Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Bongo Bongo Bongo I Don’t Wanna Leave the Congo, by Veronica Cecil

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Bongo Bongo Bongo I Don’t Wanna Leave the Congo, by Veronica Cecil (memoir)

Bongo Bongo Bongo I Don’t Wanna Leave the Congo, by Veronica Cecil (memoir)

(Kwela Publishers, South Africa, 2009)

I had sworn that I would never read another depressing piece of Post-colonial Literature. But now I have to recant because, despite my prejudice, I was engrossed by Cecil’s memoir of 1960s Congo, and I have to concede that she is a skilled storyteller.

Initially, reflecting the imperturbable European society, she barely mentions the country’s descent into civil war or the inter-racial friction, and the story reads like an exotic travel journal.
Towards the inexorable conclusion, every fearful moment of her escape and the upsurge in violence are described in tortuous detail. Reading the afterword, I decided that no-one in their right mind would ever want to go to the Congo, never mind stay there forever, bongos or no bongos.

The book title

The title refers to a song called “Civilization”, written by Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman, published in 1947, and later included in the 1947 Broadway musical Angel in the Wings. The song is sometimes also known as Bongo, Bongo, Bongo (I Don’t Want to Leave the Congo) from the first line of the chorus:

“Each morning a missionary advertise with neon sign
He tells the native population that civilization is fine
And three educated savages holler from a bongo tree
That civilization is a thing for me to see
So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo
Oh no no no no no
Bingle, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle
I refuse to go
Don’t want no bright lights, false teeth, doorbells, landlords
I make it clear
(That no matter how they coax him)
I’ll stay right here.”

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