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ISSN: 1570-0178

Volume 10, Issue 1 (8 April 2008)

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Language and Labor
Conversations about work, language, and life

transcribed, translated, and commented by

Johannes Fabian

University of Amsterdam


Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Amsterdam
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185
1012 DK Amsterdam
The Netherlands




Text One

Text Two

Text Three

Text Four

Text Five




In 1972 - 1973 I conducted a research project with funding from the US National Endowment for the Humanities. It was titled "Labor consciousness: Orientations toward industrial labor among Swahili-speaking mine workers in Shaba/ Republic of Zaire." With regard to documentation, research was very productive (see the final report to NEH, by now itself a document of historical interest), but circumstances saw to it that it never resulted in the book I had originally envisaged. My theoretical and ethnographic interests changed in the course of the early seventies (after conclusion of the project I stayed in Lubumbashi and taught at the National University) and eventually found a new frame in the concept of popular culture. In this section of "Archives of Popular Swahili" five exemplary recordings (more will be added in the future), all of them conversations, are presented in transcript and translation. With one exception, I don't know whether my interlocutors are still alive. I shall assume that the generosity they showed when they participated in my work many years ago extends to the presentation of these texts now.

The presentations of transcripts and translations follows the format of texts deposited earlier in "Archives" (see the introduction to Tshibumba for a brief statement [link]). However as texts accumulate awareness of problems and ideas of how to deal with them develop further. This regards three areas:
(a) Desirable and attainable standards of transcription. I have kept to what I like to call common-sense phonemics - more or less the way the speakers would write themselves. Casualties of that compromise may be that I retain initial /h/ in the negative prefix /ha/ more often than the speakers do and that I do not make an effort to render adequately certain variations, such as palatalized consonants. Linguists to whom such information would be important are welcome to the sound recordings.
(b) Standards of translation. They also remain the same as in texts presented earlier, following the rule "as literal as possible without allowing the translation to become a caricature." I try to preserve the relaxed, informal register I aimed for and we adopted much of the time in these conversations. Often speech is elliptic, muddled, and fragmentary. Now and then this poses minor problems of understanding live speech; these problems become major when the text is to be translated and presented in writing to readers who do not have the contextual information that is available when a conversation takes place. I try to remedy this by filling in gaps with additions in parentheses and adding glosses in square brackets.
(c) Notes. In this chapter of Archives I have introduced two changes: I placed all notes, including those that pertain to items in the Swahili texts, in the translations. More importantly, I included many notes that are in fact ethnographic comments. As it turned out in the course of my work, these notes are in fact beginnings of writing ethnography from a virtual archive in the genre of "commentary" (see examples in this archive [links to….]) as well as recent and forthcoming publications on that subject, Fabian 2002, in press).

The standards I follow are compromises. They may fall short of what linguists would require and they may be considered less than "scientific." It should be remembered, however, that, from the beginning, the aim has been to set up an archive "from the people for the people" What the form of presentation I chose may lack in rigor it gains in vigor (as I put it some time ago in reflections on ethnographic objectivity). Freedom and a certain degree of chaos are characteristics of popular culture and speech. To make these disappear from presentations of documents of popular culture would go against the spirit of our project.

Recording dates, contexts and participants
The texts come from three contrasting projects/ sites: Texts One and Two from Métalkat (a Zinc refinery near Kolwezi; at the time of research its official name was Société Métallurgique de Kolwezi), Texts Three and Four from a much smaller enterprise manufacturing of (neo-) African furniture in Lubumbashi (Frères Chenge). Text Five goes back to my contacts with the actors of the Troupe Mufwankolo (documented in Archives [link]) After I had finished transcribing and translating the recordings I found in my diary brief notes I had made the same day, after three of the sessions. These will be quoted (slightly edited) in the following.

Text One, recorded June 20, 1973 at the home of Ngoie Kakweke, a foreman, in the workers' settlement of Métalkat.
As agreed yesterday I arrive at 9:00 a.m at the house of Ngoie Kakweke (Théodore). Meet only children, his wife, and another woman… Ngoie went somewhere nearby to see a friend but I was expected. His wife greets me and tells me to wait. I sit down and chat a little while with the neighbor woman until Ngoie comes. We then go to the salon of his house (consisting of 2 bedrooms, dining room, salon, and kitchen) The salon even has a fake fireplace. On the mantelpiece: Color reproductions of portraits of Mobutu and the Belgian royal couple. In a larger frame a number of photos (mostly of family) -- no paintings. Otherwise the room is nicely furnished.
At the beginning of our conversation Ngoie keeps a distance similar to the one he showed at the factory. He answers my questions -- but obviously taking care to come up with what he thinks may be a desired answer. Only later on he loosens up… The fact is that this was the first time a white man visited him in his home.
Interesting: While recording, at one point Ngoie Mulongo's [a fellow worker's] wife drops in to ask whether he hasn't finished kufundisha sawa pasteur (teaching like a minister).

Text Two, recorded June 21, 1973 at the home of Kazadi (no other name on record), an assistant supervisor, also in the workers' settlement.
Arrive at the house of Kazadi. He sits in front of his house, in shorts, and is reading a newspaper. Another worker whom I do not know keeps him company and leaves when we enter the house. Inside, the house is sufficiently furnished but has the bachelor-touch.

Text Three, recorded March 10, 1973 with Pungwe Albert, a carpenter, at the Chenge workshop in Lubumbashi.
I arrive at 12:30 (Saturday after work) but several men go on with supplementary hours until about 4 pm. While I wait between 3-4 and while we go through the interview several customers drop in, received by Léon [a relative of the owner].

Text Four, recorded March 27, 1973 with Kazembe Tumbuluka Bernard, a wood carver, inside and outside the Chenge work shop in Lubumbashi.

Text Five, recorded March 23, 1973 with Mujinga Mbuyi wa Kalongo, known as Balimuacha, an actress and presenter on radio and television, at my residence in Lubumbashi.


Fabian, Johannes. (2002). Virtual Archives and Ethnographic Writing: Commentary as a New Genre? Current Anthropology 43:775-86.
Fabian, Johannes. (in press). Ethnography as Commentary: Writing from the Virtual Archive. Durham. NC: Duke University Press. [based on a conversation with Kahenga, see APS, Vol. 7 and scheduled for publication in 2008].


[Text One]

[Text Two]

[Text Three]

[Text Four]

[Text Five]

[LPCA Home Page]

© Johannes Fabian
The URL of this page is: Publication date: 8 April 2008
Hyperlinks to Texts Four and Five (APS, Vol. 10, Issues 5 and 6) added: 8 October 2008