Accepted Paper:

Barthélémy Boganda and Political Life in French Equatorial Africa 1910-1959  


Klaas Van Walraven (African Studies Centre)

Paper short abstract:

Barthélémy Boganda was a Catholic priest in Oubangui-Chari, the colonial name of the Central African Republic, who in the course of the 1940s developed into the prime anti-colonial agitator in this territory.

Paper long abstract:

The life, work and times of Barthélémy Boganda - ca. 1910-1959 - provide insight, on a micro level, in the nature and consequences of colonialism in French Equatorial Africa. The terror of colonial conquest, its destructive consequences for Equatorial civilisation and the means of personal salvation and advancement provided by that other dimension of colonial rule - the missionary world - became encapsulated in the personal life of Barthélémy Boganda. Born in the Lobaye forest - an area that suffered particularly under concessionary colonialism - Boganda was orphaned before the age of ten as a direct consequence of colonial terror. A lone, lost child literally picked up by a colonial patrol in the rainforest, Boganda was put into missionary care, where his gift for learning was quickly noticed. An itinerary through mission-run educational institutions culminated in Boganda's ordination as Oubangui-Chari's first Catholic priest (1938). His personal diaries, recently (re-)discovered, provide, however, glimpses of troubled memories of childhood and deep-seated misgivings about missionary paternalism and the racism of the colonial order. The mid-1940s became a turning point in his life, whereupon Boganda commenced a political career marked by agitation against colonialism and its (settler) representatives. Remarkable for its ferocity even for the times, his comportment betrayed a troubled soul, while his anti-colonial discourse was marked by a syncretism of Christian modernity and old beliefs, both caricatured and venerated. Thus, the study of Boganda's life provides insight in the nexus between politics and religion as ingrained in Equatorial civilisation.

Panel P149
The importance of biography in African historical studies