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Culture of the Democratic Republic of the

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Congolese woman with fashion designs

The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reflects much of the diversity of its
hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the countryfrom the
mouth of the River Congo on the coast, upriver through the rainforest and savanna in its centre,
to the more densely populated mountains in the far east. Since the late 19th century, traditional
ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for
independence, the stagnation of the Mobutu era, and most recently, the First and Second Congo
Wars. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Congo have retained much of their
individuality. The country's 60 million inhabitants are mainly rural. The 30 percent who live in
urban areas have been the most open to Western influences.


1 People, language and background

2 Religions and beliefs

2.1 Indigenous traditional beliefs

2.2 Catholic and Protestant Christianity

2.3 Kimbanguism

2.4 Religion today

3 Food and drink

4 Music

5 Zairese/Congolese writers

6 Visual art

7 References

8 External links

[edit] People, language and background

Map of the major Bantu languages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Like many African countries, the borders were drawn up by colonial powers, and bore little
relation to the actual spread of ethno-linguistic groups. There are around 250 languages spoken
in the country, with perhaps a similar number of ethnic groups. Broadly speaking, there are four
main population groups:

Pygmies, the earliest inhabitants of the Congo, are generally hunter-gatherers who live in
the forests. Expert in the ways of the forest, where they have lived for thousands of years,
they live by trading meat hunted in the forest with their taller, farming neighbors in
exchange for agricultural products. Increasingly, they are becoming absorbed into nonpygmy society, and adopting their languages and customs.
Bantus arrived in the Congo in several waves from 2000 BC to 500 AD, in most part
from the area in what is now southern Nigeria. They are by far the largest group, and the
majority live as farmers. They are present in almost every part of the country, and their
languages make up three of the five officially-recognized languages. These three
languages are Kikongo, Lingala, and Tshiluba. Kikongo is spoken by the Kongo people
in the far west of the country, both on the coast and inland, and was promoted by the
Belgian colonial administration. Elements of Kikongo have survived amongst the
descendants of slaves in the Americasfor instance, the language of the Gullah people of
South Carolina contains elements of Kikongo. Lingala, spoken in the capital Kinshasa, is
increasingly understood throughout the country, as the lingua franca of trade, spoken
along the vast Congo river and its many tributaries. Lingala's status as the language of the
national army, as well its use in the lyrics of popular Congolese music, has encouraged its

adoption, and it is now the most prominent language in the country. Tshiluba (also known
as Chiluba and Luba-Kasai) is spoken in the southeastern Kasai regions.

East Africans brought in the fourth of the official languages, Kingwanaa Congolese
dialect of Swahili. Note that the fifth language, French, is the official language of
government, a result of Congo's colonial relationship with Belgium. The East Africans
are related to the Bantus mentioned above, but tend to differ in their way of life, in that
they practice herding as well as farming. They came from the various countries to the east
of Congo: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania, bringing with them many of the
ethnic rivalries that have inflamed recent conflicts.

The North East of the country includes groups who originally come from Darfur in south
part Sudan and Ethiopia. In general these are pastoral cattle raisers and include the Tutsi,
possibly the tallest people in the world. These North Eastern peoples also migrated into
the Rwanda and Burundi around the same time often mixing with the Eastern African

The above descriptions are by necessity simplified. Many Congolese are multilingual, and the
language used depends on the context. For instance, a government official might use French to
set a tone of formality and authority with another official, use Lingala when buying goods at a
market, and the local language when in his home village. English is also spoken, especially in the
Mixed marriages between ethnic groups are common, particularly in urban areas where many
different groups live side by side. Europeans appear in small numbers throughout the country, as
missionaries in the countryside, and as businessmen and traders in the cities. Also acting as
merchants are small numbers of Lebanese and Pakistanis.
More information on the various peoples in Congo can be found in the Early Congolese History

[edit] Religions and beliefs

Main article: Religion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Religion in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Discuss)

Branhamist worshippers in Kinshasa

The main religions in the DRC are:

Indigenous traditional beliefs: 11.5%

Roman Catholic Christianity: 50%

Protestant Christianity: 20%

Indigenous Christianity: 13.5%, nearly all of whom (13%) are followers of


Other Christian denominations: 1%

Islam: 1.5%

There are small communities of Jews and Hindus who work in commercial urban areas. Atheism
is very rare.

[edit] Indigenous traditional beliefs

Though only 11.5 per cent of Congolese exclusively follow indigenous beliefs, these traditional
belief systems are often intermingled with forms of Christianity, and are familiar to the majority
of Congolese. Throughout the DRC the beliefs take on a number of forms, but they have a
number of things in common:

A creator spirit is thought to be sovereign of the spirit world, but this god is rarely the
direct cause of events. In many Congolese languages, the name of the creator god derives
from the word father or maker. Some groups regard the creator as being omnipresent,
whilst others believe the god lives in the sky. For most believers in indigenous religions,
contact with the creator god is made via ancestor spirits. A smaller number of groups
believe that individuals can have direct contact.
A belief in an essential life-force in which animates the body.The force is thought to leave
the body upon death and become an ancestor spirit. These spirits continue to be active in
the lives of living relativesby either punishing or rewarding them. In a similar way to
saints in the Catholic tradition, some long-dead ancestors (for instance, great hunters or
religious leaders) are venerated by people outside their former family.

Nature spirits, worshiped mainly in forested regions, are often the embodiment of
particular locations such as whirlpools, springs and mountains. The afterlife is believed to
exist underground, especially under lakes, where ghostly replicas of Congolese villages

Diviners, witches, dream interpreters and healers act as conduits for supernatural forces.

Ceremonies and collective prayersto ancestors, nature spirits and the creator godare
generally performed at particular locations such as sacred trees, grottoes or crossroads.

These ceremonies usually take place at a specific time of day. The location and times
vary according to the ethnic group.
Belief in Witchcraft is common, and sometimes intersects with the more fundamentalist and
evangelical versions of Christianity. In recent years, these beliefs have gained adherents in urban
areas, whereas before they were mainly confined to the countryside. The increasing beliefs in
witches and sorcery have tended to mirror the social decay caused by war and poverty. Many of
the street children that roam the Congo's cities have been cast out of their families after being
denounced as witches. These homeless 'witch children' often live in cemeteries and only come
out at night, and follow occult practices. See BBC News article on Kinshasa's street children. For
comparison, see article on beliefs of Miami street children.

[edit] Catholic and Protestant Christianity

A Congolese Christian
Christianity has a long history in Congo, dating back to 1484, when the Portuguese arrived and
convinced the king and entourage of the Kongo people to convert. In 1506 a Portuguesesupported candidate for kingship, Alfonso I of Kongo won the throne. Alfonso (the Kongo royal
family had begun to take on Portuguese names), established relations with the Vatican. More
widespread conversion occurred during the Belgian colonial era. Christianity varies in its forms,
and is in some ways surprisingly similar to native beliefs.
During the colonial period, a European-style Christianity was at first promoted by the authorities.
Native Congolese generally attended different churches or services from whites. If they
worshiped under the same roof, the native Congolese sat on benches at the back, while the whites
sat in chairs at the front. Towards the end of the colonial era, more African elements were
incorporated into Christianity, including songs and dances which were formerly condemned as
pagan. Eventually, even native fables and myths were appropriated and merged into Congolese
Christianity, in a similar process to that which occurred with Christianity in Europe.
Recent developments include the increasing popularity of the "Gospel of Prosperity" a form of
Christianity in which the emphasis is on wealth acquisition and born-again Christianity.
Adherents are led to believe that instant wealth and magical prosperity will result from giving
tithes to their charismatic preacher. The leaders often draw on the techniques of American
televangelists, and the message is appealing to those living in extreme poverty.

[edit] Kimbanguism
In the first half on the 20th century, prophetic movements sprang up. Their nature was both anticolonial and Christian, and led to a rigorous crackdown by the authorities.
Simon Kimbangu was the prophet of largest of these movements. He was born in a village near
Kinshasa, raised and educated by a Protestant Christian mission and trained to become a priest.
In April 1921, at the age of 39, he reportedly had a religious vision of Jesus Christ, who called on
him to reconvert his people and dedicate his life to Christ. Kimbangu chose to try to ignore the
vision, and fled to Kinshasa where he abandoned his life as a priest and took to menial work.
More visions came, and eventually he heeded the calling and returned to his home village and
started to devote his life to Christ. Soon after, he is reported to have healed a sick woman by
laying his hands on her. Dozens of apparent miracles were subsequently performed by
Kimbangu, and he gained followers from surrounding villages and towns. The official Catholic
organizations protested to the authorities, and the Protestant church abandoned him. The
economic effects of Kimbangu's ministry were being felt, with thousands of Congolese leaving
their work to listen to Kimbangu speak. In June the Belgians arrested him for inciting revolution
and civil disobedience. Four months later he was sentenced to death. After an international
outcry, Albert I of Belgium commuted the sentence to life impisonment. He died 30 years later in
prison, in 1951.
Colonial authorities assumed his movement would wither after his imprisonment and death, but
the church continued to flourish underground, and was an effective weapon in the fight against
colonialism. In the post-colonial era, its record has been more mixed. Instead of banning the
church, Mobutu used a far more effective method of neutralizing it: namely co-opting the church
and giving it an official status. Kimbanguism has now spread across the country, and now has
branches in nine of the surrounding countries, making it the most popular "native" form of
Christianity in Africa. Followers do not smoke, drink alcohol and abhor violence. Monogamy is

[edit] Religion today

Article 22 of the constitution allows for religious freedom. These rights are generally respected
by the government [1]. Religious tension exists in some areas because of the link between
prophetic groups and paramilitary organizations. In the turbulent eastern region, where the
Second Congo War still simmers, some guerrilla groups have a major religious element,
believing for instance that they are able to turn enemy bullets into water by wearing certain