Why the name: Brazzaville?

Map and Flag of the Republic of Congo
Map and Flag of the Republic of Congo

I always wondered where the name Brazzaville came from.  At first glance, it would appear to mean “the city of Brazza (la ville de Brazza).”  Is this a good guess? and if so, who was Brazza for his name to be given to the capital of an African country.  Fortunately or unfortunately, during European colonization, many African cities, and cities throughout the world, were renamed after the first European explorer passing by or after some European ruler.  Examples are countless: Leopoldville (modern-day Kinshasa), Port Louis (capital of Mauritius, named after Louis XV), Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe resp. – named after Cecil Rhodes), etc. Other cities have seen their names ‘europeanized’ such as Canton (Guangzhou, in China), Bombay (Mumbai, in India), and many others.

Savorgnan de Brazza (by Paul Nadar)
Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (by Paul Nadar)

Brazzaville is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Congo.  It is located on the shores of the Congo River.  It is the only capital in the world facing another one, Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo: Brazzaville and Kinshasa are separated only by the Congo river.  The Pool region and surroundings of Brazzaville had been an African crossroad for centuries.  In the Lari language, the regions of Mfoa and Mpila were known under the name Mavula, or “the place to get rich.”  Laris people still refer to Brazzaville that way; however the name Mavula is anachronic since in 1880, the region’s inhabitants were Bateke.  The site of the future capital was known as Nkuna, and was a Batéké village.  Brazzaville was founded on 10 September 1880 by an Italo-French explorer,  Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, after whom the city was named, Brazza-ville or the city of Brazza.  The local leader, Makoko of the Téké, signed a treaty of protection with de Brazza which subjugated his lands to the French Empire (he was probably fooled by the French, as was common practice with the colonizers).  The city was built four years later in order to become a competitor with Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) which was built by the Belgians on the other side of the river.  The site was occupied from October 1880 until May 1882 by a small squad of troops led by Senegalese Sergeant Malamine Camara, who prevented the land from falling into Belgian hands.

Malamine Camara
Malamine Camara

It was actually Malamine Camara who created links with the local populations, and made them sign with the French.  Malamine was very loyal, and when Savorgnan left for France for a few years, Malamine stayed behind, and convinced the local populations through his good manners to side with the French.  It is so sad that today, history mostly remembers Savorgnan de Brazza, and that even that capital is named after him, when it was the Black Senegalese soldier who fought for the French, led the troops, and convinced the locals.

Aerial View of Brazzaville
Aerial View of Brazzaville

The French officially established control over the area by the Berlin Conference of 1884.  The city became the capital first of the French Congo, and then of French Equatorial Africa, a federation of states which encompassed Gabon, the Central African Republic and Chad.  In 1924, the Congo-Océan railway was brought into service which linked Brazzaville with the port of Pointe-Noire.  During World War II Brazzaville, and the rest of French Equatorial Africa, remained beyond the control of Vichy France.  In 1944, Brazzaville hosted a meeting of the Free French forces and representatives of France’s African colonies.  The resulting Brazzaville Declaration was intended to redefine the relationship between France and its African colonies after the war.

Today, Brazzaville is a bustling city of more that 1.5 million inhabitants.  Affectionately called Brazza, it is the heart of the Republic of Congo.   To learn more about Savorgnan de Brazza himself, check out Brazza.culture.fr.  Enjoy, Brazza!

 

Why the name: Kinshasa?

Boulevard of 30 June, in Kinshasa
Boulevard of 30 June, in Kinshasa

Today I would like to talk about Kinshasa, the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  It is located on the Congo River, which happens to be Africa’s largest river, the deepest river in the world, and the third largest in the world by the volume it discharges.  Kinshasa is a city of over 9 million inhabitants and directly faces Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo: these two sister cities are separated only by the river Congo (the only place in the world where two capitals of two countries face each other). Residents of Kinshasa are known as Kinois.

When did it all start? Well, Kinshasa was founded in 1881 as a trading post by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley who named it Leopoldville in honor of the Belgian king Leopold II, who controled the immense territory of DRC as his private property and not just as a colony.  Prior to 1920, all goods arriving by sea in Congo were carried by porters from Matadi (the main port city of Congo), and Leopoldville over 150 km from the coast.  From 1886 to 1926, Boma (located on the Congo estuary) was the capital of the Belgian Congo; but after 1926, Leopoldville became the capital.

Kinshasa, seen from the Congo river
Kinshasa, seen from the Congo river

In 1965, Joseph-Desire Mobutu who had risen to power after coups d’etat against Patrice Lumumba in 1960, and a second one in 1965,  renamed the city Kinshasa in an effort to africanize the names of the people and places in the country.  Kinshassa was the name of a village which used to be near the site of the present city.  In Kikongo, Kinshasa means “the salt market“:nshasa = salt” and locator ‘ki‘.

The region of Pool Malebo, where Kinshasa is located, has been inhabited since at least the first millenium before our era.  However, before colonization, different Bantu groups have occupied the area.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the region of Pool Malebo became a major commercial hub between the river basin and the coastal regions.  The Bobangis (also called Bangala, or people of the river) managed the major part of the commerce with the equatorial forest by navigating the river up to the Téké villages of Pool.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, more villages develop themselves in the area, which became known as the Batéké plateau.  The principal Téké villages were Nsasa with almost 5,000 inhabitants, and Ntambo with at least 3,000.  By the time Henry Morton Stanley reached the area on 12 March 1878, the region was already home to 66 villages, and a total population of over 30,000 inhabitants.  Stanley chose this location as it was the area where the Congo river became navigable.

Map of the DRC
Map of the DRC

By the time the city changed its name from Leopoldville to Kinshasa in 1966, the city rapidly grew due to rural exodus of people coming from all parts of the country in search of a better life.  In 1974, Kinshasa hosted ‘The Rumble in the Jungleboxing match, a historic match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in which Ali defeated Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight title.  This has been one of Ali’s most famous matches: if you watch the movie Ali, you can see scenes of Kinshasa there.

Situated in an area belonging to the Batéké and Bahumbu people, the lingua franca of the city is the Lingala, while the administrative language is French.  Kinshasa is also a province of DRC (a bit like the district of Columbia in the US), and is the second largest francophone city in the world, after Paris.  Its current population is 9 million inhabitants, making it Africa’s second largest cities after Lagos in Nigeria.  Please check out the website for the city of Kinshasa, and Kinshasa-Congo travel to learn about the great city of music and art; I also liked the blog kosubaawate which goes through the evolution of Kinshasa then and now (i.e. before independence and now).  Enjoy the video below which I enjoyed for its quality, music, and of course its great content.