Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Tourist's Guide to the Belgian Congo, c.1960

Continuing on with some emphemera of Pan American's erstwhile African operations, this 5-page tourists' guide to the Belgian Congo was published by Pan Am in 1960 as part of their annual New Horizon's World Guide publication, which was something of the Lonely Planet aof the dawn of the jet era. The entry indexes vital visitor information for the colony, reached by Jet Clipper from Idlewild via Dakar, Monrovia, and Accra, and afterwards to Johannesburg, in journey listed at 27 hours duration. Published just months before its independence, the guide describes a city and country on the verge of what I have read described as a brief, jubilant era of post-indendence promise, years before the world knew of Mobutu or the Mai-Mai.

It was, in so many aspects, a simpler time. Section headings such as Cigarettes and Tobacco and Motion Pictures are certainly quaint, but more interestingly there is virtually no talk of either tropical disease prophylactics or personal security or safety. There is also absolutely no discussion of politics. Its almost unimaginable to assemble a short dossier on an African country for a foreign audience and not have these subjects be the primary themes.

What is unquestionably the most alarming passage is the quoted population figures on the first page, which provide statistics distinguished by race: a hundred thousand "Europeans" and a round figure of 13 million "Negroes." Leopoldville is described as having firstly 20,000 white and additionally 400,000 native inhabitants. Not that you don't hear reckonings of "ex-pats" or "non-Africans" or for that matter "Lebanese" in many sub-Saharan cities nowadays, but the contemporary hint at a Jim Crow worldview is a bit discomforting. Its also a remarkable figure of "Europeans" --I had previously read that lots of Belgians lived throughout the Congo and remained there after independence, but its interesting that only one in five was thought to live in the capital. I wonder if there are 100,000 Europeans in the DR Congo today (maybe there are).

What is nearly as startling is to realize that this number of people listed is the estimated population of just the city of Kinshasa alone nowadays, with DR Congo guessed to have as many people as Germany, possibly more. Its my experience that a good rule of thumb is that the population of an entire African country at independence is now the estimated population of its capital or major city. [Let's call it Jones's Law].

The last page suggests an ambulation around the orderly little capital city on the banks of the wide river, with the "native market a 'must' for color photographers...A tour of the European Quarter should include the Museum of Native Life, St. Anne's Cathedral, King Albert Monument, Pioneers Monument, and Stanley Monument."

The final paragraph urges Jet Clipper passengers to consider a sightseeing tour up the Congo by rail or train, and compels readers to visit the cannot-miss Kivu region, with Lake Kivu renown as the "Jewel of Africa." From there, travelers are urged to see the "7-foot tall Watussi natives," and not far away is the other extreme: the "jungle home of the Pygmies." Unquestionably, an unforgettable corner of the globe.

No comments:

Tweets by @moved2monrovia