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Philosophy of New Music

Lumo: One Woman’s Struggle to Heal in a Nation Beset by War

by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III
The Goma Film Project, 2006
72 mins., DVD, $295.00
Distributor’s website: http://www.gomafilmproject.org/.

Reviewed by Jonathan Zilberg
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Lumo is the story of one victim’s path to healing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, once King Leopold’s Belgian Congo. It provides a single account of the consequences of rape as a weapon of war in the very Heart of Darkness. [1]

Lumo introduces us to the medical condition of non-obstetric traumatic fistula requiring surgical repair, the consequence of being torn apart internally through rape including the use of sharpened sticks and knives, guns discharged into the vagina. The film documents what is being done to help heal such victims and the emotional journey involved. To be brief, through this film, one gains a small window into that world. Lumo’s is an experience so traumatic that this review will not further comment upon the nature of these crimes against humanity themselves. Instead the review merely provides some background for the concerned. Above all it commends the film as an activist work designed to impel viewers to become involved in assisting the medical and humanitarian initiatives underway at the hospitals in Goma and Bukavu. [2]

Though the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement of 1999 formally ended the First African World War, extricating the multiple African armies involved, a humanitarian catastrophe continued to plague the eastern DRC. [3] In that regional context, it was after the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when peace returned to Rwanda, that the conflict shifted to the Eastern DRC. There foreign armies and the Hutu rebels, known as the genocidaires, turned their attention to terrorizing the local population. They did so and continue to do so in order to compete in the international trade of blood minerals particularly coltan and cobalt. This history of resource extraction and extreme violence has its dark precedents in the reign of King Leopold II in the late 19th Century as so powerfully portrayed in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost: A Study of Greed, Terror and Heroism (1998/2005). There today, in order to subjugate the population as before, and destabilize the state, rape is occurring on a scale and with a brutality never before seen in recorded human history. All groups including the national army are participating in these war crimes, something we learn of through the story of a girl called Lumo.

As a documentary film, Lumo is above all about courage and hope. An account of the remarkable work being done at the hospital in Goma, its aim is to galvanize international attention. Relating one victim’s account to illustrate the plight of many, it will be especially useful for introducing high school and college students to the sexual violence being perpetrated in the region. The brutality and scale of the situation defies the imagination. Today these war crimes and rampant impunity continue despite the efforts of the UN, the ICC and multiple UN Security Council Resolutions. [4]

While relevant showcase war crimes trials continue at The Hague and recently in the DRC, there is no end in sight of the crimes against humanity being committed every day in the DRC. There, the largest UN militarized presence ever mounted at the cost of $1.35 billion a year, has been judged as “completely and utterly impotent”. [5] In that unresolved and ever deteriorating context, Lumo will inspire awe as to how anyone can survive the physical and psychological trauma that the victims have endured.

Besides being a testament to the power of goodness and hope, to efforts underway to build The City of Joy for instance, it speaks on the other hand to the very heart of human darkness itself. For those interested in history, it may take you back to the use of rape as a weapon of war in Rwanda, Serbia and Nankin, to Doctor Mengele’s crimes against humanity and to the extreme history of local colonial violence described in the Roger Casement Report as revisited by Michael Taussig in his timeless chapter “Culture of Terror-Space of Death” in Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man (1987). Ultimately, the film Lumo, besides performing this inadvertent larger function for students of history and anthropology, is an unusual documentary film in that it serves as a medium for recruiting people to donate funds to the Goma Hospital. Therein, its ultimate purpose is to encourage people to become politically engaged in the HEAL Africa campaign.

Lumo thus does far more than merely bring awareness of the crisis in the DRC to a broader public. It stimulates activist participation. It may even come as a surprise to many to learn that an African World War passed by largely unnoticed in the media, as was the massive carnage of the American war in Laos, but in that case deliberately kept secret. For those interested in the study of media and war, history and humanitarian aid as regards gender and violence, this film is thus of immense importance. It brings attention to the fact that the conflict in the DRC has by now claimed almost 6 million lives, displaced, maimed, enslaved and terrorized similarly large populations, and utterly ruined the lives of countless victims. There is no end in sight. As this movie asks then: What can or will you do about it?


[1]  On the colonial history of violence in the DRC, see Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost (1998/2005) and Michael Taussig’s Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wildman: A Study in Terror and Healing (1987). For the classic reference to colonial violence set in the Congo, see Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902/1983) For Chinua Achebe’s controversial accusation that Conrad was “a bloody racist”, see “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, Massachusetts Review 18, 1977.

[2]  For another film on the same subject as Lumo, see Lisa Jackson’s HBO documentary film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo (2007). For a film on fistula in Africa, see the PBS film by Mary Olive Smith A Walk to Beautiful (2007). For background information on Lumo’s larger story, see Jonathan Zilberg “Combating Rape as Weapon of War in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Campaign to End Fistula.” in Narrating War and Peace in Africa, eds. Toyin Falola and Hetty ter Harr (2010), pp. 113-140. Especially see, Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2009) and the report The World at War, January 2000 at www.cdi.org/issues/World-at-War/wwar00.html.

[3]  See “The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement”, Peacekeeping in the DRC, MONUC and the Road to Peace (2001)at www.iss.org/za/Pubs/Monographs/No66/Chap3.html.

[4] See Herve Barr “DRC mapping report: An inventory of atrocities at www.mg.co.za/article/2010-09-29-drc-mapping-report-an-inventory-of-atrocities. Recently the DRC army has begun to prosecute army personnel for such crimes, see “DR Congo: UN provides logistical support for rape trial of army general” at www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=3794&Cr=Democratic&Cr1=Congo. The point to be made here in regard to the film Lumo is that the number of victims continues to grow daily, the hospitals in Goma and Bukavu continue to struggle to cope with the need for surgical repair of fistula and post-operative care, impunity is the norm and the plight and future of civilians in the eastern DRC remains as desperate as ever, never mind the fact that the active volcano above the city of Goma with its population of over a million people is a ticking time bomb.

[5] See Hui Min Neo “UN: DRC mass rapes defy belief” at http://mg.co.za/article/2010-09-24-un-drc-mass-rapes-defy-belief.

Last Updated 8 May 2011

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