Congo (Kinshasa)—which distinguishes this country from the other Congo, which is often called Congo (Brazzaville). Formerly: Zaire, Zairians, Belgian Congo, Congo (Léopoldville).
Identification. Named after the enormous Congo River and the large ethnic group living at its mouth, the Kongo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo first had its borders drawn at the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885. During this conference, Africa was arbitrarily divided in ways that benefitted the European colonial powers, with no regard for existing tribal systems and linguistic groups. In some instances, these new borders separated families, while other people without previous contact suddenly became part of one nation. Many of Congo's leaders have favored certain ethnic groups and areas over others, exacerbating differences between ethnic groups. The future of the Congo depends upon average citizens transcending the political rhetoric of hatred and uniting within an African-style democracy.
Location and Geography. Located in Central Africa, the Congo shares an extremely long border with the Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. Largely landlocked, the DRC depends on the mighty Congo River for transportation and livelihood. Second in power only to the Amazon River, the Congo River is said to have enough hydroelectric power to light up every home in all of southern Africa. The regular flow of the river is due to its various tributaries, which feed from both sides of the equator.
As Africa's third largest country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo boasts 905,356 square miles (2,344,872 square kilometers), including deep forests, the famous Ruwenzori mountain range, the Central Basin, the Highland Plateau, beautiful rivers, cities, villages, and mining towns.
Kinshasa is the capital and largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Formerly known as Léopoldville, after King Leopold II of Belgium, Kinshasa is a vibrant and modern town of over 5 million people located on the Congo River. Other cities include the southern diamond-mining center, Lubumbashi (850,000 inhabitants), river-oriented Kolwezi (417,810), Kisangani (600,000), Mbuji-Mayi (810,000) and Matadi (172,730), the country's primary seaport. Various communities throughout the nation's interior make their livelihoods by fishing, hunting, and working the soil.
Demography. With an estimated population of nearly 52 million in 2000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to over two hundred different ethnic and linguistic groups. In the far north of the country, near the Sudanese border, live people with ethnic and linguistic backgrounds similar to that of Saharans. Their culture is strongly influenced by Arabic- and Berber-speaking people of the Middle East. People of Bantu origin populate most of the rest of the country, including Lunda, Luba, Kuba, Kongo, and Mongo, groups. In addition, some 240,000 people are temporary residents, as neighboring wars have led to huge migrations into the region. The vast population of the DRC is divided into ten administrative regions.
The copper industry in eastern Zaire created several urban areas that sprang up around the mines. Currently, 60 percent of the population lives in rural areas, although many people migrated to the cities during the 1980s and 1990s in the hopes of finding food and work. Rapid urbanization has increased the squalor of shantytowns located outside
Linguistic Affiliation. Most Congolese speak several languages; it is not uncommon for someone to fluently speak four or more languages. French, introduced by Belgian colonists, is still used by the government and in radio broadcasts as Congo's official language. Other major languages include Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo, and Tshiluba. Used by the colonial military in the 1800s as the language of trade and travel, Lingala remains the lingua franca of the region. It is the most popular language for communicating across ethnic lines, and the majority of popular music heard on the radio is sung in Lingala.
The flight of many Congolese to cities and mining towns outside linguistic boundaries has caused new varieties of language to arise. Such dialects are often a synthesis of several languages that formed as people from different backgrounds learned to speak with one another. Migration and modernization has also led to changes within specific language groups. For example, the Swahili taught during the colonial era in missionary schools has evolved into a new dialect called Kingwana. Language choice carries inherent political overtones. For example, the use of French in conversation implies an official tone.
Symbolism. National holidays include Independence Day, Constitution Day, and Armed Forces Day, indicating that the ruling party wishes to solidify feelings of nationalism and remind the nation of its freedom from a colonial past.
The country's flag has a light blue background with six stars on the left-hand side and one large yellow star in the center. Because the current president wanted to honor the Congo's first freely elected president, Patrice Lumumba, he chose the same flag that Lumumba used in 1960. Originally, the six stars represented the six administrative districts; though there are currently ten such provinces, the president selected this older version out of respect for the nation's hero.
Emergence of the Nation. Throughout Congo's prehistory, most ethnic groups were isolated from one another by the thick forests that engulf the country. For several hundred years before the arrival of Europeans in the late fifteenth century, many kingdoms were highly organized and efficient administrators of health, education, and trade. Regions located along the Congo River were most easily accessible to outside traders. Therefore, they were the first to open themselves up to Christianization and the Portuguese slave trade in the 1480s. Throughout the sixteenth century, the worldwide demand for slaves increased, triggering violence between ethnic groups as European slave traders kidnapped people and encouraged African men to capture members of other ethnic groups for money. Even missionaries, who thought of themselves as bringing the "pure light" of Europe to shine on the Congolese "darkness," sometimes participated in the lucrative business of slavery.
In the 1885 scramble for Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium declared himself the dictator and sole proprietor of the new Congo Free State. Leopold garnered public support at home by publicly announcing his intent to Christianize and modernize the Congolese population, all the while planning the forced labor of men, women, and children for the lucrative ivory and rubber business. When people did not meet the king's quotas, his army killed them or cut off their hands. The overall population of the country greatly diminished during the early twentieth century due to such cruelty and to the susceptibility of many Congolese to new European diseases.
Mounting international criticism forced Leopold to sell his colony to Belgium in 1908. The Belgians, unfortunately, failed to contain his blood-thirsty troops, who were responsible for managing the rubber trade that caused over five million people to perish. From 1890 to 1910, between 5 and 8 million people perished as a direct result of the rubber trade.
By 1903, the economy for rubber in the Congo had collapsed, so the new Belgian colony focused on exploiting the Katanga province for copper, diamonds, and oil. So-called "vacant land" could be used by businesses from many countries willing to exploit one of the world's richest areas. Both forced labor and high taxes continued the horrors of Leopold. Families were split as many men went far away from their villages to the mines to work, nearly destroying the fabric of traditional society.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Belgian colonial government tried to enforce mass cultivation standards, but without proper transportation mechanisms in place, large amounts of food lay wasted and unsold. The demand for copper grew during the World War II era, creating peripheral markets for household goods such as soap and sugar. Though economic growth increased and education improved during this time, the Belgians remained staunchly authoritarian. Local chiefs were used as pawns of the government; often they were removed from power if rumored to be anticolonialist.
National Identity. Increased poverty and aggravation over colonial rule united this extremely large country, despite its lack of roads, telephones, and newspapers. Under the administration of the Belgians, for example, Congolese were not permitted to travel without a permit and were not allowed to drink hard liquor. Such inequality fed the flames of desire for independence, as did the news of neighboring countries achieving freedom from colonial rule. Liberation movements from around the country began to cooperate and consolidate their power against the Belgians. Religious movements formed, strongly espousing antiwhite, anticolonialist rule. Massive strikes and retaliatory massacres helped motivate opposition groups in the extremely large and ethnically diverse country.
When the Belgians abruptly left the Congo and independence was declared on 30 June 1960, there
The United States was preparing Joseph Mobutu, an army strongman, for leadership. Mobutu remained in power for twenty-three years, until 1997. Mobutu proceeded to declare all political parties illegal, except for his party, the Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution, or MPR. He also abolished the parliament.
President Mobutu asked that everyone drop his or her missionary-given, Christian names in an effort to re-Africanize the nation. He changed his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, "The warrior who dares and cannot know defeat because of his will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest." In addition, he changed the country's name to Zaire, and several city names as well. Many people were executed within Mobutu's circles and in the business community for allegedly planning coups, and most business operations were overrun by government officials and eventually collapsed. Mobutu did what Leopold had done: he enslaved his people, got extremely wealthy at their expense, and watched as everyone outside of his small circle endured an ever-increasing cycle of poverty and repression. After over fifty university students, rumored to be part of a demonstration against the government, were murdered in their beds by Mobutu's guard, the international community began to take notice of the brutality of the regime, and some countries withdrew their financial support from Zaire.
Mobutu's personal fortune at his death was estimated to be $5 billion. His name became synonymous with corruption around the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Congo economy suffered because of Mobutu's excessive expenses, the fall of copper on the world market, extremely high inflation and a simultaneous devaluation of the currency, the government defaulting on International Monetary Fund and World Bank payments, and the near ubiquitous nationalization of businesses.
Ethnic Relations. Laurent Kabila's ascension to power culminated on 16 May 1997, when he was named the head of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kabila, originally from the Katanga province, was the leader of rebel troops who, fed up with Mobutu's rule, marched across the country capturing each town along the way. When Kabila took the capital, Mobutu fled into exile in Europe where he died a few months later, in September 1997. The initial celebrations gave way to an internal conflict that as of 2000 involved five other African nations.
Nearly one year after Mobutu's death, Kabila announced war against the Tutsi. Ironically, they were the ethnic group that most supported his campaign to overthrow the Mobutu regime. Because of the lack of civil rights and equality in the Congo, ethnic Tutsis have never had citizenship, even those born in the country. Their goal was to overthrow Kabila in favor of a more democratic regime.
Forty years after independence, the political struggle for power still continues as this war has claimed over one million lives. Inspired by decades of colonialism, Leopold's Rule, and the multinational push to control the Congo's natural resources, this war is about more than ethnic rivalries; intertwined is a complex history, broken allegiances and promises, Mobutu's policy of divide and conquer and billions of dollars of natural resources hanging in the balance.
The conflict is not confined to Rwanda and the Congo, however; Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and Uganda have each taken their sides, creating what some have called "Africa's World War I."
The future of the region remains uncertain, especially in the light of President Laurent Kabila's assassination by one of his bodyguards on January 16, 2001. The late president's son Joseph Kabila was sworn in as the country's new president on January 26. The new Kabila has promised that free and fair elections would take place in the near future.
In rural areas, several round or rectangular mud huts enclosed in an area comprise a family's homestead. The frame is built by tying vines around sticks and palm frond stems. A mixture of sand, water, and often cement is then used to fill in the structure and a grass roof completes the home. Families often move their homestead to be near their new fields, or if termites have destroyed their roof. At times, new homes are built on top of the old field, so that after several years, the newly fertilized land can be used again. Each hut serves a different purpose: some are for cooking, others are for storage, and there are guest huts and separate rooms for the male and female children, who usually sleep on handwoven raffia mats placed upon the ground. Traditional homesteads are as diverse as their owners. They may be large or small, extremely clean or left in neglect.
In the areas surrounding cities, large shantytowns have emerged. Usually the small homes are made of corrugated iron in these areas. Given the extreme heat during most of the year, these homes are often swelteringly hot. In general, the quality of life in the urban shanties is lower than that of the rural areas. In some urban areas, however, better homes or apartments are available for the rich who drive Western automobiles and wear suits. Large government buildings made of modern materials symbolize the wealth of the politically powerful.
Food in Daily Life. Unfortunately, for many in the Congo, food is not necessarily a part of daily life. And, when food is available, it usually does not contain the vitamins and minerals required to help ward off disease and maintain proper health. The primary staple, pasty white fufu (manioc tubers, pounded into the texture of oatmeal), is eaten out of a communal bowl. This chunky carbohydrate is accompanied by varying side dishes, depending on wealth, season, and availability. Examples include sweet potatoes, perch, bananas, and plantains. For many rural people, meat is a delicacy reserved for special days or when the family can afford the luxury. Only the right hand is used in eating because it is an insult to conduct any transaction with the left hand, which is used only for bathroom purposes. In the traditional way of eating, the women first serve the men, who usually sit on the chairs in the home. After the men are finished eating, the women and children usually sit on the floor and share the remaining items, resulting in poorer nutrition. In
Fish is a primary food source for many, depending on their proximity to rivers and streams. Some families build their own ponds by diverting small rivers to an area, using bamboo for pipes. Manure, bits of food, and other materials are used as compost in the bottom of the pond to promote the growth of plankton. Fish are then harvested after six months of feeding. Often the women fry or salt the fish that the family did not consume for sale in markets throughout the year.
Many edible treats abound from the palm tree, including wine, oil, fruits, and nuts. Youth learn early to climb high into the trees for nuts, process them by boiling and pounding the nut to make oil, and to tap the base of the tree for wine. This wine starts out not very potent, but as it sits, the alcohol content greatly increases. The palm fruits can also be used for cosmetic purposes.
Riverboats are seen throughout the country, as the river acts as a vital artery for trade and transportation along the populated river banks. On the riverboats, large communal kitchens serve tea and bread for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch and dinner. Urban life has changed many traditional customs, and a thriving restaurant culture exists in Kinshasa. Usually catering to business people and the rich, these expensive places offer French, Chinese, Greek, and Tunisian food as well as traditional chicken cooked in oil with rice.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. A tradition ingrained into the villager's lifestyle is to be extremely generous and giving to all people. Starting with a family's closest kin, members share with one another and especially with the most needy in the community, even when their own health suffers from lack of food. Lavish gifts are bestowed upon visitors, guests, and distant cousins alike. A family's only chicken or goat is often slaughtered for holiday celebrations, funerals, and weddings, and to celebrate births. Traditional beer and palm wine is brewed for these special occasions, which usually involve singing and dancing. Above the drums, singing, and stomping of feet, women ululate shrilly to express their excitement. This encourages the dancers, who then begin to move with a renewed vigor.
Basic Economy. The per capita gross national product (GNP) of the country stands as the world's third lowest, according to a 1998 report. In 2000, as
Land Tenure and Property. In the past, the chief or village headman had authority over village land and ownership, but the European notion of individual land ownership led to a law in 1966 stating that the government owned all land, creating two simultaneous legal systems. Both laws exist side by side, and the unclear status of land ownership is usually "solved" by postponing land dispute investigations with bribes. Some people want to officially own the land they and their ancestors have been tending for centuries so that they can use the property as collateral for a loan. This legal issue caused by the parallel legal systems, however, prevents many from obtaining such a loan, making it difficult for would-be entrepreneurs to finance a new business. In addition, women cannot own land without their husband's consent.
Commercial Activities. People are forced to find food for themselves and their families by any means necessary. Since the Congo fails to perform the functions of a state, has a very ineffective administrative system, fails to uphold civil rights, and often neglects to pay even its few salaried workers, Congolese citizens must find a way to carry on with their lives to survive. The origin of this problem lies in the Belgian colonial days and the subsequent Mobutu era, in which the real function of the regime was to consolidate wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the rest.
It is estimated that the total economy of the DRC is three times larger than the official gross domestic product. The unofficial economy is not a backseat player; it is the real economy on the ground. This is because the vast majority of economic activity takes place behind the official system. Rather than go through the excessive bureaucratic formalities (a single export alone requires thirty-nine separate administrative procedures), people take the matter of survival into their own hands. Exports such as copper, diamonds, gold, and coffee are bound for Europe, South Africa, and Angola. People bicycle in common goods from neighboring countries to sell in the DRC for less. The consistently overvalued price of items in the official economy prevents everyone but the excessively rich from buying even the most basic necessities, and forces more people to operate within the black market. In fact, the primary reason to obtain a "regular job" (such as, teacher or police officer) is to use the new job as a springboard to new connections that enhance the operations of the work that takes place outside the traditional sector. Women have especially taken advantage of the booming informal sector, thereby avoiding official requirements for licensing, since they would normally need their husband's permission to open any sort of bank account or to obtain a trading permit. Tenacious entrepreneurs even continue their business under the extremely difficult conditions inside refugee camps. Hair salons, discos, bars, wrestling arenas, and shops selling basic goods have sprung up inside these camps.
Major Industries. Subsistence agriculture accounts for a vast majority of the industry in the Congo. People farm corn, manioc, potatoes, beans, and rice for their personal use. Textiles, food products, cement, and plastic shoes are manufactured.
Powerful players from around the world compete for access to the DRC's rich natural resources, which include diamonds, cobalt, copper, gold, and oil. In order to pass customs, traders may eat gold pellets or hide illegal goods in the spaces of a car engine in order to successfully make it through a border, where they then sell these items on the black market.
Trade. One of the most severe hindrances to trade and marketing in the Congo is the lack of adequate internal transportation. Most roads through the country's vast interior are not paved, and its 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) of paved roads remain in serious disrepair. Rain damages the terrain, creating huge potholes which make transport across the country virtually impossible. Estimates in the early 1990s suggested that it could take up to six months to travel from the east to the west of the country over the deeply rutted dirt tracks, even with a car in excellent condition. In addition, airline services are unreliable. Therefore, the most effective method of transport in the country is by river barge. These boats float down the Congo River, carrying large numbers of people and their goods on deck.
Division of Labor. Rural children learn from a young age to tend fields, carry water, cook, and clean the homestead. Everyone, regardless of talent, ability, or age, is involved in work for the family's survival.
Classes and Castes. Congo's richest people primarily live in Kinshasa. Referred to as Kinois, these government officials and Western businessmen are few in number. Non-Congolese expatriates— businesspeople of higher wealth and class from West Africa, Greece, Asia, the United States, and Japan—enjoy a higher standard of living than the majority of the population. Missionaries and foreign aid workers are socially fragmented into their respective groups and each attend separate schools, churches, and social clubs. Some Western workers, however, do live in rural areas, without the comforts of an elite lifestyle. The urban subbourgeoisie—those seen by the majority of the very poor as rich, but not enjoying much actual income since they are rarely paid—include teachers, clerks, and low-level bureaucrats. This disgruntled group is dependent on the state for their salaries. Teachers often bribe their students with threats of failure in order to survive. The rest of the city-dwelling population includes soft drink vendors, shoe repairmen, taxi drivers, salespeople, artisans, smugglers, and prostitutes, all of whom survive in the urban sprawl by operating in the unofficial economy.
Congolese are known for their extreme tenacity and ability to weather difficult situations. Rural peasants are hardest hit by the economic collapse, since state officials collect 50 percent of the peasants' income through taxation. In rural areas, respect and authority comes from being old and/or male. Many communities have chiefs, and most of them still wield a considerable amount of power in their villages.
Symbols of Social Stratification. With the introduction of Western imports and a monetary system, life in the Congo became increasingly stratified and based upon material acquisition. In the traditional sense, being rich meant owning lots of cattle or having many children. The idea of acquiring goods, trinkets, and other material things, however, is seen as the way to move forward in this modern age.
Some of the youth, fascinated with European styles and envisioning Europe as a place with an almost magical quality, are greatly influenced by the few people who have traveled abroad. A few men, concerned with their outward appearance, spend all their money on expensive, fashionable brand-name clothes, often while living in unhealthy conditions. This phenomenon is widely observed in male youth in Kinshasa, who believe, if they dress well, that more doors will open to them socially, politically, and economically. The desire for foreign clothes still fascinates the rich few, who are seen in the cities in designer clothes, driving Mercedes and talking on cellular phones.
Rural women often wear scarves on their heads, carry their babies on their backs, and wear light, brightly colored clothes. The tattered clothes of the majority of shoeless, rural and urban poor are outward signs of the poverty they endure.
Government. Leopold's rule, Belgian colonialism, and Mobutu laid the framework for the current form of government. Mobutu established what some have called a "kleptocratic" dictatorship, in which the constitution and separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches existed on paper only, and the primary role of the government was extracting money from the land and people. On paper, Kabila answered to a bicameral parliament including a Senate, Chamber of Representatives, and an independent judiciary. In reality, he allowed himself to operate the entire country with the help of only twelve men, who comprised his interim assembly, citing civil war as a deterrent to democratic rule. Kabila's rhetoric included the goal of transferring power to the people through the use of People's Power Committees, which were slated to begin operations in each province sometime in the future. Kabila dissolved his own party, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) in January 1999, and subsequently engaged in fighting several armed factions opposed to his rule. Allegiances to a political party or faction are usually based along ethnic and clan lines.
Leadership and Political Officials. Everyone in the path of the president is ordered to stand perfectly still when he marches through Kinshasa's city streets. When an average citizen happens to meet a government official, the citizen will usually try to avoid conflict by conceding to the official's demands, and by keeping overall contact to a minimum. Those who spoke negatively of the Kabila regime faced probable prison, torture, and execution.
Social Problems and Control. With political parties officially banned and demonstrations outlawed, it is not difficult to imagine the social problems in the country. Rather than a government, a military, and a police force protecting its citizens, the ordinary people going about their daily life are harassed, stolen from, and lied to by the very people who are supposed to protect them. Journalists such as Kalala Kalaos, who was awarded the International Freedom of the Press Award in 1995, have endured countless prison sentences and torture for openly criticizing the government. Years of colonialism, brutality, and the general misunderstanding of the role of government will take more than a few years to overcome. It would be difficult for any new government, given this history, to come in and change things overnight since much of the illegal activity is promoted by the rich and powerful.
Problems of all sorts are solved in local courts, in which issues are discussed and resolved through legal or religious ceremonial actions such as purification and consecration. Traditional systems remain the primary method for solving disputes.
Military Activity. The role of the unpaid Congo Military is to set up numerous roadblocks in order to earn their money from the bribes of road-weary travelers. Soldiers rape women, inflict arbitrary fines on citizens, and pillage and harass the villagers. Most of the rest of the military is involved in fighting to protect Kabila's regime against several factions that wish to overthrow the government.
Social Welfare and Change Programs. Since less than 1 percent of the GNP is devoted to the health care of the citizens, little is being done by the government to assist its population. The few people in large cities who are salaried and are actually receiving pay also enjoy social security and pension benefits, but this does little for the vast majority of the population, which receives no support from the government.
International relief organizations fly food in to refugees and people displaced because of the war. At times the food does not reach the innocent masses; rather, it often falls into the hands of the military, who can then strengthen themselves for more fighting.
As an institution, the Roman Catholic Church has been a major player in the Congo throughout modern history, often condemning state-sponsored human rights violations. In 1993 Catholic leaders
Division of Labor by Gender. Most political, economic, and religious institutions have male leadership. Historically, Congolese men have been treated with respect and have been given positions of authority more often than Congolese women. The way a woman is treated in the Congo depends on her immediate environment and racial background. It has been argued that lower-class urban women enjoy fewer freedoms than their rural counterparts. Because women in cities are often more dependent on their husbands and other males for their livelihoods, the rural lifestyle may sound appealing to some; rural women find some independence through gardening, preparing meals, and generating small crafts for sale. These women spend so much time with their daily work, however, that they have little opportunity to organize for social change. Women living in Kinshasa are more able to form groups that collectively challenge the notion of male superiority.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Though many ethnic groups in the Congo practice matrilineal succession, in which inheritance is passed through the mother's side of the family, women are regarded as lower than males on the scale of social hierarchy. There is a high degree of societal pressure placed upon young women to marry, and an urban single woman is regarded as a prostitute, regardless of her professional status. In many cases, women must detail everything they purchase for their husband, while the male usually does not have to account for his own expenses. The goal is to keep women dependent on and subservient to men.
Women often band together in groups to resist unfair treatment or taxation. Some led popular efforts against Mobutu, such as organizing prayer groups in Kinshasa to mobilize efforts for his removal; many women continue to play a prominent role in challenging traditional roles of authority.
Marriage. In the past, single women in the Congo belonged to their fathers, and, upon marriage, their ownership would be transferred to the husband. The man's father would give gifts such as knives, food, or slaves to the new wife's father, in exchange for his loss of precious labor and kinship.
In rural areas it is common for men to have many wives. Village chiefs or headmen usually have more than one wife. The goal is to have many children who survive until adulthood, providing the household with enough hands to complete the many chores necessary for survival. At times, however, the women married to one man compete amongst each other for kitchens, food, affection, and children.
Domestic Unit. Women are responsible for the majority of the day-to-day survival tasks, such as cutting wood for cooking fires; hauling on their heads large buckets of water for cooking; cleaning clothes; reaping; sowing, and harvesting the fields; collecting palm fruits; cooking, pounding, and sifting the local cassava root; child rearing; and making baskets and pottery for sale at local markets. Traditionally, men went off on hunts for several days, using traps, spears, and bows and arrows to kill animals large and small. Now there are fewer animals to hunt, but the work of women does not diminish by proportion. In fact, the responsibility of the household falls more squarely on their shoulders, as the society becomes ever more dependent on farming. Many women have recently flocked to urban areas in the hopes of selling their handiwork, becoming hairstylists, or participating in the underground economy. Often the woman is the family's principal breadwinner. Many women have hopes that their children will advance out of poverty, and they are therefore burdened with the additional responsibility of paying school fees. Male children typically advance further in school than their female counterparts, since men are the head of the household and make financial decisions on behalf of the entire family and will benefit more from the education.
Kin Groups. In the traditional African model of kinship rules, there is a clear delineation of power, starting with the male head of the family. Chiefs come to rule based on their popularity within the village, their personal charisma, and their overall prestige. Whatever elders command is adhered to unconditionally, out of respect. Respect for elders, chiefs, and ancestors is an extremely important facet of daily life in the Congo.
Methods of solving problems must be based on traditional practices. For example, in the case of the Ebola virus, discovered in Kikwit in 1995, an immediate plan of action was necessary in order to ensure that this airborne and extremely deadly disease did not cause a local, and perhaps worldwide, pandemic. It was local elders who were responsible for stemming the deadly virus. Since these elders are the most respected men in their community, they were
Infant Care. It is common to see women carrying their babies on their backs as they work in the field, care for other children, carry water, cook, gather firewood, and clean their clothes and homes. Young girls learn from a very young age to take care of their younger siblings. Babies are seen on the backs of girls as young as five years of age.
Child Rearing and Education. Some authors argue that there really is no period of life called "childhood" in the Congo, at least in the Western sense of the concept. From the time babies are able to walk, they are thrust into the realm of adult responsibilities. Youth learn from their parents and elders how to manage the homestead. Young girls, especially, are expected to do lots of work for the family and are usually the ones found endlessly pounding cassava roots with a large mortar and pestle. Good children treat their elders with utmost respect and perform chores without complaint.
Traditionally, male children go to an initiation camp away from their villages for one year. Culminating in a festival and circumcision, this rite of passage into adulthood provides an opportunity for boys to learn to hunt, make handicrafts, and perfect their singing and dancing. The festival usually culminates in a dance ceremony where one dancer gets to wear an elaborate secret mask the village-maskmaker has worked all year to create. After this induction into adulthood, the boys travel back to their communities as men.
The Catholic Church has several mission schools for children that enjoy great popularity, since many national schools have understaffed classrooms. In state schools, the teachers' salaries are often unpaid, forcing many to bribe students for a high test score. Some male teachers solicit sexual acts from female students, offering a good grade or money in exchange. Such obstacles usually do not deter most females from pursuing education and a better life.
Some Africanists have questioned the role that school-based education has played in the rural communities, suggesting that youth may learn more about survival, farming, and raising a homestead from their parents. They argue that students waste precious hours each day learning useless facts in schools, rather than spending time inheriting wisdom from their elders.
Higher Education. The Congo has four universities. Two are located in Kinshasa with one each in Lubumbashi and Kisangani. There are also a number of other technical and teacher-training schools scattered around the country.
Some college applicants feel frustrated with the national policy of regional affirmative action in which a disproportionate number of students from remote areas are accepted into a university, leaving students with better scores and a higher level of education fewer available spots. Discouraged and angry, some students claim that the overall level of education in the universities declines because of this policy. This policy, however, is intended to give students from all parts of the country the chance to attend an institution of higher learning.
Casual clothes are permitted, but unwritten rule is that the nicer one looks, the more respect one will receive. Most local Congolese dress in clean, crisp clothes and colorful outfits. Women wear long skirts, never pants.
Taking pictures is highly sensitive and should be avoided, especially around military areas, checkpoints, and border controls. Greetings are very important in Congolese life; saying hello and inquiring about the other person's situation must be attended to before other matters are discussed. Special respect is given when greeting elders or village headmen, especially if the person who approaches is younger than the other.
Religious Beliefs. The missionaries in the colonial past greatly influenced the Congo's society, and most Congolese profess Christianity as their primary religion. The Roman Catholic Church is extremely prominent, both as a religion and organized group. Over half of the population is Roman Catholic, owing to the large number of missions, schools, hospitals, and foundations run by the church. The Catholics have the most extensive social network of schools, hospitals, and churches in the country.
Traditional beliefs pervade nearly every aspect of life, even for churchgoing Christians. Several syncretic sects have combined traditional ancestral worship and ancient beliefs with Christianity to create new faiths, such as Kimbanguism. Started in 1902 by Simon Kimbangu, who claimed to receive visions of Moses healing, this faith combines anti-European sentiment with traditional African religion. Other Christian based-faiths include the Jamaa, the Kitawala, and the Protestant Church of Christ. There are also a small number of Muslims, who were converted by the influence of Zanzibari slave traders in the 1870s.
People in the Congo who still primarily adhere to traditional African religions believe in the presence of a supreme being who is best accessed through ancestors rather than by direct prayer. Traditional beliefs hold that divine spirits inhabit inanimate objects, and that god can be found as a rock, a tree, or any other object. Having respect and reverence for one's ancestors is part of daily life in the Congo, and people hold a continual dialogue with their ancestors. Angry ancestral spirits looming around villages are offered sacrifices and gifts to placate them. People prayerfully ask the ancestors to bring them good harvests, and ceremonies are held specifically for that purpose.
Illnesses, poor harvests, impotence, and death may arise because of a number of causes. Problems may be attributed to the will of god, angry ancestors, enemies, or witches, depending on the circumstance. Many Congolese fear witches, which are believed to bring all sorts of destruction to communities. People may pay village diviners, known to have special powers including healing and intuition, to find out the cause of the problem. Once the cause has been determined, the solution is remedied according to the healer's knowledge.
Religious Practitioners. Spiritual healers, often called ngangas , use sacred medicines made of a variety of herbs to cure patients. Someone seeking advice or a cure may go to a healer to remedy a headache, skin disease, or AIDS; to ask for good crops or to become pregnant; or to be told the future. During certain rituals inside the healer's home, specific rules must be followed, depending on the consultation. This usually involves killing chickens, eating special herbs, uttering specific phrases, and consulting the nkisi . The nkisi may be a box, bag, or gourd with medicines inside. It is thought to be a force raised from the dead that has chosen to submit itself to human control during rituals. Ngangas wear around their waist the nkisi and small bags with herbs. Often the patient is told to come back for his or her solution in the morning, so the nganga can wait for ideas to arise through dreams
Rituals and Holy Places. Most Congolese mix their indigenous practices with the Christian faith, depending on circumstances and desired outcomes. When someone falls ill, the whole community works together to help the patient. First, it must be determined whether the illness comes "from God," or if it is of natural or human causes. If it is determined that a witch or enemy caused the sickness, then traditional healing methods and beliefs are used, such as offering sacrifices to God and the ancestors. If, however, the disease seems to be from God, members of the community will most likely go to church to pray for the person.
Death and the Afterlife. Many Congolese believe that the spirits of people who have died remain with the family in very obvious ways. Ancestors are very much alive and remain active in the life of the family for generations. People communicate with their ancestors, who act as intermediaries between humans and God. People often ask their ancestors for rain, health, good crops, or the solution to a difficult problem. White cloth is tied around trees to welcome these ancestral spirits. When someone dies, small gifts are placed around the corpse so the person will have these items when he or she enters the spirit world. The body is then buried in a shroud. Women wear white paint on their faces to symbolize both their mourning and strength in overcoming difficulties.
Since many people drink, bathe, wash their clothes, and defecate in the same river, most water that is accessible to the population carries a host of diseases. Only 14 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. Standards of living are even lower in refugee camps, where disease spreads much faster because of squalid living conditions and high the population density. Other problems in the Congo relate to the wartime conditions, which have led to the closure of some hospitals and to the government not paying some nurses and doctors.
Some common ailments affecting the Congolese include malaria, parasites, tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, diarrhea, AIDS, and malnutrition. The increasing problem of AIDS has led to education programs targeting youth. In addition, there has been a strong shift in Congolese health care toward rediscovery
National holidays include New Year's Day, 1 January; Commemoration of the Martyrs of Independence, 4 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Anniversary of the New Constitution, 24 June; Independence Day, 30 June; Parents' Day, 1 August; Youth Day, 14 October; Armed Forces Day, 17 November; Christmas, 25 December. Celebrations often include parades, singing, dancing, and feasting on large animals.
Support for the Arts. Government support for the arts has been limited to those who bolster the political agendas of the ruling party. Therefore, many artists also farm, fish, or engage in underground commercial activity to supplement their income. Informal groups of artists have been established to serve as moral support for the numerous artisans who display their works on city streets.
Literature. Congolese writers have focused on issues of identity in relation to their colonial past, the differences and similarities between ethnic groups, and conflicts between old and new ways. Some popular poets, playwrights, and novelists include Elebe ma Ekonzo, Valerin Mutombo-Diba, Paul Lomami-Tshibamba, Lisembe Elebe, and Mwilambwe Kibawa.
Graphic Arts. Introduced by the Portuguese missionaries of the late fifteenth century, the Ingot Cross continues to be a symbol of both religion and wealth in the Congo. Similar in shape to the square Christian cross, local metalworkers cast these objects from a copper mold. People still use Ingot Crosses as currency and in bride-wealth transactions, especially in the Katanga region.
A large copper industry in the southern Katanga province has sparked a new artistic form in which portraits are sketched into a copper sheet, which is then covered with clay for unique color and texture. Many famous African heads-of-state have had their likenesses imprinted on copper. This art form is gradually gaining recognition in Europe and around the world.
In large towns and cities, tourists can buy handcrafted art, including wood carvings, paintings, baskets, jewelry, and masks. In addition, clothing and mats are popular wares, which are often made from the ubiquitous raffia palm tree.
Postindependence paintings depict exploitation, poverty, and inequality. Such paintings give voice to a Congolese interpretation of history separate from the colonial mind-set pervasive in schools.
Performance Arts. Kwasa-kwasa can be heard in circles throughout Africa. This extremely popular dance music originated in Kinshasa, considered by many to be the African music capital. Congolese music and dance of all types can be heard on radios and seen on televisions throughout the world. Congo jazz and soukous, played on a guitar, are popular varieties for such dances. Traditional instruments, such as the thumb piano and various drums, are often used to accompany singers and dancers, who may be singing about anything from love and gender roles to issues of power abuse and government. When artists are afraid to discuss such controversial topics openly, they hint about them through the poetry of song.
The Mbuti people are renowned for a vocal style in which many voices simultaneously sing different, independent melodies. Most types of artistic talent are learned from family members or village elders.
Museums in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi and an Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa contribute to the understanding of Congo history. Universities, government offices, and many nongovernmental organizations maintain libraries. Ethnographers, scientists, and those studying the humanities find these institutions valuable places to conduct their research.
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—J ENNIFER J. Z IEMKE