The Abbé Tara Placide (circa 1930-January 7, 1971) was caught up in the 1963 uprising of Pierre Mulele in the Kwilu area of the Congo (now Zaire). Becoming disillusioned with the Mulelists, he escaped, only to be treated with suspicion by his ecclesiastical colleagues. He then continued his religious career by enlisting in the Armée National as a chaplain.
Born in Gampuru, a small village near Djuma, about 100 km (60 mi) northeast of Kikwit, Tara spent his youth in schools run by Jesuit priests. After primary school in Djuma, he went to minor seminary at Kinzambi (just outside Kikwit), and then to major seminary at Mayidi, about 100 km (60 mi) south of modern Kinshasa. In the dry season of 1961, he was ordained to the priesthood in Djuma.
He was assigned to the Atene mission where he was to supervise rural schools. Later he was transferred to the large mission of Totshi, 75 km (45 mi) southeast of Kikwit, where he again administered rural schools. Tara was at Totshi when the Mulele rebellion surprised him in August 1963. At first, he attempted to remain with his parishioners and to continue his work as a priest. Soon, together with his colleagues, he was forced to seek refuge with the army which evacuated the priests to Léopoldville (now Kinshasa). In Léopoldville, Tara suffered great remorse for having left behind his two nieces who were students at Totshi. He then determined to return to Totshi, where he learned the two young girls had been taken by the rebels. Advancing deep into the bush to find and save the girls, Tara was captured by the Mulelists.
The details of what happened during the two years he was held by the rebels may never be known. What is certain, is that, at the beginning, he was taken prisoner, and mistreated, and even tortured. Nevertheless, he expressed admiration for and belief in the ideals and doctrine of Mulele, who was preaching the liberation of the masses. It is believed that, for a time, Tara became part of Mulele’s immediate entourage. Supposedly he believed he should continue his role as a priest among the Mulelist partisans. Several times, but in vain, he wrote to the superiors of the diocese and to his colleagues, asking them to send supplies for celebrating mass and anointing the sick.
Gradually, however, the unfolding of the struggle and the behavior of the Mulelist militants caused Tara to become increasingly disillusioned with the revolutionaries. From then on, Tara stayed in the Mulelist camps only to protect the two girls, for whom he felt responsible, and to find a favorable opportunity to escape with them to the government camp. Freedom came after a battle in 1966, which was won by the Armée National. The Mulelist camp was destroyed, and the army evacuated Tara and his nieces to Kikwit.
Once he returned from the bush, however, Tara was viewed with suspicion, especially by his colleagues in the clergy. In addition, he had to explain to the police. After being questioned in Kikwit, he was transferred to Kinshasa where he underwent several more weeks of interrogation. Following his release, he was not allowed to serve as a priest in his native diocese at Djuma. For a while he served at Kenge, but pressure from the church hierarchy forced him to leave that post. Tara Placide then decided to enter the military chaplaincy. It was his conviction that to be a good chaplain, it was necessary first to be a successful soldier. Therefore, he underwent the rigors of military training, receiving the brevet of commando at Kota Koli and of parachutist at the center for squad training in Mikondo. Then, with the rank of sub-lieutenant, he was sent as chaplain to the lower Zaire River area, serving Matadi, Banana, Moanda, and Luozi. When he returned as a lieutenant, he was posted to the prestigious camp, Tshatshi, in Kinshasa. There, as in the bush, he gave his best, exhibiting strength of spirit, goodness, and simplicity.
But just when Tara appeared to have established a new way of life with the military, he was killed in an automobile accident on January 7, 1971. He is buried in the cemetery at Djuma.
Nyaywel è Nziem
B. Verhaegen, Rébellions au Congo (“Rebellions in the Congo”), Brussels and Kinshasa, 1966; Interviews with members of his family.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire. Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.