1. Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient
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  3. Artisanal Infrastructure: Wooden ‘Whaleboats' and the Reinvention of DR Congo’s Inland Waterways

Artisanal Infrastructure: Wooden ‘Whaleboats' and the Reinvention of DR Congo’s Inland Waterways

Despite numerous shipwrecks, wooden baleinières (whaleboats) considerably increase the transport capacity of the DR Congo’s inland waterways. Born of the country’s vast popular economy, baleinières are as much an expression of the DR Congo’s historical experience as they are of its heritage of river mobility, with its social and technical know-how. In search of the underlying causes of their unprecedented success, this presentation addresses the origins of this frugal innovation and the geographical context of its riverine habitat, particularly in the Tshopo province, where baleinières bring together multiple forms of circulation at a social, professional, technical, and material level. While the arrival of Chinese diesel engines known as dakadaka or changfa since the 2000s cannot be underestimated, the article argues that the success of baleinières lies above all in the skillful integration of mechanical, natural and muscular forces: three ethnographic moments show how the baleinière and its engines, the river and its current, and human bodies and their techniques enter into a kinetic convergence and become momentary meshworks of artisanal infrastructure that prove to be more efficient than the "hard" infrastructure inherited from the (post-)colonial era.

Peter Lambertz is a research fellow at the Centre d'anthropologie culturelle at ULB Brussels. After his ethnographic PhD study on Japanese new religions among Congolese urban dwellers in Kinshasa, DR Congo (Seekers and Things, Berghahn Books 2018), he held postdoctoral positions at the GHI Paris/Crepos Dakar, the Gerda Henkel Foundation, and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at KU Leuven. His current research focuses on locally crafted wooden watercraft and the vernacular transport system on Congo’s inland waterways with its technical and infrastructural underpinnings. Peter recently launched the action research initiative mobeka.org and is a visiting professor of anthropology at the University of Kisangani (DR Congo)

The presentation relates to an article that just appeared in French: 

Peter Lambertz (2023), “Les baleinières du fleuve Congo : circulations, transport fluvial et infrastructure artisanale”, Anthropologie & développement 54: 165-182. 

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Diese Veranstaltung gehört zur Vortragsreihe
Sommersemester 2024