Radio Netherlands Worldwide

SSO Login

More login possibilities:

Close
  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
Home
Thursday 24 April  
Congolese youth
Anne Saenen's picture
Map
Leiden, Netherlands
Leiden, Netherlands

How Congolese Yankees use cool to conquer the city

Published on : 17 November 2012 - 6:00am | By Anne Saenen (Photo: AFP)
More about:

Africa Thesis Award 2012

This article is a synthesis of research conducted by one of the three nominees of the Africa Thesis Award 2012. Issued by the African Studies Centre in the Netherlands, the 1,000 euro prize is presented every year to a student at a university in Africa or the Netherlands whose completed Master’s thesis is based on research conducted in Africa.

About the third place nominee

Who? Catherina Wilson
Degree issued by? Leiden University, African Studies

On what? ‘The Congolese Yankee: Language and identity among youth in Kisangani’
Done how? Six months of fieldwork in the city Kisangani, DRC
Want to read the thesis for yourself? Click here.

 

Youth from the DRC city of Kisangani are embracing a newly found identity to survive and succeed in – life, reports Catherina Wilson in her award-nominated thesis. Reader, meet the Congolese Yankee.

“A Yankee doesn’t have complexes,” says 28-year-old Gaston in an interview. Asked by Wilson, a half-Belgian and half-Colombian woman, how to identify such an indvidual on the street, he explains: “there are boys who are not civilized, if one of them sees you, a white person, he will be startled, he will not feel at ease [...]. But someone who sees you, greets you and then continues his way, well a Yankee, he is enlightened."

This is just one of the various examples of being Kiyankee, as a Yankee is called in the local language, that Wilson’s study catalogues. Above all, her thesis looks at how these Yankee youngsters use distinct language and creative ways of speaking to “overcome stagnation and enter adulthood”.

Cool
Through speaking the slang variant of Lingala known as Kindoubil, the youth endeavour to sound “important” and “cool”. Building on the work of other researchers, Wilson points to the signification of social codes as a way of trying to escape marginalization and poverty. In the same way the sapeur resorts to clothing, the Yankee resorts to language.

But it is not just through language that Congolese Yankees seek progress. The study shows that attitude, too, is an all-important feature. The Yankee is supposed to emanate self-assuredness and collectedness. He is “composed, self-confident, apparently indifferent and experienced”.

Relatedly, a Yankee is a “master in survival techniques” who has “everything, always under control”. These characteristics require being a quick thinker. “If losing out in a conversation, the Yankee will do everything to change the direction of the argument into his own advantage. The Yankee does not accept misfortune publicly,” writes Wilson.

An inadvertent Yankee
Another interviewee, named Kongo and in his early 30s, claims that the researcher managed to embody Yankeeness in one scenario that he himself witnessed.

In the study, Wilson recalls how outside a bakery she had seen a sign with the English word “toast” on it. Wanting some of the product advertised, she went in and waited in line to order. But when she asked for “toast”, the baker began reaching for something in the refrigerator. Fellow customers began indicating that toast was not to be found there and after some “very uncomfortable seconds for both sides”, as Wilson puts it, the language gap became clear. The Congolese man realized his customer requesting “toast” was in fact seeking pain grillé.

Related content

The researcher describes the experience as “quite embarrassing”. But, as far as Kongo was concerned, she had won the linguistic battle. By using the word “toast”, Wilson showed that she knew the baker’s product better than the baker himself. As Kongo expressed it, she “came out Yankee”.

The anecdote illustrate how part of being a Yankee means to be in – and win at – a kind of competition. In the researcher’s terms, coming out Yankee means to come out on top, “to impress the other by showing that one’s knowledge is greater than the other’s”. According to Wilson, this finding well exemplifies the “creative and provocative nature of urban youth languages”. 

Most popular news in this dossier

Woman with child reportedly born out of rape in the forest in South Kivu, DRC

US urged to change policy on aid for rape victims

A group of leading US and African NGOs gathered in Washington, DC, last week to launch a global campaign that...
Katanga appears on a monitor in the ICC press room on 7 March 2014

What do Ituri residents say about the Katanga verdict?

Many young Ituri residents welcomed the International Criminal Court’s sentence against Congolese...
Cartoon of the week

M23 goes out of business

M23, the Congolese rebel group, gave up fighting last week. They and the Congolese government are expected to...
Life is still hard in DRC

Life in an old Congolese village, after M23

The people of Kibumba in eastern DRC can finally return to their homes, after government forces drove away...
Young pygmy refugees in Congo-Brazzaville who escaped violence in DRC

An example in DRC to lift up the pygmies

The rights of pygmies are often violated in North Kivu, eastern DRC. Justin Shamutwa is fighting to change...

Discussion

Post new comment

Please be reminded all comments must be in English, short and to the point - guideline 250 words. Abusive and inappropriate comments will be removed.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <p> <br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

FacebookTwitterYou tubeSoundcloud

Video highlights

AFRICAN UNION HOLIDAY RESORT
For many people, despite huge economic growth across the continent, the...
PASTOR AZUIKE & MRS OBIBI
Naija's most extrovert evangelical preacher, Pastor Azuike, hits the...
My Song: Kuku pleads for Goodluck Jonathan's compassion
Nigerian musician Kuku remembers watching news coverage of Occupy...