Sunday, March 1, 2015

Leopoldville 1924 - Party at the Café Central

In an earlier post on Kinshasa’s lost architectural heritage in March 2011, I shared a photo of the Café Central (See Mar. 24, 2011), suggesting it could have been on Ave. Stanley (now Ave. du Bas-Congo in old Kinshasa, Commune de la Gombe).  I have still not been able to locate the Café, but will exercise the blogger’s prerogative and depart from my usual effort be authoritative into the speculative.  
The Cafe as depicted in the March 2011 post
The earliest reference to the Café Central, owned by Victor Dorginaux, is a post card dated July 1, 1924, which shows the premises decked out with paper garlands and Chinese lanterns and tables set up in front beer-garden style.  July 1st was the anniversary of the founding of the Congo Free State in 1885 and remained a holiday even after Belgium took over the colony from Leopold II in 1908.  That same year in September, Dorignaux offered a self-named winners Cup for the European football league playoffs (See Nov. 1, 2014).
Ready for the party - the tables appear to be arranged to create a dance floor
The Café Central likely pre-dated 1924, as an earlier photo exists without the “V. Dorginaux” sign on the roof or the mounted flagpoles. Dorignaux was probably involved, however, even if not the proprietor, as a banner on an adjacent shed proclaims, “Friture Victor”. 
A later photo shows the “Friture” building with a new façade of the “Garage Central”.  There is scaffolding on the main building and the "V. Dorignaux" sign has been erected, a low masonry wall now separates the beer garden from the street and young trees have been planted at the corners of the lot.
This photo dates from the same period as the one above
and the posture of the man in the doorway suggests a proud new proprietor.
The décor and ambiance of the café and restaurant appear intended to provide customers with a respite from daily life in a tropical river port with the comforts of a European club.  The dark, interior bar appointed with heavy wooden furniture was called the “Bar Américain”.
The club room
The Bar Americain - heavy imported furniture, no wicker or potted palms
The last record of the Café Central I have found is in the 1927 “Congo: Revue General”, in which the establishment is listed as a “Grand café-restaurant & dancing”.  Other photos with more lush and filled out vegetation match the photo at the beginning of this post.  Large potted tropical plants now stand on the verandah wall.
Dining on the verandah in the heat of the day
The trees have now nearly doubled in height
I have revised my hunch on the location of the Café Central.  It would have made sense to be closer to the old Gare and the Hotel A.B.C. (See Mar. 27, 2011) and the architecture resembles other buildings north of the railway line (now Blvd du 30e Juin) built in the 1920s, such as the Gremio Portugalia or the Unatra headquarters on Ave. Rubbens, for example (See Nov. 1, 2014, Feb. 2, 2012).  But after looking over several aerial photos of downtown of the inter-war years, I am unable to identify any building that fits the Café’s silhouette.  For now, it will have to remain an enigma.

  • Congo: Revue Général de la Colonie Belge, 1927.  Association pour le perfectionnement du matériel colonial.
  • VanPeel, Bénédicte, 2001, “Au Débuts du Football Congolais”, in Vellut, Jean-Luc, Itinéraires croisés de la modernité: Congo belge, 1920-1950, Institut Africain CEDAF.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Leopoldville 1930 – Belgian Centenary Observed

I came across this photo today and was intrigued to learn more about the Grémio Portugalia so soon after my recent post on the subject (See Nov. 1, 2014).  The setting is similar to an image I found a few months ago that appears to be a fair celebrating the Centennial of Belgium’s Independence in July 1930.
The Grémio Portugalia booth at the fair
Local authorities organized a “Kermesse”, or festival, on the sports grounds in front of Ste. Anne church where the U.S. and Portuguese Embassies face Ave. des Aviateurs today (See Feb. 6, 2011). In addition to the Grémio, “Chez Thomas Cocktail Bar” catered the beer garden while SEDEC Motors (See Jan. 9, 2011) displayed the latest Chevrolet cars.  A tree was planted at Place Braconnier (originally Place de la Gare) to commemorate the event (See Jan. 23, 2011).
The "Chez Thomas" booth.  Note Ste. Anne steeple in background (photo attributed to Zagourski)
The official transfer of the colonial capital from Boma to Kinshasa had been completed in April with the arrival of Governor Tilkens’ Secretariat staff.  1930 was also the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Congo Free State in 1885, and a commemorative “Te Deum” service was held at Ste. Anne’s in June.  At the local government level, District Commissioner De Bock was preparing plans to relocate and segregate the African townships (See July 31, 2011) some 3 kilometers south of the burgeoning commercial center that Kinshasa (Gombe) had become (See Mar. 13, 2011).
Place Braconnier in the mid-1950s looking towards the Cité in the distance
Congolese were not invited to join the festivities in Kinshasa, but were expected to be patriotic about being Belgian subjects.  Separate sports events to this effect were organized in the African quarter.  The following year, Father de la Kethulle (Tata Raphael) and students from St. Joseph school began to drain the marsh in the new African township to create a football pitch for African players. This site, adjacent St. Pierre Parish (built in 1932), was later to become Kinshasa’s first stadium, Stade Reine Astrid (now Stade Cardinal Malula) in 1937 (See. Feb. 12, 2012).
Sports events for Congolese at the Belgian Centennial in Leopoldville - July 21, 1930

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Leopoldville 1917 – The Grémio Portugalia Established

In the 2000s, this building on Ave. de l’Equateur across from the Patisserie Nouvelle was occupied by the French petroleum company ELF.  When I returned to Kinshasa in 2011 for the TASOK Reunion, it was vacant (SeeJuly 3, 2011). Such a prime location in the heart of Kinshasa’s original business district must have housed something important.  It turns out it was the original Portuguese Club, the “Grémio Portugalia”.
The Gremio building in 2006 -- Ave. de l'Equateur
Portuguese traders were an early fixture in Kinshasa.  The Portuguese had been established along the Atlantic coast since the 15th Century. Portuguese mariner Diogo Cao reached the mouth of the Congo River in 1482 and Portuguese missionaries who followed entered into what was initially an egalitarian relationship with the Kingdom of the Congo.  At Berlin in 1885, the wedge of the Congo River was granted to King Leopold to give the Congo Free State access to the sea, separating Cabinda from Angola.  In 1887, Portuguese still outnumbered Belgians in the Congo by 570 to 46.
Diogo Cao erects a monument at Shark's Point, Banana
After the railway from Matadi reached Leopoldville in 1898 (See Jan. 23, 2011), Portuguese shopkeepers became the predominant commercial operators, buying African produce and selling imported goods to Europeans and Congolese alike.  In 1900, a Congo Free State postal agent, Leon Tondeur, recorded the presence in Leopoldville (Ngaliema) of the Mampeza company (Comptoir Commercial du Bas-Congo) and Freitas and Barreira.  As Kinshasa (Gombe) began to develop as the commercial heart of the city  (See Mar. 12, 2011), Portuguese commercants set up shop in increasing numbers, including Nogueira (1902), Madail (1906), Amaro & Diniz (1906), and Pereira, etc.

The growing Portuguese business community founded a chamber of commerce, the Grémio Portugalia (Portuguese Guild) in 1917 under the leadership of David Diniz and Barosso Araujo. In November 1921 the Grémio was legally registered at Kinshasa.  The previous July, on his way through Kinshasa from Katanga, Sylvain Danse recorded the founding of the Portuguese “cercle” on July 8, 1920 in a building constructed of galvanized roofing.  In his published book, he reported information that the club had moved into a more substantial building.
The Gremio building under construction
During his visit to Kinshasa In October 1922, (See Sept. 12, 2011) Belgian Minister Carton de Wiart described a soirée held in his honor at the Grémio. The following year, journalist Chalux attended an event honoring the anniversary of the Portuguese Republic, recording the performance of a brilliant concert, followed by a ball.  But the most fulsome witness was Gabrielle Vassal, the spouse of the Red Cross doctor in Brazzaville.  She enthused,“a few months ago they opened their club”

“A big well-constructed building in the centre of the town.  On the ground floor is a tea-room and billiard-rooms, on the first floor a hall with a platform at one end and great open doors on three sides giving access to a broad veranda.  It has an excellent floor and is as cool as can be hoped for in this climate…Many enjoyable evenings have been spent here…We go to the Grémio for the apéritif, dine with friends, and dance the whole evening.”

The Gremio looking south from the Place de la Poste
The Gremio on Ave. Beernaert

In 1922, as well, the Luso Sporting Club was formed, and the team competed in matches against Belgian and UK (mostly employees of Lever Brothers) teams, including one in February 1922 played against a Belgian team during the visit of Angolan Governor General Norton de Mattos.  Some Luso Sporting players were subsequently recruited by the other teams and only in 1926 was the Amicale Sportive Portugaise established, which soon became known as the Amicale Sportive de Kinshasa. Portuguese players were aggressive, considered unsportsmanlike and were sometimes subjected to such epithets from the sidelines as “sale nègre” or “macaque”, terms normally reserved for Congolese.
A football match in the 1920s - the pitch was in front of Ste. Anne Church
In the 1930s the group opened a Portuguese language school on the grounds of the Grémio.  Thirty students received instruction in the first three grades of primary school.  Presumably classes were held in the Gremio facilities, which would have been mostly vacant during the day.  The Gremio provided housing for a teacher and was hoping for financial support from the Portuguese Government, which the Director of the Banco de Angola had promised to seek.
The Gremio in the 1930s - Note the site of Patisserie Nouvelle is vacant
The Banco de Angola was the successor in 1926 to the Banco Nacional Ultramar, established in 1919 -- the second bank in Kinshasa after the Banque du Congo Belge opened in 1909 (See Aug. 3, 2014). It was located on Place Braconnier across from the original railroad station where the Gallerie Albert building is today (See. Mar. 29, 2011)
The Banco Nacional Ultramarino facing Place Braconnier
The building on Ave. Beernaert also housed commercial space on the street level, including the Au Modern store.  The shop sold fabric, notions and clothing, as well as a incorporating a grocery and a small restaurant.  A menu in 1932 offered light meals as well as beverages from the Brasserie de Leopoldville.
The Gremio and Au Modern on ground floor
During World War II Portugal’s status a neutral country created issues in the colony.  Portugal was a major conduit for Belgians escaping occupied Europe to join Belgium’s lone allied outpost.  In addition, the Benguela Railroad in Angola provided a critical link in ensuring imports of fuel and exports of strategic minerals from Katanga.  However, the same flexibility allowed German agents access to Congo, and the diamonds of Kasai, in particular.  After the war, business as usual resumed.  In 1947, the Casa Portuguese was founded and in 1949 the Casa de Portugal formally replaced the Grémio.  In January 1956, the association solicited bids for construction of the Casa Portuguese on Ave. Kasai south of Ave. de Gaulle (now Ave. du Commerce).
In 1938, the Portuguese Consulate was located on Ave. Tombeur (Tombalbaye) in the heart of the Portuguese commercial district.  In 1957, a new Consulate opened on Ave des Aviateurs next to the new US Consulate (See Jan. 29,2011).
The Portuguese Embassy in 2006 -- Ave. des Aviateurs
After Independence in 1960, the Portuguese community created a school that assured Portuguese language instruction and curriculum for its expatriate members. The Colégio dos Portugueses opened in 1965 off Ave. Kasai, south of Ave. du Commerce, about the time the new TASOK campus (1966) and the Belgian School (1968) opened.
Inauguration of the Colegio de Kinshasa
The Colegio de Kinshasa - Ave. Kasai
The Amicale Sportive Kinoise (successor to ASK) was created in March 1968 and obtained “personalité civile” in 1972.  The Association’s legal address was 27 Ave. Stanley, the headquarters of the Nogueira firm, one of the leading Portuguese companies in Congo.
Amicale Sportive Kinoise letterhead - 1980s
The ASK Pool 1980s
The acquisition of foreign-owned businesses resulting from the “Zairianization” campaign in 1973 and the “pillages” of 1992 and 1993 significantly reduced the presence of Portuguese business people in Kinshasa.  Nonetheless, in 1996, the Portuguese community reopened the Colégio (closed since 1992) and incrementally began to upgrade the ASK facility located in Joli Parc in Commune Ngaliema.
The ASK pool today (photo from ASK facebook site)
The restaurant

  • Chalux, 1925,  Un An au Congo Belge, Librairie Albert Dewit
  • Danse, Sylvain, 1923. Carnet de route d'Elisabethville à Boma: par le Lomami, le Kasai et le Bas-Congo, Avril-Juillet 1920, Imprimerie L’Etoile du Congo.
  • Guerreiro, Vasco, 1992. Os Portugueses no Zaire: integração e tragédia, Rosa.
  • Van Peel, Benedicte, 2001. “Au debuts du Football Congolais” in “Itineraires croises de la modernite: Congo belge, 1920-1950”, Institut Africain CEDAF.
  • Vassal, Gabrielle M., 1925. Life in French Congo, T.F. Unwin, Ltd.
  • Vellut, Jean-Luc, 1991. “La Présence Portugaise au Congo du XVe Siècle à la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale”, Revue générale.