Friday, February 24, 2012

Léopoldville 1924 – Monument des Aviateurs

On July 1st, 1924, the entire European community of Kinshasa and Léopoldville turned out at the end of Ave. Militaire (See Mar. 12, 2011) near the port to inaugurate a monument commemorating three aviators killed three years’ previously when their flying boat crashed.  Beginning in April 1920, Belgian pilots and support crews had been trying to establish the Ligne Aérienne Roi Albert (LARA) to link Kinshasa and Stanleyville and provide a fortnightly service to connect with regular arrivals of ships from Belgium at the port of Boma. 
A Levy-Lepen flying boat on the river side
Monument des Aviateurs
 The Levy-Lepen flying boats used were of marginal quality; turned out in great numbers during WWI for use by inexperienced pilots. The challenges of operating an airline in tropical Africa, including re-attaching the fabric of the fuselage after each flight, were daunting.  The line folded in June 1922 for lack of funds to purchase equipment that would be adequate to the conditions, but this experience would eventually lead in 1923 to the creation of Sabena, the Belgian Airline.  Part of Sabena’s capital was provided by the colony and the first flight connecting Léopoldville to Belgium took place in 1925.  It appears likely that Ave. Militaire became known as Ave. des Aviateurs after the inauguration of the aviators’ monument.

Monument des Aviateurs viewed from Ave. Astrid (Lumpungu)
The monument, a stone obelisk topped with a bronze statue of a stylized flyer, was the work of Belgian sculptor, Arsène Matton.  Matton had significant experience in Congo, having made a trip to the colony in 1911 at the behest of the Colonial Ministy to collect samples of “representative” ethnic types for a set of 4 allegorical statues commissioned for the main rotunda of the new Colonial museum in Tervuren.  He set up an atelier in Kinshasa and in September was taking photos and making plaster castings of the family of one of the Congolese port supervisors.  Afterwards, the man’s wife refused to return, as (she said) she did not want to be placed on a pedestal like the Stanley Monument in old Léopoldville (See Feb. 20, 2011).   At that time, the main port was still where the Chanic shipyards are located today and the structure in question was the first monument erected in Léopoldville, created in 1898 in cement by a Swedish Captain in the Force Publique, von Ingesberg, to commemorate the arrival of the railway from Matadi.
Monument de Liberte with Leopold II bust at the base
Two other monuments, both bronze busts, were placed in prominent locations in Kinshasa at the beginning of the 1920s.  These were the work of royal favorite Thomas de Vincotte.  A bust of Léopold II by Vincotte was placed on Place Léopold II (See Feb. 3, 2012).  Another to King Albert 1er was inaugurated at the beginning of the 1920s on the Place de la Poste.  It appears to predate the Monument des Aviateurs as period photographs do not show the latter in the background of the Albert statue.  Vincotte’s bust presents Albert in his role as defender of Belgium against the German invasion in 1914, wearing his helmet and an expression of determined calm before the onslaught.  This same bust appeared on pedestals in Matadi and Jadotville (Likasi) in Katanga.  It appears that the Albert bust was relocated after the main monument was erected in front of the Gare Centrale in 1939 (See Aug. 28, 2011) but the Léopold II bust remained on Place Léopold until the colonial statues were taken down in 1971.  The Léopold II bronze is in storage at the National Museum in Kinshasa.

Leopold II statue on Place Leopold
Bust of Leopold II at the National Museum in Kinshasa
Inauguration of the Albert 1er statue on Ave. Militaire (Aviateurs)
Albert 1er statue -- Monument des Aviateurs was later erected at the end of the street
Vincotte also obtained a commission for the Monument to the Pioneers of the Belgian Congo in Brussels in 1921 and later an equestrian statue of Léopold II; inaugurated in Brussels in 1926 and in Léopoldville by King Albert in 1928 (See Sep. 12, 2011).  After Léopold’s statue was removed in 1971 and consigned to the public works garage in Kingabwa, the site in front of the first Parliament remained vacant until 2001 when the late President Kabila’s mausoleum was placed there and a statue erected on the first anniversary of his assassination in January 2002.
Leopold II statue at inauguration
L.D. Kabila monument and mausoleum in front of the President's Offices
Paul Panda Farnana

Another monument, “Monument du Souvenir”, was inaugurated in July 1927 at the intersection of Avenues Lippens and Valcke in Kalina.  This war memorial was the result of the effort by Mfumu Paul Panda Farnana, considered to be the first Congolese nationalist.  Panda Farnana was born the son of a chief near Moanda on the coast in 1888.  At 12, he was taken to Belgium by Lieutenant Derscheid, one of the first Belgian explorers of Katanga.  He enrolled in the Athenée de Bruxelles, excelled and eventually received a post-secondary degree in agronomy.  He returned to Congo in 1909 and was assigned to the Botanical Gardens at Eala at Coquilhatville (Mbandaka).  Later, he was named Chef de District ad interim of his home region of Bas-Fleuve.  On leave in Belgium in August 1914, Panda volunteered in the Belgian Army for the defense of Namur. Captured by the Germans, he spent the remaining four years of the war as a prisoner.

After the war, Panda became involved in the Panafrican movement in Europe, a collaborator of W.E.B. Dubois and others.  In January 1923, he wrote to Maj. Vervloet, an influential ex-colonial, advocating for a monument to the unknown Congolese soldier, to be dedicated either on Armistice Day or September 19, the date in 1916 of the Belgian Congo victory over the Germans at Tabora in contemporary Tanzania.  Panda’s efforts paid off and sculptor Jacques Marin was commissioned for the memorial (See July 5, 2011). General Charles Tombeur, ennobled the previous December and allowed to add “de Tabora” to his name, inaugurated the monument.  One of Marin’s last commissions was a bust of General Tombeur, erected in Brussels in 1951 after his death in 1950 (Tombeur died in 1947).

Monument du Souvenir
Monument du Souvenir -- note steam roller on Ave. Lippens (R)
Monument du Souvenir at the National Museum
La Pleureuse

The statue became the site of regular visits by senior Belgian and other officials, including King Baudouin in 1955, who came to pay homage to the heroes of Belgian colonial military effort in two world wars.  In 1971, the statue was removed and later replaced with a moving bronze statue of a weeping Congolese woman, “La Pleureuse”, by Wuma Mbambila Ndombasi. Wuma studied at the Academie des Beaux Arts.

"La Pleureuse" in front of the Supreme Court
  •       Dillien, André. 2010. “LARA:ligne aérienne Roi Albert”, VTB-Magazine, Juillet-Septembre 2010.
  •       Mudimbe, V.Y. 1980. La Dépendance de l'Afrique et les moyens d'y remédier: Africa's dependence and the remedies, Agence de coopération culturelle et technique.
  •       Musée de Louvain-la-Neuve, 2008. Miettes d’archives, Octobre 2008. (

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