A Dance of Assassins

A Dance of Assassins

Performing Early Colonial Hegemony in the Congo
Allen F. Roberts
Distribution: World
Publication date: 12/20/2012
Format: Paperback 30 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00750-6
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Winner, 2013 Arnold Rubin PrizeFinalist, 2014 Herskovits Award

A Dance of Assassins presents the competing histories of how Congolese Chief Lusinga and Belgian Lieutenant Storms engaged in a deadly clash while striving to establish hegemony along the southwestern shores of Lake Tanganyika in the 1880s. While Lusinga participated in the east African slave trade, Storms’ secret mandate was to meet Henry Stanley’s eastward march and trace "a white line across the Dark Continent" to legitimize King Leopold’s audacious claim to the Congo. Confrontation was inevitable, and Lusinga lost his head. His skull became the subject of a sinister evolutionary treatise, while his ancestral figure is now considered a treasure of the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Allen F. Roberts reveals the theatricality of early colonial encounter and how it continues to influence Congolese and Belgian understandings of history today.

Author Bio

Allen F. Roberts is Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is author (with Mary Nooter Roberts) of A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal, which was awarded the Herskovits Prize.


“The dynamics of narrative history making, competing local histories, the equivalence of individuals in the colonial process, together with the display of trophies of conquest, and considerations of their deaths as a never-completed transition are explored in this signficant and cutting-edge analysis.”
 — Arthur P. Bourgeois, Governors State University

“As close as a thoroughly scholarly and intimately researched monograph gets to a veritable page-turner. In the hands of consummate narrator Roberts, this precisely engineered keyhole of a story opens a door on the ambiguities of colonial encounter. A Dance of Assassins blends historical writing and anthropological interpretation at its best, and tells it all like it was—and is—in all its complexity and nuance.”
 — John Mack, University of East Anglia

“The beheading of the Tabwa ruler and slave trader Lusinga lwa Ng’ombe by warriors loyal to the Belgian commander Émile Storms sets the stage for A Dance of Assassins, a beautifully written and compelling account of the drama, intrigue, and pathos of the 'theatrical enterprise' that characterized colonial conquest and the making of histories in central Africa. Anthropologist Allen F. Roberts convincingly presents the entangled and contradictory perspectives that inform the dynamics of power and history and memory in colonial and post-colonial central Africa. ”
 — Christine Mullen Kreamer, Smithsonian Institution

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Table of Contents


Part I. The "Emperor" Strikes Back
1. Invitation to a Beheading
2. A Conflict of Memories
3. Histories Made by Bodies
4. Tropical Gothic
5. Storms the Headhunter

Part II. Remembering the Dismembered
6. The Rise of a Colonial Macabre
7. Art Évo on the Chaussée d’Ixelles
8. Lusinga’s Lasting Laughs
9. Composing Decomposition
10. Defiances of the Dead

Appendix A: Some Background on Our Protagonists
Appendix B: A Note on Illustrations

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