Bulungu was a small, but lively town. Even in early morning one noticed that the main high street was full of people, especially near the market. During the day people frequently made their way up and down the high street. One would hear people saying to one another: "Mbote na nge" (Hello), or "Ebwe?" (How are you?), which are common forms of salutation in a language called Kikongo. One could hear young people saying to some women, "Mama nge ikele mbote?" (Are you alright, mother?), and they mostly replied, "Munu kele mbote, mwana" (I am fine, my child). Although the Kikongo language was one of the national languages of Zaire besides Tshiluba, Lingala, Kishuahili and French, it had not always been the only language of conversation in Bulungu. It also has many versions.
Bulungu was considered the focal point of many nearby dialects such as Kimbala, Kihungana, Kiyanzi, Kisongo, etc. But most of the greetings were in Kikongo, as it was regarded as everybody's language. Kikongo is mainly spoken in the west of Zaire, where it can be traced back in history as far as the fifteenth century -- to the Kingdom of Kongo, where the famous King Nzinga A Nkuvu, the fifteenth-century Bakongo King who came into contact with the Portuguese and converted to Catholicism, took the name of Joao I.
Many people in Bulungu only distinguished two types of Kikongo: the Kikongo of "Vova" which is considered to be the oldest version and the Kikongo of "Munu kutuba" (I am speaking), the most modern version. The "Munu kutuba" is for some reason the most preferred one in Bulungu, and it is also known as the "Kikongo ya l' Etat" (Kikongo of the state), especially by the Lingala-speaking people who live in Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire. There are many speculations about the origin of this version of Kikongo; but most people in Bulungu are convinced it was as a result of colonization that it became established as a means of communication between the European masters and the native Kongolese. At the time of the Congo Free State in the late nineteenth century and during the construction of the railway from Matadi to Port Francky, the need of communication between the two parties was growing phenomenally. The construction project was a very serious and vital one. Many western European companies had an interest on it. They had heavily invested in the project that would contribute to the development of their companies and also their countries. At that particular time there was a need to transport the newly discovered raw materials out of the Dark Continent to Europe, thanks to Henry Motor Stanley, the British explorer and journalist. The authority at the time tried desperately and effectively to establish one language, which would improve communication with the workers who were mostly Kongolese or Bakongo people, for the route was very important for the Belgium economy. Thus the "dit" version of Kikongo became close to Lingala, as the latter had already been established as the official language of the colonial army or public force.
The town of Bulungu is actually itself the capital of the zone of Bulungu. It is why during the day the town of Bulungu is always full with people, for it is heavily used as a centre for transaction or a trading place for the inhabitants of neighboring villages. For most merchants, this is the place to be. For some villagois this is the closest you can get to urban life. For some expatriates, this is the place where tradition goes hand in hand with modern life. That harmony can best be appreciated by recognizing the flow of the "Ch'i" in town. Any Chinese, who visited Bulungu, especially the quarter of Kabangu, always said that the first settlers of that place had a very strong knowledge of Feng Shui and applied it during the planning of the town.
The town of Bulungu also has a considerable population of Europeans, especially the Portuguese, and they are very useful to the local economy. Most of their business is food related. The people of Bulungu believe that the Portuguese love their town because of its geographic location. Although they are officially in the food business, some people say that they are also in the wood trade.
Bulungu is also a harbour town of one of Zaire's big river called Kwilu. The presence of this river has proven profitable to the Europeansı businesses. They don't have to depend only on the badly maintained roads that link the town to Kinshasa. It was common knowledge in Bulungu that the construction and the maintenance of roads were not on General Mobutu Sese-Seko's government priority list. Depending on the existing roads to transport goods, especially in a remote area, was a serious gamble with low returns, a gamble that no sensible businessman could take. So the Kwilu River offered another means of transportation. The river Kwilu also brought coolness, which might explain why the Europeans built their houses near its banks. In so many respects the river is a valuable business asset.
Kabangu River, although not used for the transportation of goods, is the most favoured one among young people. It is also the river that most parents allowed their children to go to have a bath and swim. It has been said that sometimes children were not permitted to go alone to the river because of the phenomena known in Bulungu as ngandu ya munzenza, which can literally be translated as the "foreign crocodile' phenomena. It might be explained as the moment when there is a crocodile in the river with the mission of capturing children. The crocodiles, in this case, are actually human beings who have mastered the fourth dimension or have some sort of witch power that requires human blood; or they practice some kind of supernatural rituals that require human sacrifices. These human beings are said to be capable of transforming themselves from the human state to any reptile form. It was known in Bulungu that those who conduct such practices would have to drink human blood or eat human flesh during their rituals to keep up and vitalize their spiritual standards.
In time people became more knowledgeable as to where those shape-shifting humans lived, causing them to encounter more resistance in their home villages; so they opted to move close to foreign places or a river in the guise of any reptile, especially that of a crocodile, in order to capture their victims. Using this strategy, they believed, would avoid suspicion amongst local people and allow them to catch innocent children as they pleased. It was common knowledge in Bulungu that these people needed children's blood because they believed it to be pure. A death arising from these would not cause anyone to think of witches.
For the Bulungu inhabitants, only the deaths of elderly people were acceptable. When it came to the death of a young person, his or her uncle would have to explain and convince the whole population that the death was natural. Otherwise he would be accused of bewitching his own nephew or niece and may receive some physical abuse from the population. If such uncles did not want to be abused or accused of anything related to the death of their nephews or nieces, they were well advised to initiate what was known as supernatural investigation, which would lead to the real criminal or criminals. The investigation took many forms, the most common one being to visit the witch doctor to find out from the spirits who was responsible for the death. No one would even think of going to the witch doctor when it came to a situation where a child was killed or captured by a crocodile in the river. In this case everybody would blame the parent, especially the mother, for not training the poor child to recognize the presence of the crocodile in the river by being able to smell the crocodile once he or she was close to the river.
This phenomenon of children dying at the river Kabangu was a very serious matter and those crocodilesı had their good time. But suddenly everything changed when a strange man by the name of Papa Simon moved to Bulungu. He had the supernatural power or ability to know when those foreign crocodiles came to hunt. To everybody, Papa Simon looked like most middle-aged men with no strange physical characteristics that would cause suspicion. Though he lived with his newly wed wife, who was a local girl, his origin was a mystery. Possibly his wife knew something! According to him, he was asleep when his ancestors visited him in his dream to give him the power to stop the crocodilesı business in Bulungu. At that point, according to him, he left his village, which was also a mystery to the people of the Kabangu quarter. No one cared to know Papa Simon's real identity as long he was preventing the death of the poor children. He explained to people the true nature of those crocodiles. He told them that while he was in his village, he did not know or had heard of Bulungu; he was simply conducted and directed to the Kabangu area by the spirits of his ancestors, he said.
Before Papa Simonıs arrival, the people of Bulungu were very naive regarding the crocodile phenomena. He single-handedly opened their eyes, for he was the one who told them that those deaths were not accidents.
That explained why the whole population looked up to him. They saw him as some kind of saviour. He also told them that for those phenomena to occur on such a scale and for such a long time, there had to be local accomplices. He even claimed that he could recognise them but, for some unknown reason, declined to give their names. Prior to Papa Simon's arrival Kabangu quarter was a very quiet place, especially after six o'clock in the evening. Since he came to the area, there was a visible change. Some evenings he could be seen going up and down every single road shouting like a hungry lion looking for food, saying something like, "Mothers and fathers who live in this street, listen to me carefully! From tomorrow do not let your children go to Kabangu River alone. There is right now a ngandu ya munzenza who is looking for children to capture. Do not take my words lightly! Contact the head of your street to know what to do!" He would keep on shouting while passing the street from one end to the other. He would repeat the warning as many times as he could until he had traversed all the roads in the Kabangu area.
He used to do this without a microphone, for his voice was very clear and loud and he did not need a haut parleur. Next day he would be the subject of conversations amongst the teenagers. One would say, "He must be a gifted man, he is guided by the spirits!"
"Come on," another would reply, "how can you prove that what he is saying is true?"
"Even if you do not believe him, at least you can appreciate his talent as a very good speaker."
Despite all the crocodile dramas, Kabangu area is a lovely place to live. It is a middleclass neighbourhood. In that area most women are housewives. You'll always find someone around, especially mothers preparing the meal for their husbands and children. Most children in the area attended the Catholic Primary School, which had very strict rules. The pupils studied to a high standard. Disciplining a pupil was the norm.
There were only three Catholic primary schools, two for boys and one for girls. The policy of the local Catholic authority was that girls and boys should be educated and kept apart. There were no excuses for a boy and girl relationship.