From The Hippo’s Ears: The Republic of the Congo
Facts you may not have know about The Republic of the Congo:
The Republic of the Congo (République du Congo), also known as Congo-Brazzaville, the Congo Republic, RotC, or simply the Congo, is a country located in the western coast of Central Africa.
The Congo is a unitary dominant-party semi-presidential republic, and gained independence from France in 1960.
1. When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?
The handshake is the most common greeting, and those close to each other may hug when greeting. Hello in Lingala is “mbote”. How are you is “ndenge nini?. In French, these would be “bonjour” and “comment allez-vous?” respectively.
2. What languages are spoken in the country?
The Congo has four official languages – French, Lingala, Kituba, and Kikongo. 62 spoken languages are recognized in the country. French and Kituba are very common. Lingala is influential in the sparsely inhabited northern half of the country.
3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?
We use a 24-hour system.
4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?
We drive on the right side of road.
5. How important is punctuality?
Time is flexible in the Congo. People don’t always arrive on time for meetings – this is part of the culture.
6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?
The Republic is home to the Sub-Saharan African music traditions of the Kongo (48%), Sangha (20%), M’Bochi (12%) and Teke (17%) people. Folk instruments in the Republic of the Congo include the xylophone and mvet. The mvet is a kind of zither-harp, similar to styles found elsewhere in both Africa and Asia. The mvet is made of a long tube with one or two gourds acting as resonators. The Congo also shares popular music genres with its neighbor, the DRC, including soukous, a dance music genre.
For a taste of soukous music, listen to Dibolo Dibala’s Michel.
7. Are there any Traditional Dances?
One popular kind of dance in the Congo is ngoma. It is centered around traditional ngoma drum rhythms, Ngoma involves people coming together in rhythmic music and dance to address “difficult issues”, often related to health or life transitions. Mabiba Baegne is an internationally-acclaimed ngoma teacher.
Watch Mabiba Baegne’s dancing here.
8. What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?
Feux de Brazza
The Feux de Brazza is a popular international festival of traditional music created in 2005 and that takes place in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo. The festival is held every two years alternating with the Pan-African Music Festival (FESPAM) and it favors traditional cultural exchanges.
The international festival welcomes groups of African artists, musicians, dancers, painters, and researchers. Burning firewood is lighted to inaugurate the event and symbolizes ancestral practices that should be preserved. The Feux de Brazza was established to safeguard African traditions so that future generations will continue to be aware of the continent’s rich culture. The festival is a challenge to the younger generation to preserve Africa’s culture of music and dance.
FESPAM (Panafrican Music Festival)
The Pan-African Music Festival is a multidimensional event that takes place every two years in Brazzaville. It has existed since 1993. It offers musical performances, a symposium, a permanent exhibition of musical instruments, training workshops, the Miss FESPAM event and other related activities.
Besides its cultural aspect, FESPAM is a scientific institution where researchers can explore, analyze, and evaluate the multifaceted aspects of African music. The festival offers a space for experts and musicologists to meet and discuss their work.
FESPAM is organized by the government of the Republic of Congo, under the aegis of the African Union (AU) and in partnership with UNESCO CICIBA, CIM, and AFRICOM.
9. What are the seasons like?
Since the country is located on the Equator, the climate is consistent year-round, with the average day temperature a humid 24 °C (75 °F) and nights generally between 16 °C (61 °F) and 21 °C (70 °F). The average yearly rainfall ranges from 1,100 millimeters (43 in) in the Niari Valley in the south to over 2,000 millimeters (79 in) in central parts of the country. The dry season is from June to August, while in the majority of the country the wet season has two rainfall maxima: one in March–May and another in September–November.
10. What are some interesting facts about the President?
President Denis Sassou Nguesso has served in the position since 25 October 1997. During his first period as President, he headed the single-party régime of the Congolese Party of Labour (PCT) for 12 years. Under pressure from international sources, he introduced multiparty politics in 1990 and was then stripped of executive powers by the 1991 National Conference, remaining in office as a ceremonial head of state. He stood as a candidate in the 1992 presidential election but was defeated, placing third. He was an opposition leader before returning to power during the Second Civil War (1997–1999), in which his rebel forces ousted President Pascal Lissouba.
The President was born in Edou, in the Oyo district, in northern Congo, in 1943. He is married to Antoinette Sassou Nguesso, a retired teacher.
11. What are the country’s major industries?
The Congo’s main industries are forestry, agriculture, and petroleum. Other industries include brewing, sugar, and palm oil. Exports include cocoa, coffee, plywood, and diamonds. The Congo’s main export partner is China, followed by the United States.
12. What are some of the things visitors can look forward to experiencing?
Major tourist attractions include visiting Nabemba Tower, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza Memorial, Basilique Sainte-Anne-du-Congo de Brazzaville, Musee National du Congo, and Reserve Naturelle de Gorilles de Lesio-Louna-Lefini.
13. What is a popular local drink?
A popular local drink in the Congo is palm wine – a fermented beverage made from the sap of a wild palm tree.
14. What is a popular local dish?
Popular dishes in the Congo include manioc (cassava root served as cubes with fish or meat); makobe (freshwater fish seasoned with chili, and cooked in marantacee leaves); and plantains (similar to bananas, which are fried like chips).
15. What do you pay, on average, for the following?
The Congo uses the Central African franc (CFA). (1 USD = approximately 594 CFA).
3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant: 10,696 CFA
Apples (1 kg): 3,550 CFA
Milk (1 l): 1,188 CFA
Cappuccino: 1,782 CFA
Water (350 ml): 511 CFA
Loaf of white bread: 653 CFA
16. Any general safety tips?
- Travel is advised against within 50km of the border with the Central African Republic in Likouala region, as well as the Boko, Kindamba, Kinkala, Mayama and Mindouli districts of Pool region, and the Mouyondzi district of Bouenza region.
- Previous periods of unrest have seen an increased police and military presence in Brazzaville. You should maintain a high level of security awareness, avoid political protests and avoid travel after dark.
- Check whether you have consular support before traveling to the Congo.
- While not common, violent crime, such as armed robbery and assault, remains a concern throughout the Republic of the Congo.
17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:
- Jadelin Mabiala Gangbo, a novelist and writer born in Brazzaville in 1976.
- Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala, a novelist who has authored many award-winning books.
- François M’Pelé, a former professional footballer, who has played for teams in the Congo, as well as in Europe.
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