Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kinshasa 1914 – World War I comes to Congo


On the morning of August 3, 1914, the German community of Kinshasa, as well as several hundred specially-recruited able-bodied Congolese, left port for the Sangha River, the main artery serving eastern Kamerun, then a German colony.  The mission of the “Dongo”, a steamer of the Kamerun Schiffahrt Gesellschaft company, was to link up with German forces and ships located on the Sangha and return in force to seize Kinshasa and Brazzaville.  Unfortunately for German aspirations, French troops out of Brazzaville aboard the “Albert Dolisie” were on their heels and by August 6 the “Dongo” was captured and German plans to control the upper Congo and Ubangi Rivers were dreams.  The Great War had come to Leopoldville.
The “Albert Dolisie” at Ouesso on the Cameroun border
Authorities in Leopoldville and the colonial capital at Boma did not learn of the formal declaration of war in Europe until August 5th.  The Belgian government authorized aggressive action against the Germans and on August 28, Georges Moulaert, District Commissioner in Leopoldville, seized the German commercial vessels “Congo” and “Lobaye” (renamed Liege and Haelen, respectively).
The "Liege" in port
The first German attack against the colony, however, took place in the east on Lake Tanganika when an armed German steamer out of Kigoma attacked the “Alexandre Delcommune” operating from Mtoa north of contemporary Kalemie.  District Commissioner Moulaert dispatched the “Netta”, a fast riverboat (18 knots) that had just been delivered to Leopoldville for service on the upper river.  Equipped with heavy weapons when launched on the Lake, the “Netta” would help turn the tide against the Germans and ultimately secure a victory for the Force Publique at Tabora in contemporary central Tanzania.  The epic story of the naval battle on the Lake is generally accepted as the inspiration for the novel and movie The African Queen though there is some academic disagreement.
The "Netta" on Lake Tanganika
German firms had been present at Stanley-Pool since the turn of the century, assuring the port-rail link between up-river commerce and the ships of the Hamburg-based Woermann Line, which called regularly at the seaports of Boma and Matadi.  The Belgian Société Anonyme Belge du Haut-Congo (S.A.B.) invested in the Sud-Kamerun company and allowed the new firm use of its facilities at Kinshasa (See Mar. 13, 2011).  After 1912, when Germany extended its colonial holdings in Cameroun to reach the Sangha, the Kamerun Schiffahrt was created, absorbing the Sud-Kamerun fleet.  The following year, the French, Belgians and Germans formed a cartel in which the Germans obtained a monopoly on traffic between Kinshasa and the Sangha, the French on the Ubangi River and the Belgians the Congo and its tributaries.
View of the Citas installations at Kinshasa around 1914 – Note Hotel ABC in background
At the end of September 1914, the French authorities in Brazzaville requested Belgian assistance in putting down the remaining German positions on the Sangha.  The Belgians armed one of its newest steamers, the SS “Luxembourg”, with machine guns and a 47 mm Nordenfelt canon, and dispatched it to the front with a detachment of 60 Congolese troops under Lt. Bal.  The Luxembourg returned to Kinshasa with wounded at the beginning of November, and then in December led a 6-vessel fleet back up to the Sangha where the German troops were vanquished in the last days before Christmas. The focus of the War in Belgian Africa now turned to Lake Tanganika.
The SS "Luxembourg"
The “Netta” was delivered to Kinshasa by Robert Goldschmidt, a Belgian engineer who was something of a techie of his era.  In 1908, he had prepared designs for wood-burning steam vehicles for transport in the Congo and in 1912 began construction of a wireless telegraph network linking the major cities of the Colony. On his trip to Congo at the end of June 1914, he brought the first Ford Model T ever introduced to Congo.  The car was a sensation!  Leopoldville was only 10 minutes from Kinshasa.  After the War, when the Protestant missions were planning the Union Mission Hostel (UMH, now CAP) in 1920 (See Mar. 27, 2011), the necessity of a Ford was written into the terms of reference for the new facility.
Ford truck on Ave. de la Douane. Note the Cominex building later occupied by Photo Zagourski.
On the eve of the War, the Belgian government decided against Commissioner Moulaert’s recommendation to transfer the colonial capital from Boma to Leopoldville (See Jan. 23, 2011).  However, there were other changes in the administrative structure of the colony.  Leopoldville was named the capital of a new province, Congo-Kasai, while Kinshasa became the seat of the Territoire in the new District du Moyen Congo.  In March 1919 Kinshasa became the seat of this District.
The District Building on Ave Crespel (Bandundu)
Kinshasa was beginning to grow and outpace Leopoldville.  American ornithologist, James Chapin, returning to Kinshasa in December 1914 after 4 years on an expedition for the American Museum of Natural History observed,

Kinshassa has grown amazingly.  Where formerly there was almost nothing but a state post and a depot of the SAB there is now a large and important town, with hotels, a bank, quantities of magazines, steamboats and a European barber.  To the north side are the very extensive installations of the “Compagnie Mbila” (Lever Bros) and back inland, a little further away, the wireless station.  Leopoldville shows but slight signs of growth in comparison.

Lever Brothers, known informally as Compagnie Mbila (for the oil palm), was bringing its palm oil operation on line, with Kinshasa as the base for five huge palm oil plantations established on the Congo River and its tributaries.  The palm oil storage facilities of the Huileries du Congo Belge and attendant installations were built on land purchased from the Baptist Mission Society and NAHV to the west of downtown where Marsavco is today.
The installations of the Huileries du Congo Belge. 
This is where the TASOK 2011 Reunion river cruise started
During the war, the grand Hotel A.B.C. opened, construction began on the Post Office and the BMS Protestant chapel as well as the Catholic Church of Ste. Anne were built.
The Post Office under construction, looking down Ave. Militaire (now Aviateurs)
The Banque du Congo Belge opened its new colonial headquarters in Kinshasa during the War, as well. The relocation acknowledged the increasing importance of the Leopoldville-Kinshasa-Ndolo agglomeration over the colonial capital at Boma.  The bank was a private firm that also served as the central bank of the colony.  Founded in 1909, it opened its first branch in Kinshasa in August 1910 opposite the train station (Place Braconnier).  In 1911 when Albert Thys visited Kinshasa to select a site for the Hotel ABC, he also reserved a one-hectare site across Ave. Baobabs (later Hauzeur, now Wagenia) for the new Bank.  The land claim was approved in May 1912 and construction of the Mediterranean-style building would have commenced about the same time as did the ABC.
The Banque du Congo Belge.  The building is currently occupied by Monusco on Ave. Wagenia
An oil pipeline was completed from Matadi in 1914. The idea was to reduce dependence on fuel wood to power the steamer fleet, but the cost of the imported fuel, notwithstanding the inconvenience of frequent stops to resupply the steamers with wood, limited the utility of fuel powered engines until after Second World War.  Petro-Congo’s depot was located upstream from the Citas landing (where Ave. des Industries begins today).
Kinshasa had already displaced Leopoldville as the main river port and construction of an expanded port was approved in 1913.  But in March 1914, the Colonial Ministry decided not to proceed with construction, though it awarded prizes to the designers. Some minor, additional assessments were conducted and most of the commerce continued to be handled by private landings such as Citas and NAHV.  However, by early 1917 after the steamer “Elisabethville” was sunk off the French coast, it became necessary to stockpile 30,000 tons of colonial exports in Kinshasa to avoid overwhelming Matadi.  Clearly upgraded port facilities at Kinshasa would be a post-war priority.
A view of the port of Kinshasa

Kinshasa Then and Now - The District Building

The District Building shortly after completion
The District Building in 2005
The District Building in 2006
The District Building in 2009
2013 - Gone


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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Leopoldville 1924 – Photo Zagourski Opens Shop


Many of the images used in this blog originated as post cards.  These were a popular means for colonials to share their African experience with friends and family back home.  The images can largely be grouped in two categories; those of an ethnographic nature that showed Congolese in traditional settings or ones displaying the architectural achievements and built environment of the colonial endeavor.  It is from these latter that we gain a view of Kinshasa as it was “then”.  Initially, the cards were commissioned and produced in Belgium (Nels, Thils, Peter Freres) but as the technology improved, postcards began to be produced by local photographers in Kinshasa and other urban centers of Congo.
An early photographer
Perhaps the most celebrated and prolific of these was a 40-year old Polish nobleman named Casimir Zagourski who arrived in Leopoldville in December 1924.  A former pilot in the Tsar’s air force and later a Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish army’s fight with the Bolsheviks, his motivation for opening a photo studio is unclear, as he never attempted to trade on his military experience in Congo. But he soon became a leading photographer in the colony.
Casimir Zagourski in his studio in Kinshasa - 1925
Zagourski opened his first store on Ave. de la Douane (which was renamed in 1938 for the late Minister Rubbens and is now “Ave. de la Nation”), in the building currently occupied by the Caf’ Conc restaurant (See 6/28/11). The local agent for Agfa film products, Zagourski produced a series of post-card images of Leopoldville in the 1920s and was invited to cover the visit of King Albert and Queen Elisabeth to the colony in 1928.
Zagourski's studio on Ave de la Douane
A young girl presents King Albert and Queen Elisabeth a bouquet of flowers on their arrival in Kinshasa in 1928
Zagourski was not the first photographer in the town to chronicle the development of Kinshasa and was, in fact, competing with a number of other photographers established in the burgeoning commercial center that was Kinshasa in the 1920s. 

“Andre” produced a series of architectural views old Kinshasa marketed by the Portuguese commercial firm Nogueira. His photographs included the “Righini”, later “Hardy”, bar on Ave. de la Douane (See June 28, 2011) as well as a view of Ave. Renkin, the cross street on Ave. Aviateurs where Monusco has its headquarters.  As late as 1933, Andre’s  services were being promoted in the Cosmo-Kin newspaper  (Feb. 12, 2012)
Andre's photo of Garage Mayo across Ave de la Douane from Righini Bar.  Note Zagourski's studio behind it.
Andre's photo of Ave. Renkin looking towards the river
Em. Bessières was French and worked in both Kinshasa and Brazzaville.  A number of his photos depict Kinshasa at the creation of the Kalina administrative district destined to accommodate the civil servants and government offices of the new colonial capital (as shown in the Jan.17, 2012 post, and July 31, 2011).   Bessières was still in business at the beginning of the Depression, recorded as operating a bookstore and stationers in a provincial business directory in “Congo Revue”, 1931.
Bessiere's photo of Ave Ghilain (Ave. Okito) at the rail crossing (Blvd 30e Juin).
The building on the right was the Peruche Bleu night club in the late 1960s 
Bessiere's Hotel A.B.C. 
C. DeBruyne also produced images in the 1920s of Kinshasa on the eve of its development as the colonial capital.  Views of the Banque du Congo Belge, the Poste, the water tower on Ave Van Gele, the District Building on Ave. Crespel (Bandundu), the Portuguese Club (Gremio Portugalia) on Ave Beernaert and the Aviators Monument.
The Post Office by Cl. DeBruyne

DeBruyne's photo of the King Albert bust on the Place de la Poste
In 1935, Zagourski moved to a new place on the prestigious Ave. Beernaert (Ave. Equateur) next to the PEK store (Nov. 9 2011).  Over time, Zagourski became increasingly interested in capturing the ethnographic heritage of Congo and travelled around the colony and adjacent French Equatorial Africa to produce a series called “l’Afrique qui Disparait”. Yale University has an extensive collection of these images.  In 1937 his photographs were featured at the Colonial Exhibition in Paris.
Zagourski's new shop was in the Mercure Building, 3 Ave. Beernaert next to PEK (R)
The Mercure Building (minus turrets) in the late 1970s
Zagourski was visiting his brother in Poland when the German Army invaded in September 1939, precluding his freedom to return to Congo.  Through the intervention of Agfa, he obtained an exit permit from the Germans and moved to Belgium.  There he developed a kidney disorder, but while under treatment relocated successively to the south of France and Portugal as the war spread into Western Europe.  In 1941 he was able book passage on a book to Congo.  He never fully recovered and died in Queen Elisabeth Hospital (See Jan. 17, 2012) at 4:30 pm on January 10, 1944 and was buried in Kalina cemetery (Cimetière de la Gombe).
A censored letter on Zagourski's letterhead mail after his return to Congo from Europe in 1941
Zagourski’s nephew Marian reopened the shop in 1946 and continued to operate the business.  By the 1970s the business was located on Ave. Cerckel (Ave. de la Paix) until the Zairianization of foreign-owned businesses in 1974 and Marian’s ultimate departure in 1976.  

A Portuguese resident, Diamantino, came to prominence in the early 1930s.  By some accounts a protégé of Zagourski, an advert in 1939 claims he learned his trade at the finest studios in Lisbon.  He opened a shop on Place Leopold, a prime location (See Feb. 3,2012).
Diamantino photo of staff and students at College Albert (Institut Boboto)
A street scene in Leopoldville by Diamantino
After WWII, the Colonial Ministry established the Centre d’Information et de Documentation du Congo Belge et Ruanda Urundi (CID) to publicize the accomplishments of the colonial regime.  This agency was succeeded in 1955 by the Office de l’Information et des Relations Publiques pour le Congo Belge et le Ruanda-Urundi, better known as Inforcongo.  A whole stable of photographers, including Henri Goldstein, Costa, Carlo Lamotte, and John Mulders, extensively documented the achievements of the colonial state. As recently as two years ago, I was able to obtain a number of these images from the vendor at the entrance to Centre Culturel Boboto in Kinshasa.  He probably still has some behind his table, as my enthusiasm may have communicated a market that isn’t there.
An apartment building on Ave. des Aviateurs photographed by Goldstein in the late 1950s.
It is now the Embassy of the People's Republic of China
Joseph Makula was the unique Congolese photographer attached to Inforcongo.  Henry Goldstein, who arrived in Leopoldville in 1947, began mentoring Makula in 1956. A former soldier in the Force Publique, Makula had been assigned to the military newspaper, Sango ya Biso. In contrast to his European colleagues who travelled extensively throughout the colony, much of Makula’s work focused on the “évolué” community of Leopoldville, showcasing interiors that demonstrated Congolese achievements as peers of the Europeans.
The Service de l'Hygiene building in Leopoldville by Joseph Makula
Makula's view of a Congolese family in OCA housing in Bandalungwa
The first technical school for girls in Leopoldville by Makula - 1957
After independence and the departure of the Belgians at Inforcongo, Makula continued to work for the information service, training a whole generation of Congolese photographers, including a woman, Mpate Sulia.  In semi-retirement, he operated Studio Mak in Lemba Commune from 1981-1991.
Female store clerks in 1958 by Joseph Makula
Another Congolese photographer was Jean Depara, who focused more on the night club scene than the architectural aspects of Kinshasa. Born in Angola, Depara was exiled to Bas-Congo in 1943 and in 1950, the year he married, bought an Adox camera in Matadi.  He subsequently moved to Leopoldville and opened a photo studio on Ave. Kato in 1956.  Depara enjoyed a steady clientele of Congolese seeking to formally record their social achievements against the backdrop of his studio.  Around 1957 his photographs caught the eye a young musician, Franco Luambo Makiadi of OK Jazz who invited him to the band’s gigs.  His work documents the embryonic Congolese middle class culture of city on the eve of Independence and in the early 1960s.
Depara's portrait of Franco Luambo Makiadi
A young woman outside the Afro Negro Night Club by Depara
Woman and Solex by Depara
A final photographer with a lens focused on Kinshasa was Eliot Elisofon, who worked for LIFE magazine from 1942-1964.  Although not a resident like the others portrayed here, he made several trips to Congo during his career and the images he produced provided a sensitive depiction of Africa in contrast to the Tarzan and safari films of the post-war era.  Before his death in 1973, Elisofon donated his extensive collection to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington DC.  A number of these photos are featured in this blog, including the view of Café de la Paix on the Boulevard and the parade there in the 1970s (See Mar. 19,2011)
Elisofon (or a member of his team) in Leopoldville in 1951 on Ave. Rubbens.
Place de la Poste is at the end of the street.
The view across the street, Zagourski's original studio (now the Caf' Conc' restaurant)
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