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Rome and the Romains: laughter on the border between Kinshasa and Brazzaville

Devlieger, Clara (2018) Rome and the Romains: laughter on the border between Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Africa, 88 (1). 160 - 182. ISSN 0001-9720

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0001972017000614


This article considers humour at the international border between Kinshasa (DR Congo) and Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) as a means through which ordinary people navigate between fulfilling the values of individual opportunism and interpersonal responsibility. Kinshasa's border zone, nicknamed Rome, often echoes with laughter as people who engage in unregulated livelihood strategies (Romains) engage in two genres of humour: verbal irony, expressed in nicknames for people, places and activities; and interpersonal joking, expressed in playful teasing. Laughter and jokes are a prevailing mode of interaction at the border, and the ways in which humour is constructed and experienced reveal much about social and moral life. The jokes define membership of a community of Romains distinct from other urban citizens, while making further distinctions between physically disabled people, who dominate trade as intermediaries, and others by playing with hierarchical social relationships in which disabled people are expected to be subordinate. Ultimately, the humour that shapes the community allows for a critical voice on values within it. This article argues that the inconsistencies pinpointed by humour reflect and shape the instability of social relationships and contradictory values that Romains aspire to fulfil. Humour is a means of navigating critical commentary on the conflicting values of individual aspiration and responsibility towards others.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 International African Institute
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Date Deposited: 15 May 2019 12:45
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2020 05:23

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