Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo

Pointe-Noire is the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo, following the capital of Brazzaville. It is situated on a headland between Pointe-Noire Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Pointe-Noire is the main commercial centre of the country and has a population of 715,334 expanding to well over 1 million when the entire metropolitan area is taken into account.

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Pointe Noire's (Black Point) name originated from Portuguese navigators who saw a block of black rocks on the headland in 1484. From then on, Pointe Noire, called Ponta Negra, became a maritime reference, and then a small fishing village from 1883, after the French signed a treaty with local people, the Loangos. In 1910, French Equatorial Africa (Afrique équatoriale française, AEF) was created, and French companies were allowed to exploit the Middle Congo (modern-day Congo Brazzaville).

It soon became necessary to build a railroad that would connect Brazzaville, the terminus of the river navigation on the Congo River and the Ubangui River, with the Atlantic coast. As rapids make it impossible to navigate on the Congo River past Brazzaville, and the coastal railroad terminus site had to allow for the construction of a deep-sea port, authorities chose the site of Ponta Negra instead of Libreville as originally envisaged. Construction of the Congo-Ocean Railway began in 1921, and led to the foundation of Pointe-Noire on 22 May 1922.

In 1927, drinking water became available in the city, which had about 3,000 inhabitants. The airport was built in 1932. In 1934, Governor Raphael Antonetti inaugurated the Congo-Ocean Railway. The first hospital was built in 1936. That same year, Bank of West Africa (BAO) opened its first branch in the city. In 1942, the Pointe-Noire Harbour welcomed the first ship, and made the city the AEF's seaport. In 1950, Pointe-Noire had 20,000 inhabitants, and became the capital of the Middle Congo, while Brazzaville was the capital city of the AEF.

In 1957, the Middle-Congo became the Republic of Congo, although it was still not independent. Incidents which occurred during 1958 legislative elections led the leaders of the Democratic Union for the Defence of African Interests (Union démocratique pour la défense des interets africains, UDDIA) to transfer the capital to Brazzaville, since Pointe-Noire was under the influence of political opposition. Pointe-Noire continued growing, and was the most modern city in 1960, when Congo gained independence. Then, the oil discovery around 1980 re-attracted people and factories (Elf Aquitaine). The population doubled by 1982, and reached 360,000 in 1994.

Civil wars in 1997 and 1999 caused an influx of refugees from the surrounding provinces (Lékoumou, Niari, Bouenza, Pool) towards Pointe-Noire, causing the population to climb to over 1 million inhabitants. Recently the Government has proposed the development of a new bulk resource port to be constructed at Point Indienne, 30 km to the North of the Port of Pointe-Noire . A meeting was held on 18 December 2012 with a collective of 10 Congo Government Ministries and invited mining companies to discuss the future development opportunities.

Our tour was mainly to see the Diosso Gorge and Mâ Loango Museum outside Pointe Noire, but we did manage to see a small market, the cathedral and the Railway Station (the station is a copy of the train station of Deauville, in Normandy, France).

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Mâ Loango Museum

The museum is located at 25 km North of Pointe-Noire on the road to Bas-Kouilou. This old dilapidated house was the “palace” of the Maloango King Moe (Mo-ay) Poaty III. Moe Poaty III arrived at his new palace in 1954 and lived in this house until he died in 1975. After his death, as the kingdom was abolished by the Congolese authorities because of Marxism-Leninism, the building remained unused for 6 years. In 1982 the former royal residence was transformed into the current Mâ Loango Museum.

The museum was founded with the aim of protecting cultural heritage. There are over 300 exhibits and documents, as well as a dozen different collections, illustrating historical events and documents that show the evolution of Congolese society. Objects of great artistic value are displayed alongside simpler objects relating to everyday life that are considered important in the study of ancient Congolese people. Traditional work tools include hoes, axes, knives, wooden bellows, gourds, and adzes. Jewelry and traditional clothing include loincloths, headdresses, and the Tchikumbi costume. Domestic items are characterized by a rush mat, as well as straw and kitchen utensils. Weapons and traps include spears, knives, crossbows, hunting wooden bells, hunting wicker traps, and nets. Traditional objects of worship include stone statuettes, Punu mask, the Kidumu mask, as well as the Kebe Kebe and Mboumba figurines.

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Diosso Gorge

Erosion in the area has created the nearby Diosso Gorge, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Congo". Within the gorge's rainforest, there are rock ridges and distinctive red rock cliffs, which can reach up to 50 m in height. The New York Times described Diosso Gorge as "a stunning gorge of plunging, pink cliffs draped with green Central African jungle." According to reports, Gamissamy Issanga, the director of environment at the Congo's research ministry, once approved the dumping of 1 million tonnes of oil, acids and solvents in the gorge. The gorge is said to be inhabited by the female spirit of Mboma, who takes the form of a snake

On to Sao Tome

African Trip