantu Expansions: Present and Past Riverside Communities in the Congo Basin, from an Integrated Linguistic, Anthropological and Archaeological Perspective” (acronym BANTURIVERS, grant agreement number 804261, 2019-2024, Université libre de Bruxelles, in collaboration with the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the University of Kisangani).

We would like to thank our informants and the people who facilitated work in the field. David Kopa wa Kopa wishes to thank François Abuka Balabala, Esaie Bangwabendi Katoba, Victor Akidiya and André Lofanga Bolukaoto for assistance during fieldwork. A special thanks from Shingo Takamura goes to the informants and to Justin Basendo, field assistant during the anthropological fieldwork. We would also like to express our gratitude to Olivier Gosselain, Xavier Denys and Serge Jaumain of the Université libre de Bruxelles who came to the rescue when COVID-19 struck in March 2020 and whose diplomatic relations enabled a swift repatriation.

The transcriptions and translations of the field interviews recorded by Shingo Takamura were entrusted to CECOTEL, under the supervision of Crispin Maalu-Bungi and Pierre Ngila Bompeti. The translations into English (and possible errors in that process) are ours.

Finally, we wish to express our gratitude to Kathryn de Luna and Rhiannon Stephens, who reviewed the first version of this paper. Thanks to their valuable comments, the paper has much matured. Needless to say, we take full responsibility for potential errors.

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 1 The term “vernacular histories” will be discussed in Section 2.

1Deep history models on the peopling of Central Africa generally pay little attention to fishing communities whose activities along the many rivers of Central Africa have played a crucial historical role. The BANTURIVERS project intends to fill this gap. To do so in a meaningful way, we will need, as is usual in sub-Saharan Africa, to combine the strength of several disciplines: anthropology, linguistics, history and archaeology. In this paper, the emphasis is on vernacular histories of past migrations, which we recorded recently, and on those documented in colonial archives.1 We contextualize these histories with the available archaeological information on the wider region and compare them with information on ancestry, itineraries and contact as can be inferred from language data. We will focus here on a stretch of the Congo and Lualaba River where communities with different cultural backgrounds and origins reside next to each other at what appears to be an important cultural crossroads between western and eastern Central Africa.

  • 2 A. Moeller, 1936.
  • 3 For instance, J. Omasombo Tshonda, 2020.
  • 4 J. Vansina, 1990, p. 353, n36.
  • 5 M. McMaster, 1988; J. Vansina, 1990.

2This story starts at the Boyoma Falls, near Kisangani, the official end of the Lualaba River, where Wagenya fishermen place large fish traps in the rapids. Heading upstream along the Lualaba—or rather, driving along the Route Nationale 3, since the cataracts make navigation impossible—one crosses Komo villages, while Wagenya and, from Batikalela onwards, Mokpa villages border the river. The last cataracts being located near Ubundu, one can follow the river upstream by boat again and now travel alongside Lengola and Metoko villages. Today, we also find Lokele fishing camps along the Lualaba, but apart from the Lokele, all these communities were present by 1877, when Stanley arrived in the area. When, whence, and how they arrived in precolonial times is known only in the version of vernacular histories that were collected, reinterpreted and reformulated by colonial administrators during the colonial period. Based on these accounts, Governor Moeller presented a grand analysis of Bantu expansions in the Orientale Province.2 It is still the most comprehensive historical work on the region, and the recent monographs on the new provinces rely heavily on it.3 Vansina warns, though, that Moeller’s work must be understood in the context of colonial rule, with its specific goals and ways of thinking.4 Yet, thus far, hardly any alternative or supplementary insights have been offered by sources other than vernacular histories. The exception consists of insights from historical comparative linguistics in the works by McMaster on the Uele region and Vansina, but the information concerning the region of interest here—namely, the lower Lualaba—remains scant, and, considering the advances in Bantu historical comparative linguistics, in need of revision (see sections 3 and 9.4).5

  • 6 D. Kopa wa Kopa, B. Ricquier, accepted. The article on classification is currently being written.
  • 7 This article does not incorporate information on migration published elsewhere in ethnographic mono (...)

3In the present article, we offer a critical assessment of vernacular histories. We trace original colonial documents later analyzed by Moeller, which are available in the AIMO archives (“Affaires Indigènes et Main d’Oeuvre”), and we recorded new vernacular histories with Mokpa, Metoko, Lengola and Komo informants in 2019 and 2020. We also include Mbole histories from the archives, since, although they are not fishermen, they are frequently cited by the other communities. We focus here on the itineraries proposed in these stories, as well as on claims of temporalities, cultural contacts and identities. Also, new results from historical comparative linguistics place these vernacular histories in a different perspective. The linguistic details will be demonstrated in separate articles.6 Here, we discuss solely the migrations that can be inferred from language classification and language contact as compared to the routes extracted from vernacular histories.7 The aim of the present paper is to untangle the information embedded in these histories in order to outline the main elements of chronological and cultural dynamics in the area and to investigate whether past social interactions described in these complex narratives can be related to the rise of the languages spoken in the area today.

2. Extracting the past from vernacular histories?

  • 8 D.L. Schoenbrun, 2021; A. Ekblom et al., 2017.

4Inspired by Schoenbrun’s use of the term, and encouraged by the article of Ekblom et al., we choose to refer to the histories related by members of the concerned community as “vernacular histories”.8 We feel that this term best covers the nature of the stories. The label “oral traditions” seems inappropriate, considering that they were not recorded in official circumstances or in the form of recitation. They are not solely “oral” either, since some are inspired also by written documents or written down by a member of the community, thus excluding the term “oral histories”. “Vernacular” here is a synonym of “native” or “indigenous” and implies that it concerns histories of a community as narrated by members of that same community. It does not imply that these histories are narrated in the vernacular language, which they were not. Our recent vernacular histories were recorded in Lingala, and we can suspect that also in colonial times the histories were offered to the colonial administrators in a vehicular language.

5Be they the formal oral traditions, handed down orally from one generation to the next, or more informal vernacular histories, they constitute a valuable source for historical research, as Jan Vansina demonstrated in 1961 for African contexts. Vernacular histories discuss geographical origins, cultural affiliations and encounters, conflicts, heroes, cultural traits, economic exchanges, clan history, now abandoned villages and many other topics. More importantly, they offer history from a local perspective, rather than the outsider view by European observers. Still, extracting the past from vernacular histories must be exercised with caution. Some historians would rather disregard these stories altogether, but that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  • 9 J. Thornton, 2004.
  • 10 D.L. Schoenbrun, 2017.
  • 11 See N. Arazi, G. Senga, 2021.

6A limitation of vernacular histories is that they are set in the present and might be more informative of the political and cultural tendencies of that present than revealing of the past. Indeed, Thornton discusses the example of Kongo origin traditions, documented since 1588 and changing through time in accordance with political evolutions.9 Another issue, highlighted by Schoenbrun, is the influence of written sources.10 A library may not be present in the villages, but it happens that written sources are available locally to members of the community and have become integrated in the newly produced narrative. As an example, during interviews made in Kasongo about the Arabo-Swahili period, an informant gave a very structured and clear narrative about the history of the “Wazula”. Asked about the possibility that some of this history might have been written in the past, he concurred and produced an original colonial document synthesizing the history of the “Wazula”.11 During an interview with a Komo informant, a written source was referred to as well.

  • 12 D.L. Schoenbrun, 2017.
  • 13 Results from sites further afield, along the Congo River and its tributaries west of Kisangani and (...)

7How are we to deal with vernacular histories then? Schoenbrun offers some practical guidelines.12 Ideally, different versions, both oral and written accounts, are compared and placed in a broader context. The latter may be drawn from other bodies of historical evidence, such as the insights delivered by archaeology, historical comparative linguistics and other disciplines. In the case of the lower Lualaba, we can compare recent interviews with the accounts offered by colonial administrators. Having investigated vernacular histories of different people independently, we can compare the narratives of different groups, with the aim to build what archaeologists would call a regional cultural chronostratigraphy. How are the different histories connected, and do they allow for a chronological sequence of major events? Thanks to a new classification of the relevant languages, we can also reach out to results from historical comparative linguistics. Archaeology should provide valuable additional information for the very ancient or more recent precolonial period.13

8In the present article, we explore which details presented in vernacular histories can be regarded as comments on the present or recent history, and what may be informative concerning a more remote past. The recorded histories were part of preliminary anthropological and linguistic fieldwork by Shingo Takamura and David Kopa wa Kopa in 2019 and 2020. They cover origin stories from the Mokpa, Metoko, Komo and Lengola people and were recorded in Batikamondji, Bamanga and Ubundu. All interviews were conducted in Lingala, one of the vehicular languages of the region. Most interviews were attended by multiple informants even if there was usually one main speaker. Fieldwork was interrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the interviews were tentative and preliminary, they contain interesting information that we choose to explore in this paper.

  • 14 See J.-P. Sanderson, 2010.
  • 15 The administrative reforms culminated in 1933. “Territories” and “secteurs” underwent only minor ch (...)

9The archival documents used here are all part of the “Affaires Indigènes et Main d’Oeuvre” (AIMO) archives available for consultation at the Royal Museum for Central-Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. More specifically, all the documents are catalogued in the AIMO “ethnographic” part of the archives. The AIMO was an administrative department of the “Gouvernement Général” of the Belgian Colony, and the documents were written by territorial agents, such as territorial administrators or local governors, and conserved in situ.14 In the case of the documents used to collect the oral histories of the time, they were written by colonial agents with the intention to put people in boxes and link one particular population with one particular territory.15 The migration routes described in the process were not written down for academic purposes, nor in ideal conditions. Indeed, biases were induced, as the people who collected these oral histories were part of a coercive occupation regime—furthermore, the successor to a regime (the Congo Free State under Leopold II of Belgium) well known for the violence of its practices. Nonetheless, even if they do not constitute direct historical data and need to be interpreted with caution, the documents still constitute historical sources by themselves and are filled with information about past oral histories that would otherwise be lost. The documents used in this paper are not homogenous. Indeed, the people who wrote them did it in some cases directly from field interviews, but in others they based their reports on previous documents written by other administrators.

3. A background sketch

10Before zooming in on the lower Lualaba, we will sketch the wider regional context in which the vernacular histories are set. The knowledge we have on the precolonial history of the eastern Congo rainforest mostly stems from scant archaeological research and large-scale historical comparative linguistics. The sketch offered here is therefore one in broad strokes, indicating regional tendencies rather than local events, and relates to an era that mostly precedes the ages discussed in vernacular histories.

  • 16 M. McMaster, 1988.

11The communities concerned in the present paper—namely, the Mokpa, Wagenya, Metoko, Komo, Lengola and Mbole—all speak Bantu languages, as do most of their neighbors. In the wider region—namely, north of Kisangani, and northeast and east of the Lualaba—we also find other languages—namely, Ubangi and Central Sudanic. In her dissertation, McMaster explored these contacts in the Uele region and concerning Boan Bantu speech communities.16 Based on language classification and glottochronology, McMaster argues that the first Boan Bantu speech communities arrived in northeastern Congo around the mid-first millennium BC. At that time, they would already have met with Central Sudanic communities. Ubangi communities would have arrived only in the first centuries AD. Important for the region under study here is McMaster’s conclusion on the Bira branch of Boan Bantu, to which Komo belongs. The ancestor speech community of Komo and its immediate relatives would have moved to the south around the turn of the era.

  • 17 J. Vansina, 1990.
  • 18 C. Ehret, 1998.

12Also based on historical comparative linguistics, but considering other Bantu branches of relevance here, Vansina offers some later dates.17 “West-Bantu” speech communities, more precisely Boan and “Soan” (the group we call Upper-Congo here), would have arrived in the wider area around Kisangani around 1 AD. Nyanga people, living to the east of the Lualaba and speaking a language from a different Bantu branch, would have arrived from the Great Lakes by 200 AD. Finally, farmers, whose culture would already have been a mixture of West- and East-Bantu traditions, came from the southern savannas from 330 AD onwards. Vansina writes that “people tended to cluster along the major waterways” and that the area showed low population density in contrast to the savannah or mountain areas. Following a different Bantu classification, Ehret distinguishes the Proto-Enya from the Proto-Lega community, the first being “West-Bantu” and coming from the west, the latter East-Bantu and arriving from the southwest—namely, the Kasaï area.18 We will see in both the vernacular histories and the new linguistic evidence that this view requires revision. Ehret suggests the early first millennium BC for their migrations. Ehret also notes that there were “cultural interactions of modest importance” with peoples from the Great Lakes, but that these Proto-Lega communities otherwise had a quite distinct history from “Mashariki Bantu” (i.e. East-Bantu) communities.

  • 19 I.e. at the time of the first submission of this paper. In the meantime, archaeological fieldwork h (...)
  • 20 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017; N. Arazi et al., 2020; L. Champion et al., 2017.
  • 21 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017; D. Seidensticker, 2021; H.-P. Wotzka, 1995.
  • 22 Cf. H.-P. Wotzka, 1995; I. Matonda, K. Bostoen, 2022; P. Coutros et al., 2022; I. Matonda Sakala et (...)
  • 23 About this long story, see for example M. Posnansky, 1961; R. Oliver, 1966; M. Eggert, 1981; J. Van (...)
  • 24 See for example B. Clist, 1989, p. 80; M. Eggert, 1993, p. 322-323.

13At present, archaeological data are inexistent for the region between Kisangani and Lowa.19 The only points of comparison are research carried out to the northwest, between Kisangani and Bumba, and, to a lesser extent, to the south, in the Kindu and Kasongo areas.20 The chrono-cultural sequence from these sites distinguishes roughly three main chronological phases. The early phase, dated from 300 BC to 0 AD, is characterized by the presence of ovoid vessels with flat bottoms and everted necks, decorated with comb impressions, dragged comb impressions, rocking comb or blade impressions.21 At a continental scale, the early phase shows links with the earliest ceramic traditions identified in Central Africa. Stylistic parallels can be found around Mbandaka, Kinshasa, in the Kwilu and down to the opening of the Congo River and the Atlantic Coast, but also on the coast of Gabon, in the southern tip of the Central African Republic and Cameroon.22 This pottery distribution pattern coincides with the core area of Bantu languages, and thus this early pottery phase has often been linked to migrations from early Bantu speech communities.23 While there is no elegant proof of this yet, it is a widely shared and discussed assumption.24 Keeping this idea as a rough working hypothesis, this would mean that the first Bantu speech communities arrived in the eastern Congo rainforest around 300 BC, a date which is not too distant from the mentioned linguistic estimates.

  • 25 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017; D. Seidensticker, 2021; H.-P. Wotzka, 1995.

14The middle phase is dated to around 200 to 300 AD in the same area between Kisangani and Bumba. It is characterized by pottery styles clearly related to those of the early phase, with a predilection for flat-bottomed ovoid vessels with everted necks, decorated with stylus and comb or rocking blade impressions. During the middle phase, pottery styles are rather homogenous between Bumba and the area of Isangi on the Congo River, but they display a strong regionalization in shape and decoration at the continental level. However, here as elsewhere in Central Africa, they appear as a continuation of pioneer traditions.25

  • 26 L. Champion et al., 2017; A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017.
  • 27 R. Oslisly, 1992, 1994; H.-P. Wotzka, 2006.
  • 28 D. Seidensticker et al., 2021; G. de Saulieu et al., 2021; B. Clist et al., 2021.
  • 29 See for example P. Nlend, 2014, p. 50.

15The late phase is poorly dated and covers the period from 800 AD to the present. It is characterized by a radical break in pottery traditions, with the appearance of round-bottomed vessels with short everted or horizontal necks, decorated with roulettes and matt impressions—although no detailed determinations have been made yet.26 These traditions also mark the appearance of the pounding on a concave mould technique (“martelage” in French), a pottery roughing-out technique that can still be observed between Bumba and Kisangani among contemporary potters. The late phase also finds echoes at the continental level. For the period between the 8th and the 11th centuries AD, there are very few archaeological data available for much of western Central Africa.27 The causes of this hiatus in radiocarbon dates are debated.28 One will note, however, that this is the period during which the large states of the area—the Kongo, Kuba or Lunda polities, to name but a few—are in the making. While regionalization is still marked, we also see common stylistic features, such as a general shift from flat-bottomed to round-bottomed vessels and the appearance of the “peigne gouge”, a kind of stylus, in pottery decoration.29

16Aside from McMaster’s discussion of the Komo, the available linguistic and archaeological evidence sketches the early ages of settlement in the wider area around Kisangani, going back as far as 2,300 years and developments that occurred many centuries ago. After this period, the next information we have concerns events and context from the 19th century, as described by Arabo-Swahili traders and European colonizers. Vernacular histories allow us to study the precolonial history of still-existing communities rather than of remote ancestors, and thus likely discuss events in between the two timeframes. When integrating linguistic evidence, this also challenges the analysis to zoom in on the lower-level branches of the classification that reflect the more recent history of the languages spoken by the concerned communities. As we will see in the following vernacular histories, whether they were recently collected during interviews within our research project or were collected by colonial administrators, the events recounted concern four distinct periods: 1) Before 1875 (late precolonial period); 2) 1875–1900 (period of Arabo-Swahili slave raids and European expeditions); 3) 1900–1914 (early colonial period, establishment of the colonial territorial administration); 4) 1915–1960 (late colonial period). Even if they do not anchor these categories precisely chronologically, these categories are still relevant today from the informants’ point of view.

4. Vernacular histories of the Mokpa and Wagenya

17We do not have recent interviews of the Wagenya, but there are Wagenya vernacular histories in the archives. Considering that the Mokpa and Wagenya are closely affiliated, as you will read below, we discuss their stories together.

4.1. Interviews in Bamanga, 2019

18Informant 1

We came from the east in the Semliki mountains. We were Barega, Bazimba, Metoko, Wagenya, Basongola and Banyanga. The Banyanga were there at Semliki. At the time, we had the same habits and customs; we spoke the same language. We are Baleka, the children of Mokpa. He was our ancestor. We were there with the Bagenya and Banyametoko. The ancestor Muleka fathered Mokpa. He also had other children: Bazimba, who else …, but we, we are from Mokpa. Father Mokpa brought forth Manga (that’s us), Mumbo, Kipanga, Nkemba, Woya (from the village Batikaboya), Kaita, Kimba, Songo and Mbutu. Mbutu fathered Mondji (their village is Batikamondji), Pumbu, Lokula, Leela (Batikalela, the village Kisuka), until the village which is called Bangengele. The same Mokpa also brought forth Yawondu (Tubundubundu). We had the same habits and customs, the same language, same ways of life; even the indigenous circumcision is identical. This is to say that we are the children of the same ancestor: Mokpa. The first village is Tubundubundu, the last is Batikalela. But the first child of Mokpa is Manga, Bamanga in Swahili; the second is Mumbo (Banyamumbo), …

Among the descendants from there, we have the Baleka, Bazimba, Basongola, Banyametoko and the Bagenya. We traveled down the Congo River, down the Lualaba. The Basongola stayed upstream. We arrived at the Lowa River. The Banyametoko remained there. At that side, the Lowa River was small. We thought it was still the river, whereas it was rather the Congo River. Over there, it was wide; we followed it, but it was rather the mouth of the Lowa River that opened up. We continued and arrived on land, and there we lost the orientation of the Congo River. We continued through the forest. In the heart of the forest, we discovered the spring of the Obiatuku River.

We lost sight of the Congo River when we had settled at the spring of the Obiatuku. The ancestors had a dream. God told them that when they had made big dug-outs, there would be no water, but they should take certain plants, forest lianas. He instructed them what to do and rain would fall. They followed these instructions and there was a huge rain. The entire forest was inundated and the boats were in the water. They loaded the dug-outs and started following the current. They reached the Congo River. “There is the river that we were looking for!”We, the Bamanga, Bangengele and Tubundubundu, we went up the river; the Banyamumbo stayed at the mouth of the Obiatuku. We, the Bamanga, settled here. The Bangengele went over there, at first at Mitongo, because when the white people came, the only road was the river. The Arabs passed by the river, as well as the explorers: Henry Morton Stanley passed by the river. When they saw the obstacle of the rapids, instead of dispersing, the rapids united us; they placed us here. We said: “Take these, Bangengele, stay here.” The Tubundubundu also had their rapids; they went until the railway station. Now, the Banyamumbo stayed there, the Banyakipanga stayed; the Bagenya arrived until Kisangani.

19(Translation of interview with a Mokpa elder, December 2019; recorded in Bamanga, original transcribed and translated into French in the Appendix)

20Informant 2

It concerns here the history of the children of Mokpa, from Tubundubundu until Batikalela. We were in Semliki, Mugenya, Muleka, Musongola, Muzimba and us, the Mokpa. We shared the same habits and customs, the same culture; all that concerns tradition was identical. This culture had terms, taboos. The Mokpa, Banyametoko and Basongola respected traditions, but the Bazimba did not. We concluded that, if they refuse to respect them, there is no reason to live together. We separated. As such, we, the Banyametoko and other groups, we continued without the Bazimba. The latter stayed there because they did not want to conform to our customs.

We continued. Exhausted, the Basongola stopped halfway. We arrived at the mouth of the Lowa River. As [the other informant] mentioned, the Banyametoko stayed there. We and the Bagenya, we got lost in the forest. We finally got out at Obiatuku. It is from the Obiatuku that we started to go downstream. As [the other informant] said, we made a dug-out, but there was no water. God instructed our ancestors in a dream. They followed the divine recommendations, and God made it rain abundantly. We navigated until we reached the Congo River. The confluence is not far from Banyamumbo and Banyakipanga.

When we got out, the Bagenya continued. Mokpa stayed with his eleven sons, as he just mentioned. But the Bagenya went on and settled at the rapids of Kisangani. The Bagenya, like us, practiced the same fishing techniques in the rapids. All the installations of the Bagenya are the same as ours. Therefore, when they reached the rapids, they decided to settle there. We went upstream. From afar, we heard the sound of rapids. We said to ourselves: “If we go up a little, we will see the rapids.” And so we did. We reached the rapids and decided to settle there. We will not leave anymore. We tried, tried, and it worked. That is how we stayed forever.

[…] Stanley passed here in the time of our forefathers. The village was already built, the village was already abandoned, swallowed. It was our great grandparents, not their generation [of the ancestors].

[…] The Bagenya had only come to fish. They settled at fishing places and became the first occupants. There where the Bagenya live is not their land. It is the land of the Bambole. The Bagenya made war with the Bambole. The Bambole were afraid, because they did not know the techniques for combat on water. So they fled fearing extermination. They travelled down by dug-out to Isangi, Lomami. They founded Opala, until Isuli, until the center of Opala. […] there you find the real Mombole, those whom we name the Balingalindja.

21(Translation of interview with a second Mokpa informant, December 2019; recorded in Bamanga, original transcribed and translated into French in the Appendix)

4.2. Interviews in Batikamondji, 2020

We were the children of Mokpa. We come from Maniema, from the Shabunda Territory. There we lived together in a single place, we, all the children of Lega (Rega). We left that place, because at the time of circumcision, it was generally only our children who died. That is why we left. We, the Mokpa, Metoko and Enya, we followed the water of the river downstream. We had followed the Elila to arrive at the [Lualaba] river. When we arrived at the river, we started going down until we arrived at the confluence of the Lowa River, and then we left the waters of the river to follow the Lowa. We arrived in the forest, where we found the source of the Obiatuku River. There we were welcomed by the Komo, who were the owners of the forest. The Komo were the first to arrive in the forest, and as they resemble them [pygmy hunter-gatherers], the first occupants had given that forest to the Komo. Before, the Komo were with their brothers Bira and Ndaka in Ituri. It is because of their wickedness concerning food that they left from there and came to settle in the forest of the Obiatuku with the Lengola. The Komo were killing animals in this forest until they welcomed the Mokpa, Metoko and Enya. All mentioned ethnic groups lived together in a single place until the Komo started their wickedness in eating young boys of other ethnic groups. That is how, when we noticed this, we, the Mokpa, Metoko, Enya and also Lengola went down the Obiatuku River until the [Lualaba] river. That’s where the Mokpa settled on the right bank of the river and on the island and rapids of Tubundubundu and Ngengele. The Lengola as well, a group settled also on the right bank and others went to settle upstream of the Tubundubundu rapids on the right bank of the river. The Metoko followed the Lengola and went to live behind the Lengola on the left bank, in the palm grove that attracted them. The Enya, finally, descended until the Falls at Kisangani, from where they chased the Mbole in order to take over the Falls which they envied. It is there where a young Komo girl, when drawing water in the river, she saw the Enya in the Falls, and upon return at home, she told her parents in Swahili, the language of the Arabs brought by Tippo-Tip: “I saw visitors (wageni) at the river.”

Our ancestor was rather Lega (Rega). Rega was a polygamist with two wives: the first was Ozuula Kasongo of the Songola ethnic group; the second was On’na a Kokpa of the Nyanga ethnic group. With Ozuula Kasongo, Rega had three children: Shabunda, Mwenga and Pangi. Today, the name of each child corresponds to the name of a territory. On the other side, with the second wife On’na, a Kokpa, Rega had four children—namely, Mokeka Ibondo who produced the Baenya, Mosanga who produced the Banyametoko, Mokpa who produced the Banamokpa and finally Chelungu cha Mokali who married a Lengola wife and produced the Banyakilundu (Babondo). Other people say that it was rather the Banyakilundu (Babondo), sons of Chelungu cha Mokali who married Lengola wives. And that’s how their language disappeared in favor of Lengola.

22(Translation of an interview with three Mokpa informants, February 2020; recorded in Batikamondji, original transcribed and translated into French in the Appendix)

4.3. The archives

  • 30 This absence from the archives and colonial maps still has political implications. The Mokpa do not (...)
  • 31 J. Yakusu, 1948.

23The Mokpa are nearly absent from the archives.30 Only Yakusu mentions the “Binamokba”.31 He notes that they originated in the “Mobiatoko” valley and then split into four or five groups. One group stayed near the Ubundu Falls (Omanga), a second in Binamonbo, and a third in Wanie-Rukula. The other groups are not further mentioned. This does not mean that the Mokpa are a mysterious and unknown community, simply that they received another, more confusing, ethnonym: “Baleka”. The ethnonym “Wagenya” is not straightforward either.

  • 32 A. Moeller, 1922.
  • 33 H. Marmitte, 1934. According to one informant, muléka refers to a spear that is used for fishing (s (...)
  • 34 A. Moeller, 1932, 1936.

24“Wagenya” and “Mokpa” are present-day ethnolinguistic identities. “Baleka” is the ethnonym most commonly cited in the archives. In its most strict sense, it refers to the riverine people from the Ubundu region, Bamanga rapids, and the Wanie-Rukula region.32 This corresponds to the area inhabited today by people identifying as “Mokpa” but named “Baleka” by others. Marmitte indicates a more general use of the term Baleka, covering people without any affiliation, rather referring to “people of the water”.33 This use of the term is still common today in the region. The term would be of Lengola origin. Indeed, the term “Baleka” is also applied to certain Lengola factions: “Walengola adapted to life on the river”.34

  • 35 A. Moeller, 1922; H. Marmitte, 1933.

25The ethnonym “Wagenya” covers a wide range of people from various backgrounds. Colonial administrators point to the Arabo-Swahili for giving all “indigenous adapted to life on the water” the nickname “Wagenya”.35 Moeller gives the example of the Wagenya of Kasongo-Kibombo, Maniema Province, who would include people of all origins—for instance, Wazimba. The Wagenya of the Kisangani region would rather be of “Baleka” origin. People also self-identify as “Wagenya”. Marmitte notes:

  • 36 H. Marmitte, 1933.

Tout récemment, quelques chefferies Baleka (Tubila, Basikilindi et Waniakilindi) ont revendiqué leur origine Wagenia ; ils n’ont pu toutefois prouver leurs affirmations et les autres Mituku confirment leur communauté d’origine Baleka en admettant que les riverains sont appelés Wagenia depuis l’arrivée des arabisés.36

  • 37 F.H. De Bock, 1922; A. Moeller, 1922.

26We find information on the Baleka and Wagenya in two documents of 1922: notes by administrator De Bock, based on field inquiries but also including notes of other administrators; and Moeller’s annotations to the first document.37 De Bock mentions no more than that the Wagenya of the Falls come from the spring of the Maiko, the Wagenya from Ponthierville/Ubundu from the spring of the Lilo, and those from Lowa from the spring of the Lowa. De Bock adds a temporal reference: the Wagenya would still be able to show the trees planted by their fathers along the Maiko River. Moeller adds more information: the Wagenya would come from the Kambaula River, upstream along the Maiko. They arrived recently at the Falls, from where they chased Lokele people, the only survivors being the group Milambo. Moeller does not discuss the origins of the Mokpa/Baleka, merely that the people in the region around Ubundu, at the Bamanga Falls and in Wanie-Rukula, are identified and/or self-identify as “Baleka”. He notes that the Baleka of Wanie-Rukula are also called “Warega”. Moeller indicates that his observations are preliminary, merely to orient future research.

  • 38 H. Marmitte, 1933.
  • 39 H. Marmitte, 1934.

27In 1933, the term “Baleka” remained obscure. According to Marmitte, Van Belle considered the Baleka of Ubundu to be affiliated to the Baleka-Mituku.38 Marmitte himself rather thinks that, even though they might have followed the same migration itinerary as the Baleka-Mituku, they are in fact part of the Lengola, adding that they have nothing in common with the Bambole. Marmitte also mentions the Wagenya of Ubundu and Lowa but merely repeats the observations of De Bock. Another relevant group discussed by Marmitte are the Bamanga-Bangiri of Ubundu. Marmitte believes that they come from the Uele, settled on the right bank of the Lualaba near Wanie-Rukula and crossed to the left bank chased by the Komo but under the protection of the “Baleka”. They would have adopted certain traditions of the mentioned Baleka but would speak a different language. Marmitte cites the territory administrator Soors, who classified the Bamanga-Bangiri as part of the Wagenya. In 1934, Marmitte cites Lauwers, who notes that some Bamanga, from Ponthierville (Ubundu), claim to come from Micici, a Lega town on the Elila River, and speak the same language as the Metoko.39 Considering the presence of a village called Bamanga inhabited by Mokpa people today and the fact that the Mokpa and Metoko languages are related, the mentioned Bamanga may have been “Baleka”/Mokpa.

  • 40 J. Yakusu, 1948.

28A most interesting document is the two-page account of Jean Yakusu, himself Mugenya.40 In contrast to the mentioned colonial documents, which are interpretations of vernacular history, this account can be considered as “raw data”—namely, vernacular history as narrated by a specific informant. This narrative situates the origin of the Wagenya at the Obiatuku River, from where they would have migrated towards the Lualaba/Congo, together with their “neighbors”—namely, the Binamokba, Banyametoko and Balengola. Upon arrival at the Falls, seven communities were already present: the Isungu/Isumu, Yasanga, Bafaka, Bayembu, Bakango, Batibo and Baliele. The Isungu would have offered a girl as wife to Loa-Moongo, ancestor of the Wagenya. One of their sons would have confronted his maternal uncles, resulting in a conflict. The Wagenya wanted to occupy part of the islands in the rapids. When the Isungu refused, the Wagenya took the islands by force and chased away the Isungu. The next day, the war continued, and also the Bafaka, Bayembu, Batibo and Baliele were chased away. The Wagenya thus became the masters of the region of Stanleyville (Kisangani). In the words of Yakusu: “une petite tribu de rien (dont les descendants de Loa-Moongo) toute puissante battit les plus grandes qu’eux”. According to Yakusu, they were present before the Komo and others now living in the area. The Wagenya only tolerated the Batiakaiya, a community still living along the Tshopo River in 1948. The fugitives then lived with the Bambole of Opala and along the Congo River. Some of them had become Lokele. Yakusu furthermore mentions two Wagenya groups which he designates as “clans” of Lengola origins: the Banakulu and Bakonga or Binalombe.

4.4. Discussion

29Comparing the Mokpa vernacular histories with the Wagenya story from Yakusu is, of course, not entirely correct since we are talking about two different communities. Still, as all indicate, their histories are linked. In the Mokpa accounts, they belong to the same ancestral Lega or Leka community. Yakusu simply states that they were neighbors at the spring of the Obiatuku, whence they migrated to the Lualaba.

30The Wagenya vernacular history from 1948 is one of conquest and stresses the grandeur of the Wagenya. It details the conquered communities and where they reside as of 1948. The Mokpa histories are rather an affirmation of their current identity as “people of the water”, having arrived at the Lualaba River by boat and the Wagenya defeating the Mbole thanks to their knowledge of riverine combat. The Mokpa informants mention that their skills of fishing in the rapids are shared with the Wagenya, skills that they developed upon arrival, as is suggested by the second informant. Finally, one of the Mokpa informants mentions that all Mokpa villages used to be along the river, considering that it was the only “road” back in the days, the same “road” also followed by Europeans and Arabs.

  • 41 On these sociopolitical dynamics within the migrations, see Kopytoff, 1987; J. Vansina, 1990; de Ma (...)
  • 42 A. Moeller, 1936.

31The Mokpa stories are mostly informative on cultural affiliations and ancient migration routes (see Map 1 in the Maps section below for an overview). The group in question is presented as being related and carrying the same “culture”: same habits, customs, language, way of life, circumcision, etc. The different ethnonyms designate the common ancestor and his descendants, all founders of family groups, probably clans or fractions of clans.41 The Mokpa would originate from an ancestral Lega or Leka community, the other descendants being the Barega, Bazimba, Mituku, Wagenya, Basongola and Banyanga. According to the informants in Bamanga, the ancestral “Lega” homeland would have been situated in the Semliki mountains, located east of Kisangani, at the border with Uganda. This corresponds to the view put forward by Moeller.42 The Mokpa informants do not mention, however, how the ancestors reached the Lualaba from this mountainous homeland. Instead, they suggest that the Mokpa, Wagenya, Metoko and Songola came from the south, one informant explicitly mentioning a route along the Lualaba, the other implicitly when indicating that the Wazimba stayed there in the forest and that the Songola stopped “halfway”. The itinerary drawn by the informants at Batikamondji is slightly different. They situate the Lega homeland in Shabunda and name the Elila as the way followed to reach the Lualaba. Interestingly, this is in line with Lauwers’ notes that “Bamanga” people would come from Micici, a Lega town at the Elila River.

32The Mokpa vernacular histories largely agree on the following itinerary. As the Mokpa informants say, the Mokpa and Wagenya got lost in the forest and reached the spring of the Obiatuku River. They followed this river back to the Lualaba. The Mokpa settled up- and downstream, in eleven villages. The Wagenya continued downstream until Kisangani. The stories differ, however, on the routes of their neighbors. According to the Bamanga informants, the migrations crossed Lengola land before arriving at the Lowa, thus suggesting that the Lengola preceded the descendants of the Lega communities. The Metoko stayed behind near the mouth of the Lowa. According to the informants of Batikamondji, in contrast, the Metoko joined the Mokpa and Wagenya at the Obiatuku, only dispersing when back at the Lualaba. Also the Lengola are said to have moved jointly, but only from the spring of the Obiatuku. According to the Batikamondji informants, they all fled from the Komo, a theme that is also present in and may have been inspired by histories of neighboring communities (cf. infra). In that story, the Komo were already present in the forest, at the spring of the Obiatuku, but the other four communities were the ones to settle at the Lualaba.

  • 43 A. Moeller, 1922.
  • 44 J. Yakusu, 1948.

33The Wagenya account of Yakusu does not include claims on cultural affiliations on a higher node, nor does it trace the migration routes further back than the Obiatuku valley. Interesting, however, is that the Mokpa, Metoko and Lengola also followed the Obiatuku downstream to their current location, as in the recent Batikamondji history. The Wagenya story is rather informative about pre-existing communities. They were apparently many. Yakusu mentions seven communities. Moeller also mentions that the Wagenya chased away other communities, “Lokele” in his words.43 According to the Batikamondji informants, they were “Mbole”. Yakusu and the Batikamondji informants agree that the Bambole of Opala are descendants of the communities chased from the Falls. Yakusu furthermore speaks of intermarriage with the Isungu and Lengola clans who became integrated in the Wagenya community.44 This gives us an insight into previous interethnic dynamics. The Batikamondji informants also mention intermarriage with the Lengola.

34From the vernacular histories, we can infer alliances between the Mokpa, Wagenya, Metoko and Lengola, but also potentially tense relationships with the Komo. When claiming that the Komo ate their children, there is a likely reference to circumcision rituals also mentioned in other vernacular histories (see infra).

35The recent vernacular histories and the Wagenya account of Yakusu give us a relative time frame. The Metoko, Wagenya and Mokpa arrived at the Lualaba after or together with the Lengola, but before the Komo, Arabs and Europeans. According to the archives, the Wagenya are recent immigrants, but the migration events occurred before the Arabo-Swahili raids and before the arrival of European explorers. This would be the late precolonial period, possibly even the early 19th century.

5. Vernacular histories of the Metoko

5.1. Interviews in Ubundu, 2020

  • 45 “Secteur” is an administrative division.

In this territory, there are two “secteurs” of the Banyametoko: the “secteur” of the “Mituku-Basikate” and of the “Mituku-Bamoya”.45 We were called Balega-Balilo/Warega-Walilo. We lived in other territories called Shabunda, Mwenga, … where you find Irega, Lega, people of Maniema, …

Our ancestors fled from conflict. The Arabs decapitated people. When we ran, we arrived at the river Lowa. Some people followed rivers. The others walked through the forest. Those who were exhausted died in the forest. The river Lowa wasn’t called like that. When the white people came, around 1800—we don’t know exactly—they saw our ancestors fishing in the surroundings of the river Lowa. They asked someone: “What are you doing here?” He replied: “I am kolowa samaki (‘fishing’).” That’s how the white people gave the name Lowa to the river.

  • 46 Precision added later in the interview.

They called us Balega-Balilo. It was when we reached the Congo River that we understood that that was our home. [That was at Malembeleo—in fact Balengola-Lowa; it was forest then.]46 What a big river! How were we to cross? We were on the right bank. Some people cut banana stems and made rafts. The banana tree floats on water. They did “tshubú tshubú tshubú” with their hands to arrive at the other side. There were no dug-outs at the time. Some people drowned.

There [on the left bank/at Ubundu], there was nothing to eat. Our ancestors went to sit under the tree bobila—namely, ketoko. Ketoko is the palm tree. The palm nuts were ripe. When they fall “tshu”, you collect and eat them. With their oil, it is good food. We ate and didn’t die. We thus obtained good food. When the other, white people arrived, they asked: “What is this?” They replied: “It is ketoko”. That is how the Banyametoko received the name Ketoko. It means “the people living under the palm tree”. There are many natural palm trees there, not planted, there in the two collectivités Mituku-Basikate and Mituku-Bamoya.

We followed the left bank, the side of Ubundu. There was already a land chief [“chef de terre”]. They were our friends the Balengola, who had followed the way over land from the river Maiko. We were strangers; we came from Maniema, from the district Kasongo. Lowa was part of Maniema. We encountered the Balengola together with the Bakomo. It was around 1945 that our brothers rushed here [Ponthierville/Ubundu?] and encountered us, at the time of the Belgian Congo. We were (rather) at Lowa. There was no one. From the forest there until the Kasaï River maybe, until the Lomami, you can find only Banyametoko. Even in our park, the “parc Lomami”, the trees that you see are our property.

So, we came from eh …, it was Mukwale … passed Mukwale. And then Pimbi, the Bametoko Bamwe, the Basikate took the groupement Bamutamba and the groupement Basikonki.

We came from the Shabunda Territory, in Maniema, from Mwenga, Pangi and … We ran from the Arabs. They arrested, killed, or sold our ancestors as slaves. The founder’s name is Ketoko. Father Ketoko had two sons: Basikate and Bamoya. Basikate is the elder brother, and Bamoya is the younger brother. … Basikate and Bamoya, they constitute the two secteurs. One secteur has four groupements, the other five. These are their nine children.

  • 47 The list of villages can be found in the French translation of the original (see the Appendix).

The first village of Bamoya was Motshe a Liko (head in the fire; that’s where they prepared human skulls). Basikate founded Mbula—that is Mayunga. These are the chefs-lieux of the secteurs. Ketoko died during the journey. His sons reached here and founded millions of villages. Musikonke, the first son of Basikate, founded the village Ilende. …47

[After a question about the relation with the Balengola:] We were different people; we had two [i.e. different] fathers. It is the land that united us.

Father Ketoko passed away after having reached Lowa, after having produced two sons: Basikate and Bamoya. I think they had a dispute after their father’s death and then they separated. So the younger brother said: “I, I will go down, and you, older brother, stay”. That is how I understand it, because there is no separation without conflict. Bamoya took the road of the Arabs to reach Motshe a Liko. [Later], the older brother joined the younger and they arrived in Ubundu.

We, the Balengola and the Bakomo all ran [from the Arabs] by foot. The Banyametoko crossed upstream with rafts. We were all on the right bank. Our ancestors left there; we all met in Ponthierville [again]. The white people left three ethnic groups here: the Banyametoko, the Balengola and the Bakomo. … From here until the Lomami it was virgin forest; there was no one. The Balengola had followed the Obiatuku; they also reached the Lomami. They were called Babeda.

On the right bank, there are no Banyametoko, except for those who lead a private life—traders, for instance. But we are all on this bank. Here, there is a big forest, parks; everything that is miraculous is here in this forest.”

36(Translation of interview with Metoko informants, February 2020, recorded in Ubundu; original transcribed and translated in the Appendix)

5.2. The archives

  • 48 H. Marmitte, 1933; 1934.
  • 49 See J. Omasombo Tshonda., 2020.

37We discuss here two archival documents written by Marmitte, “Administrateur Territorial”.48 The first, dated 20 February 1933, “Lowa”, is written upon instructions of Governor Moeller and Libois, “Commissaire de District”. Marmitte indicates that his notes are a combination of information found in the “political” archives, which he considers insufficient, and field data that are scant because of his recent arrival in the territory. This first document covers the origins and migrations of the communities living in the Territory “Walengola-Wasongola-Mituku”.49 The second document is dated 26 January 1934 and was written after Marmitte left for Shabunda, where he became administrator of the Warega Territory following the territorial reorganization of October 1933. This document is a complement to earlier studies by the territory administrator Van Belle and rather concerns the social and political organization of the Metoko. It is based on field trips by Marmitte among the “Mituku Bamoya” and “Mituku Basikate”, already conducted before postage of the first document. Both documents are mostly interpretations, except for one specific story that is paraphrased.

  • 50 H. Marmitte, 1934.

38The Metoko are commonly referred to as “Baleka-Mituku” in the archives (cf. supra). The name “Metoko”, also written as “Mituku”, refers to the ripe palm fruit of a species of raffia palm, ketoko, which is abundant in their environment. According to Marmitte, their original ethnonym is “Baleka” or “B[a]rega”, but they were called “Mituku” by the Arabo-Swahili after the abundant palm trees of the region.50 Marmitte translates Baleka as “gens d’eau”, hence “people of water”, as opposed to Bahuse or Babira, who are people of the forest.

  • 51 H. Marmitte, 1933.
  • 52 Some Gombe families (coming from the west, from the region of the Boyela/Moma) would be allied to t (...)

39Based on the claim that they suffered from Komo invasions and considering the homeland of the Komo proposed by De Calonne, Marmitte deduces that the origins of the “Baleka-Mituku” as well as the Walengola must have been near the sources of the Lindi, Maiko and Lubutu rivers.51 Marmitte adds that this is a “simple hypothesis”. It is, in any event, not proposed by the Baleka-Mituku themselves. According to Marmitte, the last settlement recalled by the “Baleka-Mituku” is on the left bank of the Lualaba, downstream of the Kasuku River, near the source of the Lilo. This land was called Tubila. Marmitte goes on, reciting clan movements that are not always ethnically homogenous:52

From the land called Tubila on the left bank of the river, the Tubila clan moves across to the right bank. The Baniankonge occupy the sources of the Lilo. The other clans descend the river: the Basilikindi stop downstream from the Lowa, the Waniakilindi at the pass known as Tubila, near which there is a ford; from there, the Bakuba, the Wanialiki and the Bamoso penetrate towards the interior to reach the Lilo valley. The Bakuta stop a little downstream of the Waniakilindi, and the Banakibuka stop at the lands called Kaseke, from where the Bimbi and the Gombe Likolo leave towards the Lomami to the limits of the Bambole lands. The Bakeka pushed on partly to the confluence of the Lilo, which they followed up to their present location, from where they linked up with those who remained on the river bank.

(own translation from French)

Figure 1: Map “Carte des migrations des populations du territoire des Walengola-Wasongola-Mituku”

Figure 1: Map “Carte des migrations des populations du territoire des Walengola-Wasongola-Mituku”

A. Marmitte, 1933.

  • 53 H. Marmitte, 1934.

40In both documents, Marmitte writes that, based on the available information, it cannot be clarified whether the Metoko preceded the Lengola in the region. One story, however, clearly states that at least at the Lilo, the Lengola were the first inhabitants: Upon arrival at the source of the Lilo, the Metoko encountered Lengola people. Following a conflict—namely, Lengola wives having been seduced by two Metoko men, upon which one of the latter was killed by the envious husbands—the Metoko fought and chased away the Lengola.53 Marmitte notes that contacts with the Lengola and the Bakusu resulted in loanwords into the language “Kituku” and even goes as far as stating that linguistic criteria no longer allow for ethnic identification. According to Marmitte, the Metoko claim that the species of raffia palm with which they are identified was already present in the region when they arrived, especially along the Lilo River.

41In the last paragraph of this second document, Marmitte cites Lauwers, “Commissaire de District adjoint”, who performed field enquiries in April 1933. According to Lauwers, the Metoko would claim to come from Micici and be affiliated to the Barega. The same claim is proposed by certain “Bamanga” (cf. Section 4.3). We believe that it concerns the Lega town on the Elila River. It is surprising then that Marmitte continues with the conclusion that the Metoko migrations are part of the large movements from the north via the northeast.

  • 54 J. Yakusu, 1948.

42The Wagenya story of Jean Yakusu, cited in Section 4, states that the “Banyametoko” of Lowa rather have their origins in the Obiatuku valley, indicating a joint dispersal with the Mokpa and Wagenya.54

5.3. Discussion

  • 55 Lega people also divide their dialects along these administrative borders (BANTURIVERS linguistic f (...)

43The recent interview is broadly in line with the information presented by Marmitte in the 1930s. The ethnonym, for instance, is agreed to be a reference to the abundant raffia palm trees in the region called ketoko, first applied by the Arabo-Swahili (Marmitte) or by “white people” (recent interview). The original ethnonym is said to be Baleka/Balega/Barega. In the archives, Marmitte translates this term as the generic “people of water”, but it cannot be excluded that the name implies instead a link with the Lega people of the Maniema and Kivu provinces. Indeed, the recent Metoko informants situate their homeland in Lega land. They cite Shabunda, Mwenga and Pangi, the three territories where you can find Lega people today (see Map 2 in the Maps section below for an overview of the migration routes).55 In 1933, Lauwers was told by Metoko that they were affiliated to the Lega and came from Micici.

44Marmitte could not reproduce migration routes from the Lega homeland to the contemporary Metoko villages. The elders remembered only their last settlement, near Tubila, on the left bank of the Lualaba near the source of the Lilo. In 1948, the Wagenya claim that the Metoko had joined them along the Obiatuku River, thus suggesting that they travelled upstream along the Lualaba afterwards. The interview suggests an alternative itinerary—namely, that the Metoko followed the Lowa River downstream until the Congo River/Lualaba where they crossed to the left bank.

  • 56 J. Omasombo Tshonda, 2020, p. 290, 292.
  • 57 H. Marmitte, 1934, p. 1.
  • 58 H. Marmitte, 1934, p. 7.

45In the interview, the informants mention a divide between the Mituku-Basikate and Mituku-Bamoya. This divide corresponds to two “secteurs” of the Ubundu Territory. The villages founded by the sons of Bamoya and Basikate, as cited by the informants, equal the “groupements” of the respective territories.56 This follows the socio-political dynamics of migratory progression—namely, the settlement of sons (cadets) in villages distinct from that of their father. The listing of villages in Marmitte’s documents does not follow this divide. Still, Marmitte mentions that he visited the Mituku-Bamoya in 1932 and the Basikate in 1933.57 The administrative divide was likely based on ethnic realities of the time. Also interesting in this respect is Marmitte’s observation that two young men were nominated as head of the mentioned secteurs by the colonial administration and that all contemporary clan chiefs were seeking to prove their “droit d’aînesse” to claim this position.58

  • 59 H. Marmitte, 1934, p. 1.

46According to Marmitte, it is difficult to ascertain whether the Lengola preceded the Metoko in the region. He knows of only one story in which the Metoko Baniankonge chased away the Walengola Waniaboyombo from the source of the Lilo.59 In the interview, the informants suggest an earlier presence of the Lengola and Komo, indicating that the Metoko were “guests”.

47The most surprising element in the Metoko narrative is the indicated time frame—namely, that the migrations of the Metoko are a response to Arabo-Swahili raids. This suggests a very recent presence, not earlier than the mid-19th century. The vernacular history evokes the slave raids by the Arabo-Swahili, the violence of relations with them and with local groups, as well as the alliances with the latter—mentioning “guest”, a term that suggests the hospitality practiced between allied groups within the framework of friendly exchanges or kinship. The evocation of the ancient presence of Lengola and Komo may then correspond to the precolonial period. The period of colonial administration is also mentioned, with lineage or clan names presented as having been assigned to those of the colonial territorial groupements.

48Finally, it is important to note that the Metoko self-identify as people of the forest. The recent Metoko narrative states that they walked alongside the Lowa River and needed to improvise when reaching the Lualaba, constructing rafts from banana stems to cross the river, a dangerous endeavor that killed many. This is in contrast to the affiliated Mokpa and Wagenya, who self-identify as river people (cf. Section 4).

6. Vernacular histories of the Komo

6.1. Interview in Ubundu, 2020

The Komo people came from the west, following big waterflows such as the Lindi River, which we call Lendi, and the Tshopo, Maiko and Loso [Lusu]. There is our origin according to oral sources. But written sources say that Komo people have their origins in the Ubangi region, even from the Tchad region.

  • 60 Later in the interview, concerning a second village with the same name, the informant clarifies tha (...)

We came from the village N’kolo, on the Ubangi River.60 Our first father, our ancestor, the founder of the Komo people, was Nkumu Isoko. “Nkumu” means ‘mean’. He was a mean man. That is the meaning of Nkumu, a man with many conflicts. Isoko means ‘mountain’. The translation is that the mean father always stays on top of the mountain. He remains elevated just like a mountain. When he speaks, everybody remains calm. He left the village because of unsuccessful hunts; he wanted more game. He went straight to the Maiko. Here, at the Maiko, where we are now—this is where separation occurred, the second separation. This separation followed a struggle about traditional power. It was about leadership: who should take the power to lead the entire group. One group went downstream to Kisangani, the other went to Maniema. They went to Kisangani because there were already the Komo of Buta and those of Manganga. Another group went to the east, to Punia, in the Maniema Province.

The ethnonym of the Maniema group is Bakomo Babemo. This ethnonym comprises all Komo that live in the east, in Maniema. There in Punia, in Ferekeni, all who live in that area are Bakomo Babemo. Here, in the center, at the Maiko, everywhere here, these are the Bakomo Obiatuku. Let us take Kisangani now. These are the Bakomo of Kisangani. They are in Buta, Lubuya, Bera. Everywhere there live the Bakomo-Bangoka. There, in Kisangani. There is an airport called “Aéroport de Bangoka”. They went towards the road that leads to Buta; they took the road to Ituri. Even Makiso is Komo territory.

So it is on the right bank of the Congo River that the Komo settled? And the left bank was occupied by the Bambole?

Yes, even if the Enya had chased the Bambole from their land. In origin, the commune of Kabondo was Ebondo; in Kikomo this means raffia, beer residue. When you go to Kabondo, you will find only these residues. The toponym Mangobo is also Kikomo. “Mangobo” means straw, leaves. The Tshopo community takes its name from the river.

Strangers conquered us. It has become a cosmopolitan place, a city. When Stanley came, the land of Kisangani was Komo. They fought us. Now the land belongs to no one; the land belongs to everyone.

  • 61 During the interview, the participants try to find the location of Nkolo on the map. The Komo infor (...)

Nkumu Isoko gave birth to three children. The first was Mokumo Nkumu, a man. The second was Akondaga Nkumu, also a man. The third child was a woman. She was called Monamogami Nkumu. They all died already. The father of Nkumu Isoko was Tshede Monga. He lived in the village, at the Ubangi. Tshede means ‘toad’, lingombe in Lingala. The animal that croaks at the waterside. So Father Tshede Monga did not live in the Ubangi village Nkolo. He came from a very remote village, a village in the hinterland, there in the Ubangi region where the Bakomo lived before their migrations. This village was Ongela. After, he left to settle in Nkolo.61

Mokumo Nkumu is the eldest son and founder of the clan Bakomo of Obiatuku. Akondaga Nkumu is the ancestor of the Bakomo Bangongo. Monamogami Nkumu is the ancestor of the Bakomo Kilinga.

The first village of Mokumo Nkumu was Nkele. But the inhabitants there were few. The meaning of Nkele is ‘there should be children’. Around Nkele, we find “matongo”—namely, places where once there were villages but which disappeared and are part of the past.

Akondaga Nkumu founded the village Ketoko. This village still exists but is practically disappearing now. The meaning of Ketoko is ‘palm tree’. Monamogami did not found a village. She lived in Ketoko or Nkele. This woman suffered from insanity until she died.

When the Bakomo took the land of Kisangani, at the side of Kabondo [right bank], there were no inhabitants. We were the first. This was before the arrival of Stanley. There was no conflict between the Bakomo and the Bagenya. Mogenya was our distinguished guest. We didn’t receive any other guests on our land. We repelled the Barega and many others. They wanted to take our land. We didn’t accept this behavior and we chased them away. There was no fight. We palavered and reached a friendly solution. This was close to Lubutu or Opienge.

The Bakomo are warriors because they are hunters. We live from agriculture, but we also trap animals, especially elephants. The Bakomo are not used to water life. These customs are ancestral.

[The interview continues with a list of descendants]

49(Translation of interview, February 2020, recorded in Ubundu; original transcribed and translated in the Appendix)

6.2. The archives

50According to the AIMO archives, the Komo migration is a good example of the 19th- and early 20th-century disruptions in the region. Indeed, the oldest AIMO document mentioning the Komo migrations is written in 1919 by Hackars (District Commissioner at the time) and mentions the profound upheavals that took place in the cultural landscape of northeastern DRC:

  • 62 Hackars, 1919.

Les peuplades Babali, Warumbi, Bakumu, Bayose et Babelu eurent à subir le régime tyrannique des arabisés alors qu’elles étaient en train d’effectuer des migrations ; il en est résulté une confusion et une désorganisation telles qu’elles en souffrent encore à l’heure actuelle.62

  • 63 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

51Rather than establishing a precise route, Hackars tells us about the pressure from the “Arabized” and the reshuffling by the colonial territorial administration. This reshuffling is also indirectly mentioned by De Bock.63 In addition, Hackars points to a limitation of surveys conducted by administrators who are clearly part of a system of domination: because of their position, they can make the interviewees say whatever they want:

  • 64 Hackars, 1919.

Il faut bien savoir que les légendes que nous débitent les noirs sont forgées de toutes pièces dans le seul but de complaire aux visées et aux conceptions de l’européen qui les interroge.64

  • 65 F.H. de Bock, 1922.
  • 66 A. Moeller, 1922.
  • 67 Fivé, 1932.
  • 68 The Lumbuya River is rather an affluent of the Tshopo River. It is unclear how this geographical er (...)

52Nonetheless, most colonial officials seem to agree on placing the origin of the Komo in the northeast. De Bock mentions that they claim to come from Beni.65 De Bock mentions a recent migration some twelve years past of “elephant hunters” that already reached the Lokilo region against the colonial administration’s will. Moeller suggests that the Komo come from the source of the Maiko and might be related to the Bira of Ituri.66 Moeller adds that the “Babela” followed the course of the Maiko, whereas the Komo followed the ridges (lignes de faîte). The same story is told by the Komo of Madula amongst whom Fivé performed field enquiries.67 According to Mabianga, they are named Komo because they live at the ridges. Their original name would be Babia, and the contemporary Babia or Babira, living “downstream” would be their brothers, sharing the same ancestor Mbia. Fivé furthermore writes that the Babula of the Madula, a Komo group living between the Tshopo and the Congo River, come from the Lubuya, which he considers an affluent of the Maiko River.68 The Babula are part of the “Bakumu ya Lubuya”, a group of various clans that followed a similar route from Lubuya, continuing on the Maiko and then downstream along the Lualaba. The cause of the migration would have been a fight between the Bambundji and the Bakilinga, “three good generations ago”. They arrived in the following order and regrouped once in Kisangani as all of them came from the Lubuya: the Babangana, the Babama – the Babula – the Batuanaleka – the Bayangana – the Bakuba – the Batiamondje.

  • 69 F. Stradiot, 1931.
  • 70 A. Moeller, 1922.

53Stradiot provides a very detailed report on the Komo, discussing their traditions and lineages.69 Concerning their origins, Stradiot writes that the Komo recall the Ituri. If the river is meant, the Komo homeland could have been situated somewhere in a large stretch northwest of the Ruwenzori. Stradiot describes three different migration routes. The Komo from the west followed the (Congo?) river upstream; those from the east followed the Lindi, Mandaie and Loya rivers; those from the center went inland to the south and then crossed the Lindi and Tshopo. The impulse of the migrations was a push from better-armed populations called “Nkutu” and “Banienginiengi”. The migrations were not hampered since the land would have been empty except from the not-so-numerous “pygmy” peoples. Stradiot also mentions that some Komo recall a large salt lake and the presence of white-skinned and long-bearded people. Stradiot links the Komo to the Bali and Bira of Ituri. Finally, Stradiot provides another etymology for the name ‘Komo’. It would refer to the bark of a specific tree, nkumu, which they wear as cloth. This interpretation is also mentioned by Moeller.70

6.3. Discussion

  • 71 Fivé 1932; A. Moeller, 1922.

54The archival documents seem to agree that the Komo came from the mountains in the east or northeast (see Map 3 in the Maps section below for an overview). The rivers Lindi and Maiko are frequently cited, sometimes also the Tshopo River, whose bed is in between the two. It is not always clear whether these rivers were followed or crossed, but considering the sequence of citations, we could infer either a northeast-to-southwest route in the case of an Ituri origin, crossing the mentioned rivers. Coming from the Rwenzori mountains, a route from the source of the Lindi towards the source of the Maiko, hence an east-to-west route, could be proposed. The recent vernacular histories cite the same rivers—namely, Lindi, Tshopo and Maiko rivers—but position an origin in the west or even near the Ubangi, as learned in a written source. There appears, however, to be a contradiction in the recent narrative. The name of the ancestor Nkumu Esoko means ‘mountain’. Even though a metaphorical interpretation is offered, this may have had a more literal meaning in the past, thus ultimately pointing to an eastern origin—namely, the mountains of the Great Lakes. The same etymology is also mentioned by Komo informants interviewed by Fivé, who mention that they did not live along the rivers but on the ridges, which confirms Moeller’s notes of 1922.71 If there was at all a movement from the west, it may have been secondary. Then again, the recent vernacular history speaks of a split that occurred at the Maiko, one group heading northwest to the Kisangani area, the other south, to Maniema.

  • 72 In informal exchanges during separate missions of fieldwork for the BANTURIVERS Project, also other (...)

55The preference of the Komo not to live along the rivers is also confirmed in other vernacular histories—for instance, by Lengola and Mokpa informants. Both the Komo interview and the archives stress the identity of the Komo as hunters, more specifically “elephant hunters”. In a Mokpa interview, the Komo community is described as having the skills to find food in the forest and resembling hunter-gatherer communities. 72

56The trigger of migrations would be conflicts. The recent interview mentions the resolution of hostilities through negotiation. Another motivation would have been the creation of a village by a brother-sister couple, characteristic of past migrations in the Congolese basin, mentioned several times in the recent narrative. Also, the archives mention inter-group conflicts as cause of population movements.

  • 73 Hackars, 1919.
  • 74 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

57The first migrations occurred in an unspecified precolonial period. In the recent interview, it is claimed that the Komo were the first occupants of the land around Kisangani, on the right bank. It is not clear whether the Mbole, living on the left bank, preceded them or not. In any event, the Wagenya arrived later and so did Stanley. The archives tell us that more population movements were caused by the arrival of the Arabo-Swahili and also commanded by the colonial administration.73 De Bock indeed mentions recent movements of Komo elephant hunters to Lokilo, dated around 1910.74 The Komo expansion thus seemed to be still on-going in the early colonial period, much to the dislike of the colonial administration.

7. Vernacular histories of the Lengola

7.1 Interview in Ubundu, 2020

Nkumu and Aengoa were our ancestors. They were brothers. They came from the north, near Bafwasende and Opienge, where you find the source of the Obiatuku River. They followed the river Obiatuku. Nkumu was the elder brother. The Bakomo were poachers, great elephant hunters. Because they were the elder, we had to submit to their culture, to their habits and customs. They ate our children. They told us that the child was in seclusion for circumcision, whereas they had already eaten him. As soon as we learned about their anthropophagous behavior, we followed the Obiatuku downstream.

Aengoa was our first ancestor. It was Aengoa who gave birth to Mokpa, Abira, Lega, Mumpu. These are his children. When we all went downstream along the Obiatuku River, the Mokpa settled there. The Mokpa and Leka are river people. Actually, Aengoa had two sons: Lega, the elder, and Abila, the second. It was Abila who had many children: he gave birth to Mumbu, Limanga, Inino, Agwase, Biondo and those who live near Kisangani, with the homonym Abila. Lega gave birth to Asua, Abindja, Anamoli, Anakelembo, Abore, Abondo, Bosio, Akama, Anataba, Anapute. You will see that Akama had many children.

They reached the Obiatuku. The descendants of Abila are not people of the water. That is rather the Lega, the elder brother. When they reached the rapids, Abila saw the big river. Because the river was too wide, they avoided it and all settled far from there because they are hunters. When they arrived, Aengoa was still with them. He was a real river man. The name of the ten children that we cited [the children of the eldest son, Lega] are also the names of the villages along the river banks. They are river people. The descendants of Abila are not accustomed to river life and settled in the forest. Aengoa founded villages that carry the names of his children. You will see that the name of the eldest son gives his name to a village. For example, Asua gave his name to the village Basua. Then there is Babindja village, Banamoli, Banakelembo, Babore and Batiabosio. Batiabosio” means descendants from Bosio. Then there are the Babondo, the Bakama and the Banataba [and Banapute].

When they hurried away from there, they went downstream and reached the rapids where the Bamanga lived. Abila feared the water because they didn’t know how to swim. That is why they settled in the forest. Their villages are in the forest because they are hunters. This to say that it is the Lega who are fishermen.

When they ran from the Komo, they followed the river downstream. They feared the Komo because these had big arrows of metal. The Komo stayed [behind] at the other side, in Ituri, near Opienge and Bafwasende. When Aengoa and his two children, Lega and Abila, followed the Obiatuku and reached the Congo River, they believed the Komo were still chasing them. But the Komo people didn’t know such big rivers like the Lualaba. When they saw the big river, they feared it and they stopped there. They stopped chasing them. Because Abila and his people are not river people, they chose to settle in the forest, and the children of Lega stayed near the river.

How did the Balengola cross the Congo River? Lega people knew how to make dug-outs. The Lega are used to river life, to dug-outs, to fishing, to capturing fish. The Abila didn’t know these techniques. They are farmers and hunters. When their brothers were crossing the river, they feared the water and went on land. This all happened before colonization and before the arrival of the Arabs.

When the children of Aengoa saw the rapids, they decided to go upstream, because at the rapids the river is not navigable. You cannot navigate on rapids. Also, they thought that the Komo might chase them downstream. Therefore, they had to go upstream. Even the Lega went upstream. We went through the forest in search of a safe place. Now, because the river was very wide, they rather opted to follow the river Ruiki. Anapute and Anataba, Akama, Abondo, Abore, with Asua, Abindja and Anakelembo—they all followed the Ruiki. It is a river that is just nearby; you get there by passing Basua where the market is. They had already crossed the river [Lualaba]. There was nobody there; they said to each other: “This is our land.” Next, the children of Abila went into the forest. We were the first occupants. A long time ago all peoples lived in the north.

The name Balengola is to be understood as follows: when the colonizers arrived, they asked the autochthons: “Who are you?” They answered, saying: “We are the Aengoa.” Since the colonizers did not understand their language, they said: “Balengola.”

[There follows a long list of villages, until Limanga and its villages at the border with the Metoko] One of the Lengola villages is Tubundubundu [like the Mokpa village]. The inhabitants of both villages have the same origins. In fact, one of them went to visit his uncles …

What is the relationship between the Baleka and Balengola?

The Walengola, the Babira spoke Kilengola. Lega people spoke Kilega. Lega was their language, the language of the Wagenya. In fact, when our ancestors expressed themselves, the Lengola didn’t understand anything. And when the descendants of Bira spoke in Kilengola, … That is why, in the old days, at the time of colonization, the people of the Groupement Bavalongo spoke the Ponthierville variant of Kilengola, because in origin, Kilengola is their language. They knew how to respect the grammar of their language, without Swahili influence, without mixing. When we arrived at the Leka, we decided to speak Kileka so the Leka would not consider us enemies. And the Leka only spoke their language, Kileka. On our escape, we encountered the Leka, and we adopted their culture, their traditions, and their language so they would not consider us to be enemies. So the Lengola quickly learned Kileka to settle amongst the Baleka so the Komo would not identify us amongst these people. So the Komo would not understand that we were there because they would find us speaking Kileka. So they would say to themselves that it was just the Leka people, and not the Lengola.

So the Leka were already there at the Obiatuku and at the [Lualaba] river?

Yes, we found the Leka at the river; we were immigrants. It was on the other side that the land was empty. Tubundubundu was here, just a little river mouth, close to the office of the Territory. That was Tubundubundu. The colonizers asked: “What is this [place]?” The ancestors replied: “This is Tubundubundu.” That is when they wrote Ubundu. That is also why we went upstream. The Leka already lived there. We went upstream to find uninhabited land. And when we passed the rapids, we found a forest and a piece of the river that was not yet exploited; it was really empty. So we said to ourselves: “Let us stay so our children can live here.” Even on the islands, there was no one.

58(Translation of interview with Lengola elder, February 2020, recorded in Ubundu; original transcribed and translated in the Appendix)

7.2. The archives

  • 75 A. Van Belle, 1932.
  • 76 H. Marmitte, 1934.
  • 77 Anonymous, n.d.
  • 78 P. Wautier, 1932.

59If the distinction between the mentioned communities appears neat in this recent interview, it is again a complex picture in the archives. The Walengola do not seem to form an ethnically (nor politically) homogenous group. Van Belle reports that the Lengola from the left bank (the Babinde in this case) “claim not to know the Lengola of the right bank”, but they do admit to be “tribal brothers”.75 In 1934, Marmitte writes that the Babira are in fact Lengola of the Ubundu-Kirundu region.76 In the same document, Marmitte mentions an opposition between on the one hand the Babira and Lengola of the Lowa who are Bahuse or “forest people”, and on the other hand the Baleka-Mituku who are “water people”. Furthermore, a geographical split between Lengola groups would have led to a name change—the Lengola from Kilima Pondo to Kisangani being called Balila, as opposed to the Lengola of Ubundu that have kept the ethnonym.77 Wautier, in turn, notes that the Bokuma that are close to the Yamba (Bambole) would also be a portion of the Lengola that separated from the rest of the group.78

Figure 2: Drawing of the Lengola migrations

Figure 2: Drawing of the Lengola migrations

A. Van Belle, 1932.

  • 79 Anonymous, n.d.

60An anonymous report posterior to 1931, states that the Bokuma come from Biondo, near the Ruiki.79

  • 80 A. Van Belle, 1932.

61Various origins and migrations routes are depicted by colonial administrators. According to Van Belle, Lengola informants claim to come from the northeast towards Ubundu as a consequence of Komo expansions.80 The Lengola followed the right bank of the river upstream and were gathered between Kilindi and the Lowa River mouth. Not finding iron at the riverbanks, they would have followed the Lowa River upstream towards the east until the mouth of the Lubutu. There they encountered other Komo coming from the east and were forced back to the Lualaba.

62Concerning the Lengola of the left bank, their origins are situated at the Kasuku River near Kingesunga. After a fight, the Balimama crossed the river towards the north and settled in Utshia. This event took place at a time when the Metoko still occupied the left bank of the Lilo. This part of the Lengola migrations would have occurred in the company of Metoko people from Kasuku. This did not necessarily proceed in a peaceful way. Van Belle writes that the Lengola were frequently at war with the “Baleka” as well as amongst themselves. In this document, many cultural similarities are proposed between the Lengola and Metoko.

  • 81 H. Marmitte, 1933.
  • 82 Anonymous, n.d.
  • 83 H. Marmitte, 1934.
  • 84 H. Marmitte, 1933. Marmitte furthermore offers details on clan migrations, which illustrates the co (...)

63As mentioned above, Marmitte deduces from de Calonne’s location of the Komo homeland in the Semiliki, and from the fact that the Baleka-Mituku and Walengola recall Komo invasions, that the homeland of the latter must have been situated at the sources of the Lindi, Maiko and/or Lubutu.81 This is not based on documented vernacular histories but concerns a hypothesis. Marmitte notes that the “natives” do not remember their homeland but merely the last settlements that are geographically close to their current location. For the Lengola, these last settlements are situated at the source of the Obiatuku and on the riverbanks of the Lowa. Contradicting the first hypothesis—namely, that Komo invasions caused Lengola migrations—Marmitte attributes this two-fold split to the presence of Komo people in the area. Some Lengola would have fought the Komo; others sought a way around them. This split is repeated in an anonymous document posterior to 1931 but attributes it to the arrival of the Komo.82 At the source of the Lilo, on the left bank of the Lualaba, the Lengola would have been chased away by the Metoko.83 Concerning encounters, Marmitte also writes that some Komo, coming from the Maiko, became allied to the Lengola upon colonization.84

7.3. Discussion

64A common thread in the recent vernacular histories and colonial accounts of Lengola origins is the fear of and invasions by the Komo. In the interview, the informant suggests that there used to be a “brotherhood” with the Komo. The term “brotherhood” refers to a strong bond of solidarity in this case between unrelated groups, as a result of the circumcision ritual. This bond can lead to a process of ideologically egalitarian assimilation of a subordinate group by a more powerful group, which seems to be the case according to the interview. The Lengola and Komo also share a “forest” identity. The Bira and Lengola needed help from the Lega, rather “water people”, to cross the Congo River. The Lengola settled among the Lega and adopted their language and culture to confuse the Komo. The informant draws our attention to the phenomenon of language shift, which in this case would have been swift and for strategic purposes. The importance of this information will become clear in our discussion of the linguistic history of the region in Section 9.2. For the Komo, the river acted as a barrier and stopped their invasions.

  • 85 See for example I. Kopytoff, 1987, concerning the crucial ideological dimension of the “first occup (...)

65The geographical information enclosed in the recent vernacular history locates the homeland in the Bafwasende Territory, more specifically Uma, Bafwasende and Opienge (see Map 4 in the Maps section below for an overview). From there, the Lengola would have followed the Obiatuku River until the Congo River. Next, they continued upstream as far as the rapids and then followed the Ruiki. This is on the left bank of the Congo River. After that, they continued in the forest. The Lengola would have been the first occupants of that part of the forest as well as of the stretch of river upstream of Ubundu, a recurrent theme in this type of vernacular history.85 Also, in the archives, the homeland is located in the northeast. Several origins are mentioned, but all are situated northeast and not too far away.

  • 86 A. Van Belle, 1932.
  • 87 H. Marmitte, 1933.

66The archival documents seem to disagree on this status of first occupants. According to Marmitte, the Lengola preceded the Komo as well as the Baleka-Metoko who chased them from the Lilo River on the left bank of the Lualaba. Van Belle, on the other hand, mentions the presence of the Metoko preceding, or at least at the same time as, the Lengola and suggests further joint dispersals.86 Other sources, such as Yakusu (cf. supra) and the narrative produced by the informants in Batikamondji, also consider that the Lengola migrated together with the Metoko, Wagenya and Mokpa. Marmitte furthermore presents confusing claims on the presence of the Komo pre- or postdating the Lengola on the right bank of the Lualaba.87

67In terms of dates, finally, all sources exclusively mention the precolonial period.

8. Vernacular histories of the Mbole

68We currently do not have recent interviews with Mbole informants. Considering that their narratives are important to understand the history of the region, we present here information from the archives.

  • 88 Anonymous, n.d.; H. Marmitte, 1931.
  • 89 A. Moeller, 1922; J. Yakusu, 1948. Today, the word “lokele” refers to any spoon. The freshwater mus (...)

69The colonial administrators again had difficulties identifying the “Bambole”. The archives mention both the Bambole and the Ba M’bole, which would be different groups sharing a very close name.88 Various hypotheses are put forward on the etymology of the word: M’Bole could come from Bantu na m’bole, “les gens du bas”, or it could be a nickname given by the “arabisés” due to the fact that these populations consumed a lot of onions called m’bole. In 1915, Van de Capelle notes that the Topoke and Lokele declare that together they form the M’Bole. The Lokele are the people from the river and the Topoke the people from inland. Around the same period, Moeller writes that “Lokele” would be a nickname based on the local name of a species of freshwater mussels and is also used to designate people from various origins—for instance, the Yakusu and Yatumbu who, according to Yakusu, were driven out of Kisangani by the Wagenya and would have been of “Mbole” origin (cf. supra).89 This is a fine example of the general picture of this region, where identities are more shaped by clan (shifting) alliances than by strict ethnic criteria. The term Mbole thus may refer to a larger group, including Lokele and Topoke peoples, as well as to a more restricted group, currently located in the Opala area and between the Lomami and Congo River.

Figure 3: Map “Carte des migrations des Bambole”

Figure 3: Map “Carte des migrations des Bambole”

H. Marmitte, 1931

  • 90 P. Wautier, 1932; H. Marmitte, 1931; Van de Capelle, 1915.
  • 91 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

70The various reports present in the AIMO archives situate the origins of the Mbole in a zone roughly around Basoko and the Aruwimi (see also Map 5 in the Maps section below for an overview). Both Wautier and Marmitte situate it in the north of Basoko—in a region between the lower Aruwimi and Yahila region according to Marmitte, and near Bokombo in the north of the Lese-Itimbiri according to Wautier; Van de Capelle in a region to the east of Basoko, on the Aruwimi, in a zone between Banalia, Mongandjo and Yangambi; and Wautier, speaking about the Tooli clan, to the south of Basoko near Lukutu.90 Only De Bock locates the origins of the Mbole further to the northwest on the right banks of the Congo River, “downstream of the Itimbiri, from the region of Budja, between the Molua River and Mokua River”.91 De Bock, nonetheless, also mentions another possible origin—namely, that the Bambole might come from “the Aruwimi woods”. Despite these differences, the general idea is that they come from the north/northwest of the area they occupied at the time.

  • 92 Van de Capelle, 1915.
  • 93 H. Marmitte, 1931.
  • 94 H. Marmitte, 1931; F.H. de Bock, 1922; Van de Capelle, 1915.
  • 95 Van de Capelle, 1915.
  • 96 H. Marmitte, 1931; Anonymous, n.d.; P. Wautier, 1932.

71The Mbole “ethnic group” is composed of numerous clans that followed various migration routes. In a number of cases, they migrated with clans belonging to other ethnic groups such as the Lokele and settled in zones unoccupied by other competing ethnic groups, mainly in the Lomami region.92 In the words of Marmitte (own translation): “The Bambole declare that when they arrived on their present land, they encountered no other peoples than the very few BOTCHWA (“pygmies”) from the Tshuapa valley.93 The Mbole migrations took place in a context where alliances with other groups were unstable and conflicts frequent, including among themselves.94 Those conflicts where at the root of their migrations—for example, with the Azande, Basoo and Turumbu, according to Van de Capelle, and the “arabisés”, according to De Bock, in the Basoko region. This took place in later stages of their migrations as well—for example, with the Lokele on the Loha River,95 and with the Lengola in the Lobaye and the Ubundu region.96

  • 97 H. Marmitte, 1931.

72Based on a genealogical reconstruction, Marmitte situates the start of the Mbole migration in the 18th century, and a second phase at the beginning of the 19th century according in this case to elders (Likaka and Afakuniuki) that were still alive at the time.97

9. From the recent past of vernacular histories to the ancient past of linguistic and cultural contacts

9.1. From vernacular histories to cultural chronostratigraphy?

73Comparing the various narratives, we can build a historical sequence for the study area. Moving from an emic perspective to an etic one, the idea is to sketch an outline of the origins of the communities peopling the area today, the routes they followed to get there and when they did so. The geography of this framework is structured by rivers and mountains. The timeframe cannot rely on absolute dates, but on descriptive markers and a relative time sequence based on the comparison of events in various narratives. Whatever its historical accuracy, this framework sheds light on an important factor structuring the social interaction networks at play in the area in the recent past.

74According to this comparative scheme, and returning from the present to the past, we can divide the mentioned events into four periods: 1) 1915–1960 (late colonial period); 2) 1900–1914 (establishment of the colonial territorial administration); 3) 1875–1900 (period of Arabo-Swahili slave raids and European expeditions); 4) before 1875 (late precolonial period).

75From 1915 to 1960:

76The territorial divisions determined in the 1930s play an important role in the political structures presented in recent vernacular histories—for instance, the reference to secteurs and groupements in the Metoko narrative. Colonial administrators indeed indicate that family elders seek to claim their “droit d’aînesse”, which might inform us that the reciting of clans and lineages may have been adapted to the new administrative divisions (see also Section 9.4).

77From 1900 to 1915:

78From the archives, we know that in the early years of the colony, population movements were still on-going—for instance, the expansion of the Komo. The colonial administration forced the same ethnic group to move—specifically, to settle along the main roads.

79From 1875 to 1900:

80One recent history, the Metoko story, sets the migrations in the period of Arabo-Swahili raids. This is contradicted, however, by other vernacular histories and notes from colonial administrators, all largely agreeing that the migrations occurred before the arrival of the Arabo-Swahili—even if migrations might have been recent, dating back only a couple of generations (counting from the 1930s), and even though some of these migrations continued after European arrival (cf. supra). This period rather left a mark in the names of the communities of the region. The widespread ethnonym “Wagenya” would have been applied by the Arabo-Swahili, and also the name “Metoko” would be an invention of the time, the latter previously being called Baleka or Balega. These conclusions are mentioned in recent interviews as well as in the archives.

81Before 1875:

82When combining the information from the recorded interviews and from the archival documents, we can hypothesize that some migrations occurred before the arrival of the Arabo-Swahili, perhaps as late as the early 19th century, possibly before. The migrations of Metoko, Wagenya and Mokpa might constitute the most recent phase. The Komo preceded the Wagenya, who self-identify as “guests” of the Komo, at least at the Falls. The Lengola preceded the Komo, as they were chased away by these “brothers” from their homeland. However, some of the vernacular histories claim that the Lengola and Metoko migrated together and that the Lengola even crossed Lega land, and the information found in the archives is often contradictory. It is possible that the migrations concerned occurred within a narrow time frame, even simultaneously—thus explaining why some preceded others in certain areas, whereas the reverse is true for other parts of the region. The Komo expansions are considered to be an important trigger of migration for the other peoples of the region.

  • 98 H. Marmitte, 1931.

83Little is mentioned on pre-existing communities, except for the region around the Falls, for which we get much detail in Yakusu and in documents from colonial administrators. These communities are identified as Mbole or Lokele, both said to be part of a larger “M’Bole” group. Many were chased away and became integrated in other groups, such as the same Mbole and Lokele, which complicates tracing their past. For all we know, these communities may have had different origins, and the claim of a Lokele or Mbole identity may be due to their later integration into the mentioned communities. Apart from the Falls area, the sources claim that the region was “empty”, perhaps with the exception of hunter-gatherer communities. This is mentioned for the Komo, for instance, but considering the large area inhabited by the Komo this may in fact apply to regions far east of the Lualaba. The Mbole are said to have encountered hunter-gatherer communities, but according to Marmitte these would have come from the south, from the Tshuapa River.98 In summary, if the Falls had already been popular for a longer period, the riverbanks of the Lualaba are claimed to have been scarcely or even not inhabited before the arrival of the present-day communities in the late precolonial period. That of course is a perspective based on vernacular histories, and we can imagine a number of reasons for why people and events prior to the arrival of the M’bole are not remembered. To dive deeper into history, we will need to apply other methodological tools.

  • 99 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017. This article was written before the start of archaeological fiel (...)
  • 100 L. Champion et al., 2017.
  • 101 See A. Haour, 2018, for a successful connection between memory and archaeology.

84To obtain an absolute dating of this comparative chronology and follow the track of history beyond memory, the BANTURIVERS team needs the input of archaeological data, especially for the period before 1875. As mentioned in Section 3, for now we can make comparisons only to archaeological data from the area between Kisangani and Bumba. The relevant chronocultural sequence distinguishes three main chronological phases.99 The early phase is dated to 300 BC – 0 AD, probably concerning the earliest migrations into the wider region. The middle phase is dated around 200 – 300 AD and provides a cultural continuation of the previous period. The late phase covers the last 1200 years and displays significant cultural changes, with evidence of strong northern influences. Based on the vernacular histories, we would be inclined to conclude that the migrations cited in the present article occurred during this late archaeological phase, but only new archaeological excavations can confirm this hypothesis. The late phase is characterized by abrupt changes in pottery styles and technologies—namely, the appearance of the pounding on a concave mold roughing-out technique and the appearance of roulette decorations. We know from surveys undertaken south of our study area that this change also occurred in the southern stretches of the Lualaba.100 However, at this stage, we do not know how many distinct pottery styles were in use during the late period, so we lack the subtle distinction or the spatial and temporal analysis of co-existent pottery styles that would allow a correlation with vernacular histories. As is often the case, the correlation of data from vernacular histories with archaeology is a difficult endeavor. Archaeologists in the BANTURIVERS team will make this connection by working closely with village elders in determining the location of excavations.101

9.2. Intercultural contacts in the past: Tales of brotherhood, marriage and treason

85The ultimate cohabitation of communities from different backgrounds resulted in various types of bonding. The vernacular histories indicate two important ways to shape ties: brotherhood through circumcision rituals, and marriage. Circumcision is a recurring theme in the vernacular histories. It is used to prove the cultural link between the various Lega communities in Mokpa histories but also to claim a pre-existing brotherhood between the Lengola and Komo. The vulnerability during seclusion is staged as a trigger for migration. The Komo are said to have “eaten” Lengola boys, for instance, resulting in the flight of the Lengola. And one Mokpa informant attributes the emigration of the Mokpa, Enya and Metoko to the conclusion that only their children died during initiation.

86Marriage is mentioned between the Lengola and either the Wagenya or the Mokpa, resulting in a peaceful relationship. Marriage between the pre-existing communities at the Falls and Wagenya, on the other hand, was again a trigger for population movements. The violation of this peaceful bond led to war, the violators becoming the conquerors, chasing away the original communities to the west.

9.3. Vernacular histories as expression of land and resources ownership

87Finally, many elements in the vernacular histories relate to claims on land and to the identification in terms of practiced subsistence strategies. Most of the histories mention that the lands now occupied by the respective communities had been empty upon arrival. Even if they acknowledge having passed the land of others—for instance, the Mokpa’s crossing Komo land and Metoko’s passing the Lengola in the history told by one Mokpa informant—the land where they currently reside would have been empty, and thus they can claim first occupancy. A notable exception is presented by the Wagenya. Yakusu readily admits that the Wagenya took the land of previous communities, a story also repeated by neighboring communities. When Marmitte mentions that the Metoko chased Lengola peoples from the Lilo River, we can infer that the claims of first occupancy should be nuanced.

88Many vernacular histories also reflect the current administrative divisions. Genealogies refer to “secteurs” and “territoires”—for instance, in the Metoko and Komo histories. We can but wonder whether the current administrative divisions are based on factions existing in the early colonial period, or whether genealogies have been reshaped afterwards. Telling in this respect is the complaint of Mokpa informants that they are absent from the archives and are governed by other peoples—namely, by Komo and Lengola. Their genealogy can indeed not be tied to higher administrative orders, only to the present villages. As indicated by the informant, the absence of this link is fuel for conflict over land and sovereignty.

  • 102 The topics presented in 9.2 and 9.3 merit further research. The present paper being focussed on mig (...)

89Another claim we can read in the vernacular histories is one linked to the use of resources. Every community self-identifies with specific subsistence strategies and/or the dichotomy water vs. forest. This identification is a co-construction, neighboring communities confirming the subsistence-related identity of the other. The Mokpa and Wagenya, for instance, identify as “people of the water”, having developed special fishing techniques and/or being skilled in navigation and even combat on water. This is confirmed by the Lengola, who admit having needed the help of the “Balega” to cross the water and having learned their river-related skills when integrating in their society. The Komo self-identify as hunters, and this is confirmed when a Mokpa informant compares their knowledge of the forest to that of hunter-gatherers. The hunting identity of the Komo is also linked to a self-identification as warriors, which may again question the claim of first occupancy. The Metoko and Lengola informants also self-identify as people of the forest, describing the difficulties in crossing the Lualaba River. However, unlike the Komo, they do not claim to be skillful hunters. In the case of the Metoko, for instance, the exploitation of raffia palms is generously mentioned, not least because of the link with the ethnonym.102

9.4. Vernacular histories versus language dispersal routes

  • 103 A. Moeller, 1932, 1936.
  • 104 Linguistics is a frequently consulted tool for historical research concerning the Bantuphone commun (...)

90Moeller’s outline of the region’s early history also incorporates insights from language comparison.103 If Moeller’s conclusions were largely based on intuitions of similarities between the concerned languages, we now have evidence based on statistical methods—namely, phylogenetics.104 The BANTURIVERS project is currently working on a new classification of the Bantu languages of the northeastern DRC and on contact between Mokpa and the other languages spoken on the lower Lualaba. The resulting insights into linguistic affiliations, dispersal routes and contact scenarios provide interesting comparative material with the information retrieved from vernacular histories (compare Map 6 in the Maps section below with the other maps).

  • 105 The language tree presented here is a simplified version based on phylogenetic work in collaboratio (...)

Figure 4: Phylogenetic affiliation of Mokpa, Enya, Metoko, Mbole, Lengola and Komo105

Figure 4: Phylogenetic affiliation of Mokpa, Enya, Metoko, Mbole, Lengola and Komo105
  • 106 According to the classification in R. Grollemund et al., 2015.

91A first observation is that the migration routes cited in the vernacular histories correlate particularly well with the dispersal routes inferred from the classification of the concerned languages. The new classification confirms the affiliation between Enya, Mokpa and Metoko, with the latter being slightly more distant. Enya and Mokpa are closely related, confirming a recent split. This indicates that they probably reached the region between Kisangani and Lowa jointly and differentiated upon arrival. The trio forms a subgroup of the Lega group, the other branches including Songola-Zimba, the Lega varieties and Nyanga. The closest relatives of the Lega group are Zambian languages such as Bemba, spoken in the southeast, and Great Lakes languages spoken east and northeast of this area, and on a higher node also Luban languages spoken south of the rainforest.106 Taking the current location of the daughter languages into account, it can be assumed that coming from the savannas south of the rainforest, where we still find the Luban languages, the remaining three groups diverged near the western shores of Lake Tanganyika. This is where the three groups meet today, with Taabwa as Zambian language, Bembe and Buyu as Lega, and the Great Lakes languages just north and across the lake. The communities speaking Lega languages then entered the rainforest and settled in the area around Shabunda. In the most recent classification, the subsequent divergence separates the northern from the southern Lega languages, with Mokpa, Enya and Metoko rather related to Nyanga and Kwame. Considering the geographic location of the latter, the Lowa River forms a plausible route westward, as mentioned in several vernacular histories. This would also still imply travelling through Lengola land, at least if they occupied roughly the same area at that time as they do today. A northern route, meaning that the Lega communities would come from the Semliki mountains near the Ugandan border, is not corroborated by linguistic evidence.

92The other Bantu languages spoken at the lower Lualaba belong to a distinct and distant branch of the Bantu tree. In the classification of Grollemund and colleagues, they are classified within the Central-Western group. The new classification of the BANTURIVERS team differs from the 2015 classification in the subgrouping of Central-Western Bantu. Komo, Lengola and Mbole belong each to a different subgroup. Komo shows close ties with Bali, Lika and Bira, languages spoken northeast of Komo. Consequently, a northeastern origin and migration routes are likely, but situating an origin in the east-Congo mountains may be too farfetched. Moreover, the mentioned languages are part of the Boan group, of which the remaining languages are spoken northwest of Komo. In that respect, the claim of an origin near the Ubangi River is in fact plausible, yet again rather extreme. Considering also their affiliation on a higher node to Central-Western Bantu, a route from west to east, north of the Congo River can be proposed, with a second movement from the northeast towards the lower Lualaba.

  • 107 Y. Bastin et al., 1999.

93Lengola proves to be a special case. As already suggested by Bastin and colleagues and confirmed in the new classification, Lengola is most closely linked to Bodo and Nyali, two languages spoken in the northeast, in fact just north of the languages affiliated to Komo.107 The claim as recorded recently that the Lengola would originate from the region Bafwasende – Opienge is thus plausible from a linguistic perspective. The new linguistic results position Lengola, Bodo and Nyali as a separate branch of Central-Western, not as part of Boan or Upper-Congo (see below). From this classification, we can infer that the claim that Komo and Lengola are “brothers” would rather point to specific clanship bonds than shared ancestors.

94Mbole, finally, belongs to the Upper-Congo group, which appears to form a fairly homogenous group, consisting of languages such as Lokele, Topoke, Olombo, So and Mbesa. On a higher node, the Upper-Congo languages are linked to Lebonya, and on a superior node to Boan and other Central-Western languages spoken along and north of the Congo River. It is therefore likely that the homeland of Upper-Congo was situated northwest of the lower Lualaba, perhaps even near the Aruwimi as suggested in the archives.

  • 108 D. Kopa wa Kopa, B. Ricquier, accepted.

95A second correlation can be found in the history of contacts. Linguistic evidence suggests the presence of pre-existing communities. The three languages Enya, Mokpa and Metoko have labial-velars as an inherent part of their phoneme inventory.108 These sounds, [k͡p] and [g͡b], are common in northern Bantu languages but absent in Lega and other East-Bantu languages. The omnipresence of these phonemes throughout their lexicon, even in basic words such as ‘to die’, ‘to hear’ and ‘dog’, indicates intense contacts, perhaps even a language substrate. All other Bantu languages of the area contain labial-velars—hence all could be candidates. However, only Lokele and an Olombo variety called “Mbole” have an equally wide use of these phonemes. Interestingly, the latter variety is spoken near one of the locations where the Yasanga fugitives would have settled, who would have been speakers of the language “Mbole”. Considering that Metoko also contains labial-velars, contacts with these “Mbole” people must have occurred before the divergence of the three languages. Consequently, based on linguistic evidence, the presence of a community speaking an Upper-Congo language such as Olombo or Mbole along the Congo River between Kisangani and Lowa can be assumed, and it preceded the arrival of the Wagenya-Mokpa-Metoko.

96It is also interesting to note that the Lengola informants mention that their ancestors learnt a “Lega” language, implying bilingualism or perhaps even language shift. Linguistic investigations to corroborate contact between the mentioned languages and their respective speech communities appear to be in order.

10. Conclusions

  • 109 A. Moeller, 1936.

97Moeller presented an important historical work on the migrations of the Bantu peoples in his “Province Orientale”.109 His interpretations are based on oral histories collected by colonial administrators. However, these histories were rarely presented literally. Usually, they are echoed only in the conclusions of the administrators concerned. Moeller combined this information with similarities or discrepancies in traditions, political structures, languages and ethnonyms, and he accumulated the information to arrive at “grandes lignes”, broad strokes of migrations. He thus links the migrations of the Wagenya, “Baleka” and “Baleka-Mituku” to that of the Warega and Bembe. The itineraries presented on his map in fact resemble the routes drawn by linguistic evidence. However, the northeastern origin, in the Semliki mountains, preceding a homeland on the Ulindi is not confirmed by historical comparative linguistics. One of the reasons to propose this homeland near the Ugandan border is the presence of people called “Balegga”. The claim of a northeastern origin cannot be found in the archival documents consulted or in the vernacular histories recorded with Mokpa informants at Batikamondji and Metoko informants in Ubundu. It is striking, however, that a Semliki homeland is proposed by recent informants in Bamanga. This may simply indicate that they have access to theories such as Moeller’s. Combining the information in the original archival documents, the recent vernacular histories (except one) and the linguistic evidence, we are rather inclined to reject this hypothesis.

98An important difference between the recent evidence and the information from the archives and Moeller’s work is the affiliation to the Songola and Zimba. In recent interviews, informants claim shared ancestry with these communities, and this is corroborated by linguistic evidence. We may wonder why present-day informants propose this link, which is not present in sources of the early 20th century. Could it be attributed to increased mobility and the recognition of language similarities?

99If Moeller’s conclusions on the homeland of the Balega and related peoples are far beyond what is claimed by the informants of the early 20th century, the conclusions concerning the Lengola are more modest. Even on Moeller’s map, the northeastern origin is not positioned far from their contemporary territory, despite one cited claim that they might originate from Kivu and a hypothesis that they might originate from the source of the Maiko, Lindi or Lubutu rivers. The recent vernacular history rather positions a Lengola homeland in the Bafwasende territory, which again correlates well with recent linguistic evidence. Concerning the Komo, Moeller was faced with the same contradictions as those that we encountered in the recorded histories—namely, claims of western next to eastern origins. Moeller proposes several curved itineraries that sometimes also return. In reality, the expansions of the Komo were probably even more complex. As for the Mbole, all sources seem to point to a homeland near the mouth of the Aruwimi.

100Moeller does not offer much temporal information. However, he dates the Mbole migrations to the 18th century based on genealogies. Indeed, based on the data explored for this paper, we would equally propose that the settlement of the lower Lualaba by its current inhabitants occurred fairly recently, perhaps not more than a century before 1875—except for the Falls, which seem to have been inhabited before the arrival of the Wagenya. It is often claimed that these first inhabitants were “Mbole”, but there is no conclusive evidence to confirm this claim.

  • 110 This has been well demonstrated, for example by W. de Mahieu, 1975, for the Komo, and by C. Gray, 2 (...)

101Considering that clanship and ethnic affiliations were very dynamic, as we can read in the archives and as mentioned in the recent interviews, whose history is referred to in vernacular and language histories? How should we interpret the link between these two types of evidence? A straightforward answer is that both types of evidence are linked to the most recent cultural layers identifying today as ethnolinguistic communities, meaning that they currently correlate language to cultural affiliation. Both the linguistic and historical evidence allow us to uncover one previous layer. If, in the archives, the memory of these predecessors is still alive and included in detail in the accounts, the memory became opaque in the recently recorded interviews, nearly a hundred years later. Today, generic names are mentioned, such as “Mbole”. The linguistic evidence may indeed corroborate a link with a community speaking Mbole or an affiliated Upper-Congo language. However, the predecessor communities mentioned in the archives were not necessarily ethnolinguistic communities. The names may refer to clans or other types of segmentary affiliation, for whom a linguistic identity was secondary, easily exchanging one language for the other. In the Wagenya account, it is also mentioned that one Wagenya clan is of Lengola origins, and a Lengola informant mentions that the Lengola at one point adopted the “Lega” language and acquired their customs. In the past, elements such as language or certain rituals may have been more fluid, and there may have been a greater importance of clans. Consequently, history should probably be told in terms of clan history.110 Unfortunately, this type of detail is missing from the vernacular histories we recorded, and it cannot be retrieved from the linguistic evidence.

102In summary, a new reading of the documents used by Moeller and the accumulation of new evidence, in the form of new recordings of vernacular histories and comparative linguistics, offer some different views on the history of the lower Lualaba. It is striking that the linguistic data seem to confirm the past and recent vernacular histories in many cases. But they also call for the further examination of specific issues, such as the intercultural mix at the lower Lualaba. The documents of the early 20th century and the linguistic evidence indicate that there must have been intense contacts between the Wagenya, Mokpa, Metoko, Lengola and Mbole, or even communities whose identity we still do not know. There were instances of intermarriage, but also the integration of larger groups in another community. The vernacular histories furthermore speak of peace agreements, along with circumcision rituals that transcend ethnic boundaries. The resulting cultural mix merits further research, and the archaeological surveys of the region—through the study of the past material cultures—will play an important role in linking the present with the past and in anchoring the migration phases in time. Moreover, the present paper demonstrates that vernacular histories and linguistic evidence solely document the past of the current inhabitants. Only archaeology can inform us on the earlier history of the region between Kisangani and Lowa.

Maps section

Map 1: Migrations of the Mokpa and Wagenya according to vernacular histories

Map 1: Migrations of the Mokpa and Wagenya according to vernacular histories

Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project

Map 2: Migrations of the Metoko according to vernacular histories

Map 2: Migrations of the Metoko according to vernacular histories

Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project

Map 3: Migrations of the Bakomo according to vernacular histories

Map 3: Migrations of the Bakomo according to vernacular histories

Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project

Map 4: Migrations of the Walengola according to vernacular histories

Map 4: Migrations of the Walengola according to vernacular histories

Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project

Map 5: Migrations of the Bambole according to vernacular histories (colonial interpretations only)

Map 5: Migrations of the Bambole according to vernacular histories (colonial interpretations only)

Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project

Map 6: Linguistic affiliations

Map 6: Linguistic affiliations

Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project

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Bibliographie

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Document annexe

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Notes

1 The term “vernacular histories” will be discussed in Section 2.

2 A. Moeller, 1936.

3 For instance, J. Omasombo Tshonda, 2020.

4 J. Vansina, 1990, p. 353, n36.

5 M. McMaster, 1988; J. Vansina, 1990.

6 D. Kopa wa Kopa, B. Ricquier, accepted. The article on classification is currently being written.

7 This article does not incorporate information on migration published elsewhere in ethnographic monographs such as the writings of W. de Mahieu, 1975, and H. Van Geluwe, 1956.

8 D.L. Schoenbrun, 2021; A. Ekblom et al., 2017.

9 J. Thornton, 2004.

10 D.L. Schoenbrun, 2017.

11 See N. Arazi, G. Senga, 2021.

12 D.L. Schoenbrun, 2017.

13 Results from sites further afield, along the Congo River and its tributaries west of Kisangani and further south, around Kindu, may offer some preliminary perspectives.

14 See J.-P. Sanderson, 2010.

15 The administrative reforms culminated in 1933. “Territories” and “secteurs” underwent only minor changes since that year (cf. discussion in J. Omasombo Tshonda, 2020). Indeed, many consulted documents date from the early 1930s.

16 M. McMaster, 1988.

17 J. Vansina, 1990.

18 C. Ehret, 1998.

19 I.e. at the time of the first submission of this paper. In the meantime, archaeological fieldwork has been undertaken in the area (see L. Nieblas Ramirez et al., 2023), but it was too early to incorporate the results when finalizing the present paper.

20 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017; N. Arazi et al., 2020; L. Champion et al., 2017.

21 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017; D. Seidensticker, 2021; H.-P. Wotzka, 1995.

22 Cf. H.-P. Wotzka, 1995; I. Matonda, K. Bostoen, 2022; P. Coutros et al., 2022; I. Matonda Sakala et al., 2022; J. Denbow, 2014; B. Clist, 2005; A. Assoko Ndong, 2000; R. Oslisly, 1998; G. de Saulieu et al., 2017.

23 About this long story, see for example M. Posnansky, 1961; R. Oliver, 1966; M. Eggert, 1981; J. Vansina, 1980; P. de Maret, 2013; P. Mitchell, 2013.

24 See for example B. Clist, 1989, p. 80; M. Eggert, 1993, p. 322-323.

25 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017; D. Seidensticker, 2021; H.-P. Wotzka, 1995.

26 L. Champion et al., 2017; A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017.

27 R. Oslisly, 1992, 1994; H.-P. Wotzka, 2006.

28 D. Seidensticker et al., 2021; G. de Saulieu et al., 2021; B. Clist et al., 2021.

29 See for example P. Nlend, 2014, p. 50.

30 This absence from the archives and colonial maps still has political implications. The Mokpa do not have their own “secteur” but are part of “secteurs” governed by Komo or Lengola and have difficulties claiming land rights.

31 J. Yakusu, 1948.

32 A. Moeller, 1922.

33 H. Marmitte, 1934. According to one informant, muléka refers to a spear that is used for fishing (see first interview in the Appendix).

34 A. Moeller, 1932, 1936.

35 A. Moeller, 1922; H. Marmitte, 1933.

36 H. Marmitte, 1933.

37 F.H. De Bock, 1922; A. Moeller, 1922.

38 H. Marmitte, 1933.

39 H. Marmitte, 1934.

40 J. Yakusu, 1948.

41 On these sociopolitical dynamics within the migrations, see Kopytoff, 1987; J. Vansina, 1990; de Mahieu, 1975.

42 A. Moeller, 1936.

43 A. Moeller, 1922.

44 J. Yakusu, 1948.

45 “Secteur” is an administrative division.

46 Precision added later in the interview.

47 The list of villages can be found in the French translation of the original (see the Appendix).

48 H. Marmitte, 1933; 1934.

49 See J. Omasombo Tshonda., 2020.

50 H. Marmitte, 1934.

51 H. Marmitte, 1933.

52 Some Gombe families (coming from the west, from the region of the Boyela/Moma) would be allied to the Metoko.

53 H. Marmitte, 1934.

54 J. Yakusu, 1948.

55 Lega people also divide their dialects along these administrative borders (BANTURIVERS linguistic field recording 2019).

56 J. Omasombo Tshonda, 2020, p. 290, 292.

57 H. Marmitte, 1934, p. 1.

58 H. Marmitte, 1934, p. 7.

59 H. Marmitte, 1934, p. 1.

60 Later in the interview, concerning a second village with the same name, the informant clarifies that nkóló means ‘a crossing’, a tree trunk that serves as a bridge to cross the river.

61 During the interview, the participants try to find the location of Nkolo on the map. The Komo informant thinks it might have been in the Yahuma Territory, Tshopo Province. This is in fact very far from the Ubangi. There is a village called “Kolo” at the Ubangi River. It is located in the Yakoma Territory. We may wonder whether this led to the confusion and/or if it is not just a mythical village whose exact location might remain unknown. Then again, the informant situates the village of the ancestral father Tshede near Bumba, just north of the Yahuma Territory, and both Yahuma and Bumba are situated to the west of the current Komo region.

62 Hackars, 1919.

63 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

64 Hackars, 1919.

65 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

66 A. Moeller, 1922.

67 Fivé, 1932.

68 The Lumbuya River is rather an affluent of the Tshopo River. It is unclear how this geographical error should be interpreted.

69 F. Stradiot, 1931.

70 A. Moeller, 1922.

71 Fivé 1932; A. Moeller, 1922.

72 In informal exchanges during separate missions of fieldwork for the BANTURIVERS Project, also other Komo people identified as “trappers” and people from other communities joked that the Komo do not know how to practice agriculture.

73 Hackars, 1919.

74 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

75 A. Van Belle, 1932.

76 H. Marmitte, 1934.

77 Anonymous, n.d.

78 P. Wautier, 1932.

79 Anonymous, n.d.

80 A. Van Belle, 1932.

81 H. Marmitte, 1933.

82 Anonymous, n.d.

83 H. Marmitte, 1934.

84 H. Marmitte, 1933. Marmitte furthermore offers details on clan migrations, which illustrates the complex sociopolitical dynamics with regard to clan and extended family.

85 See for example I. Kopytoff, 1987, concerning the crucial ideological dimension of the “first occupant” in Bantu migration dynamics.

86 A. Van Belle, 1932.

87 H. Marmitte, 1933.

88 Anonymous, n.d.; H. Marmitte, 1931.

89 A. Moeller, 1922; J. Yakusu, 1948. Today, the word “lokele” refers to any spoon. The freshwater mussel shell is said to have been used as a spoon, thus explaining the semantic link (observation by the second author during a recent fieldwork mission, 2023, Yafunga).

90 P. Wautier, 1932; H. Marmitte, 1931; Van de Capelle, 1915.

91 F.H. de Bock, 1922.

92 Van de Capelle, 1915.

93 H. Marmitte, 1931.

94 H. Marmitte, 1931; F.H. de Bock, 1922; Van de Capelle, 1915.

95 Van de Capelle, 1915.

96 H. Marmitte, 1931; Anonymous, n.d.; P. Wautier, 1932.

97 H. Marmitte, 1931.

98 H. Marmitte, 1931.

99 A. Livingstone Smith et al., 2017. This article was written before the start of archaeological fieldwork in the context of the BANTURIVERS Project.

100 L. Champion et al., 2017.

101 See A. Haour, 2018, for a successful connection between memory and archaeology.

102 The topics presented in 9.2 and 9.3 merit further research. The present paper being focussed on migrations and settlement, we consider a more detailed analysis out of scope here.

103 A. Moeller, 1932, 1936.

104 Linguistics is a frequently consulted tool for historical research concerning the Bantuphone communities of Central and southern Africa. Since the 1960s, both historians and linguists have inferred historical insights from the comparison of contemporary linguistic data. This approach has become ever more popular, often as a key character in interdisciplinary collaborations—for example, K. Bostoen et al., 2015; K. de Luna, J. Fleisher, 2018; D. Sengupta et al., 2021.

105 The language tree presented here is a simplified version based on phylogenetic work in collaboration with Rebecca Grollemund, Constance Kutsch Lojenga, François Abuka Balabala Alumesa, Nicolas Mombaya Liwila and Emmanuel Ngbanga Bandombele. The extended tree was presented at the International Conference on Historical Linguistics 25, Oxford, August 2022 (B. Ricquier et al., 2022). The article discussing the details of this classification is being written at the time the present article is submitted.

106 According to the classification in R. Grollemund et al., 2015.

107 Y. Bastin et al., 1999.

108 D. Kopa wa Kopa, B. Ricquier, accepted.

109 A. Moeller, 1936.

110 This has been well demonstrated, for example by W. de Mahieu, 1975, for the Komo, and by C. Gray, 2002, or G. Dupré, for the western Congolese Basin.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Map “Carte des migrations des populations du territoire des Walengola-Wasongola-Mituku”
Crédits A. Marmitte, 1933.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-1.png
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Titre Figure 2: Drawing of the Lengola migrations
Crédits A. Van Belle, 1932.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 1,1M
Titre Figure 3: Map “Carte des migrations des Bambole”
Crédits H. Marmitte, 1931
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 1,2M
Titre Figure 4: Phylogenetic affiliation of Mokpa, Enya, Metoko, Mbole, Lengola and Komo105
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 29k
Titre Map 1: Migrations of the Mokpa and Wagenya according to vernacular histories
Crédits Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 2,5M
Titre Map 2: Migrations of the Metoko according to vernacular histories
Crédits Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 2,6M
Titre Map 3: Migrations of the Bakomo according to vernacular histories
Crédits Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 1,2M
Titre Map 4: Migrations of the Walengola according to vernacular histories
Crédits Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-8.png
Fichier image/png, 2,7M
Titre Map 5: Migrations of the Bambole according to vernacular histories (colonial interpretations only)
Crédits Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-9.png
Fichier image/png, 2,7M
Titre Map 6: Linguistic affiliations
Crédits Ricquier, Livingstone Smith, Nieblas Ramirez & Takamura - BANTURIVERS project
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4465/img-10.png
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Référence électronique

Birgit Ricquier, Laurent Nieblas Ramirez, Alexandre Livingstone Smith, Shingo Takamura, David Kopa Wa Kopa et Daou Véronique Joiris, « Paths in the eastern Congo rainforest: Vernacular histories, colonial interpretations and linguistic data on the settlement of the lower Lualaba »Afriques [En ligne], 14 | 2023, mis en ligne le 05 février 2024, consulté le 14 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/4465 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.4465

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Auteurs

Birgit Ricquier

PI of the BANTURIVERS project, Center of Cultural Anthropology, Université libre de Bruxelles

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Laurent Nieblas Ramirez

FNRS fellow (“aspirant”), Université libre de Bruxelles, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Royal Museum for Central Africa

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Alexandre Livingstone Smith

Senior researcher, Heritage Studies, Royal Museum for Central Africa; Lecturer, Université libre de Bruxelles

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Shingo Takamura

Senior Researcher, Kinugasa Research Organization, Ritsumeikan University

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David Kopa Wa Kopa

PhD student, Center of Cultural Anthropology, Université libre de Bruxelles – University of Kisangani

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Daou Véronique Joiris

Professor, Center of Cultural Anthropology, Université libre de Bruxelles

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