Collaborator and Resister in Kasai, 1880-1900
Makenye Kalemba was one of the African leaders of the last quarter of the nineteenth century who undertook reform of their society, managing to come to a degree of understanding with the Europeans but finally resorting to armed struggle to preserve independence.
Makenye Kalemba was born between 1830 and 1835 into a chiefly family in the clan of Bena Kashiya among the Luba people in the valley of the central Lulua River around the present-day city of Kananga in the western Kasai region. His father, Tunsele-Twa-Ilunga, chose him as his successor probably because of his leadership qualities. Makenye made a number of business trips to Angola, and his village, Kempe, developed into a prosperous commercial center that attracted Chokwe traders and became the point of departure of caravans of ivory, wax, and slaves to Angola. The triumph of his clan over its rivals resulted from the accumulation of wealth and firearms in the framework of long-distance trade and from the acquisition of ritual powers, the Nkwembie (spirit of force). By 1865 Makenye had the economic, social, and symbolic capital to contribute to the political integration in the valley of the central Luluwa.
Makenye adopted various political strategies to extend his power, including gift-giving, feasting, the use of force, and the control of trade with the Chokwe. With the accumulated capital, Makenye was able to institutionalize his power by introducing new principles of legitimacy. His nickname, Kalemba, became a dynastic name. His son Tshisungu took the name of Kalemba Mwana (Kalemba Junior). Makenye Kalemba adopted the Chokwe title of “Mwanangana” (“landowner”) and instituted a rigorous hierarchy at his court. From that time on Makenye was invariably referred to as the “King of Bena Moyo” (king of people who greet each other by moyo, or life) mostly by his people, and “King of Bashilange” by the Chokwe.
Religious rituals contributed to fostering unity and social cohesion. However, the extent of political cen-tralization—that is, the number of people over whom he exercised power and from whom he could collect taxes—was still limited to a few clans and clients. There were other clan leaders who did not share Makenye’s religious enthusiasm and political goals. Thus, his main challenge for the two decades after 1865 remained the integration of his rivals, as well as new groups, into the emerging state of Bena Moyo.
On October 30, 1881 Mwananganga Makenye Kalemba welcomed Dr. Paul Pogge and Lt. Herman Wissmann, German explorers sent to participate in what was later known as the “Scramble” for Africa, to Kempe. Their meeting provoked a great cultural misunderstanding. The Germans had a colonial project; they understood their mission to be a scientific expedition with a political agenda, namely, the exploration of the Kasai River basin, and the installation of a German post in the region. Lt. H. Wissmann even reported that Makenye Kalemba and his Luba “nation” constituted an appropriate target for evangelization. Kalemba and his subjects, however, believed the newcomers were their ancestors (bajangi) coming back to life in the form of white men to recreate a paradisiacal world where there would be no sickness, aging, or death. Makenye seized control of this cultural capital to further the process of political centralization. With the help of Makenye Kalemba, Pogge and Wissmann explored the central Kasai basin between December 1881 and April 1882.
The arrival of the Germans created tension between Makenye Kalemba and Muamba Mputu, the latter accusing the first of appropriating his bajangi. But Makenye was preoccupied with deeper existential dilemmas: the behavior and the activities of his bajangi did not conform to prevailing cultural categories. He started the painful task of redefining them.
In 1884 King Leopold II of Belgium hired Wiss-mann to complete his geographic discoveries and to collect data on the natural and human resources in the Kasai basin. Makenye Kalemba gave Wissmann a piece of land on the banks of the Lulua River, where they built a German station called “Luluabourg,” that the Angolan porters named “Malandji” in memory of Malange, their native city in Angola. The king also helped Wissmann build canoes for the exploration of the Kasai river.
Makenye Kalemba expressed his hope of establishing a meaningful partnership with the Europeans. He made a blood pact (ndondo) with Wissmann, with the understanding that they would become “brothers” who would provide each other with assistance in all circumstances and refrain from acts of hostility. Thus, indirectly, Makenye became an ally of King Leopold II. One provision of this (verbal) pact stipulated that a breach of the agreement would result either in the death of the traitor and his family members, in the worse case scenario, or in the removal of his power. The war against Katende, one of Makenye’s rivals, that followed thereafter tested the solidity of the pact. The conquered chief spent four months in Luluabourg’s prison.
In 1885 Makenye Kalemba accompanied Wissmann in his exploration of the Kasai River. Their expedition clarified the relationship between the Kasai and Congo Rivers. The trip to Nshasa and Leopoldville was an important learning experience for Makenye and his subjects. It highlighted the difference between the Luba values and those represented by the Congo Free State (CFS) and its agents. He came back convinced that his recent religious experience was an illusion, for there were more bajangi beyond his territory than he had imagined. Furthermore, the bajangi were mortals and were unable to protect their “descendants” from violence and suffering.
With the return of Wissmann and other CFS agents (the Belgians de Macar and Le Marinel) to Luluabourg in April 1886, the center of trade in wax and ivory shifted from Kempe to Luluabourg, now perceived as the “Paradise of Congo.” Through various hegemonic processes, the CFS administrators transformed Luluabourg into a center of political power and positioned themselves as arbiters between Makenye Kalemba and the other chiefs. But Makenye Kalemba did not see these attempts at centralization as an encroachment upon his sphere of influence. Actually, he mobilized the firepower of the Europeans to promote his own interests. The attack against Muamba Mputu that took place in 1887, with the help of de Macar and Le Marinel, is a good case in point. Muamba Mputu was defeated after two fierce battles and, according to tradition, he escaped from the battlefield only thanks to his magical powers.
In 1887 Makenye Kalemba was at the peak of his power in a prosperous land. Despite an increasing number of CFS agents, merchants, and missionaries in Luluabourg, the relationship with Kalemba was cordial. The region had abundant natural resources, and there was little competition for resources.
This political peace slowly broke down under the pressure of merchant capitalism and the CFS. The competition between the European trading companies and the local population for resources sharply increased and provoked tension between them. Makenye Kalemba now faced a serious challenge to his political and economic power from the CFS and its agents, who openly questioned his “independence” and the activities of Chokwe and Bihe traders in Kempe. The entente cordiale gave way to a “hostile attitude” on the part of Makenye and his subjects.
The tension erupted into open conflict when CFS agents ordered Makenye to transfer the collection of tributary taxes to the CFS. The conflict started in early 1891 and continued after the death of King Makenye from pneumonia in 1899. Resistance to colonial rule persisted until 1924, when the Belgian colonial administration recognized Kalemba Muana as chief of the Bena Kashiya clan, not the king of the Luba-Lulua.
See also: Congo (Kinshasa), Democratic Republic of Zaire: Nineteenth Century: Precolonial; Congo (Kinshasa), Democratic Republic of Zaire: Belgian Congo: Administration and Society, 1908-1960.
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