Pan African Heritage: DRC

28 Sep

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country located in Central Africa. The DRC borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. It is the second-largest country in Africa (largest in Sub-Saharan Africa) by area and eleventh largest in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a Francophone country.

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The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely diverse, reflecting the great diversity and different customs which exist in the country. Congolese culture combines the influence of tradition to the region, but also combines influences from abroad which arrived during the era of colonization and has continued to have a strong influence, without destroying the individuality of many tribal’ customs.
There are 242 languages spoken in the country, with perhaps a similar number of ethnic groups. Broadly speaking, there are four main population groups:
• Pygmies, the earliest inhabitants of the Congo, are generally hunter-gatherers. Expert in the ways of the forest, where they have resided for thousands of years, they live by trading meat with their taller farming neighbours in exchange for agricultural products. Increasingly, they are assimilating into non-Pygmy society and adopting the latter’s languages and customs.
• Bantus arrived in the Congo in several waves from 2000 BC to 500 AD, mainly from the area in what is now southern Nigeria. They are by far the largest group, and the majority live as subsistence-farmers. They are present in almost every part of the country, and their languages make up three of the DRC’s five officially recognised languages. Among these are Kikongo, Lingala and Tshiluba. Kikongo is spoken by the Kongo people in the far west of the country, both on the coast and inland, and was promoted by the Belgian colonial administration. Elements of Kikongo have survived amongst the descendants of slaves in the Americas—for instance, the language of the Gullah people of South Carolina contains elements of Kikongo. Lingala, spoken in the capital Kinshasa, is increasingly understood throughout the country, as the lingua franca of trade, spoken along the vast Congo river and its many tributaries. Lingala’s status as the language of the national army, as well its use in the lyrics of popular Congolese music, has encouraged its adoption, and it is now the most prominent language in the country. Tshiluba (also known as Chiluba and Luba-Kasai) is spoken in the southeastern Kasai regions.
• Bantus also brought in the fourth of the DRC’s official languages, Kingwana — a Congolese dialect of Swahili. Note that the fifth language, French, is the official language of government, a result of Congo’s colonial relationship with Belgium.
• The northeastern part of the country is inhabited by groups who are believed to have originally come from the southern Sudan region. In general, these are cattle herders and include the Tutsi, possibly the tallest people in the world. These migrants also entered Rwanda and Burundi around the same time, often mixing with the settled groups.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely rich in natural resources. Besides the capital Kinshasa, the two next largest cities Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi are both mining communities. DR Congo’s largest export is raw minerals, with China accepting over 50% of DRC’s exports in 2012.

People gather wild fruit, mushrooms, and honey, as well as hunt and fish. They will often sell these crops at markets or by the roadside. Cattle breeding and the development of large-scale agricultural businesses has been hindered by the recent war and the poor quality of the road system.
Congo’s farmland is the source of a wide variety of crops. These include maize, rice, cassava (manioc), sweet potato, yam, taro, plantain, tomato, pumpkin and varieties of peas and nuts. These foods are eaten throughout the country, but there are also regional dishes. The most important crops for export are coffee and palm oil.

Congolese musicians, like Le Grand Kallé, were extremely influential in pioneering the musical style of “African Rumba”‘, a blend of South American and traditional African musical styles, more often known as Soukous in the years leading up to the independence of the Belgian Congo. Congolese musicians were supported by the Mobutu regime in Zaire during the Cold War, and musicians like Pépé Kallé became incredible popular in the international francophone market into the 1990s.

In the years following independence, the nascent Congolese film industry was held up by many years of war. However, the first Congolese feature film (La Vie est Belle by the celebrated director Mwezé Ngangura) was released in 1987.

The Congolese are known for their art. Traditional art includes masks, wooden statues, art of the Kuba Kingdom, textiles and woven arts. Notable contemporary artists are Chéri Samba or Bodys Isek Kingelez. The best known artists successful inside and outside the country are Lema Kusa (painting), Alfred Liyolo (sculpture), Roger Botembe (painting), Nshole (painting), Henri Kalama Akulez (painting), Mavinga (painting), Freddy Tsimba (sculpture), Claudy Khan (painting). Some are teaching at the Académie de Beaux-Arts de Kinshasa, which is the only arts academy of a university level in Central Africa.

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