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Education, Religion, and Social Structure in Zaire
This paper is an analysis of the relationship of indigenous and western systems
of education in lower Zaire during the period of the transformation of the
lineage mode of production prevailing in precolonial times to a form of
dependent capitalism. The paper also explores the relationship of these two
educational systems to the religionj social structure , and patterns of social
stratification of populations of lower Zaire placing special emphasis on the
Bakongo. ANTHROPOLOGY AND EDUCATION , SOCIAL STRATIFICATION ,
CAPITALISM , ZAIRE, BAKONGO.
The purpose of this paper is to explore, at a very general level, the relations
among education, religion, and social structure in Zaire, particularly Lower
Zaire, as the lineage mode of production prevailing in precolonial times was
transformed into a form of dependent capitalism. The intermediate stage of
this transformation, in colonial Zaire (Belgian Congo), was social pluralism,
dictated by the policy of indirect rule. The people of Lower Zaire with whom
we will be chiefly concerned call themselves Bakongo or bisi Kongo, the
people of Kongo . 1
Education, the passing on of acquired competences from one generation
to another, plays an essential role in the reproduction of society. This essential
role has two aspects, which we may call the technical and the political. The
technical function of education is to teach necessary or at least useful skills that
the incoming generation of the labor force will use as they make their
contribution to production, in the manner characteristic of their society's
economy. The political aspect has to do with the reproduction of production
as a system of social relations. Political requirements dictate, for example, that
certain skills will be taught to women and not to men, or to members of a
certain class or lineage and not to another.
Commonly, these two aspects are confounded by indigenous ideology,
which represents social placement as the direct consequence of the distribu¬
tion of skills, whereas in fact the educational process distributes those skills
according to a politically determined pattern. Moreover, the content of the
skills in question may turn out to have, in fact, very little technical value; the
latent but more significant function of this sort of education is to endow the
young with command of the cultural materials by which social differentiation
is expressed. Such materials include language, ritual, pollution observances,
body techniques, esoterica, and in general ail "processes and techniques
which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life" (Veblen
Copyright © 1982 by the Council on Anthropology and Education. All rights reserved.
Anthropology & Education Quarterly 239
1962:92). In the limiting case, the political function of education in main¬
taining social segregation may be served by its formal exclusiveness alone, in
the absence of any content whatever—as in the initiation ceremonies of men
in a Kuba village, in what was then Belgian Congo, who confessed to Vansina
that the secret of their initiation was that they had none (Vansina 1955:138).
The structure of social differentiation according to such values as sex, age,
clan, class, or race is always defended by taboos and ritual obligations, and is
itself always more or less sacred and the source of collective representations or
models concerning it, which the mind of man projects outside society into the
realm of the natural or supernatural. Education, besides equipping successive
generations individually and categorically with differential values and compe¬
tences, teaches and confirms the scheme or model of the whole, the world
view appropriate to the society in question. 2
Revolutionary changes in education will take place if and only if one
mode of production gives way to another, not only because the technology
and economic organization of the new mode requires that the labor force be
equipped with new skills, but because its social relations and their repro¬
duction require new expressive codes, cognitive orientations, and internal¬
ized values. In this aspect, education is always closely linked to religion,
whether the society in question represents itself as religious or not.
Ritual and the Lineage Mode of Production
In precolonial Kongo, religion, education, and economy were linked some¬
what as follows. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, BaKongo sought
wealth and importance by participating in the intercontinental trade trav¬
ersing their territory, which brought slaves, ivory, and other goods to the coast
in exchange for European manufactures, such as guns and cloth (Dupre and
Rey 1978:190-97). Internally, these items became symbols of chiefship and
prestige goods with which ritual fees were paid. Chiefship itself was at least as
much a ritual as a political position; it was an expensive form of initiation into
one of the many cults of the dead. Such cults were believed to confer
knowledge and power on the initiates, who were able to use the powers and
rules of the cult to extract wealth from the profane and to advance their
trading ventures through the contacts and guarantees the cult provided.
Most adults were initiated into at least one cult, the cults collectively
serving the functions of social control, economic redistribution, and also
education, in that through them knowledge was preserved and passed on.
Prolonged initiation camps for adolescents seem to have been general;
Kinkimba, in the west, may have been a nineteenth-century development, but
Kimpasi in the center and east dated back to the seventeenth century at least
(Bittremieux 1936; Van Wing 1959). These cults were similar: youths were
taken from their village homes and secluded in bush camps (s. vwe/a, vwa/a)
for as long as five years. During this time they were supposed to have died and
to be living in the world of the dead in contact with a class of the dead called
bankita, spirits who inhabited local watercourses and controlled fertility. The
initiates themselves became like spirits; they painted their bodies the white
color of the dead and wore fiber skirts as a sign of their liminal condition. The
240 Volume XIII, Number 3
names Kimpasi and Kinkimba suggest the character of the initiation as an
ordeal: Kukimbi ko moyo , buna kuzunga ko, “if your heart is not strong, don't
be initiated." When released from their seclusion, the initiates were said
to be reborn, and went about impressing the profane by their command
of the secret language they had learned in the land of the dead and by
their potent new names. Later, this language would be useful to them as
a means of deceiving the uninitiated in trade and legal proceedings (Laman
In the region of Mbanza Manteke, Kinkimba was open only to freemen;
the initiation would have helped to preserve the boundary of their class
against slaves, who would never learn the secrets. Information about this
function in other areas is poor. 3 Apparently, the camps served to discipline the
young at an age when they could be a nuisance; they emerged as adults, ready
for marriage. Kinkimba enrolled only young men, though certain women had
important functions, and in modern Manteke the names of women as well as
of men in the dominant lineages are Kinkimba names, inherited from their
grandparents. Kimpasi enrolled girls as well as boys, but the more general
practice was to seclude small numbers of them in the “house of rules" (nzo
longo , nzo kumbi) under ritual supervision, in preparation for marriage and
maternity. The camps also served to unite villages and groups of villages in a
prestigious but economically burdensome endeavor that fostered local pride
and discouraged political bickering; perhaps for that reason, the initiation
might be recommended by a diviner to “heal" the neighborhood.
Modern BaKongo speak of the camps as having imposed a moral and
social discipline sadly lacking in the youth of recent times, and as having
taught necessary skills, such as the dangerous art of tapping palm trees for
wine. Bittremieux's relatively detailed study and the accounts available in the
Laman notebooks (Janzen 1972) suggest that these views owe something to
missionary ideals of what a school should be, and that the knowledge
transmitted in the camps dealt mostly with magical formulas and the verbal
ingenuities, somewhere between magic and an art form, that remain to this
day the delight of Kongo elders (cf. Vansina 1955). Merely to be able to
participate knowledgeably in the initiate's world of puns, proverbs, allusive
songs, and evocative references was to belong to a sort of club and enjoy both
insider status and the degree of real social control it entailed. That is as much as
we can say in support of the label “secret society" applied by Bittremieux and
colonial commentators preoccupied with African mysteries and the political
threat that might be contained in them. Many other cults, resembling the
camps in the structure of the ritual process, differed from them in being more
specialized, more powerful, and more exclusive. The significance of such cults
in social reproduction was that they consecrated and legitimized the real
social power of chiefs and wealthy elders to allocate individuals to local
productive units by maintaining or modifying the rules of matrilineal descent.
Cult rules created debts that were eventually satisfied by transferring
individuals between groups as slaves or pawns, eventually to be assimilated
under cover of genealogical fictions. All initiates were empowered, to some
degree, to exact fees and fines from noninitiates.
Anthropology & Education Quarterly 241
From 1886 on, colonial decrees abolished the public, corporate cults of the
dead, either directly by forbidding slave trading and certain functions as
“barbarous,” or indirectly by destroying the trading system, in which the
greater part of the male population had engaged. The colonial regime
substituted new kinds of public organization in which, once again, religion,
education, and economy were linked in a particular way. The mission schools
attracted youngsters, who as adu Its belonged to the church that had educated
them; on the strength of that education they moved into the better-paying
and more prestigious occupations open to Congolese in the church, the
schools, the government, and the commercial and industrial companies, all of
which depended on suitably trained African labor. This was not capitalism in
the European sense, however, in which labor was distributed through the
market; the political requirement of European control, supported by an
ideology of race, restricted Congolese to rank and file membership in all the
new institutions and restricted their education accordingly.
In the 1880s, Protestant missionaries were pioneers in the introduction of
European education because they thought that direct acquaintance with the
Bible was essential to Christian living; but some of them, at least, were
reluctant to offer industrial training or indeed anything beyond basic literacy
lest it “spoil the natives” (Markowitz 1973:53; Guinness 1890:439). One such
Protestant missionary, Henry Richards of Mbanza Manteke, used to inter¬
rogate candidates for baptism concerning Nkimba initiation, refusing all who
still believed in its mysteries. His policy was generalized by the colonial
government, which in its annual report for 1922 declared the importance of
placing other commandments in the minds of the blacks instead of the
abolished commandments of indigenous custom. “A special feature of
Belgian policy is the attitude towards Christian missions. Education is almost
entirely in their hands, their work is assisted by subsidies, and it is closely
bound up with the development in the Congo of the sentiment of loyalty to
Belgium” (Hailey 1945:141; cf. Franck, 1930).
Loyalty to Belgium would be more reliably inculcated by Catholic than by
Protestant missions, it was believed, since the Protestant missions were nearly
all English and American and were commonly regarded by Belgians as agents
of rival imperial powers. In addition, Catholicism, as a relatively authoritarian
discipline, was considered likely to develop appropriately subservient atti¬
tudes in the minds of converts, whereas the Protestant emphasis on personal
study of the scriptures (/'examen libre) encouraged the spirit of indepen¬
dence, and “rapidly led primitive peoples to adopt a mentality of revolt against
all authority, whether religious or political” (G. Dufonteny, cited in Markowitz
Catholics were much more aware than Protestants of the importance of
social context to the maintenance of belief. Early modern Jesuit missions
developed the ferme-chapelle , a type of rural community in which young
converts were to be isolated from their pagan fellows. General for a while in
Catholic mission practice, the ferme-chapelle was abandoned in 1914 in favor
242 Volume XIII, Number 3
of the Protestant system of catechists sent back to their villages after training to
be the nuclei of Christian parishes. As representatives of the European regime,
such catechists often supplanted existing local authorities and became village
headmen (Markowitz 1973:16; Andersson 1968:147; MacGaffey 1970:252).
What remained of the ferme-chapelle system was the emphasis on agriculture
and craft skills, which remained conspicuous in primary education through
The educational policy developed after 1922, following the recommenda¬
tions of an appointed commission, was associated with the name of the
Minister of Colonies, Louis Franck, and was an essential part of an administra¬
tive policy known as indirect rule, imitated by him from the British. In theory,
indirect rule meant that existing indigenous institutions would be perpetu¬
ated, modified as little as possible, strengthened if need be, and incorporated
in the colonial administration as its lowest level, in contact with local
populations. In fact, it created a plural society whose functioning owed little to
the past (Dupre and Rey 1978:198-205).
A plural society exists when two or more sets of institutions (economy,
government, law, family, religion, and the like) are incorporated within a
single political framework controlled by one of the sets (Smith 1974). In
Belgian Congo the two sets, or sectors, were the “statutory/' which controlled
the country in the interests of the colonizers, and the indigenous or
“customary" sector. Statutory institutions, such as police, banks, industry,
railroads, written law, and Christianity, were those of Europe adapted to
colonial purposes. Customary institutions, including subsistence agriculture,
matrilineal descent, divination, and ancestor worship, were those of African
peoples such as the BaKongo, similarly adapted to colonial conditions.
Europeans in Congo were subject to only one set of institutional require¬
ments; Africans were subject in some degree to both. Africans were taxed,
employed for wages, conscripted for military service, and baptized as
Christians, but they were also required to identify themselves, in customary
context, as members of matrilineal clans, to whom the customary laws of
exogamy and land tenure applied, and among whom social relations were
regulated partly by beliefs in divination, witchcraft, and ancestors.
This pluralism, with its associated linguistic and cultural heterogeneity,
was (and is) explicit in the consciousness of BaKongo as two ways of life, which
they call kimundele (European) and kindombe (African). It was created by the
policy of indirect rule, in reaction against a tentatively assimilationist policy
prevailing until 1908, and education was instrumental in perpetuating it. The
statutory sector needed labor, minimally trained for unskilled and semiskilled
work and equipped with docile attitudes. Africans were excluded from
secondary education, which might have qualified them for the managerial
positions reserved to Europeans and would also have exposed them to ideas
unsuited to their intended station. Primary education in mission schools was
encouraged to spread “moral discipline, ideas of hygiene, the ferment of
progress, respect and sympathy for our colonial enterprise" (E. de Jonghe,
quoted in Hailey 1945:1272).
The success of the material side of colonial education is massively
apparent not only in the industrial workplace but in rural and urban domestic
Anthropology & Education Quarterly 243
life; in brief, the BaKongo are in their material culture one of the most
Europeanized of African peoples. On the other hand, the failure of the
ideological function is evident not only in the short life of the Belgian regime,
which ended abruptly in 1960, but in the general failure of Congolese to
understand the European world view. Schooling in the new European sense
was understood by BaKongo as an initiation camp, in which young people
were secluded, subjected to strange taboos and privations, and taught an
occult language, along with other mysteries, before being born again as
members of a powerful new cult association, the Christian church. It was
believed that initiates paid as a fee the souls of one or more relatives, which the
masters of the cult, the missionaries, would sell as slaves into the land of the
dead beyond the ocean (Andersson 1968:47; cf. Vansina 1969:51). Europeans
generally were regarded as the dead, that is, as the inhabitants of that invisible
world to which all BaKongo go when they die, and to which specially
endowed masters of occult arts are believed able to repair at night to obtain
power for good or evil purposes. The entire colonial enterprise, and the
Atlantic slave trade that preceded it, was understood in the idiom of witchcraft
as a cannibalistic nocturnal traffic in human beings. These views were still
dominant in 1970 (MacGaffey 1968, 1972; Zamenga 1974:Ch. 1).
This view, emphasizing the magical and irrational at the expense of the
practical elements of European education, is not as mistaken as at first glance it
may appear to be. From the beginning, as we have seen, ritual functions were
at least as important as practical ones in colonial education. What was at stake,
as Kongo chiefs fully recognized, was control of the young and the political
future of the country. Bittremieux, ethnographer of Kinkimba and one of the
agents of its destruction, describes how village elders faced with the expansion
of mission influence tried to insist on Nkimba initiation for all the young
(1936:212). The content of education also contained considerable elements of
mystification, from racism and “the ferment of progress” to the European view
of the evils of masturbation. Missionaries spoke as though belief, morals, and
industrial arts could be separated from custom, etiquette, music, diet, and
superficial quotidian culture, but “did not succeed, in practice, in discrimi¬
nating between what was European and what was biblical” (Axelson
Relativistic recognition of the parallels between initiation and education
does not account, however, for the persistence of Kongo cosmological beliefs
as the primary popular orientation toward the world and current events,
despite 80 years of intensive European indoctrination. For an explanation we
may turn to the anthropology of religion and the relation between myth and
ritual, as it is understood by Leach (1968). “Myth” is anthropological shorthand
for verbal explanations of the world and the position of social actors with
respect to that world and to each other. “Ritual” refers to the nonverbal,
communicative aspect of ail social interaction, the practical enactment of
myth. The anthropology of religion has long debated which comes first: do
people behave the way they do because they believe the myth? Leach holds
that ritual (social interaction) is the primary experience, giving rise to myth as
its verbal expression.
Protestant missionary doctrine, in effect, attributed primacy to myth
244 Volume XIII, Number 3
(belief, and scripture as the source of belief), whereas Catholics favored ritual,
notably in the ferme-chapelle experiment. These doctrinal variations are
trivial, however, in comparison with the massive fact that under the racial
segregation of the colonial regime, and the separation of statutory from
customary society, Congolese were exposed, in effect, only to the myth of
European civilization and did not experience its ritual. They participated only
passively in European institutions, governed by laws they did not enact,
repairing machines they did not build, reading books they did not write. Social
pluralism segregated two worlds of meaning between which there was little
communication. The deficiency was masked by the development of special
colonial vocabularies, in French and KiKongo, of words that meant one thing
to Europeans and another to Africans (Janzen and MacGaffey 1974:16).
Mechanics and healers prided themselves on being guided, like their
ancestors, by inspiration, which made them, unlike the European, indepen¬
dent of textbooks. Paramedics took courses in nutrition without thinking to
apply what they had learned in their own homes, where babies and their
health problems remained the sole concern of their mothers.
Independence and Neocolonalism
Independence meant to many BaKongo that they would at last be admitted to
the world of understanding, power, and wealth from which they had been
excluded. The world would “turn upside-down” ( baluka ); the ancestors
would return from America where they had been enslaved, bringing with
them the secrets of technology; the true Bible would be revealed at last;
perhaps Congolese would even wake up to find that they had become white.
In fact, the plural structure was maintained with very little change, except that
Congolese (later, “Zairois”) occupied the managerial posts vacated by
Europeans, first in government, later in business and the churches. For this
advance, education was critical, and the class structure of the new regime
immediately declared itself in educational terms. The popular label, “intel¬
lectuals,” identified both the new national bourgeoisie of politicians, bureau¬
crats, entrepreneurs, and wealthy traders and also the second echelon of
clerks, teachers, policemen, and soldiers. The nonintellectual lower classes
were identified by occupation, from petty traders through urban and rural
workers, peasants, and the unemployed (Nzongola 1970:518). 4
In the decade after independence, according to official figures, the
number of children enrolled in primary and secondary schools increased by
100 percent, from 1.7 million to 3.4 million and from 22,000 to 220,000,
respectively. The number of university graduates increased from a handful to
10,000. These figures mean little. Immediately after independence the most
able teachers moved on to more lucrative occupations. Primary education in
the 1960s meant, for most children, meaningless rote learning, privation, and
physical abuse, in a rigidly authoritarian framework; a diploma testified to
little more than endurance. Secondary education was little better; in 1978,
only 18 percent (7,235) candidates passed the final examinations, and of those
only 1,000 did well enough to qualify for university entrance. The 82 percent
who failed were not trained in any useful skills. Meanwhile, the new
Anthropology & Education Quarterly 245
bourgeoisie ensured its own reproduction by enrolling their children in
consular and other European-run schools or by sending them abroad to be
educated. Part of the “corruption” for which the Republic of Zaire became
notorious was generated by the struggle to penetrate, by means of diplomas,
the developing class boundary.
National education after independence remained Eurocentric in content
and in charge of the churches. A Catholic textbook published in 1964 for the
fifth grade of primary school, called History of Our Country, began with the
usual quasi-mythological European account of African races and the equally
conventional picture, congenial to indirect rule, of African society as a
paternalistic hierarchy in which the head of the family paid “tribute” to the
head of the clan; the clan head, to the chief of the tribe; and the tribal chief, to
the paramount chief (cf. MacCaffey 1970:259-63). Twenty pages were devoted
to the history of Central Africa, 43 pages to colonial heroes such as Leopold 11
and H, M. Stanley. The few pages on independence mentioned the mildly
nationalistic manifesto published in 1956 by Conscience Africaine, a Catholic-
sponsored newspaper, but not Patrice Lumumba or Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the
first president of independent Congo. The only pictures showed either
“barbarous natives” or thriving colonial enterprises, in 1972, in a newspaper
article, the then Minister of Information wrote:
Modern education is a legacy of colonialism, which designed ... a program of
instruction suiting its needs and not ours, to product docile people useful to the
colonizer. This conception was modified in the last years of colonial rule, but the
education we have remains entirely an imported type. 5
This declaration was part of a much-trumpeted turn toward national
“cultural authenticity,” a campaign that never went far beyond the propa¬
ganda stage. Its real object was not cultural reform but the Catholic church,
the principal source of opposition to the regime of President Mobutu. In
detail, the content of the authenticity program presented a picture of
indigenous society and culture drawn wholly from what the elite had learned
in school, an African sociology informed by European romanticism and
motivated by political needs that the new class inherited from their prede¬
cessors: for example, the political model of African society as a single,
authoritarian hierarchy headed by an absolute chief.
After World War II, the Catholic church in Belgian Congo, anticipating
the growth of nationalism, resolved to make itself the ally rather than the
enemy of the emergent Congolese elite. To this end it pushed for secondary
education for Congolese and for a Catholic university in Congo as an
educational milieu morally superior to the secular, “progressive” universities
of Europe, to which Congolese might otherwise have been sent (Lacroix
1972:26; Markowitz 1973:69-73). Lovanium University, an offshoot of the
Catholic University of Louvain, opened in 1954, on a site outside the capital
city of Leopoldville (Kinshasa), despite considerable opposition from Belgian
Socialists and those who thought that any university would foster hostility to
Belgian rule. The Socialists immediately took steps to open a secular university
in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) in 1956. The Protestants founded a university of
their own in the third major city, Stanleyville (Kisangani) in the mid-1960s. In
246 Volume XIII, Number 3
1971, ail three foundations were incorporated by Mobutu in the University
Nationale du Zaire.
Meanwhile, the churches continued, as in colonial times, to dominate
primary and secondary education. The major new development in this area
was the emergence of the Church of Jesus Christ on the Earth by the Prophet
Simon Kimbangu (EJCSK), created on the eve of independence by the three
sons of the great Kongo prophet Simon Kimbangu. EJCSK is the major
organizational precipitate of a complex of prophetic movements collectively
known as Kimbanguism (Janzen and MacGaffey 1974).
Kimbanguism and Social Pluralism
From 1921 on, when Kimbangu "stood up" as a prophet, movements using his
name provided the only idiom and organizational structure able to build up
regional and even national loyalties with potentially subversive effect.
Preserving the essential structure of the initiation cults of the past, they taught
an indigenous social science of the colonial world and its exploitation of
Africans, using the language of divination and witchcraft. Such movements
were correctly seen by the colonial authorities as dangerous and were
suppressed (Andersson 1958).
At independence, given the persistence of the statutory sector as the
institutional apparatus of the new national bourgeoisie, the religious move¬
ments that emerged from hiding to appeal once again to popular loyalties in
the customary sector seemed as threatening to the new regime as to the old.
The Christian character of Kimbanguism protected it to some extent from
police harassment, but the resources necessary to sustain any movement were
themselves largely controlled by the statutory sector.
EJCSK solved the problem by establishing itself in the statutory sector as a
church, in direct competition with the Protestant and Catholic churches
derived from the missions, and meeting all the ideological and organizational
requirements to be recognized, by bureaucratic criteria, as one of them. From
1960 on, the new church devoted its principal resources to the creation of a
school system, of which the buildings, built by volunteer labor, and the salaries
of the staff, provided by the government for all approved schools, constituted
the major part of the church's material base (MacGaffey 1976a). In addition, it
developed the beginnings of the kind of total socioreligious complex, a
society within a society, that is popularly recognized as a "mission." The cost of
establishing itself in the statutory sector was loss of popular support; people
said EJCSK was "just another mission," and turned to other, less successful
churches, for divination and antidotes to the witchcraft that they believed to
be responsible for their troubles.
Most of the other Kimbanguist churches would have liked to establish
themselves bureaucratically, but were unable to. Not least among the many
difficulties was the problem of meeting two different sets of ideological and
institutional demands simultaneously. Several of them called themselves
Church of the Holy Spirit (DMN), but the similarities between African
possession rites and European pentecostalism, justified by reference to I
Corinthians 14, could not paper over the functional discrepancies.
The schism that developed in one such DMN church between 1965 and
Anthropology & Education Quarterly 247
1970 reveals the strength of these tensions. Of the two leaders of this church, L.
declared that he had “seen in the spirit” that Mobutu was only a temporary
governor and that Kasa-Vubu would return to abolish the entire bureaucratic
regime. (This Kongo fantasy was still alive in the 1970s, well after Kasa-Vubu's
death.) He was therefore opposed to F., who wanted to move entirely into the
statutory sector, taking advantage of 1965 legislation awarding tax exemption
to nonprofit associations. In an economy as close to subsistence as this, a tax
exemption is almost as good as a salary. By 1970, F., laying claim to the school
property of the original DMN, had constituted himself and his followers as a
separate church whose ambivalent aims were declared to be as follows:
I. Spiritual life.
a. To teach the divine word of our Savior Jesus Christ by the Holy
Spirit, as did the Apostles of Jesus and his witness Simon Kimbangu.
b. Daily homage to the Authorities and to the country.
II. Material life.
a. Creation of churches, schools, dispensaries, hospitals, social clubs
and educational centers [the “mission” complex],
b. Creation of orphanages.
c. Baptisim by immersion.
d. Observe the marriage law.
e. Compose hymns.
F. spoke less and less of religion, and by the end of 1970 his “church” had
become an “educational institute.” In the same year, another religious group
unsuccessfully sought official recognition without reference to Christianity
but by modeling itself on the Institute of Social and Economic Research (IRES)
at Lovanium. Calling itself the Institute for Scientific Research in Congolese
Occultism (IRESOCO), it declared its objectives to be:
Scientifically cultural, derived from ancestral Congolese tradition. Most of the
members are practitioners of the art of healing on the model of elders,
witchdoctors, so-called occultists in foreign magic, and others who are interested.
In 1971, the government denied recognition, in effect, to all “churches”
whose roots were in the customary sector. In 1979, the law was tightened to
forbid all preaching of religion, except in the name of a church constituted
according to law as a nonprofit association; and to prohibit any church whose
doctrines did not in broad outline conform to those of the churches already
recognized: the Catholic, Protestant, and Kimbanguist (EJCSK).
Church and State
In 1972-1973, the enrollment in primary and secondary schools was as follows
248 Volume XIII, Number 3
The social importance of these school systems was twofold. Churches
depended on them for recruitment, since most people joined the denomina¬
tion in which they had been able to obtain schooling; in the 1960s,
Kimbanguist schools picked up many children who were unable to obtain
admission to the others. Second, the "old boy" networks were important
elements in the informal political system, the distribution of patronage and
the maintenance of contacts among the elite. This factor, in addition to its
episcopal structure and its dominant position in education and social services,
made the Catholic Church the only body resistant to incorporation in
Mobutu's absolutist state and capable of opposing it. The Protestants and
Kimbanguists, he declared, had never given him any trouble.
Arguing that the Catholic Church received its orders from abroad and
that the existence of an autonomous body within the public sector contra¬
dicted African ideals of monolithic chiefship, Mobutu attempted to relieve all
the churches of their public role, notably in education. All symbolicand other
connections between church and state were severed, and in 1975 all school
systems were nationalized. The propaganda of the time spoke of "Mobu-
tuism" as the new state religion, referred to the president as "Savior" and
"Prophet," and compared the "authentic" education of the future to
traditional initiation. The insistent theme of the president's speeches on
education (beginning in 1971, after students from Lovanium mounted a
political demonstration, which the government suppressed by drafting them
alii nto the army) was that it must instill loyalty to the state. It was ironic that the
Catholic Church should find itself faulted on this account.
In general, both the Catholics and the Protestants welcomed their
disestablishment, since it left their informal political systems intact while
freeing them from contaminating contact with an increasingly corrupt and
unpopular regime. In 1977, however, the state having proved itself incapable
of managing the schools, they were returned to the churches. 6
The history of Kongo education in three sociologically distinct phases shows
that technical functions have always been subordinate to political require¬
ments. The distinction between manifest and latent functions, alluded to at
the beginning of the paper, is scarcely appropriate, in fact, since the primacy
of political functions has always been explicit. Political functions include both
ideology, that is, the inculcation of a view of the world and of approved
attitudes toward it, and social placement, that is, the reproduction of existing
social relations. The primacy of political over technical functions is ap¬
propriate to an economy, or series of economies, in which wealth has always
been a matter of extraction rather than production, whether the goods
extracted were slaves, ivory, palm oil, or minerals. The inefficiency often
attributed to public education in Belgian Congo and Zaire ("failure" to
produce certain kinds of graduates) should be reconsidered with reference to
the relative unimportance of technical needs even in a supposedly modern¬
izing society. On the other hand, the primacy of the political function, with its
direct relationship to the constitution and reproduction of each of the several
social structures, explains the close and explicitly necessary connection of
religion and education.
Anthropology & Education Quarter/y 249
l! Information used in this report is drawn from newspapers, official documents,
published sources listed in the references, and my own fieldwork in 1964-1966 and
1970. At different times I lived near a Protestant rural primary school and a Catholic
primary school in a small town, in both of which my oldest child was enrolled, and a
state secondary school in a city, in which the oldest children of my host were en¬
rolled. On colonial and postcolonial "customary'' society, see my Custom and
Government (1970) and “Corporation Theory and political change: The Case of
Zaire' 1 (1976b).
2. Except perhaps in the simplest societies, this process is never static or homogeneous
with respect to its content, which reflects the competing political philosophies of
its time. The observer may well identify as the significant ideological constants not the
values, if any, on which everyone agrees, but the values on which they agree to dis¬
agree, to the exclusion of others.
3. Bittremieux says of Kinkimba in Mayombe that anyone, free or slave, could be
admitted “with the chief's permission" (1936:29).
4. Mabusa (1966) surveys the educational scene in the period just after independence.
Rimlinger (1976), describing the rise and fall (1964-1971) of the National School of
Law and Administration (ENDA), gives an excellent case study of the class value of a
license (first university degree) and the politics associated with the right to grant it.
5. The second edition, published in 1972, is still more grotesque, in its efforts to avoid all
6. In 1980, scandalous revelations of systematic embezzlement of funds for teachers'
salaries forced the government to replace most of the high officials of the Ministry of
Primary and Secondary Education and to give the churches direct control of these
funds. In the same year a commission was formed to recommend fundamental
changes in the National University, in view of its virtual collapse.
1958 Messianic Popular Movements in the Lower Congo. Studia Ethnographica
Upsaliensia VI. Uppsala, Sweden: Almquist and Wiksell.
1968 Churches at the Grass-roots. London: Lutterworth.
1970 Culture Confrontation in the Lower Congo. Falkoping, Sweden: Gummesons.
1936 La Societe secrete des Bakhimba au Mayombe. Brussels: Institut Royal Colonial
Dupre, C., and P. P. Rey.
1978 Reflexions on the relevance of a theory of the history of exchange. In D. Seddon,
ed.. Relations of Production. London: Frank Cass.
1930 Le Congo Beige, 2 vols. Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre.
Guinness, F. E.
1890 The New World of Central Africa. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
1945 An African Survey. 2d, ed. London: Oxford University Press.
Janzen, j. M.
1972 Laman's Kongo ethnography. Africa 42:316-28.
janzen, J. M., and W. MacGaffey
1974 An Anthology of Kongo Religion. University of Kansas Publications in Anthro¬
pology, No. 5. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.
250 Volume XIII, Number 3
1972 Pouvoirs et structures de PUniversite Lovanium. Cahiers du CEDAF, No. 2-3.
Brussels: Centre d'Etude et de Documentation Africaines.
Laman, K. E.
1962 The Kongo, vol, 3. Studia Ethnographica Upsaliensia IV. Uppsala, Sweden:
Almquist and Wiksells.
Leach, E, R.
1968 Ritual. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.
1966 Post-independence Education in the Congo. Africa Report 11(6):24—28.
1968 Kongo and the King of the Americans. J. Mod. Afr, Stud. 6:171-81.
1970 Custom and Government in the Lower Congo. Los Angeles: University of
1972 The West in Congolese experience. In P. D. Curtin, ed. Africa and the West.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
1976a Kimbanguism: An African Christianity. Africa Report 21(1):40-43.
1976b. Corporation Theory and Political Change: The Case of Zaire. In S. Neuman ,
ed. Small States and Segmented Societies. New York: Praeger.
Markowitz, M. D.
1973 Cross and Sword: The Political Role of Christian Missions in the Belgian Congo,
1908-1960. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution.
Nzongola, G. N.
1970 Bourgeoisie and revolution in the Congo, j. Mod. Afr. Stud. 8:511-30.
Rimlinger, G. V.
1976 Administrative Training and Modernisation in Zaire. J. Develop. Stud. 12:364-82.
Smith, M. G.
1974 Corporations and Society. London: Duckworth.
1955 Initiation rituals of the Bushong. Africa 25:138-52.
1969 Du royaume kuba au ‘territoire des Bakuba.' Etudes Congolaises 12(2):3—53.
Van Wing, J.
1959 Etudes Bakongo. Brussels: Desclee de Brouwer.
1962 The Portable Veblen. M. Lerner, ed. New York: Viking.
1974 Carte Postale (novel). Kinshasa: "Basenzi,” B.P. 203, Kinshasa XI.
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