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Tchibamba, Stanley and Conrad: postcolonial intertextuality in Central African fiction

Yvonne Reddick


Paul Lomami Tchibamba (1914–85) is often described as the Congo’s first novelist. Previous research in French and English has depicted Tchibamba’s work as a straightforward example of ‘writing back’ to the colonial canon. However, this article advances scholarship on Tchibamba’s work by demonstrating that his later writing responds not only to Henry Morton Stanley’s account of the imperial subjugation of the Congo, but to Joseph Conrad’s questioning of colonialist narratives of ‘progress’. Drawing on recent theoretical work that examines intertextuality in postcolonial fiction, this article demonstrates that while Tchibamba is highly critical of Stanley, he enters into dialogue with Conrad’s exposure of colonial brutality. Bringing together comparative research insights from Congolese and European literatures, this article also employs literary translation. This is the first time that excerpts from two of Tchibamba’s most important responses to colonial authors have been translated into English. Also for the first time, Tchibamba’s novella Ngemena is shown to be a crucial postcolonial Congolese response to Heart of Darkness. Through close textual analysis of Tchibamba’s use of irony and imagery, this article’s key findings are that, while Tchibamba nuances Conrad’s disparaging portrait of a chief, he develops the ironic mode of Conrad’s An Outpost of Progress, and updates the journey upriver into the interior in Heart of Darkness. This article illustrates the complex and nuanced way in which Tchibamba interacts with his European intertexts, deploying close analyses of his responses to Conradian imagery.

Keywords: African fiction, Congo, Joseph Conrad, intertextuality, Paul Lomami Tchibamba