Accepted Papers:

The potlatch in Kinshasa: dispersal of material goods, sounds and dances in Kinshasa  


Joseph Trapido (School of African and Oriental Studies)

Paper Short Abstract:

Kinshasa is obsessed by the idea of a bon viveur who travels to Europe and engages in potlatch-like events. As in earlier central african cosmologies the flow of material goods is seen as part of a power which the individual aquires from the dead in exchange for the lives of relatives

Paper long abstract:

The urban imagination in Kinshasa is obsessed by the idea of the mikiliste a bon viveur who travels to Europe, and associates with popular musicians. Central to the success of the mikiliste is his capacity to engage potlatch-like events. The mikiliste will be expected to engage in acts of conspicuous consumption. He will take care to be seen drinking beer and whisky, wearing designer clothes, having his name sung by famous musicians, driving fancy cars and dispensing largesse on a retinue - especially on famous courtesans and on street children. Migrants will engage in widespread criminal activities in order to be able to participate in these expensive rituals of success. This potlatch, where the the dispersal of objects is combined with music and dance to create a particular kind of emotional context, where joy and luck and material excess are mediums of social dominance.As in earlier Central African political and economic theories, the capacity to engage in such acts of wild expenditure is linked to the idea that social and political dominance is a power drawn from the land of the dead, and specifically from having traded the lives of lineage members in exchange for luck, blessing and power. Locally this kind of power is seen as extremely unstable, thus the dispersal of goods confers a very unstable kind of legitimacy.

panel P01
Thinking, acting and knowing through religious 'things': artefacts in the making of cosmology