CSUN professor of religious studies Mutombo Nkulu-N’Sengha’s collection of melancholic poems, “Bela-Wenda: Voices From the Heart of Africa,” tell vivid tales of human vigor and ambition through the eyes of afflicted Congolese villagers.
Originally written in French, the poems capture a genuine African aura as they blend powerful emotions with burlesque humor. The poems brood over the despair caused by dictatorial regimes, shattered American dreams and the seemingly impossible struggle to obtain world peace.
Nkulu-N’Sengha, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, does well to convey the culture and beliefs of his people and their struggles against oppression. The most noteworthy poem, titled “Like a Saw,” describes the emergence of democracy like an angel descending from the heavens to slay demons.
“Like a saw
It has awakened
The law of democracy
It saws the wood of injustice
It saws the wood of arrogance
It saws the wood of intolerance
It saws the wood of egoism
The poem symbolizes the freedom brought forth by a democratic revolution as a liberator of sorts, freeing people from the chains of political injustice, prejudice and human rights violations.
Nkulu-N’Sengha also ventures into the difficult endeavors Congolese immigrants face in the United States. Problems such as cultural shock, homelessness and racism are prominent themes, as shown in the verses of the poem titled “Homeless in Philadelphia.”
“At the intersection of Broad
Street and Market
Stands someone frail beneath
Lost in the abyss of civilization
Soulless, faceless, visionless
Tossed out like waste by the
Behind this lost and broken mind
Hides an intellectual never
In the city corrupt with egoism
And debauched and fat
Here, the author portrays the helplessness of an immigrant who couldn’t adapt to the capitalist, every man for himself frame of mind the United States holds. The person isn’t physically alone but feels lonely and irrelevant due to the pressure of not being able to keep up with the opposition. Even though he or she may possess the intelligence needed to get by, society’s emphasis on self-centeredness wouldn’t allow success.
The somber odes of “Bela-Wenda” take readers through a trip – one that thoroughly captures the essence of Congolese culture.
Nkulu-N’Sengha, who himself immigrated to Philadelphia from the Democratic Republic of Congo, earned his doctorate in philosophy and religion from Temple University with a focus on human rights.