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The Self-Determination of a Man and a Nation

After reading and thoroughly enjoying Nervous Conditions, I believe that watching Lumumba was an excellent continuation in our understanding of self-determination. Allow me to backtrack. When I completed Nervous Conditions, it dawned on me that Tambu’s development as a freethinking liberated individual was essentially the birth of her own independent nation. Even under the impressionable dominion of the English, Tambu slowly but surely found her autonomy.

While learning about Lumumba’s role in Congolese history, however, I drew upon similar parallels. Granted that Lumumba and Kasavubu were the bearers of Congolese independence in 1960, there is no denying (at least in accordance to how the film portrayed history) that Patrice Lumumba bore the brunt of responsibility in bringing (valiantly trying to bring) stability to the Congo. The self-determination of a sovereign Congo was encapsulated in his every action, for he was truly a man of the people striving to instill unification across the nation.

Allow me to analyze a couple of scenes were Lumumba’s self-determination to prove his (and Congo’s) independence were blatantly clear and interconnected. For example, the scene where Lumumba reprimands General Janssen for his ill-treatment of the Congolese soldiers signifies how former Belgian tactics of governance were no longer acceptable. Not only was Lumumba telling the general to address him appropriately as “excellency” but also stressing the point that the brutal authority the Belgians once yielded over their military constituencies has ended. As the utterly shocked expression dawned upon Janssen’s face after hearing that he must resign, we can see how strongly Lumumba wanted to rectify the dehumanizing facets of Belgian governance.

Another example of Lumumba’s (and consequentially Congo’s) self-determination was his outright refusal to accept foreign aid from Belgium. Soon enough Lumumba went off on a tangent about Belgium being responsible for the strife engulfing the Congo, signifying the manner in which he believed his colonial predecessors were plotting against him. Perhaps Lumumba was so vehemently against Belgian foreign aid because it would have signified to the world how unprepared the Congo was to be its own nation, and consequentially, this would have been a reflection on himself. Along similar lines to this proposed outside assistance, this scene also related to Lumumba’s conversation to the American ambassador where he coyly delivered a Bantu verb: “the hand that gives, rules.” Is foreign aid a subtle way of controlling the affairs of another nation? How can this relate to modern day examples of neocolonialism? 

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Clothing and Gender in Lumumba

Clothing plays an important role in Lumumba. The men throughout the film wear suits and other Western clothing, particularly for political events. Unless it is a very casual instance, Lumumba himself mostly wears dress shirts and slacks, if not full suits. Clothing is a form of assimilation, and the fact that so many Congolese wear western clothing is a sign of how assimilated they are. I find it a little ironic that Lumumba, who rails against the intrusion of Belgium in their lives, always wears western clothing. If anything, Mobutu is a little less assimilated, as he wears some nonwestern clothing. However, by the end Mobutu is wearing all-white suits that just emphasize his opulence and westernization.

What I find interesting is the women’s fashion throughout the movie. I’m not an expert on Congolese fashion, but I know that what the women are wearing in the movie is not traditional fashion for western women in the 1950s and 60s. There are very few shots in the movie that have western women, but even from those few one can see the difference. The women’s clothing is most likely more traditional to what women wore before colonialism, though there are definitely some western influences.

I find this interesting in connection to what we talked about with Nervous Conditions and the portrayal of gender there. We discussed in class that women in Nervous Conditions were symbols of tradition. While the men advanced and became westernized, women were expected to uphold tradition. I believe that the difference in fashion between the men and women in this movie reflects that theory.

Another interesting point is that Lumumba’s daughter seems to wear very westernized clothing in the movie, unlike his wife and other Congolese women. She even wears a very white, lacy dress that to me seems very European. I’m curious as to what this represents – if Lumumba wishes for his daughter to receive an education and be westernized as he was, or if it calls into question his anti-colonial mindset, or something else entirely. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.