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Interpreting Documentary Sources on the Early History of the Congo Free State: The Case of Ngongo Luteta’s Rise and Fall

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2014


This paper considers an under-used and under-discussed archive of unpublished documentary sources that concern the rise and fall of an eastern Congolese warlord, Ngongo Luteta, during the late nineteenth century. It argues that Africanist historians not only need to pay greater attention to unpublished documentary sources – the weight of methodological discussion usually orients around oral sources – but also to treat them with the same interpretive rigor as oral sources. The argument is demonstrated by discussing the existing studies of Ngongo Luteta, which tend to focus on oral fieldwork even while they often employ documentary sources, and, then, pointing to some interpretive strategies for unpublished documentary sources that suggests a more complicated history of the interactions between Ngongo Luteta and the emergent Congo Free State.


Cet article prend en considération un fond d’archive sous-utilisé et sous-débattu de sources documentaires inédites concernant la montée et la chute d’un seigneur de la guerre de l’Est Congo, Ngongo Luteta, à la fin du XIXe siècle. L’on affirme que les historiens africains non seulement devraient être plus attentifs aux sources documentaires inédites, le poids du débat méthodologique étant, d’habitude, orienté sur les sources orales, mais aussi traiter celles-ci avec la même rigueur d’interprétation que celle accordée à ces dernières. L’objet de l’article est approché à travers l’analyse des études disponibles sur Ngongo Luteta, orientées sur l’enquête orale même lorsqu’elles utilisent des sources documentaires ainsi que par certaines stratégies interprétatives relatives aux sources documentaires inédites qui suggèrent une histoire plus articulée de l’interaction entre Ngongo Luteta et l’émergent État Libre du Congo (“Congo Free State”).

Critical Historiography
Copyright © African Studies Association 2014 

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