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Title:Cyber Siren: what Mami Wata reveals about the Internet and Chinese presence in Kinshasa
Author:Braun, Lesley Nicole
Periodical:Canadian Journal of African Studies (ISSN 0008-3968)
Geographic term:Congo (Democratic Republic of)
mobile telephone
popular culture
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00083968.2015.1032313
Abstract:In 2012, images of a mystical mermaid known locally as 'Mami Wata' circulated on the Internet and via people's mobile phones, sparking rumours that Chinese labourers had captured her as they were installing underwater fibreoptic cables. Appearing as a grotesque sea-creature with a gnarled, shrivelled body, this new image of 'Mami Wata' challenges older, popular depictions of her as a beautiful maiden. Further, in her deformed body, Mami Wata reveals new tensions arising from promises of wealth and modernisation promoted by both Chinese and Congolese governments. Accounts of rumours/urban legends and metaphors of contagion animate larger contemporary discussions concerning development projects, 'otherness' and the influence of the Internet and mobile phone technology on production of popular African culture. The female siren, 'Mami Wata', is a recurring motif in Kinshasa's collective urban imaginary. Historically she has been an expression of modernity and hybridity through visual representation in popular painting, sculpture and television serials. Now 'Mami Wata' appears in the digital world. In this article, in addition to analysing the ways in which contemporary technology mediates this archetypal figure, the author draws on notions of otherness, recent historical, political and economic changes in the Democratic Republic of Congo to analyse the ways they inform the particular shape and meaning that 'Mami Wata' takes when transformed into the digital domain. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]