Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 November 2009
The sounds and sights of time were evident in the colonial town in the form of bugles, gunshots, bells, drums, watches and clocks. People responded to them according to the level of their contact with urban institutions. The most affected were wage-labourers and Christians. There is evidence that an ‘uneven’ experience of time persisted and that the articulation of temporal patterns was central in the negotiation of relationships. Those most oppressed by time through their conditions of employment developed a keen awareness of their right to ‘free time’ and resisted attempts by employers, administrators or teachers to encroach on it.
Europeans had a large stake in the time of their workers, subjects and converts. Missionaries everywhere were engaged in the grand task, ‘to remake Africans through their everyday activities’ and Congo was no exception. In their quest to develop a Christian elite, missionaries prescribed disciplined notions of time, work and leisure, as the panacea for the prevailing sickness of ‘laziness’. Administrators and employers shared similar notions that time-discipline was a basic step in ‘accustoming the native to regular work’ and ‘creating a disciplined workforce to open up the country’. Europeans intervened in African leisure time when the health and efficiency of the workforce seemed to be at stake, or when African activities impinged on the insulated life of the white community. The self-employed or unemployed were not outside the range of European interest, as they were part of the environment in which labour was reproduced. Laws against vagrancy and fines levelled against unpunctual employees show a continuing struggle over defini'tions of time and order.