When I think of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I immediately zero in on the plight of the thousands of women who have been raped, robbed and displaced during the course of a brutal civil war that seems to have no end. But one country’s reality cannot be codified in black and white. Congo is much more than just brutality and misery. Its history of Colonialism and dictatorship is a grim one for sure, and it might be a while before real democracy and prosperity are established.
But there is a group of men who are not giving in to an existence of just poverty and insecurity. Enter the Sapeurs, i.e. those who belong to La Sape. La Societé des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, known as La Sape, is a Congolese sartorial subculture which started as a movement of civil disobedience during the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko who, to foster a sense of African identity, had banned anything that could smack of colonialism, including Western clothing.
In 2014, dressing as 1920s dandies or donning colorful zoot suits is more a way to transcend poverty, to establish an identity other than the one imposed by a harsh reality.
Les Sapeurs, who mostly live in informal dwellings, meet regularly, keep their clothes in pristine conditions and are not beyond borrowing each other’s suits. And, when they walk around the streets of Brazzaville, are universally admired and cheered as symbols of hope. If nothing else, one has to cheer for their optimism and sense of style.
Guinness has “adopted” the Sapeurs for a worldwide campaign and, as much as I hate to see them exploited, the short documentary I am including here is heart warming (I am just hoping they were handsomely recompensed).
On a lighter note, this might be a case when the women take less time to get out of the house than the men do.
Images sourced from Guinness and over the web, with no attribution (happy to credit them if anyone is familiar with the photographers)
Thanks to Bonnie F. for forwarding us the video