15 August 2012

Stories People Tell Us: The Tshimpoyi or that Colonial Chair Thing

People tell us stories all the time. Sometimes funny. Sometimes sad. Sometimes a little too entertaining to be true. But always interesting. I think we should start sharing them with you.

We won't always include the storytellers' names. Mostly because I rarely say, "Hey can I share your story with hundreds of my closest friends? Well, we have this blog-thing. You know the internet? There are these things called...hmmm...blogs??"

Anyway, last year I got on this kick asking Congolese friends to tell me the oldest story they knew. Something their grandparents or great-grandparents had told them. There are many stories. Here's a sample:

A friend told me his family was famous for making and carrying those chairs on four poles that are synonymous with colonialism. Like this one:
I'm so removed from this concept, I don't even know the word in English for them. Turns out they can be called sedan chairs (oh yeah, that sounds familiar) or litters or palanquins. Once I started asking around for the French word, no one knew. But this did stir up some controversy about what they're called in Congo. Since there are over 200 languages, I heard several variations. "They're called Tshimpoyi." Or, "No! We call them Kimponya." And so on. Funny how every dialect has their own word for these chairs and I couldn't readily think of our English term.

Anyway, his family would get orders before the arrival of the Belgian administrator to make these things and then carry their guests wherever they wanted to go. In fact, they became quite skilled at negotiating the terrain with a white guy on their shoulders. "The administrator would point down the steep hill, and down my family would take him. Carefully, carefully."

This reminded me of the photo of Belgian king (above), Roi Baudouin when he visited Congo not all that long ago. And an embarrassing amount of time after independence. Kind of shocking.

One of the nicest streets in Kinshasa is named Avenue du Roi Baudoin. It's lined with beautiful trees and important embassies and hot shot (white) people's houses. Roi Baudoin gets his nice and tidy street amidst the chaos of the rest of the city. Fitting. I'm pretty sure there's a word for this concept in every language too...

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