When Congo Wants To Go To School – As Justification And Conclusion

BriffaertsIt puzzled me that colonialism belonged to our recent past. Its legacy was bound to mark our present. I was eager to join in the current research on colonialism that was developing in anthropology. Having completed the study, I remain convinced the Congo was worthy of scholarly attention, although perhaps for different reasons. What strikes me now is that my research illuminates general human processes. I would say that its major significance lies less with either an understanding of the thoughts of Belgian former colonial officers (however these may be needed) or an implicit critique of the literature of the colonial discourse than with an acute perception of the difficulty of attaining knowledge in anthropology. In turn this should make us, as human beings, morally humble and wary of any claim whose legitimacy derives from an easy brand of political correctness. Such a conclusion is not specific of colonialism; it applies to all walks of life.”[i]

I have already tried to summarise the main points arising from the “descriptive” chapters in parts II and III in the considerations concluding these chapters. There is consequently little cause to do so again. Rather than repeating these conclusions in this section I would like to consider a number of elements that struck me while studying those realities and practices, and which seem important to me for a proper understanding of the past. It should allow me to formulate a number of considerations or questions concerning the meaning of that image and that past: what does it mean and how should we deal with it?

Colonial education: made in Belgium.
The image of the interaction between the missionaries and the pupils, the method of teaching used or which should have been used in the classroom, the material used – all this points in the same direction: the North. In the Belgian Congo a system was established that was not only loosely based on that implemented in the homeland but that was a very similar copy of it. It is true that a number of differences arose in the quantity of material taught and that a selection of that material was being made, ‘adapted’ to the local circumstances. That does not detract from the essential conclusion that in this case a western educational system was transplanted to the colony. With all its components: the framework, the buildings, the setting, the administrative body, the daily timetable, the teaching method and naturally also the discipline. The first reaction to this was undoubtedly: “But could it have been any different?” The fact that we find it hard to imagine anything else perhaps precisely indicates the importance of this conclusion. In any event it puts matters in the right perspective. In keeping with the quotation by Fabian which I cited in the introduction: we are used to looking back at colonial history and consequently also at the history of Belgian colonisation of the Congo from the perspective of the results achieved. As a result we often forget that it did not have to be like that. Our frameworks of reference restrict us and that is not any different with regard to colonial education.

Two major conclusions follow from this with regard to this study. Firstly, the discussion of the difference between adaptionism and assimilationism must first be brought back to its true proportions: discussions about differences in styles, about the way matters had to be approached. Both movements operated within a framework that remained western in essence. The question of whether indigenism, as a local variant of adaptionism, was also truly more progressive than assimilationism must be answered rather negatively. In the beliefs of the people who gave indigenism its name and who applied it themselves (Hulstaert, Boelaert and other MSC members) it may have been “progressive”. They wanted to defend the Congolese. That belief by Hulstaert and his followers may seem logical, insofar as they compared themselves to other people or groups of colonisers who were much less interested in the welfare of the Congolese. At the same time that is precisely where the shoe doesn’t fit. Hulstaert and his followers seem to act from a genuine conviction, often a type of moral indignation. However, in many cases that moral indignation of the MSC was aimed against modernity. They were truly concerned with the welfare of the Congolese but that primarily meant that they wanted to protect them from themselves and the modern world. However, the fact that at some times their assumptions contrasted sharply with those of the authorities or other players within colonial society gave the MSC an “alternative” aura. It is perhaps better not to say “progressive” because if we associate that with “emancipatory” we must conclude that the actions of the MSC show clear indications of the opposite. The way in which they handled the pupils in practice rather gives an image of a very paternalistic attitude.

A second conclusion is that there was a very great gap between the general, theoretical and fundamental beliefs on the one hand and the practice in the field on the other. At first sight this conclusion seems to fit well with the principle of the grammar of schooling, as formulated and explained by Depaepe and others. Expressed concisely, that principle claims that classroom practice is resistant to innovation to a relatively far-reaching extent. It claims that practice comprises a set of rules, habits, traditions, in which changes are imposed from above but are very hard to implement. The school practices in the Belgian Congo illustrate this very well but not necessarily because so many attempts at innovation were undertaken. This distance between theory and practice may be explained in more detail as a combination of a number of factors. Firstly, the existing (western) grammar had taken root to such an extent with the missionaries that it could literally be imported into an entirely different environment. The consequence thereof was that the missionaries automatically applied personal experiences in the new colonial context. That naturally also had a lot to do with the fact that the majority of missionaries also had a very limited, in some cases non-existent, theoretical background with regard to educational theory. The basis of colonial education was low on theory. Gustaaf Hulstaert is a telling example of this in the given context, precisely because he felt a need to improve his theoretical knowledge or at least to brush it up in the framework of the discussions (and the power struggle) he entered into with the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Read more

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When Congo Wants To Go To School – Appendices & Bibliography


1 – Quantitative data relating to education in the Belgian Congo, 1930- 1940
2 – Quantitative development of education in the Belgian Congo between 1938- 1958
3 – Quantitative development of education in the Belgian Congo between 1930-1948
4 – Figures relating to the state of education immediately after independence, in Congo and in Coquilhatville
5 – Development of educational spending in the colony and the proportion of educational spending in the total budget 1912-1940
6 – Diagrams of the organisation of education according to the “Dispositions Générales” 1948
7 – Some quantitative data relating to the missionary presence in the Belgian Congo
8 – Primary school program – Extract from the Brochure Jaune
9 – Letters from Pierre Kolokoto to Paul Jans, from the Aequatoria Archive
10 – Letters from Hilaire Vermeiren to Paul Jans, from the Aequatoria Archive
11 – Contextual analysis of “La Voix du Congolais”
12 – The history of the emergence of schools in the Equator province, by Stephane Boale
13 – “Extrait de la causerie du Ministre des Colonies, M. Jules Renquin avec les premiers missionnaires catholiques du Congo-Belge” “Extract from a talk given by the Minister for the Colonies, Mr Jules Renquin, to the first Belgian Catholic missionaries to the Belgian Congo” Read more

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The Igbo Concept Of Mother Musicianship

Music is a ‘woman’, and intuitive creative management of life is more of a feminine attribute. Music is a communion, a social communion that nourishes spirituality, and manages socialisation during public events. These are some of the philosophical and concrete rationalizations that guided the indigenous categorization of an extraordinary performance-composer irrespective of gender or age as a mother musician as per indigenous terminological evidence in Africa. A composer gestates and gives birth to sonic phenomena.

Musical meaning has been discussed from the indigenous perspective as being based on the factors of musical sense, psychical tolerance and musical intention. The practice of performance-composition has also been identified as processing the realisation and approval of musical meaning as per context. Central to the philosophy of musical meaning as a society’s conceptualization of creative genius are the creative personalities who interpret and extend the musical factors as well as the musical facts of a culture. Such specialists are sensitive to the socio-musical factors contingent on a musical context at the same time as they are the repositories of the theory of composition in a musical arts tradition. Socio-musical factors here categorize those non-musical circumstances of a music-making situation that inform the architecture of a performance-composition; while musical facts are the essential elements of creative configurations that furnish musical arts theory.

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Ududo Nnobi – (Amarachukwu) – Igbo Trad. Music

See also: Meki Nzewi – The Igbo Concept of Mother Musicianship: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=1764

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Generatiewandelingen in Doorn en andere onderwijs- en beleidsprojecten

Huis Doorn


Heel wat leerlingen in het VWO en studenten in het HBO houden zich in hun onderwijs met generaties bezig. Zij schrijven er werkstukken over en komen steeds vaker in aanvulling hierop ook met videoreportages. Vooral vakken zoals maatschappijleer, geschiedenis, economie en management lenen zich goed voor scripties en afstudeerwerkstukken over generaties.
Hierbij werken de leerlingen veelal met levensgeschiedenissen van leden van generaties. Daarbij gaat het om een aanpak, die als de ‘life histories approach’ bekend staat.
De ‘life histories approach’ wordt veelvuldig in de geschiedwetenschappen en de sociologie toegepast. Meerdere hoofdstukken in dit boek bevatten voorbeelden van deze toepassing.

Omdat te verwachten is dat het boek Generaties van geluksvogels en pechvogels veel leerlingen tot het toepassen van generaties in hun onderwijs zal inspireren, komen nu enkele voorbeelden aan de orde. Als eerste voorbeeld zijn interviews te noemen met senioren, die tot de Vooroorlogse en Stille generatie behoren. Hoe zijn hun jeugdjaren verlopen en welke effecten heeft hun formatieve periode op hun verdere levensloop gehad? Welke indrukken zijn hen bijgebleven van de ‘Culturele Revolutie’ van het eind van de jaren zestig en het begin van de jaren zeventig? Hoe hebben zij van de economisch gunstige jaren negentig geprofiteerd en hoe hebben zij zich voorbereid op de jaren na ingang van hun pensioen?

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Generational walks in Doorn and other educational projects

Huis Doorn

Life histories

Explanatory notes
Many pre-university pupils and students attending higher vocational education study generations. They write papers on this topic, often supplementing them nowadays with video reports. Social studies, history, economics and management, particularly, lend themselves to theses and graduation papers on generations.
Most students write papers on the life histories of members of generations. This practice is known as a ‘life history approach’, which is habitually used in historical sciences and sociology. Several chapters in Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs contain examples of this approach.
Because this book, Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs, will likely inspire many pupils to learn about generations during their studies some examples are provided here, the first being interviews with seniors of the Pre-War Generation and the Silent Generation. What was their childhood like and how did their formative years affect the rest of their lives? What impressions have they retained of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the late 1960s and early 1970s? How did they benefit from the economically favourable 1990s and how did they prepare themselves for their retirement years?

A second example is interviews with women concerning their experience with discrimination against women. Members of the Pre-War and Silent Generations suffered serious discrimination on the employment market. Take, for instance, women in public service who automatically lost their job upon getting married. One of the radical effects of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ is the strongly reduced discrimination against women, although it is still not entirely eradicated even in the year 2011.

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