The Bearded Lion Who Roars : "Simba Mandefu Mabe"

Dallemagne-Cookson, Elise

Published by Fithian Press, 1995
ISBN 10: 156474115X / ISBN 13: 9781564741158
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Synopsis: This is the true story of a young American woman who came to the Congo from Hollywood, via the US state Department, and found herself living in the beautiful eastern highlands of that country with a Belgian plantation owner during the days of terror that followed the Congo's break with colonial domination. It is an eyewitness account of the rise of Lamumba and expulsion of the European community; it is also a story of love and danger and family life.

From the Publisher: A WHITE WOMAN REMEMBERS THE DAY AFRICANS WILL NEVER FORGET

The lives and love of a young American woman and the scion of a Belgian colonial plantation family are caught up in the tumult of confusion and terror of Zaire's abrupt and violent independence from Belgium in The Bearded Lion Who Roars, a historical memoir by Elise Dallemagne-Cookson. This true story of the end of an old way of life and the birth of a new one is as sure to spark controversy as it is to enlighten history; for its author shows both whites and blacks to have been equally right and equally wrong during this watershed (and bloodshed) event in the history of modern Africa.

The novelistic memoir opens with a moving scene symbolic of the great historical movement that is the book's subject: Elise is called to the bedside of her father-in-law, known during colonial days as Le Major, who now lies dying in Belgium. As she watches over him, she recalls the days they spent together years ago in the the beautiful eastern highlands of what was then the Belgian Congo. Elise had come to Africa on a U.S. Foreign Service mission. There she met her future husband, Pierre Dallemagne, a Congo River boat captain, director of the Congo's first school of navigation, and explorer of the river and its tributaries. Because of his beard and because of his temper, he was known to the Congolese as "Simba Mandefu Mabe," the bearded lion who roars. Together Pierre and Elise would operate the family dairy farm--until events would overtake them.

The first event Elise recalls at Le Major's bedside is Zaire's first Independence Day celebration in 1960. Although Le Major was pessimistic about what would happen to the European population once the new Republic of the Congo realized it was free of colonial domination, Elise and Pierre refused to take his dark view. Rather, they made a firm decision to remain in the country and to accept its future as their own. They were young and in love, looking forward to raising a family in a land of physical beauty and political promise.

But trouble erupted immediately, for on that very day, as Patrice Lumumba, the new prime minister, accepted without grace the reins of the country from the king of Belgium, the Congolese army rebelled against its Belgian officers, who were still in command.

Within days, violence had spread throughout the country, sending three quarters of the white population fleeing, leaving behind their ruined homes and institutions, and hundreds of dead. For a short time, however, all remained calm on the Dallemagne's remote plantation, and Elise and Pierre vowed not to follow their neighbors in flight. But when random violence turned to determined war between the country's many tribes, it swiftly reached the Dallemagne farm. Finally, when they could remain no longer, Pierre ordered Elise to flee, saving herself and their unborn child, and she became the last white woman to cross the border into Uganda. Pierre himself was then captured and imprisoned, but he narrowly escaped a violent death to rejoin his family, leaving his former home in shambles. They realized at last that the life whites had known on the continent of the blacks was over forever. "All is lost," Le Major broke down and admitted to his daughter-in-law--and for him it was.

But although a way of life had ended, Elise Dallemagne-Cookson did not believe that all was lost--and does not believe so now. For what they witnessed was more than just the disintegration of European colonialism; it was also the beginning of the rebirth of Africa, the first wrenching spasm of an independence movement that has since swept the entire continent, and has most recently forced the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Elise's sympathy and affection was and is divided between the vested interests of the Europeans and the natural aspirations of the Africans--and it is this bifocal view that makes The Bearded Lion Who Roars a valuable, if controversial, document. Dallemagne-Cookson shows both the colonials and the Africans to have been guilty of violence--guilty of causing it, guilty of not preventing it, and guilty of committing it. Thus her insights into the causes and consequences of the demise of colonialism and the reawakening of a continent hold valuable lessons in the modern history of Africa, as similar events have occurred over and over, everywhere a lion has roared.

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Title: The Bearded Lion Who Roars : "Simba Mandefu ...
Publisher: Fithian Press
Publication Date: 1995
Book Condition: Fair

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