BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Somali Swahili French Great Lakes Hausa Portugeuse

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Africa  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 16:46 GMT
The man who would be Congo's king
King Makoko and his wife
King Makoko says France is indebted to Congo

The traditional king of the Teke people in Congo-Brazzaville has asked the French government to build him a palace.

King Makoko of the Teke says he and his ancestors have not benefited enough from a contract they signed in 1880 with the French explorer, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, and which ceded the Teke kingdom to France.

The arrangement, which lasted until 1962, secured huge profits for the French in terms of natural resources and forced labour.

But King Makoko says it is not too late for the former colonial power to make up.


King Makoko might live in a one-storey concrete house, without electricity or running water, hours down a barely perceptible track through marshland and savannah, but it is hard to imagine a more daunting figure.

The British monarch, for all her gold bathroom fittings and bejewelled headgear, has nothing on King Makoko.

King Makoko of the Teke inspires respect, and not a little awe.

From the panther teeth that hang round his neck indicating his learning in the school of fetishes, or sorcery, to the blood-red robes he always wears and the engraved staff he uses to tap irritably for attention, the king is regal from head to toe.

No-one knows the king's exact age, and it is strictly taboo to ask, but although he must be somewhere in his mid-sixties - an advanced age in a country where the average life expectancy is 45 - the royal back is always straight as a rod.

The king receives his guests in the dilapidated but immaculate front room of his concrete bunker.

He and his royal wife sit at the far end, an ornate red cover spread over their knees, traditional royal paraphernalia spread out before them, such as the pots containing orange pigment which daubs the king's forehead and nose.

The king's first, second and third advisers sit along one wall, his high priest and translator at his side.

The high priest is perhaps the only man in Congo-Brazzaville who can sport a long beard without fear of being mistaken for one of the Ninja rebels who are currently waging war with government forces in the Pool region.

The scene has probably not changed since the French explorer Savorgnan de Brazza first came to swindle the king's ancestor, King Illoh Makoko, in 1880.


But the incumbent, King Makoko, has been king for just five years.

He is only the second king since the institution of traditional kings was reintroduced to Congo in 1991, after a ruling party conference of the Congolese Workers' Party (PCT) went back on its decision of 20 years earlier to throw off such "African" entrapments.

Although the king is entitled - or, some say, obliged - to take many wives, he touchingly told me that he could find none as beautiful as his first wife, and so there have been no others.

The king and his wife have a grown-up daughter but she is not allowed to live with them as she was born before her father was declared king.

But King Makoko has yet to be officially enthroned.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso
The presidential regime and King Makoko enjoy good relations

Under Teke tradition this comes nearer the end of a reign as tribal law dictates that upon enthronement the king must nominate nine of his relatives and 25 of his villagers to succumb to death by accident or illness as a sacrifice.

It is also understood that the monarch will not live much longer after the ceremony.

But for the Teke people, King Makoko is very much a monarch.

His subjects still travel to pay homage to him and he is still brought their disputes and difficulties to settle.

On my trip to visit the king, my guide was President Denis Sassou Nguesso's nephew.

At any other table, Eugene Nguesso would have been the big chief but it is testimony to the king's standing, that in this instance it was very clear who wore the trousers or, rather, royal robes.

With or without a proper palace, in Congo-Brazzaville, King Makoko of the Teke reigns supreme.

See also:

23 Jan 03 | Africa
21 Nov 02 | Country profiles
24 Jun 02 | Africa
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |