'The Gentlemen of Bacongo’.
Bacongo, a district of Brazzaville in the Congo, known as the birthplace of the Sape, the religion of elegance. With eccentric and ever so costly fashion they state their identity. It’s essential to look good but it is just as important to live by the rules of elegance and good manners. The most important rule when dressing, for aSapeur, is never combine more then three colors in one look. A Sapeur can enrich his look by using accessories such as his cane and cigar. Sapeurs men can vary in age, profession, personality, taste and appearance, but all belong to the “Société des Ambianceurs Personnes Elégants” also known as la SAPE. The Sape began when the Congo was a French colony.
Many Congolese people were fascinated with French elegance and decided to imitate the French look, a style which was further developed during the transition to independence. In the seventies and the eighties, many Congolese immigrants went to France, and returning to Brazzaville, brought with them “the cult of elegance”.
In order to participate in this most expensive lifestyle many Sapeurs shop at second hand marketplaces and boutiques.
Most Sapeurs use this lifestyle to make their lives better. The Congo today suffers from coming out of the last war, the great African War which spilled over from the Rwanda Genocide and cost the region of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) over 5 million lives.
Today the Congo, sadly, is known as the rape capital of the world, since rape has become the latest weapon in the conflict between the DRC and Angola.
At least 657 cases of sexual violence against women, girls and men, have been reported by UNICEF in September and October this year ( 2011 ) alone. With their colorful and elegant lifestyle the Sapeurs known to many in the region as celebrities, bring light and hope to a culture in distress with their uncanny ability to find joy and happiness in a dark day.
Their relationship with faith is important; a true Sapeur always tries dialogue, does not hate others, and avoids conflict. Their influence and beliefs in fashion amidst such heartache and sorrow so vividly emulated by their fashion and style helps teach good manners and bring joy to the young men and women of the Congo.
During a funeral or a wedding, the Sapeur gentlemen are invited because their presence “ennobles” the ceremony.
photographer Daniele Tamagni