Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen: An Ordinary Family’s Extraordinary Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in Congo
Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen weaves Francisca’s journey with stories of the family’s harrowing encounters with gunmen and tales from their past to create a vivid, illuminating portrait of a place and its people. We hear of Mama Koko’s early life as a gap-toothed beauty plotting to escape her inevitable fate of wife and motherhood; of Papa Alexander’s empire of wives, each of whom he married because she cooked and cleaned and made good coffee; and of Francisca’s idyllic childhood, when she ran barefoot through the family’s coffee plantation gorging herself on mangoes and fish that “were the size of small children.”
Offering compelling testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the beauty of human connection in the darkest of times, Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen also explores what it means and requires to truly make a difference in an unjust and often violent world.
Tribunal • • • • Word got out around greater Dungu that we were talking gunmen at Mama Koko’s. The should-be dead—the ones who saw the LRA and lived—showed up, one or two at a time, lingering in the yapu, hoping for an introduction and an invitation to offer testimony. We coined them “Mama Koko’s War Tribunal.” With each new guest, each new story, each set of shell-shocked eyes, another little chunk of home as Francisca knew it crumbled away. We tucked ourselves into Mama Koko’s dim,
scouted out potential projects. First we stopped by a women’s sewing cooperative, then a local health clinic, hoping we might be able to arrange medical supplies. On the way out, we paused by an elementary school. “I helped start this school,” Francisca said in passing. For a moment, she lost herself in the memory, back in the days when she was a single mother of three young children, in the early 1980s. Everyone who knew the town gossips—and that was everyone in Dungu—knew things hadn’t worked
mass of refugees. When they finally emerged from hiding, Alexander surveyed the dried-up trees, the coffee beans stunted and gone to wild, the fields overgrown to bush and brambles. Dette didn’t want the coffee plantation. The land was wrecked, raided, broken to fruitless nothing. Alexander decided to reclaim it. Ngalagba had left Papa Alexander for another man ten years before. Monokoko opted to stay in Dungu to help out with her grandchildren. Toni was not up for the tedium of manual labor.
even be stronger for sharing the pain as they had. Francisca’s brother Antoine came in unexpectedly holding a beaten-up, reused manila envelope, and handed it to Francisca. “Father Ferruccio just dropped this off for you.” We stared at it for a moment before Francisca asked, “Should we open it?” “Now? In front of Papa Alexander?” I responded, loathing to lose the ease and warmth we had just regained. But curiosity got the better of us. Why would Ferruccio drop something off to us? Francisca
and starts chewing, pretty soon other termites sense it. There must be something good to chew on over there. Then, you have all the termites chewing on the branch and before you know it, the branch comes down. I didn’t think you could do it, or we could do it. But if sharing the story gets ten or twenty or a hundred more people involved, this LRA thing could be finished.” In some ways, things have gotten better in Dungu since our trip, thanks to the work of Congolese advocates like Dungu’s Abbey