Mandombe: Invention and Revelation in an African Writing System

Seminar date: 
15 September 2011
15.30 - 17.00u
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Seminar room: 
3A06 (third floor)

The mandombe writing system is mainly used by members of the Kimbanguist Church to transcribe Kikongo and Lingala in Congo and other Central African countries and, to a lesser extent, in the diaspora too. While most Kimbanguists believe that the script was revealed by God to a man called Wabeladio in order to empower Africans with their own alphabet, his version is that he ‘invented’ it. Based on discussions with Wabeladio and other Kimbanguists in Congo, Angola and various European countries, this seminar will consider the agency (or lack of it) involved in this technology. While some see it as a prophetic gift to humans, others, following the inventor, see it as a human invention created to change society and make a better world more in tune with God’s designs. In both cases, the new writing connects humans with God, but mediation operates in an opposite way.

Ramon Sarró has a PhD in social anthropology from University College London and is currently working at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon where he is the coordinator of the MA programme in social and cultural anthropology and of the European research team on the ‘Recognizing Christianity: How African Migrants Redefine the European Religious Heritage’ project. He has conducted extensive fieldwork on the Kimbanguist Church in Lisbon, Angola, Paris, Belgium, Kinshasa and Nkamba and directed the project entitled ‘A Christian Atlantic: Ethnographies of Religious Encounters in Lisbon’. His recent publications include The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast: Iconoclasm Done and Undone (Edinburgh University Press, 2009) and, with David Berliner, Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches (Berghahn Books, 2007). With Prof. Simon Coleman, he is also editing a new annual review of anthropology of religion for Berghahn Books entitled Religion in Society: Advances in Research.