Sunday, 24 January 2016

Democratic Republic of Congo Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time the Democratic Republic of Congo and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Kinshasha took its present name from a small village named Kinchassa once found near the site of a city with a present-day population of over eight million, the original name thought to have come from 'the salt market'. The name changed in 1966 when Joseph-Desire Mobutu began 'Africanizing' names from colonial rule. Previously it had been known as Leopoldville in honour of King Leopold II of Belgium, although the settlement began as a trading post founded by Henry Morton Stanley, a name most often associated with finding the missionary and explorer Dr David Livingstone.

Lubumbashi is another with a comparatively recent name change, it formerly known as Elisabethville and named after Queen Elisabeth, consort of the Belgian King Albert I. Its modern name comes from the nearby Lubumbashi river, a name never understood and hardly surprising when considering the indigenous tribes of the Democratic Republic of Congo may officially be said to speak the Bantu languages, although this is a language group with at least 75 distinct languages and a minimum of 250 distinct dialects and sub-groups.

Mbuji-Mayi is the modern name and means 'goat water' and indeed there are a large number of goats in an area well watered by the Sankuru river. Formerly the place was known as Bakwanga, the name of the clan living in the area when first developed as a mining community, nothing further is known on this name.

Bukavu is a part of the ancient Bushi kingdom, the latter speaking of 'the nobility of Shi', while the modern name replaced the French name of Costermansville and comes from the Bashi bu nkafu or 'the farm of cows'.

Kananga had been known as Luluaburg as it lies on the Lulua river. The modern name is from the Tshiluba word kanangayi or 'a place for peace or love' and continues to be a meeting place for chieftains to settle disputes and agree treaties.

Kisangani had been known as Stanleyville, again a reminder of Henry Morton Stanley, with the modern version a Swahili transaltion of the local boyoma or 'city on the island'.

Matadi is from the local Kikongo language and means 'stone'. This refers to the steep inclines everyone needs to negotiate when travelling to or from Matadi, leading to a delightful local saying which maintains anyone living in Matadi has to be fully conversant with the verbs meaning 'to go up', 'to come down' and 'to sweat'.

Mbandaka was known as Equateurville when founded by Henry Morton Stanley in 1883, as it was thought to lie on the equator. The present name comes from a prominent local leader.

Baraka comes from a Swahili word and means 'lucky'. This seems an unusual idea for a place with no paved roads, no running water, no electricity, and was the centre for the cross-border Maoist insurgency for more than two decades.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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