The University of Wisconsin Press

African Studies / History / Anthropology


Being Colonized
The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880–1960
Jan Vansina

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, David Henige, and Michael Schatzberg, Series Editors

An introduction to African colonialism by a foremost historian and anthropologist

What was it like to be colonized by foreigners? Highlighting a region in central Congo, in the center of sub-Saharan Africa, Being Colonized places Africans at the heart of the story. In a richly textured history that will appeal to general readers and students as well as to scholars, the distinguished historian Jan Vansina offers not just accounts of colonial administrators, missionaries, and traders, but the varied voices of a colonized people. Vansina uncovers the history revealed in local news, customs, gossip, and even dreams, as related by African villagers through archival documents, material culture, and oral interviews.

Vansina's case study of the colonial experience is the realm of Kuba, a kingdom in Congo about the size of New Jersey—and two-thirds the size of its colonial master, Belgium. The experience of its inhabitants is the story of colonialism, from its earliest manifestations to its tumultuous end. What happened in Kuba happened to varying degrees throughout Africa and other colonized regions: racism, economic exploitation, indirect rule, Christian conversion, modernization, disease and healing, and transformations in gender relations. The Kuba, like others, took their own active part in history, responding to the changes and calamities that colonization set in motion. Vansina follows the region's inhabitants from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, when a new elite emerged on the eve of Congo's dramatic passage to independence.

"This may be Vansina's best book yet...He has trodden the Kuba ground, talked to the people, and collected data for a half century, giving the book greater intimacy and authority than anything else he has written...In African historiography we are all Vansina's students, even when we argue with him. Being Colonized is written with the assurance of a master."––Wyatt MacGaffey, Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute

Jan Vansina, now emeritus, held the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professorship and the Vilas Professorship in History and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. His many books include his memoir Living with Africa, as well as Oral Tradition as History, Antecedents to Modern Rwanda, Kingdoms of the Savanna, The Children of Woot, and Paths in the Rainforests, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Considered one of the founders of the academic field of African studies, he was the second scholar chosen as "Distinguished Africanist" by the African Studies Association of the United States.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

The cover of this book is white, with yellow stripes, and an image of an African in a beaded headress.

April 2010

LC: 2009040640 DT
344 pp.   6 x 9
26 b/w illus., 14 maps

Book icon
Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-23644-1
Shopping cart ADD TO CART

"A stunning achievement. Drawing on his years of research, Vansina reveals an ever-changing kaleidoscope of interactions between colonizers and colonized. This is colonial history firmly grounded in the thoughts and daily experiences of Africans. It will forever alter the way we think about the colonial period in Africa.”
—Robert Harms, Yale University    

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated 12/15/2014

© 2012, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System