Leo Stappers (1918- 1977)
Songye figures from the collection of Leo Stappers
Leonardus Johannes Stappers, C.I.C.M., was born in Blerick, Limburg, the Netherlands, on June 6, 1918. After six years at the Seminary, in 1943 he became a priest in the order of the ‘Paters van Scheut’ (Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae). At that time he already showed a great interest in African languages and after a two-year study at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, he completed a degree in Bantu languages. As a missionary in Congo, he served as headmaster of a primary school in Ngongo, province of Kasaï in Congo from 1948-1951, and from 1951-1957 as a teacher in the Jan Berchmans College in Kamponde.
A philologist, Leo Stappers mapped out the Songye language, and published its first grammar as his PhD thesis at KU Leuven in 1964, entitled Morfologie van het Songye. In his research he worked closely with people from the Milembwe villages, whom he acknowledged in the introduction to his thesis.
After completing his PhD, he returned to Zaire to become a professor at the universities of Kinshasa (1964-1971) and Lubumbashi (1971-1974). After this he returned to Europe, and took up a professorship in the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, where he taught until his death in 1977 in ‘s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, aged 59.
The group of figures offered here was almost certainly acquired during Leo Stappers’ teaching period from 1948 to 1957, and have remained in the family to this day.