Down Memory Lane in Kinshasa with Bibish de Kinshasa

Bibish. Gisèle. Photo David Ospina Bibish. Gisèle. Photo David Ospina

Bibish de Kinshasa is an interesting adapted narrative that uses theatre to bring to us this literary work (of the same name) written by Congolese writer/artist, Marie-Louise Bibish Mumbu.

Using an interesting narrative format of theatre interlaced with the writer sitting on a side-stage, engaged in cooking some sumptuous food and intervening in the narrative intermittently, the artist attempts to narrate the history of her country of origin. She explores the rechristening and in that process remaking of a nation state, known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

Bibish cuisine M-L et Philippe. photo David Ospina

Bibish cuisine M-L et Philippe. photo David Ospina

The protagonist and only character, played by Gisele Kayembe, boards a flight to Paris and during this flight takes you down memory lane exploring the contours of her experiences in her native country and its capital city Kinshasa. She encounters the colours and smells of the streets, the old and the young of this dynamic and oft strife-stricken land. She takes to public transport and also uses sarcastic comic relief to talk about the tragedy of child soldiers, of the civil war that has claimed over five million people in one of the largest countries in the African continent.

As we get snippets of how Zaire transformed into being rechristened the Democratic Republic of Congo, and how a civil war-stricken country is trying to dabble with democracy, Kayembe humorously critiques the current state of democracy and how the choice of political affiliation also speaks to the other tastes and inclinations people have.

The periodic interventions of the writer Marie-Louise Bibish Mumbu are informative and borderline emotional, as she discusses her life in Congo, a humanist window into its world. Her epilogue stood out for its emotional poetry.

While poetically and theatrically engaging, through a dynamic and versatile performance by Kayembe who uses prose and dance with equal ease, the adaptation is completely bereft of sociological analysis. This to me was a glaring problem, given the nature of the narrative and its historical context. The country and its past are burdened by its bloody history of repression, slavery and colonization. Not sure if the original novel spoke to this, but I would have appreciated a critical look at the history of colonization of the country. A land that is believed to have been inhabited 80,000 years ago was famously called “Congo Free State” by the Belgian kind Leopold, who claimed it as his private property. By the end of the 19th century millions had died of exploitation and disease at the hands of the Europeans and other slave traders.

Bibish de Kinshasa comes across as honest in its reliving of the artist’s personal narrative that is tied to both the history and the contemporary of their native land. I just hope that this work goes beyond just presenting another exotic story about an exotic world to a North American audience, who treats violence and its continuous remnants in these parts of the world, just as a thing of the past.

Bibish de Kinshasa plays until October 24 at Espace Libre. $24. Tickets and showtimes HERE.