Donato Fhunsu

Affiliation: Africana Studies
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Africana Studies

I received my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a dissertation titled “The Kongo Rule: The Palo Monte Mayombe Wisdom Society,” under the supervision of Dr. Inger Brodey (English and Comparative Literature) and Dr. Todd Ramón Ochoa (Religious Studies). My dissertation is a critical analysis and literary translation, from Spanish [and Kikongo] into English, of the book Reglas de Congo: Palo Monte Mayombe, by the Cuban anthropologist, artist, and writer Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991). Cabrera’s manuscript is a hybrid ethnographic book of Africana religion, poetry, songs, and oral narratives (oral history) that she devoted to the community of Afro-Cubans known as “los Congos de Cuba.” These are descendants of the Africans brought to Cuba during the trans-Atlantic Ocean African slave trade from the Kongo Kingdom. This kingdom occupied the present-day southwestern part of Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, Cabinda, and northern Angola, and had formal contact with European missionary Christianity through the Kingdom of Portugal as early as the 1490s, and eventually developed into a creative Catholic kingdom in its own right in the heart of Africa. Cabrera was inspired to do this work while studying art at the École du Louvre in Paris in the 1930s, after meeting the Francophone Négritude poets Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon-Gontran Damas, whose works she also translated from French into Spanish. Even though Cabrera remains one of the most prolific researchers of Afro-Cuban religion and culture, having written 24 books in Spanish, her work is practically unavailable in English, French, or any other major language of the African Diaspora, a gap that has so far deprived the international community of valuable knowledge about a vital aspect of Cuba, the Caribbean, the African Diaspora, and Transatlantic Migrations and Dialogues. This work is therefore a pioneering project seeking to bridge this gap.

As an Africanist comparatist, my current scholarly interests, which are informed by the context of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2025), include (1) Comparative Global Africana Literatures and Cultures (African, Afro-European, African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latin American Literatures--Anglophone, Hispanophone, Francophone, and Afrophone); Postcolonial Studies and Critical Theory; (2) Religion, Race, and Literature in Africa and the African Diaspora; Biblical Studies; (3) Peace Studies; Gender Studies, Diaspora/Migration Studies; (4) Kongo Culture in Africa and the African Diaspora; (5) Translation Studies (English, Spanish, French, Lingala, Kikongo), and Narrative Studies.

My first book, Patrice Lumumba: Sa lutte pour la libération du Congo et son héritage politique pour l’Afrique, a scholarly literary translation, from English into French, of the biography Patrice Lumumba, by the Congolese historian Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, was published by the Institut Congolais de Recherche en Développement et Études Stratégiques (ICREDES) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2017. Democratically elected as the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at independence in June 1960, a fervent advocate for self-determination, economic and social justice, and pan-Africanism, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in January 1961, caught in the vortex of a network of forces that included the legacies of the 1884-1885 Berlin Congo Conference, the Great Powers’ “Cold War,” pre-Vatican II theology, and the concerted effort against the movement for national political liberation and liberation theology that was sweeping Africa in the 1950s and 1960s and which also affected the Americas. The study, a decolonial and postcolonial look at the enduring legacy of colonialist politics and religion, expands our understanding of the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in Africa and the African Diaspora in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries across the French, Spanish, and English language divides.

My classes are spaces of fearless thinking about the ideas that have shaped and continue to shape our worldviews and rule our lives. In the works of the Global Africana Literatures that my students and I read, ponder, discuss, and write about, we explore the power of the radical imagination of Africana indigeneity to sensitize our hearts, stretch our minds, and expand our consciousness. Even though the task of working with minds and hearts is difficult, I am encouraged by the recognition that a mind stretched by a new idea and a heart touched by a new sensibility never return to their original dimensions. This is what I see as the hope of education.


  • PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • MA, North Carolina State University
  • MA, Kent State University
  • BA, University of Kansas