Chapter III : Human Geography
Part 2 : Ethnography.

from : J. Roland and E. Duchesne, Cours Complet de Geographie : Le Congo Belge, Namur 1914, pp.26-28

The Congolese populations consts of four distinct groups : the Bantu; - the Azande (Nubian branch); - the Nilotics (Nigritian branch); - the Negrilles or nains. It is possible to find a certain number of populations of mixed descent.
A. The Bantu. - The Bantu race, speaking the Bantu language, inhabits almost all of eastern Africa and forms three groups : the Southern Bantu, not interesting for the Belgian Congo; - the Eastern Bantu, which do not settle the territory of the colony except in the region of the great crevice, to the north and south of the Virunga Mountains; and the Western Bantu or the Congo Bantu, which occupy almost the entire Congolese territory. Again they are divided into the Bantu of the coast and the bush, the Bantu of the forest and the Bantu of the savannah.
The Bantu of the coast and the bush have been profoundly changed, in their customs and traditions, by a long contact with the Europeans. There are two large groups to be distinguished : the Bakongo or Fiotes, which inhabit the Bas-Congo, and the Bateke, which inhabit the larger part of the French Congo and extend from the Inkisi until the Kwamouth, living all around Stanley Pool.
The Bantu of the forest, in the great equatorial forest, have preserved their customs and traditions. They occupy the greatest part of the colony. They live spread in small villages and in small tribes, one or the other, show differences in appearance, yet they have in common the aspect of their customs and traditions. We mention : the Bangala, on the great buckle of the Congo; the Ababua, on the Bas-Uele, between the Rubi and the lower course of the Uele and it's affluent, the Bomokandi; the Mongo or Babolo, to the south of the great buckle of the river; the Kundu, occupy, to the south of the last mentioned, the entire south of the Equator district and a part of the district of Lac Leopold II. situated to the north of the Lukanie and the east of the lake; and a number of others in the basin of the Ubangi as well as in the region which extends to Lomani and Lake Albert-Edward.
The Bantus of the savannah, living in the eastern Congolese savannah, from the Kwango until the Tanganyika and the watershed to the Zambezi, distinguish themselves from the Bantus in the forest by grouping themselves in vast states, which have reached a more advanced degree of civilisation and who generally renounce the habit of tattooing themselves. Firstly, it is a habitat which frees them of the difficulties to communicate the forest presents; the open space of the savannah favors the extension of the authority of a single chief. Finally, favored by a more healthy climate and better conditions to live, they achieved more political stability, the customs are tempered, the agriculture and industry developed, and they are elevated over the primitives by a certain artistic sense, almost totally unknown in the north. Among the main groups we mention : on the Lunda plateau, the Balunda, who formed, until recently, a vast empire reaching from the Lualaba to the west bank of the Kasai; the Baluba to the north of the last mentioned, extending further to the east, to Urua, that is to say from the Lulua to Lake Tanganyika; further to the north, the Bakuba, in the district of Kasai, between Sankuru and lower Lulua; Lusambo is their principal center; the Vuaniema, again further to the east, in the Maniema, between Lualaba, Lukuga and the Tanganyika.
The Bantu are negroes mostly of great height; they have black skin, prolonged skulls, turnup noses, thick lips. Depending on the locality, they are farmers, hunters, fishermen and able rowers, sometimes herdsmen, craftsmen and merchants on the savannah, until today warlike.

B. The Azande. - The Azande, which form a branch of the Nubian race, occupy the territory to the north of the Uele until the border of the colony and beyond. Of medium height, they have chocolate-coloured skin, small mouths, skulls prolonged a little, and noses less turned up than the Bantu over whom they believe to be superior and of whom they do not otherwise speak. It is a magnificent and fierce race, animated by a powerful spirit of domination and conquest. Their favorite activity is hunting and they do it withardor. They are the Niam-Niam, or great eaters, the first cards of central Africa.

C. The Nilotics. - The Nilotics, who belong to the Nigritic branch, are negroes of the regions near the Nile, of the old enclave of Lado and near Lake Albert. The colour penetrates beyond the skin, they are of rather elevated height. the length of the limbs inferior, the jaws standing out, the large lips distinguishing them from the Azande, their neighbours to the west. Some have become peaceful farmers and sedentary cattle raisers, the others, living along Lac Albert, are warriors and herdsmen.

D. The Negrilles. - The Negrilles or nains are generally regarded to be the descendants of the first occupants of the soil, before the invasion of the Bantu. They live dispersed in small agglomerations in central and northern Congo, particularly in the great forest. They are of small height, varying between 1.36 and 1.57 m. The colour of their skin is sometimes black, sometimes brown-yellowish. The head is generally big, disproportionate to the rest of the body; normally, the stomach is inflated. Their appearance is characterized by a kind of stupidity, accompanied by convulsions. These pygmees are daring hunters, ably using their only weapons, the bow and arrow. They exchange, with neighbouring Bantu, the products of their hunt for the products of the soil, manioc, corn, bananas or potatoes.
By mixture of the four Bantu groups, the Azande, the Nilotics and the Negrilles who live near the Haut-Uele, various mixed populations emerged. One of the more powerful and more prosperous is the one of the Mangbetu, in an agricultural and industrial state and relatively advanced. Their land is nothimng but a field of potatoes, manioc and millet, and they are without rivals, in the region, as smiths, potters, sculpturors and canoe-builders.
It is generally agreed, with Ed. Dupont (Lettres sur le Congo), to recognize the Congolese negro by the following 4 attributes, two defaults and two quialities : 1st his inability to abstact and to reach general conceptions; - 2nd his inaptitude to spontaneous initiative; - 3rd a rather developed commercial instinct; - 4th a spirit of imitation and an astonishing ability to assimilate.

Languages. - The Bantu language is differenciated in almost as many idioms as there are tribes. Certain idioms are generalized, as the Fiote, influenced by the Portuguese, in the Bas-Congo, and like the Bangala, on the Upper Congo, and have become a an auxiliary language used by the whites and the staff of the stations in their communication with the indigenous. In the eastern regions once occupied by the slave-trading Arabs, a kind of commercial language, Swahili, part Arab, part Bantu, is used, imported from the coast of Zanzibar.

Housing. - The Congolese house or chimbeque is sometimes rectangular, with roofs of inclined pans, in the western part of the country, and sometimes round, with a conical roof. The rectanguar huts are sometimes preceded by a verandah formed by prolonging the roof and resting on pillars.
The walls are generally the worst, covered by mats, barks or leaves; the roof is made of leaves or bark, sometimes of straw. A single opening serves at the same time as door and window. The disposition of chimbeques in the village depends on the place and the environment.
As the hut does not do anything else than protect from rain, the sun and the cold, furniture is simple : a bed of dried leaves or of mats laid out on the floor, a tripod to make a fire, various utensils.

Food. - The meals are prepared and taken under open air. In all the western part of the colony, staple food is manioc, of which chikwangue or manioc bread is made; in the eastern part, it consists of cereals, maize, millet, sorghum, eleusine, almost always prepared and boiled. The indigenous also consumes vegetables and fruits : potatoes, ignames, peanuts, beans, apricots, bananas, pineapple. He loves fish, fried or steamed, and eats the meat of all domestic animals, goats, lambs, pigs, dogs, and poultry, and of game, such as the antilope, buffalo, elephant, hippopotamus, crocodile, even of serpents, rats, termites, white worms, locusts and caterpillars. Cannibalism, once wide-spread, is today severely punished.
The indigenous drink water, but they also know the use and abuse of fermented drinks, similar mostly to cider or to our beers; corn beer, srghum beer, sugar cane beer. The most appreciated is the malafu or palm wine.
The usage of tobacco is spread across the entire basin. The indigenous also smoke cannabis, of which they get intoxicated; also the State has forbidden it's cultivation.

Clothing; Bijouterie. - The loincloth is the indigenous dress. It's appearance varies, from the great loincloth reaching down to the feet to a small apron of just a few square centimeters. It is either made from European cotton textiles or from native cloth, ornated with fringes. The commerce with the whites spreads among the men the usage of European clothing, among the women the usage of large pieces of cotton in striking colours, in which the negroesses enwrap their entire bodies.
Tattooing is national custom, but it's application varies from tribe to tribe and as a sign distinguishing the races. Hairstyle also has fashions, sometimes individual, and the love to ornate oneself, of ornaments is general among both sexes. Dancing is practised everywhere.
Religious ideas. - see page 31.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 13th 2002

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz