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Religion, TV Drama, and Life in Africa

 

Television dramas set in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, offer viewers interesting commentaries on life in the African city, according to Katrien Pype. The connection between real-life and filmic melodrama, conversion narratives, Christian songs and testimonies are described in her book, The Making of the Pentecostal Melodrama: Religion, Media and Gender in Kinshasa, now available in paperback. Following, the author gives a synopsis of two popular TV shows in Kinshasa, Kalaonga and The Heritage of Death. These descriptions are followed by clips from each serial.

 


 

 

Kalaonga

(produced between March 2004 and November 2005)

 

The serial opens in the Dark World. Baaba, the Devil, accompanied by two demons, is listening to his daughter, the siren Kalaonga.

 

She has noticed that the helpers her father had sent to earth have not returned. So, she has come to ask permission to go to the human world in order to help her father.

 

The following scene takes place in Kinshasa. Maman Jeanne complains to her husband that her third pregnancy will give her another boy. She longs for a baby girl.

 

Without anyone knowing, Maman Jeanne visits a magician, who agrees to transform the unborn baby into a girl. She has to eat a lizard and name her daughter Kalaonga, kiKongo for lizard. When Maman Jeanne returns from the hospital after delivering, everybody is surprised to see a girl. Yet, this baby is a “mystical baby.” At night, the baby transforms itself into a young woman, who visits bars and seduces men. Often Jeanne and Makubakuba hear the baby crying in the living room, although they find the baby in the bedroom. As a baby, Kalaonga curses her oldest brother, Kiodo, who thus becomes a kizengi (fool).

 

When Kalaonga turns 18, she leads a life of nightclubs and concerts, taking her friends along to do wrong. She seduces married men, mainly her friends’ fathers. He first victim is Caleb, father of Gemima and Poupette, who is married to Charlainne. She becomes friendly with Gemima’s lover, and eventually convinces him to break off the marriage on the day of the wedding itself. After that, she looks to her neighbors — the family of Theresia. Under the guise of setting up a small business with Theresia and her daughter Caroline, Kalaonga bewitches this family. When Theresia refuses to pay Kalaonga for sold items, Kalaonga renders them mute.

 

Several days later, she meets Julien (Theresia’s husband) at the annual fair, where she bewitches him with her eyes and through a drink. Julien, who has no idea about spiritual work, drinks the beer and thus falls under her spell.

 

Kalaonga’s father also falls victim to his daughter’s ruses. One day, as Makubakuba is dozing off in the living room, he has a disturbing dream. In the dream, Kalaonga, with a moustache and wearing a white wedding dress, marries Makubakuba. A few days after the unsettling dream, Makubakuba’s belly begins to swell. When the family takes him to a hospital, the doctor informs them that Makubakuba is pregnant, and that Western medicine cannot offer a solution. He directs them to a pastor.

 

Kalaonga blinds her brother Paco, and kills her own mother Jeanne, because her mother no longer defends her in the neighborhood.

 

When Fataki, a wealthy but married man, asks Makubakuba’s permission to marry his daughter, the old man quickly accepts. He is incapable of controlling his daughter, and sees handing over authority to a husband as a way to find peace again. Makubakuba does not want to settle a bride price, but gives his daughter away without any payment.

 

Fataki takes Kalaonga in his house because his first wife, Melina, has remained childless. Yet, Melina is a “real Christian,” and she senses the occult identity of her co-wife. Kalaonga, believing Melina might block her in her mission, bestows a mystical disease on her.

 

At regular times, Kalaonga reports to Baaba about her work. These sessions take place during the night in the Dark World, but also during daytime in a “false church.” This church is led by Papa Misho, the Devil himself. There, Kalaonga sacrifices her victims’ souls.

 

Kalaonga’s occult dealings are seriously disrupted when Charlainne, Theresia and their daughters seek assistance from the pastor. When she informs the Devil about her major opponent, he sends another siren to his church. The pastor, however, remains strong in his faith and chases the new seductress away. He asks all women of the neighborhood to come to the church for a special day of prayers. The blind Paco, the pregnant Makubakuba, and the foolish Kiodo who have heard about this event, also arrive in church.

 

One of the pastor’s helpers, JC, learns from God that the origin of their afflictions is mystical. The pastor and the church group pray for them and heal them by evoking Jesus’ name. At the same time, Kalaonga, the devil and his demons ascend from the Dark World and arrive in church. A spiritual battle is fought between the pastor and the demons. The pastor wins and chases the demons away. Kalaonga confesses all her sins and reveals that she had been sought by Maman Jeanne. In the end, Kalaonga disappears. Charlainne forgives her husband, and all glorify God’s honor.

*  *  *

 

The Heritage of Death

(February-April 2005)

 

A polygamous Luba man, Fataki, lies dying in a hospital, while his sons and daughters quarrel about the distribution of his business and properties. The children of the first wife, Theresia, are not schooled, hardly speak French and are not fashionably dressed. Deborah’s offspring, by contrast, have been to university, have traveled abroad and are fluent in French. Consequently, their father has given important positions in the company to Caleb and Charlainne, the two eldest in this second household. Deborah’s children claim the heritage because they possess the skills and have gained experience. Theresia and her children, however, reckon that as children of the first wife, they should benefit from Fataki’s enterprise.

 

A third group claims his effects as well: Fataki’s Luba siblings have flown in from the Kasaï region and, following Luba custom, expect Fataki’s houses, cars, money and business to be divided among his brothers and sisters, leaving his wives and children empty-handed.

 

Several episodes later, Fataki recovers and attention is directed to Deborah’s occult activities. As the serial unfolds it becomes clear that the privileges Deborah’s children are enjoying stem from an occult bond Deborah had entered into with the féticheur (something like a witch doctor) Etcho Bendo from the beginning of her marriage. From this point on, it becomes obvious that there are serious consequences to dealing with the dark world: Fataki is faced with the madness of his son, the death of another son, the blindness of one of his daughters and several illnesses in the family.

 

In the last episode two other deaths occur due to poisoning. The scenario concludes with Fataki leaving the hospital and assembling his wives and all his children. Kiodo has abandoned his kizengi (fool) fashion of speaking. He too confesses his wicked acts and identifies himself as the origin of Caroline’s blindness and Caleb’s madness. He promises to refrain from all witchcraft in the future. The final scene is a feast among the children of the two wives. Both the women and their offspring dance to Christian music and promise each other to cooperate so that the family enterprise will become fruitful.

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Katrien Pype is Assistant Professor at University of Leuven and a Fellow with the Department of African Studies & Anthropology at University of Birmingham. She is co-initiator, with Miles Larmer and Rueben Loffman, of Congo Research Network, a platform that aims at enhancing dialogue and collaboration among Congo researchers in the humanities and social sciences.