Dolisie is the third largest city of Congo, located at the enterance of the Mayombe forest. This city became an urban center when, in 1933, the colonial administrator Blanchet set Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan (CFCO) in the center for the construction and management of the country’s main railways. At that time, Protestant and Catholic missionaries had settled there for a longtime. But at the end of the CFCO works in 1934, a great number of Muslims - that were traveling-companions of explorers such as Pierre Savorgnan De Brazza for the purpose of valuing the Middle-Congo-settled there as farmers and tradesmen. Therefore, culturally speaking, the city of Dolisie is a Christian city. It is in such a Christian milieu, in the village of colonization that Muslim cult settled itself, with the construction of the city’s first mosque in 1937. One of the well-known Muslim at that time was Sy Biranti Kao, born in about 1892 in Tuabu, Eastern Senegal, where he went back and died in 1974. It appears that there had been no religious troubles between such a settlement and Christendom. It was the beginning of an endlessly renewed migration, and also the beginning of fraternization between Muslims and Christians in an urban milieu.
The first societies that shape the space of the current Congo were animists. Based on their vision of the world and their beliefs, these societies encouraged polygamy. They did not reject fetishism that considered as ultimate palliative against errant behaviors which were seriously despoiling the social order. But soon, those endogenous practices began to stand against the Christian doctrine that was introduced in the Kongo kingdom by Capuchins after their meeting with Westerners in 1482.
In June 4, 1491 the baptism of King Nzing’a Kuwu (baptized Joao, or John, and that of his son Mvemba-Nzing’a, baptized Afonso or Alphonse the first) hastened things as it enabled a radicalization of the Christian Church, opposing itself towards local customs or traditions that were said to be heresies and superstition. Yet, despite the inflexibility of their conversion method, the first evangelization did not meet the success expected. It is only at the end of the XIXth century that the missionary halo started to be echoed on the Congolese territory. In Dolisie, Christian missions (Catholics, Swedish evangelical mission) got settled at the same date (1937) under the benediction of the colonial administration that was the vehicle of Muslim cult in Congo, with Sergeant Malamine Camara who accompanied Pierre Savorgnan in his exploration trips in central Africa at the end of the XIXth century. Shortly after their settlement, these Christian missions would be followed closely by Islam.
What are the circumstances that enabled the advent of Islam in Dolisie? How would the Muslim cult succeed in imposing itself in a Christian milieu of Dolisie? As a matter of fact, the study of Islam is interesting as it is first of all a history-based fact that places the diversity of belief in the same spatial approach. Moreover, as subject matter, there is very little documentation on Islam in Congo: the meager scientific harvest on Muslim in Congo is only two dissertations (Mbaïdiguimal, 2017: 80; Oula, 1998: 60), a research paper (Nkanza, 2014: 423-441) and a book (Soret, 1978: 140). To palliate such a document scarcity on the issue, oral surveys have been conducted both in Brazzaville and Dolisie, between July and August 2018. This iconography is of paramount importance on the ground that not only it is a witness, but it also stores social, cultural and economic evolution of this colonial city, from 1937 up to 2007, terminus ad quem of this contribution.
In 1937, Dolisie had its first mosque erected. This materializes the Muslim presence in the city. As for the year 2007, it symbolizes the maturity of Islam presence in Dolisie, with the construction of a fourth mosque in the heart of the city. Thus, from 1937 to 2007, we have seventy years of Muslim culture, in a city that nears 125,000 inhabitants. This contribution is built up upon five points. The first one lays an emphasis on the study of the geographic space where Islam would get settled as early as in 1937. The second point focuses on the space occupation by Europeans, which occupation would set off the migrations of populations in search of a job that matches the newly expanding market economy in the nascent city. As for the third point, it is an analysis of conversion methods implemented by faith carriers - among which Islam - in order to be imperative along with Christian churches already settled in situ. The fourth somewhat depicts Muslim achievements in Dolisie from a set of activities that would be realized. The last point, that is the fifth, suggests the assessment of Muslim cult in Dolisie, from 1937 up to 2007.
Presentation of the city
Built in the midst of hills and lakes, the city of Dolisie sits on the table land that borders the great range of the Mayombe height - 700 up to 1000 m; which gives the city a contrasted climate. This city covers an area of over fifteen kilometers long from west to east, and more than six kilometers wide from north to south.
Dolisie is located at 73 km from the enclosed territory of Cabinda; at 140 km from the Democratic Republic of Congo; at 168 km from Pointe-Noire (economic capital of Congo); at 342 km from Brazzaville, the political and administrative capital city of Congo. This city looks like an amphitheater surrounded by the Mayombe foothills. It is located in a space whose people engage in various economic activities. The fact of being accessible to several localities and other points in the sub regions makes the city of Dolisie a transit city or a hub of the Niari department, nicknamed the “Mayombe pearl” or “the golden green city” (Figure 1). This map presents the two districts of Dolisie and the city’s main areas. In the eastern north, we have not only the Christian graveyard, but also the Muslim ward.
Formerly, there was a village - Bungundu village - on the site that now hosts the city. The other neighboring villages are: Kayes-Mboungou, Moukondo, Malembé, and Lutsungi. The Bungundu-Loubomo village became an urban center in 1933 when Mr. Blanchet, the French colonial administrator decided to install a center for the management of the Congo-Ocean Railroad works, known as “Chemin de Fer Congo-Ocean” (CFCO). At that time, the inhabitants of Boungou-Loubomo remained stuck on their traditional religions, although the Niari-Bouenza region (the Niari valley) had already been covered by Catholic missions led by Father Emile Zimmerman since 1890. But the city destiny was doomed to change with the installation of the “Mission Evangélique Suédoise (MES)”- the Swedish Evangelical Mission - which Mission got started in Congo in 1909 (Vounou and Nzaou, 2015: 85-92). During these years, the populations that settled in Dolisie were converted to either Catholic Church, Evangelic Church, or Islam. Such a de-facto reality quickly made it possible for the city of Dolisie to become a multi-religion city.
Thanks to Sy Biranti Kao who arrived in Congo in 1927, the Muslim settlement in the locality was peaceful as he was just interested in commerce and farming stuff such as coffee beans. For that matter, Sy Biranti gained notoriety towards populations in such a way that a doline of the city and a lake even bear his name.
Space occupation by Europeans
Historical evidence presents Boungoundou village as a sociological space in motion. Such a status transfer is imputable to mass arrivals of Western and African populations. However, Portuguese and French people constitute the most important population fringe that would attract the arrival of other populations.
The Niari valley - where the current city of Dolisie is located - was owned by Portuguese colonists who, settled in the area since the period of slavery, had maintained their foreign posts both along the coasts and inland. The 1884-1885 Berlin Conference had settled ongoing land disputes and fixed the border of Cabinda where the “boundary-stone for the three borders” (Cabinda, Zaire, Congo) Berger-Levrault (1978) was erected at Moukéké.
During that Conference, salient disagreements between France and Belgium have fortunately settled. Thanks to the agreement of February 5, 1885, the Etat Indépendant du Congo (EIC)” - the Independent State of Congo - property of King Leopold II of Belgium withdrew from Kouilou-Niari. (Vidrovitch, 1969). In return, it received sovereignty recognition for the left bank of the Pool area (Soret, 1978: 143). France therefore received compensations in the Tchimpézé region. Foreign posts would exchange slavery commodities for gazelle skins, chiefly ivory and cabbage trees. Those Europeans kept on doing business under the French colonization regime.
After the Portuguese, French explorers engaged in a second colonial exploration in the center of Africa. This area was subject to many other colonial missions, including those of Pierre Savorgnan De Brazza in 1880; Mizon in 1882; Albert Dolisie in 1884-1885; Marchand and Baratier in 1886, all of them being French explorers. Up to 1920, there was only one village on the current site of the city: Boungoundou, located along the tracing of the Congo-Océan Railroad. But for unknown reasons, that village was abandoned by its inhabitants after the death of Tsalou, the last chief of the Boungoundou village, thus leaving the area with no people. It was a deserted village that Blanchet, public works engineer for the railroad, chose as a center that would host the future station of the railroad that was launched in 1933. That same year, Lebouriste, head of the railroad division and based at Loudima, informed the Europeans that the weather in Dolisie and its surroundings was milder, wetter and more enjoyable, which led him to mature the idea of installing there the country town of the railroad region as early as in May 1, 1934. Afterward, a market was opened in order to supply railroad workers with cassava, bush meat, etc. When Blanchet went back to France, he was replaced in 1934 by Edvisse, another French colonial administrator who, later, designed the cadastral map of the city (Eon°2, Aboué Emile, 2018), still used nowadays. For the colonial administration, creating a town goes along with its recognition, space delimitation, division in portions. The latter will be subject to an in-depth analysis.
In May 29, 1934, General Governor Raphael Antonneti inaugurated the Dolisie railroad station, thus marking the achievement of railroad works (Soret, 1978). Some Europeans, former and newcomers decided to settle there on their own. According to the Official Journal of AEF (French Equatorial Africa) in 1934, 5 portions of 2000 m2-land were adjudicated at 5000 F each. Public works engineers, Istre and Marc carried a land survey to establish blocks, roads, civilian and administrative houses. Once again, the Official Journal dated 1937 evoked the issue of land transfer for rural purposes and free transfers for churches and businesses. The following statement tells us more about the matter: Through the ordinance dated September 18, 1937, taken during a permanent commission of the board of directors, Mister Pastor Södergren, President of the “Mission Evangélique Suédoise” (MES) - the Swedish Evangelical Mission - is provisionally granted, on condition of third party and by free gift, a rural plot of 30 ha land located near Dolisie (AEF Official Journal, 1937). Here is the case of the Protestant Church. The same Official Journal dated September 1, 1947 would add the following:
Middle Congo…Through the ordinance dated August 7, 1947, Sy Birante is provisionally granted, on condition of third party and for an onerous consideration, a rural plot of 2.50 ha land located at 1 km away from Dolisie (Niari region). Such a plot of land with a surplus hereby appended holds the form of a trapeze located immediately at the north side of Mr. Mauvigner’s concession…This plot of land is allotted for the establishment of coffee tree plantations (Cf. Official Journal, 1937). When we analyze the 1947 Official Journal, one can read: “Middle Congo, Mister Barbier requests adjudication of block n°5, located in Dolisie, with an area of 2048 m2, at the price of 100 francs per square meter. The adjudication ceremony will take place on August 30, 1947 in Dolisie”
Always in the Official Journal of August 1, 1947, one can read the following: “definitive rural concession. Through the ordinance dated July 17, 1947, taken during the board of government, the concession of a rural plot of 2 ha land, developed and located in Dolisie, is granted for good to Mr. Romano. This title deed will be handed over to Romano against payment at the internal revenue service in Brazzaville, in addition to registration fees, stamps and any other deeds pertaining to this concession for a sum of 300 francs, representing the provisional amount for land delimitation fees required by article 33 of the ordinance dated March 19, 1937. Mr. Jean Romano will request, without delay, the matriculation of the plot of land mentioned above, in accordance with the provisions of article 7 of the ordinance dated March 28, 1899 pertaining to the land regime, modified in December 12, 1920.”
The analysis to be made with such a multitude of ordinances is that space or land occupation of the present city is not to be considered at random. Several sources reveal that mass arrival of populations from neighboring departments and village at the end the railroad works in 1934 was untrue. The truth is that only franchised dealer companies were authorized to settle in the city for the purposes of wholesale and semi-wholesale trade. Afterward, migrant workers through a parent or relative already settled in Dolisie. In fact, the colonial administration forbade immigrants - even nationals - with no formal written invitation to enter the city. In addition to this, there were construction works for COMILOG (the Ogoué Mining Company, for the exploitation of the Gabonese manganese) from 1957 to 1960.
The surge of migrations
According to the definition given by J. Noon, migrant workers are “those that spend between 1/3 and 2/3 of their time in towns since they leave their villages” (Noon, 1952). This alludes that the populations entered an era of permanent instability. At the time when the railroad construction was being achieved, a quite different type of immigration contributed to at least people temporarily areas along the railroad. Such a surge could be explained owing to a circular letter by general Governor Antonetti, the builder of Congo-Océan railroad. At that time and to the attention of the heads of constituencies, he wrote the following:
“Encouraging administered citizens to near the railroad and settle on well-watered, fertile and uninhabited territories of the Niari plain… However, I have not been reported any population movements in that sense so far…For this objective and from now on, please make arrangements for an active campaign…You will preferably address inhabitants of remote areas, the poorest people and those lacking means of communication…
From this circular letter aforementioned, it is noticed that there were some advantages or benefits granted to volunteers. The colonial administration would commit itself to supply not only timber for building wooden cabins, but also commodities till the moment when fields would be operational. The contingents selected included some Bandjabi people, but chiefly Bambamba ones, a somewhat mixed people of Bakota ones, and Batéké people taken both in Sibiti and Zanaga. They were grouped or split into sixteen villages…the others belonged to the most diverse tribal groups and came from far away (originated from the country’s northern region of “la cuvette congolaise”) (Gilles Sautter, op. cit.). The Dolisie community of believers is therefore made up of this melting pot
Franchised dealer companies
Franchised dealer companies and traders were motivated by several reasons. They would have to make up for supplies, refloat public administration earnings through various taxes, stimulate the output of natives by beginning an economic activity. For, any settlement would involve payment of trading license, taxes and guarantees… Obtaining land leases from the administration as proportion as the railroad was being processed, traders from various origins got settled, shopping wholesale not only in Brazzaville, the political capital city, Pointe-Noire the economic capital endowed with a seaport, but also in the territory of Cabinda. To big firms such as CPKPN (Compagnie Propriétaire du Kouilou-Niari) that generated SCKN (Société Commerciale du Kouilou-Niari) were added firms like: Hatton and Cookson (Soret Marcel, op. cit.), as well as a number of West African merchants: Senegalese, Dahomeans, and several Congolese among whom were Bayonne, Ngoma Victor, Mavoungou and Auguste Nzoungou. This urban economy began with trade. It is therefore a service economy that occurred from the end of the railroad works, and developed progressively. At that time, Dolisie had no production unit, and the economic activity was only based on the supply of essential products. To those could be added not only manufactured products, but also local farm and fauna-based products. To counter Congolese, “Wara” (term used to designate West Africans) tradesmen specialized themselves in the sale of loincloths, materials, foodstuffs and even refreshment bars, although the Coran forbid the sale of alcoholic beverage.
Methods of conversions
With the aim of gaining people’s souls for their gods, various methods were put in place in accordance with this or that type of religion. (Côme Kinata 2008).
For protestants, what is fundamental in the evangelical mission is to communicate knowledge on Christian faith through dialogue, preaching or methodical teaching. However, Swedish missionaries acknowledge the existence of the natives’ religion, and then make arrangements not to jostle or rebuke such a religion. Thus, the missionaries tailored a specific strategy: preaching in local language, kikongo (Martin Pariss Vounou, 2017). This implies the knowledge of people you’re praying with and for; hence the necessity to collect ethnographic material, to do research on linguistics and the history of religions.
The lack of social living conditions that could favor both the Gospel reception and Church development was, among others, the reasons stated. On that issue, Libermann thought that apostolic action should not only preach the faith. It should also strive for progress and happiness of people through instruction, learning and teaching. Fundamentally, recommendations from clerical hierarchy and pontiff sovereigns were corroborating Libermann’s missionary methodology (Moulambaye, 2016). In 1926, Pope Pie XI published the Rerum Ecclesia encyclical in which he would invite heads of mission to act according to the following plan of action: recruiting and training native ecclesiastical ministers; putting in place native religious congregations; multiplication of catechists; occupation and evangelization of any religious constituency; healthcare for sick persons; global extension of educational teaching at all the levels, etc. They would create Christian-oriented villages, dispensaries, schools, training centers, etc.
The third and last community to study is the Muslim community of Congo. For this community that came almost together with the first two in Dolisie, conversion is of paramount importance in the life of a believer. Another aspect Muslim vitality in Dolisie is proselytism noticed in the mind of several Islam followers. They are deeply concerned with the idea of finding many followers, and make Islam a universal religion, as prophet Muhammad wishes it. Any novice is attracted by the Islam’s ideal which makes someone feel secure in a community life (Umma). Islam impregnates every sphere of life, and it is viewed as a sociological milieu which rather guarantees better tomorrow thanks to its relative wealth: almost everywhere in Congo, Muslims hold monopoly in commerce, even in Dolisie after the country independence, controlling the entire chain, from the supply chain to the local retail sale. That is why Islam appears to be rather simpler than Christianism (Eon°1, Hamadou Amidou, 2018). Thus it is relatively easy to “claim being Muslim” when you observe ritual prayer, attend assemblies for Friday prayers, and offering legal alms known as “Zakat”. This social change is noticed in the behavior and the dressing code, and even in mentalities, as stated by Guy Rocher. In Dolisie, Islam rather puts up easily with the practices of traditional religions, as it does not reject a certain syncretism and seems to be tolerant with fetishism and polygamy. According to Emile Chaudron, “For most pagans, Islam easily appears to be a form of superior animism” (Emile Chaudron, 1985). Islam is a sociological and religious reality that really meets the needs of today’s Congolese.
Organization of the Muslim Community in Congo
After their timid implantation, Muslims created Muslim Associations in order to voice up at the national level. The coordination being in Brazzaville, the political capital, those associations are part of progressive organization of Islam in black Africa. They are a kind of secretariat that represents the entire Muslim community, and devote themselves to coordinate the activities of various existing associations (cultural, religious, pilgrimage, etc.). It is through these national associations that the “Funds for the World Muslim League are deposited” (Victor, 1980).
In Congo, the National Association holds the denomination of ‘’Communauté Islamique du Congo’’ (Muslim Community of Congo), created in September 10, 1968. Its missions are as follows:
(1) Gathering all the Muslims of Congo - regardless of nationality, race, sex - within a big, representative and lawful organization;
(2) Gathering all the Muslims in a unique group for the achievement of philanthropic work or deeds to the benefit of Muslims and the masses;
(3) Striving for the development of mutual aid, solidarity and cooperation;
(4) Contributing to the implementation of national socioeconomic development plans through active participation of its members;
(5) Developing and promoting peace and love, Islam’s basic principles;
(6) Promoting intellectual and religious training of women, young Muslims and especially young girls;
Thus, several presidents had headed the Muslim Community of Congo since its creation. Here is a chronological approach of those presidents and their office:
El Hadj Manzibai Abdourhamane (UMAC), from 1968 to 1975;
Mamadou Moukou (AMC), from 1975 to 1977;
El Hadj Mamadou Mohamed Moutoukouenda nicknamed Mimi (CIC), from 1977 to 1978;
El Hadj Younous Dzonbgbé (CIC), from 1978 to 1988;
Cheikh Aboubakar Nguelouoli, from 1988 to 2003;
El Hadj Bachir Daniel Gatsongo (CIC), from 2003 to 2009;
El Hadj Gabriel Djibril Abdoulaye Bopaka (CSIC), from 2009 up till now.
Construction of mosques in Dolisie
The construction of worship places in Dolisie is an emanation of Muslim tradition. In fact, after his arrival at Medina (second holy city, also called the prophet’s city), prophet Muhammad had a meeting place built for the Muslim community, a place viewed as a life and gathering center. It is on that model that the first Dolisie Muslim community built a mosque in 1937, located in 14, rue Jolly (street denomination and number), 50 m away from the modern market of the district known as “quartier Sénégalais”. The first imam of that mosque was Sy Biranti Kao. The multiplication of worship places in Dolisie is explained by solidarity in the Muslim community of the city. The proliferation of mosques demonstrates the awakening of Islam in Dolisie. There are four mosques for a city of 125,000 inhabitants (CRETH, 2014). It is the only department that presently has more than six mosques.
According to several sources, the multiplication of worship places and particularly the number of tradesmen that originated from West Africa is due to the June 5, 1997 civil war. Added to this is not only manhunt of foreigners that were in Angola and Cabinda, but also tradesmen from other cities of Congo in search of extra capital gain. Those worship places are generally built by faith followers pursuant to different calls for funds organized in mosques. As Hissein states it, for he who gives money for the edification of the house of God, “God will, in return, build a house for him in paradise”. As Christians do, Muslims gather around a building site when it is about the construction of a mosque, each of them acting according to his job specification (mason, painter, electrician, etc.). And we often see a kind of work on an assembly line, where everybody brings his contribution (Figure 2).
This photography shows us the first mosque of Dolisie, with the minaret and the two main entrances. It comes out that the green and white colors are regularly applied to make the worship place holier and more attractive. The construction of a mosque may also be initiated by an individual faith follower. That is the case of Bernard Yoka, citizen of West Africa (a Malian), naturalized Congolese and businessman (he presently fled away because he is wanted by the justice of Congo, with charges of embezzlement and breach of trust) who had built, in 2003, the Khouba mosque in Moungali, the fourth district of Brazzaville. Help may also come from Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Libya. In so doing, it is noticeable that the mosque deepens brotherhood, friendship and solidarity bonds that convey unity and social approach eagerly needed by a Muslim for his fellow mate, considered as a brother or a sister thanks to Islam believer.
As a matter of fact, the mosque is a fundamental tool for interiorization of norms or standards, theological and religious values, which make such a mosque become or remain a base for sociability. It is a strong socialization institution. Today, the mosque is a religious sanctuary, a place where Muslims meet for common and collective prayers. God’s word is taught there; preaching is conveyed in Arabic and Kikongo, as well as in Lingala. The themes or subject matters of preaching aim among others to encourage man to be righteous. The mosque is also the place of reunion for Muslims to celebrate in common the Friday prayer, considered as weekly holyday.
Activities of Muslims
The Muslims that came to Congo are great tradesmen operating their dealings generally around Dolisie markets; which explain why they often build their mosques in the vicinity of markets (cf. the map). At the beginning, they were selling in detail. But for some time past, they have been selling wholesale; selling products like onion, garlic, kao (also called “niébé”, a plant looking like beans), tomato, etc. As said earlier, they are major owners of big shops. In fact, the main activity of Muslims is commerce; tradesmen are thus composed of entrepreneurs, sellers or commercial agents. The category of employees in commerce includes youngsters working for tradesmen, either in their stores, or in porterage and delivery of goods. Most Muslims have little or no family because of life expensiveness. For years they often stay in Dolisie with a Congolese wife, prior to going back in the home village and bringing back a second wife; hence the rotating phenomenon of co-spouses between Congo and the husband’s homeland. Some of them have proper documentation that legitimates their presence and their activities in Congo. They speak the local language (Kikongo). In addition to the core activity, they are engaged in agriculture, stock farming (chiefly in neighboring villages), fishery and the sale of “coupés-coupés”, name for barbecued beef or mutton meat.
Assessment of Islam settlement in Dolisie
For Congolese people, Islam is an immigration religion as it is a foreign contribution, notably of West African citizens (Makosso-Makosso, 1976). This religion has had impacts on local populations. For populations, the sonorous call for prayers is not only a trouble, but also a call for occupation of sidewalks for the Friday prayer.
The “Avenue de l’indépendance” of Dolisie is subject to traffic jams because of that. For Congolese “wara” are dirty people: they seldom have a bath, except washing feet and the head, and sell eating stuffs and other commodities to the populations, irrespective of hygiene principles (Eon°3 et 5, Pierre Pongui, 2018). They are very dishonest, swindlers and forgery dealers; they promote child begging, etc., they do not let their children go to school’’. Islam implantation in Dolisie did not solve all the problems. Recurrent quarrels between Malians, Senegalese, Beninese and other Islam believers hinder the expansion of the doctrine, like the echoes of terrorism all over the world do. (Moulambaye, 2016)
Apart from this negative aspect aforementioned, Islam brought a lot to the Congolese civilization in the areas of food habits, conservation techniques for dried cassava (gari), palm wine, onion consumption, etc. As far as clothing habits are concerned, Islam has introduced the West African “boubou” cloth, Turkish sleepers and the “bazin” clothing material. In Dolisie, several houses have the style of Muslim architecture.