During May and June 2016 I participated in an exploratory investigation to evaluate the archaeology and heritage resources of the Maniema Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our team included Clément Mambu from the Institute of National Museums of the Congo, Olivier Lumumbwa Luna from the University of Lubumbashi, Louis Champion from the Royal Museum of Central Africa and Marie-France Mombaerts, who coordinated the field mission. The main objective has been to reconstruct the region’s occupational history as until then no systematic studies have been carried out in that part of the country. Surveys and test excavations centered on the provincial capital of Kindu and in Kasongo. We identified around 25 archaeological sites along the Lualaba River, the headstream of the Congo River, and test-excavated 13 of them. We also inspected historical sites such as Kasongo and Nyangwe, which are connected to the Swahili-Arabs’ trade in slaves and ivory.
The Swahili-Arabs, who were primarily based along the coast of East Africa, managed to penetrate into the interior of Central Africa, where they established important slave and ivory markets such as Kasongo and Nyangwe. Tippo Tip, one of the most notorious slave traders from Zanzibar, made Kasongo his headquarters in 1875. He ultimately became the Governor of Stanley Falls under the rule of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State. This alliance however was short-lived; the colonial troops turned against the Swahili-Arabs and defeated them in what is known as the ‘Arab Campaign’ (1892 to 1894), resulting in the Congo Free State’s annexation of an area that made up around one third of its territory.
Our preliminary investigations have exposed the need and urgency to initiate and coordinate a comprehensive heritage protection project for the region’s cultural resources connected to the Swahili-Arab’s trade in slaves and ivory. On our return from the DRC and with the support of my colleagues from the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren I started to search for funding for a project that would not only focus on the archaeological remains but also integrate the creation of an audio archive of resident communities’ oral histories and a photographic project on historical connections and memory. I was put into contact with Georges Senga, a photographer from Lubumbashi, who has already incorporated historical and heritage narratives in his past work. The Gerda Henkel Foundation (Germany) showed interest in my proposal and awarded Groundworks with a research scholarship for two years. Partners include Clément Mambu from the Institute of the National Museums of the Congo, Olivier Lumumbwa Luna from the University of Lubumbashi, Alexandre Smith from the Royal Museum of Central Africa and Georges Senga, independent photographer and member at Picha in Lubumbashi. Our official start date is February 2018.