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
Sources:

  • 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.

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


Sources: