Landscaping and Escaping the Colony in Mudimbe’s, Ruti’s, and Nayigiziki’s Works Chapitre d’ouvrage - Novembre 2022

Maëline Le Lay

Maëline Le Lay, « Landscaping and Escaping the Colony in Mudimbe’s, Ruti’s, and Nayigiziki’s Works  », in Unfinished Histories. Empire and Postcolonial Resonance in Central Africa and Belgium (ed. Pierre-Philippe Fraiture), 2022


Les corps glorieux des mots et des êtres. Esquisse d’un jardin à la bénédictine de Mudimbe, Le fils de Mikeno d’Antoine Ruti et Mes transes à trente ans (escapade ruandaise) de Saverio Nayigiziki are three stories (autobiographies and novel) characterized by a strong emphasis on the landscapes of the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Burundi). Although only Nayigiziki’s fictionalized autobiography was written during the colonial period (published in 1950 in Brussels, then in 1955 in Astrida-Butare), the other two narratives are partly (Les Corps Glorieux published in 1992 in Montreal), or entirely (Le fils de Mikeno, published posthumously in 1997 in Lubumbashi), rooted in the region under the colonial regime. A childhood in the colonial era is what the three authors, born between 1915-1942 - in Congo for Mudimbe and in Rwanda for Ruti and Nayigiziki - have in common. They also share a cross-border trajectory, a path of mobility in former Belgian Africa. These three narratives show two entangled layers of landscape : on the one hand, one can read the nostalgic praise of the childhood country described in a series of Edenic landscapes with indigenous names ; and on the other hand, concomitantly, there is the description of the landscape as a territorialization of the colonial project, which "activates toponymy" (i.e the European/missionary toponymy) (Mudimbe 1992 : 44). The landscape then becomes a space thoroughly domesticated by colonial institutions, or even a space under high surveillance in which the narrators move. The two fugitive characters, Justin in Mes Transes à trente ans and Apollinaire Silimu in Le fils de Mikeno, are constantly wandering between the hills and the borders of this space of danger, since their homeland have become a high-tension topos. In order to do so, they deploy an adaptability necessary to their survival by forging indispensable relationships with men of power such as clergymen. Thus the mission appears as a structuring element of this colonial regime from which one tries to escape. The characters maintain a relationship full of ambiguity with this topos which appears to be epicentre of the landscape, embodying control and surveillance (thus potentially punishment), and a space of refuge at the same time for these very Catholic characters. A closer look will be paid to the garden, the space for the domestication of nature par excellence, which occupies a singular place in the Mudimbe’s intimate geography.

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