Culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • 1735

The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reflects the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the country—from the mouth of the River Congo on the coast, upriver through the rainforest and savanna in its centre, to the more densely populated mountains in the far east.

Tell your friends

Since the late 19th century, traditional ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for independence, the stagnation of the Mobutu era, and most recently, the First and Second Congo Wars. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Congo have retained much of their individuality. The country's 60 million inhabitants are mainly rural. The 30 percent who live in urban areas have been the most open to Western influences.

Older members of more remote Congolese communities can remember when Congolese used to dress in clothes made of raffia and bark. Today, such clothing is mostly seen only in ceremonial or ritual contexts. Colonialism brought in Western attire.

 During the Mobutu era, a kind of Mao suit called the abacost (derived from à bas le costume - "down with the suit") was promoted, as part of the Authenticity campaign (whose aim was to move away from Western values). 

Ties and Western-style jackets were even banned. Since the abacost was relatively expensive, men took to wearing West African style patterned shirts. Ironically, the cloth used for these "authentic" shirts is often imported from the Netherlands and the United States.

For women, the typical clothing today is a wrap made of printed cloth, together with a kerchief to cover the hair. Jewellery is generally kept to a minimum, apart from on special occasions. For men, patterned shirts over trousers, or western-style suits predominate.

 In urban areas, and amongst Congolese abroad, there is often an emphasis on sharply dressed elegance—this is intricately connected to the subculture of soukous and rumba music. Young Congolese in the cities also look towards African-American Hip hop fashion for inspiration. Several Congolese fashion designers have become successful in Paris.