New publication by Ch. Didier Gondola, EURIAS fellow 2011-2012


Tropical Cowboys. Westerns, Violence, and Masculinity in Kinshasa

Charles Didier Gondola, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 225 pages, 2016.



Ch. Didier Gondola is Chair of the history department and Professor of African History and Africana Studies at IUPUI. He earned a Ph.D. in African History from the Université Paris 7. His publications include numerous books, articles and chapters on popular cultures (music, fashion, gambling, and memory), gender and postcolonial issues in Central Africa and the African diaspora in France. In 2008-09, he was selected as a US Department of State Fulbright scholar and carried out both research and teaching activities at the Université de Kinshasa, Congo. He developed his manuscript on the Tropical Cowboys (IU Press, 2016) in 2011-12 as a EURIAS senior fellow at the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies, in France. 



In the early 1950s, young people in Kinshasa, Belgian Congo, became infatuated with the figure of Buffalo Bill, with his feats and exploits, and with his flamboyant looks as images of the famed plainsman unreeled on the screens of their makeshift movie parlors. The man that Theodore Roosevelt so vaunted and rhapsodized as “the most renowned of those men, steel-thewed and iron nerved, whose daring opened the West to settlement and civilization” became the paragon of masculinity and the embodiment of manhood for many young people in Kinshasa. Buffalo Bill, or rather his romanticization through the lenses of Hollywood, enabled those young viewers to forge new standards of masculinity in a colonial environment that denied them manhood and, instead, essentialized the Congolese man as a “grand enfant” (big child) and, worse, as a macaque (monkey). Accordingly, they called themselves Bills and adopted the swagger, the scripts, and the silences of their eponymous hero. They formed gangs of Bills, infused their quest for masculinity with deeds of derring-do and esoteric street slang, and relied on martial arts, kintulu (bodybuilding), as well as on kamô (magical rituals) to get the upper hand in fights over monikers, turfs, and girls. Tropical Cowboys is not just a meditation on manhood, nor is it only a study of the tropicalization of the American West. It takes first and foremost a rather unorthodox view of popular cultures, exploring the grayish areas, those hard-to-reach places, the in-between zones where culture meets crime, dream meets drama, and resistance becomes a double-edge sword that liberates as much as it oppresses, and where young people walk a tightrope between making and breaking and construct manhood according to a pendulum process in which the male body is at once preserved and annihilated.


"An innovative and original study that sheds light on masculinity, youth culture, performative violence, and the circuit of global imagery in the townships of Kinshasa." —Stephan F. Miescher, author of Making Men in Ghana and Modernization as Spectacle in Africa

"Aligns social banditry with popular cultural formations and subcultures. This has been a longstanding feature of Didier Gondola's scholarship that is of great interest." —Peter J. Bloom, University of California, Santa Barbara