Death of Henri Lopes: return to “Tribaliques”, the Congolese writer’s founding book

If there is a profession that the Congolese writer, diplomat and politician Henri Lopes placed above all others, it was without a doubt that of writing

Death of Henri Lopes: return to “Tribaliques”, the Congolese writer’s founding book

If there is a profession that the Congolese writer, diplomat and politician Henri Lopes placed above all others, it was without a doubt that of writing. An activity that he practiced throughout his life with constant consistency and renewed ardor, as the company of books had been essential to him since his earliest childhood.

Died in Suresnes, in the Paris region, on November 2 at the age of 86, Henri Lopes was born in 1937 in Léopoldville (future Kinshasa), in a country under Belgian colonial rule. He chose Congo-Brazzaville and, alongside a rich career in the mysteries of power (several times minister, deputy director of Unesco then ambassador), dedicated himself to literary creation, immediately integrating the circle of pioneers of " “African literature, as it was generally presented at the time.

He left behind a work of a dozen books, mainly novels, including his famous Le Pleurer-rire (Presence Africaine, 1982), even if an essay (My Bantu Grandmother and My Ancestors the Gauls, Gallimard, 2003) and an autobiographical story (It is already tomorrow, JC Lattès, 2018) punctuate the list of his fictions. Doubly mixed race by his parents who were themselves mixed race, coming as it is commonly said "from both banks of the Congo", citizen of the world above all, the man has made of the diversity of origins, of the chosen belonging to various places and cultures and the plurality of ideas the great affair of his life.

Small arrangements

In this respect, it is interesting to reread his very first work, Tribaliques, a collection of short stories published in 1971 in Cameroon (Éditions Clé), which became a classic cited in school textbooks, still available today.

Tribaliques narrates the Congo of the 1960s, a country still traumatized by colonialism, where the individual journeys of the protagonists reveal the avatars of independence. After the first years of momentum, hope and ambition, political disillusionment begins to appear and it is no longer so much a question of achieving a collective ideal as of each individual doing well in the face of this which one of the characters calls “national realities.”

The eight short stories in the collection reveal the tropisms of the writer, starting with literature itself. “Writing is more important than studying, you know,” says the heroine of the first story. Between the pages we come across several student activists, exalted by the world of letters, citing certain great names in Western literature alongside the writer's contemporary peers such as Sony Labou Tansi or Chinua Achebe.

But we also find, in greater numbers, carefree young people, just as unaware of the chance they have to study as of the historical responsibility that falls to them to participate in the future of their country. Eager to party or go "to be abroad", they choose a future in emigration (The Flight of the Skillful Hand) or return to "profit", forgetting their youthful convictions.

The very present question of corruption can be read for example in the short story entitled An Honest Man, where we see at work the small arrangements and compromises with the former colonial power, which does not care about the new rules. of the political game. A system that Henri Lopes confronted from the inside, since at the time he held ministerial functions.

Ethnic prejudice

But the writer also puts his finger on the evils which are gnawing away at his young nation and which are not attributable to the former power in place. He denounces in particular ethnic prejudices and tribalism, which can hold back both individuals and groups, unable to distinguish the potential wealth of the contribution of all. In Ah Apolline!, lovers who want to live together are pushed by their loved ones to break up.

If Henri Lopes imagines with grating irony the coming divorce between the working classes and the actors of the new political game ("In Africa, it is the one who has the applause who wins, not the one who is right"), his focus is also focuses on the difficulties of the couple and the family. Like in Mr. Deputy, where an elected official gives an emphatic speech on equality between men and women before returning home and treating his wife and daughter like maids of all trades.

The situations imagined by the writer give rise to very visual scenes, almost cinematographic and often full of humor, carried by a writing that is both subtle and accessible which reinforces the social criticism which he aims to carry. While situating most of his texts in the Congo, Henri Lopes had the art of making his country accessible to as many people as possible. With Tribaliques, the initial book and matrix crowned by the Grand Prix Literaire d'Afrique Noire, the Congolese writer successfully set out to conquer an audience which has never stopped growing.