Africa · Congo

Diosso Gorges and the deserted museum

A few days ago I went to see the Gorges of Diosso (Congo’s own “Colorado-El Dorado” as the museum curator-cum tour guide told us).

The road to the Gorges (the biggest natural attraction close to Pointe-Noire, pretty impressive and relatively famous, as much as things get around here in a place no one really comes to) was two faint tire tracks on sandy ground surrounded and separated by tall sharp grass. We made it there in a small blue taxi, the grass scraping against the bottom of the old rickety car…and a mute old lady, with high pitched squeals made us pay passage (200 CFA a pop, a few cents) from her little bamboo makeshift barrier. One has to make a living, and sometimes, “one” is very ingenious.

The gorges were beautiful, red dark earth sculpted along the face of the mountain opposite us. Gorges, not so much as land erosion caused by torrential rains, and in the bottom of the ravine, a very lush forest, with depressing sounds of power saws deep down in the darkness. Above another top of the mountain a golf course and the villa of a famous rich business man.

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We filled our eyes, very close to the brittle side of the mountain and left for the Museum of Diosso, a Museum about the slave trade that passed through this city (it was the end of the caravan routes that walked the slaves (prisoners of war and purchased alike) through the jungles towards the port of Loango. It was also a museum about the Loango Kingdom since this old dilapidated house was the “palace” of the Maloango King Moe (Mo-ay) Poaty III.

Museum of the Ma-Loango:

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Entrance of the museum:

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I should probably refrain from saying much about the museum because it will only cast it in a negative light. And I have ten minutes left, but I kind of want to make a quick point about all this, because this was pretty much a turning point in my stay here.

Between 1.5 to 5 million slaves left from this place for the Americas. I’m giving you the large range of estimates from the conservative to the pessimistic, I suppose. They were exchanged for 43 “pieces” of various items. One slave was equivalent to roughly (in my slumber/shocked state I never took notes) 10 pieces of cloth, five grey-and-blue large jugs, a barrel of alcohol and two barrels of gun powder, two old guns, some cheap glass beads, a shiny knife, and various metallic objects. They were shipped across the sea in atrocious conditions to be sold for 800 times that in markets in the New World, or exchanged for incrediby valuable products that other slaves had harvested (coffee, sugar, spices etc.).

Items sold in exchange for slaves:

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List of the items:

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From a business point of view, there is money being made on every side of this situation, for the traders, it was a win-win situation. A win-win situation that lasted four hundred years.

Anyway. The revenues from the slave trade went to fund absolutely incredible redecorating of Europe. The center city of Nantes (one of the major slave-trade centres) was entirely re-done with money from the slave trade and it is absolutely astonishing.

The museum gathered all of the material for the exhibit on the slave trade from the Museum of Nantes. Thirty-one panels were donated from that museum. All of the original photos, prints, materials, documentation, artefacts are there. Congo just got (better than nothing I suppose, though you could almost argue the contrary) thirty-one panels. Almost sounds like 43 pieces.

Map of Africa where a creature similar to a cyclops apparently lives in Ethiopia:

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I slept most of the afternoon that day, and spent most of the next few days sort of in a sad daze. I kept replaying what had happend, and all the stuff we found out about the artifacts and cultural heritage.

Two photos of the inside of the slave-trading ship “The Aurora”:

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Anchor of a 17th century sailing ship (most probably used in the slave trade) found in 2000 off the coast of Congo:

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This afternoon I was sitting on the top level of a huge grass-topped restaurant. I was looking out at the Ocean, more beautiful than ever, its steely grey waters washing over in surf of white and green onto the warm sandy beaach. I was looking out into the distance through the generous curved wood balcony and I remembered something that was outside of the disrepaired museum.

We didn’t go in for a good fifteen minutes as we were being explained this “miracle”.

Apparently, some years back, a tree was cut down, the trunk completely severed from the root and fallen, a few meters away from the base. A clear cut. This was a “fromager” a traditional meeting tree for village elders and the chief to discuss the problems of the village. Usually, trunks decompose and can be cut away later, but in this case, a single branch from the tree actually sprouted and feeding off the dead trunk shot up, took root, and now a large enough tree has been growing at a ninety degree angle from the severed trunk, a kind of extra-terrestrial sight, since these trees have giant rose-ish thorns along their steel-grey trunks.

Life from death.

I suppose, in a way, that’s what this place is all about. There was no call for me to be so outraged by the outward conditions of a lot of what I saw, really. You just have to have an eye for hope. But you have to have Faith to have the eye.

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