Democratic Republic of the Congo/ Zaire


Figure 1.--

Zaire or the Congo is essentially much of cental Africa. The countruy is centered on the Congo Riven basin. The Congo is on of the great rivers of Africa and draikns much of central Africa. The Congo has a small Atlantic coast where the Congo flows into the Atlantic, it extens east to the Freat Rift Valley where several of Africa's important lakes are located (Tanganyika, Kivu, amd Katanga, Edward, and Albert). The terraine varies from dense tropical rainforests in the north and to savana and woodlands in the south. Important crops include coffee, cotton, palm oil, and rubber. Mineral resources include cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, tin, and uranium. Ethnically the Congolese are primarily Bantu who are divided into many tribes. There are also a small number of Pygmies. Little is known about the early inhabitants of the Congo. They may have been primative Pygmies. Gradually the Bantus from the northwest settled most of what is now the Congo. The Bantu population steadily increased and states began to form, several of which grew in size. Some of these states controlled fairly large areas and had sophisticated administrative systems. The Congolese are some of the last Africans to come into contact with the Europeans. Clothing was very basic because of the warm tropical climate. There were a range of trasditiional styles which varied from tribe to tribe. Children generally went naked until puberty. Modern Congolese generally wear European clothingto the extent threy can azfford it/ Large quantities of used clothing from America and Europe are sold in local markets.

Geography

Zaire or the Congo is essentially much of cental Africa. The countruy is centered on the Congo Riven basin. The Congo is on of the great rivers of Africa and draikns much of central Africa. The Congo has a small Atlantic coast where the Congo flowss into the Atlantic, it extens east to the Freat Rift Valley where several of Africa's important lakes are located (Tanganyika, Kivu, amd Katanga, Edward, and Albert). The terraine varies from dense tropical rainforests in the north and to savana and woodlands in the south.

History

Little is known about the early inhabitants of the Congo. They may have been primative Pygmies. Gradually the Bantus from the northwest settled most of what is now the Congo. The Bantu population steadily increased and states began to form, several of which grew in size. Some of these states controlled fairly large areas and had sophisticated administrative systems. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the Congo. The Portuguese at the time were sailing south in an effort to round the African coast and sail east to Asia. Diogo Co reached the mouth of the Congo River (1482). Eventually the Portuguese expanded their coastal trading osts into the colony of Angola. Arab and Arabized African (Swahili and Nyamwezi) traders from the Indian Ocean coast of modern Tanzania penetrated into central Africa--the eastern Congo. Much of this effort centered on Zanzibar where the Sheik of Oman trasferred his court. The Arabs traded and raided for slaves, ivory, and other commodities. Thus central Africa became an important source of captives for the Indian Ocean slave trade. The Congo Free State, was a far cry from the humanitarian inpulse with which the Victorians justified colonialism. Leopold administered the Congo as his personal property and not a national colony. The people in the the Congo Free State were essentilly turned into slaves worked to enrich Leopold personally. The Belgian Parliament responding to reports of abuses convertedthe Congo Free State into a Belgian colony. The worst excesses of Leopold's rule, especially forced labor, were ended. Enforcement of the new regime was at first uneven as the concessionaire companies controlled large areas and the number of Belgian officials were small.

Economy

The country is rich in natural resources. Important crops include coffee, cotton, palm oil, and rubber. Mineral resources include cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, tin, and uranium.

Chronology

Clothing in the Congo was very basic because of the warm tropical climate. There were a range of traditional styles which varied from tribe to tribe. Children generally went naked until puberty. There were major differences in the Congo during the 20th century. Our photographic archive is still quite limited. Thus we can not yet chronicle those differences in any substantial way. Of course the major difference was the transition from Belgian colony to independent state. We have found some images from the colonial era. Belgian colonists apparently brought albums and collections of photograhs back home when they left the Congo (1960). Thus we have a record of their experiences there. It seems to have been a life lived largely separate fron the native Congolese people, exept as servants or employees. A good example is a First Communion which we think was a Stanleyville ceremony just before independence (1958-59). We do not yet have much information about life in the Congo since independence. Hopefully we will evetually be able to expand this section. Modern Congolese generally wear European clothingto the extent threy can afford it/ Large quantities of used clothing from America and Europe are sold in local markets. Unfotunately we have not yet been able to connect with many readers from the Congo or other African countries enable us to develop information on their countries.

Garments

Congo children have wirn arge of clothing over time. Until The late 20th century, this ws largely determined by geography and climate. Congo was located in the heart of Africa, up the Congo river from the coast. Few Europeans vebtyred this far inland until the after the mid-19th centry. The Equator crosses the Congo, giving the country a tropical climate. As a result, few clothes were needed. And children especially boys did not wear much in the way of clothing--a common pattern throughout the tropics, bur especilly the case in Africa. Younger children did not wear clothig. Older children night wear a simple loin cloth. Even adults did not wear much in the way of clothing, Here not only was climate a factor, but the tribal groups were relatively primitive, meaning that creating textiles were a problem. This did not chnge even sfter the Belgians arrived. Some Congole in towns adopted Western dress if they could afford it, but the great bulk of the population lived in rural areas and dressed in traditional style. The Belgians for their part the styles popular in Belgium itself. At first without many concessions to the tropical climate, but as the 20th century progressed we see Belgians dressing less formally as they might in Belgium during the summer. After the turn of the 20th century, we gradully see Congolese boys wearing more European styles. The Belgians and other Europens largely left the country (1960). Although the Congo descened into chaos, we see more and more boys wearing casual Europen styles. Commonly ths menant a simple, oftn colrless shirt and short pants. We see them increasingly wearing styles popular in Europe during the summer. By the 21st century we no longer see many boys dressing in traditionl styles, but going brefoot was still common.

Ethnicity

Ethnically the Congolese are primarily Bantu who are divided into many tribes. There are also a small number of Pygmies. One of the PYgmy tribes is the Ef people in the Ituri Forest. Little is known about the early inhabitants of the Congo. They may have been primative Pygmies. Gradually the Bantus from the northwest settled most of what is now the Congo. The Bantu population steadily increased and states began to form, several of which grew in size. Some of these states controlled fairly large areas and had sophisticated administrative systems. The Congolese are some of the last Africans to come into contact with the Europeans. Clothing was very basic because of the warm tropical climate. There were a range of trasditiional styles which varied from tribe to tribe. Children generally went naked until puberty. Modern Congolese generally wear European clothing to the extent that they can afford it. Large quantities of used clothing from America and Europe are sold in local markets.

Activities

We do not yet have much information on activities. Music and dabce are of course important. We do not yet have much information on traditional forms. We note one Belguan-Conogolese girl who has made a name for herself in hip-hop music in America and Belgium--Ya Kid K.

Education

The Democratic Republic of Congo was a Belgian colony until 1960. The Belgian Congo covered an emense area of central Africa. King Leopold administered the colony as his own private fiefdom and terrible attrocities were committed by the Belgians during his reign. The Belgian Government took colony took over administration (1908). Very little attention was given to education. Christian missionaries, however, did persue education. The predominantly Catholic missionary effort constructed an impressive school system. By mid-century about 10 percent of Congolese children are attending primary school, compared to just 3 percent in neighbouring French Equatorial Africa. Belgium granted the country independence (1960), but had not prepared it for independence. While mineral rich, the country has drifted back and forth between turbulance, cuvil war and dicttatorial rule. The country changed its name to Zaire (1971-1997). Belgiam left a basic educational system, but much of it has deteriorated.

Families

We do not have much informtion on Congo families at this time. We do have a page on an unidentified Belgian family living in the Lake Kivu area. during 1946.

Individuals

A reader has provided us some of his boyhood experiences from the Belgian Congo. Belgium granted independence to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1960). Belgium had done little to prepare the Conglese people for independence. We notice the account of a Western boy in Zaire.








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Created: 8:43 PM 5/28/2007
Last updated: 2:22 PM 12/27/2017