Oral Histories

Here you can listen to extracts from oral history interviews recorded with members of the Congolese community.

There are 29 Oral History interviews, which now form a permanent public archive to preserve the untold stories of the Congolese community living in Greater Manchester.

The full interviews can be accessed through the North West Sound Archive and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Archive at Manchester Central Library.

We have preserved interviewees anonymity to protect privacy.

Interview 1 (French/Tshiluba)

The interviewee starts by explaining that word LISAPO in Luba means MUANU [Tale/story]. She talks about the Luba community and explains that education is usually taught orally through stories/tales and that this is also true for the Congolese culture. She informs us that often in her culture “a father will sit under the full moon with his children and tell a story/tale or ‘Mwano’” in the Chiluba language. She continues by explaining that the father will usually start/introduce the storytelling by saying KWATAYI (Are you listening?) and the children usually respond TWA KUATSHI (we are listening). She compares the opening of the tales in her culture to the well-known children’s story beginning of Once Upon a Time. “To say Once Upon a Time for example we say “KUVUEKU” we don’t say at which point in time exactly the story is however we say “KUVUEKU” and then start to tell the story”.

The interviewee ends by saying a few words and shares a poem. “I want to do a poem which is often taught to us along the way to show that we are the same people, we are brothers and sisters and we should never live amongst bad people, we should not live like strangers, even if you are going through problems you should know how to express these problems, work together as a family and find a solution. If somebody treats you badly, you have the right to be angry however don’t hold a grudge and if you do then you are the bad one, and should ask for forgiveness.” She reads a poem in her native tongue of Chiluba entitled BANA NEW.

Interview 2 (Lingala)

Interview 3 (English)

Interview 4 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

My father was an artist and my art is heavily influenced by his work. He created sculptures and worked mostly with wood and ceramic. But he mostly made wooden sculptures. One of his sculptures was a huge bird; it was near the football stadium in Kinshasa near our house. It was very well known sculpture and quite remarkable. People would often stop and stare at it.

 

Interview 5 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

I went many years without remarrying. I refused to. When we went to bury the body in Mbujimayi, I spoke to his grave, as it is customary in our tribe; I said “we married in our youth, now that you have died and you have left me with all of these children, I don’t know what to do. Since we got married I have known only you, I have not known of any nkisi, or ndoki or any other man.” That is what I said at the cemetery. Some of the people there overheard me and told me that they were surprised by what I had said. I told them that it was the Luba way. When we were growing up, a mother would tell her daughter to take good care of herself and to preserve her virginity so that she could find a husband and so she (the mother) could eat the goat. This is what we were taught growing up.

 

Interview 6 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

We were better off before independence because our parents were part of the évolué. They were educated people, they were a bit like doctors – we called them infirmier diplômé. They would receive medals from the state, like the medals worn by King Boudoin, they were given a new medal each year. The white people gave them the name évolué. Back then, we were well-off like the white people. We’d have big houses, with 4 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a warehouse. The state would build a house for you and the cost would come out of your monthly pay until you eventually owned it. We had a house in Kisangnani. Things were good until we got independence – it was all over then.

 

Interview 7 (English)

Interview 8 (English)

Interview 9 (English)

Interview 10 (English)

Interview 11 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

When I was younger I wanted to study medicine, it is what I told my father that I wanted to do. But when I discovered how much work had to go into it and the length of time it would take to study, I changed my made and decided to go into tailoring and dress-making instead. I completed all of my studies around that, from secondary school through to university. And when I arrived here I started making clothes at home.

 

Interview 12 (French)

I am 100% Congolese, well prepared in every sense. I was well prepared even before getting married. My mother who was alive back then gave me advice; my grandparents also gave me advice. Everything that I have learnt from them I put into practice. I got married in the year 2000 so now I have been married for 13 years and I am very happy with my husband. You may think “Well maybe”… but we’re just getting started! I’ve been with him for 13 years, we live in the same house, and we share everything with one another. I am honest, I am faithful, everything he asks me to do I do, I am submissive, in fact the secret to marriage is being submissive and loyal.

I was born in Katanga, my father was born in Katanga and my mother was born in Katanga but they are not from there. So on Friday my father said things were heating up, we knew that there was something going on however we thought it was just some form of entertainment…My God!….Monday came, we saw a group of young men with machetes, with stones shouting “Go back home!” “Go back home!”. Around 15:00 it started to get worse, we heard shooting “You have to leave your house and take refuge in the schools!”. My dad was head of a big company…we left everything 15:00, 16:00 and at 18:00h we left, we took refuge at the Notre Dame catholic school… luckily the house was in front of my mum’s friends house. My mum’s friend was also from Kasai and said to my mum, “you can’t stay there on the streets suffering with your children…” She invited us to stay in a room in her house…

The interviewer interjects: And was she not in danger?

Interviewee: No she wasn’t in danger as her house was in the area where all the Kasian people should take refuge and it was close to the train station. We went to her house she welcomed us all, she gave us two bedrooms, front room bathroom…We suffered a lot over there… nearly everyday the Kasaians died of hunger, everyday a train would come to take Kasain people from train from Katanga to Kasai… On the train which left there were 10 deaths, on another train which left there were 15 deaths…. Based on this dad decided that we weren’t going to go to Kasai, and that it would be better to go to Lubumbashi instead where we had more family.

Interviewer: Where did this all happen? Was it in one village?

Interviewee: No this this happened in 2 villages, Kolwesi and Likasi

Interviewer: And you were in which town ?

Interviewee: Kolwezi

Interviewer: When did this happen?

Interviewee: In 1993

Interview 13 (English)

Interview 14 (English)

Interview 15 (French)

Interview 16 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

I will tell you the story of a boy from the village called Nimi. If a Youmbe person calls someone a Nimi they mean that the person is a fool. Nimi’s parents went to work the fields and left him at home with the baby. They told him “if you get hungry, eat this vegetable with the baby”. So when he got hungry he cooked the vegetable, he took the baby, chopped it up and cooked it too, and left the head aside. When his parents got back and asked him where the baby was he said “you told me to eat the vegetable with the baby if I got hungry so I cooked the vegetable and ate it with the baby like you told me to. I even left you the head!”

 

Interview 17 (English)

Interview 18 (English)

Interview 19 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

If you are not involved with the community you can feel a certain emptiness. When I was living in Germany, it was very different, there would be only three or four other black families living in an area. Because of this my children felt more German and they did not feel any connection with Congolese people. My children found their Congolese heritage here in the UK, especially when I joined the church. I did not want my children to feel awkward around Congolese people, if they do not feel comfortable around Congolese people they will be lost, and so will I. I’m happy that they’ve now also learnt Lingala; their first language is German, their second language is French, which they learnt at home, and now they also speak Lingala.

 

Interview 20 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

We have different cultures but it is not a problem for me; we speak Polish at home, and as I said, I spent my youth over there so I have adapted to their culture. But since she has not been exposed to our culture, I have had to teach her some things. But it’s fine because she has no issues with it. There are times when it is difficult, for example when I’m watching maboke I have to explain what is going on and when I’m listening to old songs that are nostalgic for me, they have no meaning for her. But as with all relationships, there are ups and downs. Dancing – she knows how to dance to ndombolo really well! And she tries with the cooking. So she knows all the important things. Eastern European family values and traditions tie in with ours so there are no issues there. I have lived in Poland, I am from Kinshasa and now I live here so our meals are really mixed-up! We make up our own food! But I always miss the cooking from home- pondu and fumbwa. I taught a white woman how to cook it! I used to have to watch over her but she can cook it herself now.

 

Interview 21 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

There are three types of funerals: the first are rich people’s funerals. They will hire halls, music, fanfares and have a big event. You will find some people dancing and others crying. There are some funerals that are just normal. And there are funerals were they don’t even have a place to hold the event. They will have the event at the house, and the house will be in a bad condition. The coffin will be in a bad condition and you will see that the family are really suffering. In that same area, there may three or four other funerals taking place as well.

There is a phenomenon, which I have only encountered in Congo: people stealing coffins. It has gotten so bad that people have now started damaging the coffins with the dead body inside; they use a machete to damage it to prevent people from stealing the coffin. Once it has been damaged with a machete it will be difficult to restore.

 

Interview 22 (French)

Well in terms of integration I haven’t really had any problems, except on a linguistic level, there is a barrier, for example, when I received my first letter and I had to read it, I cried I thought this is not possible, I didn’t like that, I didn’t like that at all! Now reading and writing is not a problem, and especially as I don’t work in an English environment, I work in French, I have a French speaking church, from morning to night I only speak French, I rarely speak English, so when listen I understand more when I read, [laughs] than when someone is speaking, it may be simple, but I may not understand what the person was saying! [laughs]. The fact that I went to Europe when I was quite young, at 26 I went on my first mission and it’s nearly the same way of life in England maybe, I went to Germany, France, and Belgium, Holland… it’s the same way of life… I had problems with the language.

Interviewer interjects: How do you find the people here in England in Manchester?

A lot better than other Europeans, socially, they are more accepting of others, there may be some hypocrisy too, there may still be racist people, but I would say having seen what is happening in France, Belgium and Germany, I would say it is a good place for foreign people. People have respect for foreigners, they accept qualifications, professionally they are more accepting, they are more advanced, discrimination is not an issue and the people live well with that. There are always racist and bad people but overall the English are a lot better than other European people towards foreign people.

Interview 23 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

From an early age, I was organising sport tournaments. I would set up games in different areas. I set up a women’s basketball team called Vita Club. Vita is well-known in Kinshasa, like Manchester United, and it is still around today. But I had the basketball team; there was a football team, a basketball team and a volley team – I was president of the volley team. My talent allowed me to join the Congolese Olympics Committee and the Judo Federation. I organised a number of judo events and supported many of the people involved with the sport. There were mostly young people playing these sports, many of them have now moved away and are working as lawyers and professionals in America. I helped a lot of people become traders and I created some of the biggest names in Kinshasa today, sadly some of them have died, like Hugo Tanzambi, who used to play for my team.

 

Interview 24 (Lingala)

English translation of interview:

We arrived in this country in 2005 and it was difficult to understand the immigration process. At the time we were asylum seekers and there were no suitable services to help us understand the processes. It was very difficult to understand what to do next. We used to go to Refugee Action for help but sometimes you would go there and they would have no interpreters so it was very difficult. It is because of this that me and a couple of others decided to get together to help the community. We had some knowledge of the language and some of us had gained professional skills and training in Africa. So with a group of five people we set up an organisation to help asylum seekers and people who had gained stay. We help people with interpreting, with application forms, language skills and now we are helping people gain IT skills.

 

Interview 25 (Lingala)

Interview 26

Interview 27 (English)

Interview 28 (English)

Interview 29

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