The next of Tshibumba’s paintings chosen depicts an event which has not been well-documented in traditional histories of the Congo Crisis, entitled MANIFESTATION DES FEMMES KATANGAISES:
This painting depicts a demonstration of July 17th 1962, in which thousands of women participated in a protest march organised by Katangese authorities. Although little has been written on this subject in traditional histories, some accounts have suggested that during the protest women broke through roadblocks and came into direct confrontation with UN troops, as pictured in this painting (Fabian: 1996, 112). Interestingly, within Fabian’s work a number of contradictions arise between Tshibumba’s history and the official narrative Fabian provides. Within Fabian’s account, he notes the official figure stating that twenty-one UN soldiers were wounded in this confrontation, and one Katangese woman was said to have been killed. However, in the interview Tshibumba described the events as follows:
When [the women] got there, they threw rocks at the UN soldiers, beat them with sticks, and pushed them around … And on that day many, many people were killed. Some of them they deposited in the morgue. For instance, among the young people there was one by the name of Kapenda. She also died in this fighting, because she had called for a demonstration.
Thus, Tshibumba’s history differs from the official report outlined by Fabian in relation to those who were killed during the protest. The figures depicted in the painting perhaps reinforce Tshibumba’s own narrative, as women are pictured in direct confrontation with armed UN troops. Here, an interesting theme arises on the differences between ‘local’ and ‘official’ histories, exemplified in the case of Tshibumba and Fabian. Much like in the work of Luise White (2000), perhaps value here lies not with the validity or proof of Tshibumba’s history but with its meaning, particularly in terms of the relationship between art and historical memory.
The women’s protest in Katanga has not been a focus of histories on the Congo Crisis, particularly as the role of the UN in the secession is not commonly examined through interaction or other internal factors. However, Tshibumba’s painting and his accompanying narrative offers valuable insight into this event. Reference to the deaths which occurred, and to specific names, offers a version of events different to those represented in traditional accounts. Tshibumba’s narrative also provides insight into the role of women in the crisis, which particularly in relation to protest is a subject which remains under-researched within historiography.
Interestingly, much like in relation to the painting depicting the arrival of UN troops, Fabian again suggests that Tshibumba’s image may have been influenced by photographs of the protest which circulated in the press:
(Wolter Geerts, Binza 10: De eerste tien Onafhangelijkheidsjaren van de Democratische Republiek Kongo (Ghent: E-Story-Scientia, 1970), 154).
Although it is not made clear whether these were an influence on Tshibumba’s work, both the photographs and the painting represent the protest in similar visual terms. The individual interactions between UN troops and protesters in these photographs are reflected in Tshibumba’s painting. Unlike in a number of other scenes depicted by Tshibumba, here only six figures are depicted and each in direct confrontation. Moreover, the individual aspect of Tshibumba’s painting is also signified by the armbands on each of the UN troops, stating their nationality as Indian, Ethiopian and Moroccan. A similar focus on these nationalities is made in other paintings, which indeed correspond with countries which contributed significant numbers of military personnel to the UN mission. However, the repeated focus on these three nations perhaps also offers insight into the perceptions of those who interacted with UN troops during the crisis. Here, the focus is not the UN as a structural force in the crisis, nor a portrayal of their place in diplomacy, but rather a representation of direct conflict on the ground between Congolese women and UN troops in Katanga.