Congo (Republic of): Seven days sampling the delights of the land of Sapeurs

And so we arrive in the Republic of Congo (RoC). Not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which itself was called Republic of Congo from 1960–1964. This means (I think) that at some point there were countries separated only by the Congo river with the exact same name! The country is also known as Congo, Congo-Brazzaville and Congo Republic, which has made this week’s journey very difficult. It took hours on Google to find books and films that were 100% from the right Congo. But I got there in the end!

In reality, it shouldn’t be that hard for their (recent) histories are quite different. For RoC was a French Colony, rather than a money making scheme for a psychotic King.

That does not, of course, mean that all was well when RoC was part of French Congo or indeed French Equatorial Africa, though it is interesting that the capital still bears the name of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. For whilst his grave’s inscription “a memory untainted by human blood”) is objectively untrue, RoC probably benefited massively from the fact that he stopped Stanley from claiming the land for King Leopold, thereby making the Belgian Congo even bigger. The Scramble for Africa claims that Brazza was received as a hero by the “natives” and died broken-hearted having seen how poorly the people were being treated. His body now lays in an Italian marble mausoleum in Brazzaville. So, was he was a rapist who pillaged villages or humanitarian who fought slavery and abuse of African workers?

The answer may possibly be both.

Another huge difference between the two countries is that from 1969 until 1992, this was the People’s Republic of Congo, a one-party Marxist-Leninist State. This is when Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou is set. Like so many of the Armchair Traveller books, it is the story of coming of age in a country being turned on its head, of swapping prayers for socialist texts, socialist texts for street life, and street life for the relative comfort of an asylum. Maybe the only sane way of coping with humanity is to disappear into a dream world…

…and maybe that is what drives the Dandies or Sapeurs, the Congolese men who spend every penny they earn on high fashion. They are at the centre of this week’s film, which is well worth devoting 30 minutes to, but if you don’t even have that length of time you should watch Solange’s great video for losing you which features them prominently. This is certainly a side of Africa we need to hear more about!

And Saka Saka is something else I would also love to spend more time getting acquainted with. It’s a recipe that’s easy to make (as long as you can find a shop selling frozen cassava leaf) and tastes like a giant bowl of health! Either I am getting better at cooking African food, or I’m getting more of a taste for it, or I am getting better at choosing recipes. Regardless of why, it is sure nice to be eating food we actually enjoy!

This week’s drink, was Simba, a beer I was able to find by searching the shops of Matongé in Brussels and then bringing it back home. I shared it with my brother in law who rewarded my dedication by saying “it tastes like Heineken” and I guess he was right!

So that is it! I best prepare for my trip to the Cook islands. But before I go, a couple of musical recommendations to listen to on the journey. First, the Negro Band and second, Planete verte, by Nta M’bemba. Hope you enjoy.

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Armchair traveller

Armchair traveller

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Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.