Yanzi people

Last updated
Regions with significant populations
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Yansi language

The Bayanzi (or Yan, Yanzi, Yansi people) are an ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who live in the southwest of the country and number about seven million.


The Yanzi speak Kiyansi (or Eyans), a language in the Bantu language family. The largest political unit is the chieftainship, of which there are about 120 under 3 traditional kings of which the most prominent is the Kinkie or Binkie King whose latest figurehead was Mfum' ngol' or Mfumu ngolo as pronounced by Europeans (translated as "the great or strong king") from Kidzweme territory, and recently his successor Mfum' Ntwàl Moka Ngol' Mpat', a Harvard-trained economist.

The Bayanzi are matrilineal, so a child belongs to the clan of the mother.

The Belgian colonial travelers first encountered them at Bolobo on the Congo River, as traders up and down the river. They employed them from 1883, primarily as bodyguards. Later, the Bayanzi were forced to labor on the palm oil plantations and later used as clerks or translators.


The Bayanzi are a people of the southwest Democratic Republic of the Congo who speak a Bantu language. [1] Other names include Batende, Bayansi, Mbiem, Nkaan, Wachanzi, Yansi, Yanzi, Yey. [2]


Democratic Republic of the Congo relief location map.jpg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Pool Malebo
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
River mouths ( Blue pog.svg ) and towns ( Red pog.svg ) in the Congo

The Jesuits recorded local traditions of the Bayansi, which seem to show that they originated from a mix of mainly the North (present Sudan) or Northwest (present Gabon) by mix marriages of tribal chiefs, in a region they called "Kimput" which means "Europa" and seems to refer to Egypt (Hut-Ka-Ptah) or Ethiopia "Punt". They talked of a great river whose waters were salty and which even large sailboats were unable to cross. Perhaps this refers to the Atlantic Ocean or the Nile river or even both. They say that they lived in semi-slavery in the land of Kong Mukoko, and then became traders at the edge of the Pool Malebo. [3]

As of 1908 the Bayanzi ranged from the lower Kasai River to the main Congo River and the Ubangi River confluence. [4] As of 1967 their population was about 200,000 in their own territory, which covered about 25,000 square kilometres (9,700 sq mi). [3] This is the Lower Kwilu River between the mouth of the Kwenge River and the Kwango River. [5] To the north it extends along the left bank of the Kasai River between 15°E and 17°E. To the south it extends along both banks of the Inzia River and Lukula River. It included 60 chieftainships in Bandundu Territory, 30 in the Kikwit area and 30 in Masi-Manimba Territory. [6] In 1960 the Bayanzi demanded creation of a North Kwilu Province. [6]

Social structure

A Bayanzi sawyer of the Bolobo mission, Congo Free State, 1908 A typical Muyanzi 1908.jpg
A Bayanzi sawyer of the Bolobo mission, Congo Free State, 1908

The Bayanzi had a king and a central government. Their political organization is based on the chieftainship, which has well-defined borders within which the male clan are the aristocrats and produce the chiefs, and the female clan are free individuals who provide wives to the aristocrats. [6] Within the chieftainship the village is the primary unit. [7] Traditionally each village had an upstream district for the elders and downstream district for young families. Adolescents of each sex lived in dormitories. Each clan has their own field, and some parts of the forest were reserved for use by one clan. [8]

The Bayansi are matrilineal, considering that the child is formed from the blood of the mother and belongs to the mother's clan. However, the father is responsible for finding wives from outside the clan for his children. [9] Grandparents are thought to be reincarnated in their grandchildren, whether dead or still living. [10]

Colonial contacts

On 30 October 1882 Edmond Hanssens reached Bolobo on the Congo River, where he negotiated for ten days with Kuka, King of the Bayanzi, who then signed a treaty that placed his lands and people under the protection of the International African Association. Hanssens' crews at once began to build a station. Hanssens sent the Eclaireur back to Léopoldville to collect supplies and to bring back Lieutenant Orban to take command of the new station. Hanssens made treaties with the Congolese people at the mouth of the Kasai and acquired land for the Kwamouth post. [11]

At the end of August 1883 Charles Liebrechts visited Kwamouth on the way up the Congo River to help Êmile Brunfaut in Bolobo station in Bayanzi country, which had been burned down. In November 1883 Liebrechts returned seeking reinforcements and ammunition after Bolobo had been burned again. On 18 January 1884, soon after the third fire at Bolobo, Henry Morton Stanley arrived on his way down from the Stanley Falls. [12] Hanssens returned to Bolobo on 3 April 1884, where lieutenant Charles Liebrechts had now formed a good relationship with the Bayanzi. They continued upstream, founded the N'Gandu post and made treaties with the chiefs along the river. [11]

Attilio Pécile, who was associated for three years with Giacomo di Brazzà in his exploration of the region north of the Congo, wrote in 1887 that the Bakales, Fans, and Bayanzi were all still pagans, and mostly cannibals. He said, "The Bayanzi, who have acquired the ascendency along the right bank of the Lower Congo, seem to have come originally from the same regions as the Fans, whom they resemble in physical appearance, character, language, and usages. But while the latter are “land-lubbers,” displaying absolute horror of the water, the Bayanzi have always been great fluvial navigators, so that their original home may have been the Upper Ubangi, slowly advancing down this great artery to its junction with the Congo." [13]

Alexandre Delcommune encountered a convoy of Bayanzi pirogues in March 1888. He wrote,

We see some canoes pass of the Bayanzi, who have a passion for trading and are the big ivory traffickers in this part of the state. They go by water to sell their products to the chiefs of Kinchassa and to this Ngaliema of whom Stanley has drawn such a vivid portrait. Their canoes, sometimes over fifteen meters long, are hardly more than eighty to ninety centimeters wide. The goods are piled up among brightly colored umbrellas. Spaces are kept between the lots for the rowers of both sexes who, numbering fifteen to twenty, paddled with ardor, to the rhythm of a monotonous song of a team leader, standing with a rooster between his feet, on a small platform at the back. They come from the Bolobo region, which is further ahead. [14]

Colonial exploitation

1885 illustration of a Bayanzi execution Congo Execution, Glave.png
1885 illustration of a Bayanzi execution

The Bayanzi were the first indigenous peoples to be employed by the Europeans, which began around 1883. Because the Bayanzi and Bobangi spoke variants of the Bangala language, this became a lingua franca in the region. Probably they were free to work for the Belgians because the Bayanzi in turn employed many slaves. [15] The Catholic missionary August Schynse used the Bayanzi for protection against the local people, traveling with five canoes and men armed with 25 guns. He wrote in 1889 of sleeping on the bamls of the Kasai "in the middle of my Bayanzi army." [16]

Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB) was a subsidiary of the soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers, created in 1911 by William Hesketh Lever, which ran plantations in the Congo Basin for the production of palm oil, using forced labour. [17] Reports by Rene Mouchet and Victor Daco show that some limited improvements were made to the condition of the HCB's workers by 1928 and 1929. However, the HCB was still using forced labour. Daco recommended that local workers should be fed just as imported workers were. Accommodations at many camps had been improved, and there were houses made of baked brick or adobe. However some camps, such as the villages of the Yanzi, were still in a deplorable state. Overcrowding continued to be an issue, as houses were too few in number, in Daco's opinion. Daco believed the existing hospitals were in good state, but that there were too few of them, and that the number of beds should be quadrupled. [18]


The Alliance des Bayanzi (ABAZI) was a party that represented the interests of the Bayanzi, formed in the late 1950s. [19] At the Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference in 1960 in Brussels on the future of the Belgian Congo and its institutional reforms the Alliance des Bayanzi was represented by Gaston Midu and his deputy Wenceslas Mbueny. [20] In the 1960 Belgian Congo general election the Alliance des Bayanzi won 21,024 votes, or 0.95% of the total, and gained one seat in the chamber of deputies. [21] After the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960, there were clashes with other Bakongo and the central government. [22]


    1. Bayanzi British Museum.
    2. Yanzi (peuple d'Afrique) BnF.
    3. 1 2 Malembe 1967, p. 25.
    4. A typical Muyanzi.
    5. Malembe 1967, p. 25-26.
    6. 1 2 3 Malembe 1967, p. 26.
    7. Malembe 1967, p. 27.
    8. Malembe 1967, p. 28.
    9. Malembe 1967, p. 29.
    10. Malembe 1967, p. 30.
    11. 1 2 Engels 1946.
    12. Jadot 1952.
    13. Geographical Notes 1887.
    14. Mumbanza 1997, p. 277.
    15. Samarin 1986, p. 139.
    16. Samarin 1986, p. 143.
    17. Marchal 2008.
    18. Marchal 2008, pp. 94–98.
    19. Zeilig 2008, p. 74.
    20. The Belgo-Congolese Round Table 1960, pp. 62–63.
    21. Nohlen, Krennerich & Thibaut 1999, p. 291.
    22. Olson 1996, p. 602.


    Further reading

    Related Research Articles

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Bandundu Province</span> Province in Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Bandundu is one of eleven former provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It bordered the provinces of Kinshasa and Bas-Congo to the west, Équateur to the north, and Kasai-Occidental to the east. The provincial capital is also called Bandundu.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Équateur (former province)</span> Place in Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Équateur was a province in the northwest of the Belgian Congo and the successor Republic of the Congo, now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo. It had its origins in the Équateur District of the Congo Free State, the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. It was upgraded to the status of a province in 1917. Between 1933 and 1947 it was named Coquilhatville. In 1962 it was divided into three smaller provinces, but there were recombined in 1966. Équateur was one of the eleven provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo until 2015, when it was split into the new, smaller Équateur province, as well as the Tshuapa, Mongala, Nord-Ubangi and Sud-Ubangi provinces.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Index of Democratic Republic of the Congo–related articles</span>

    Articles related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo include:

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Mai-Ndombe Province</span> Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Mai-Ndombe is one of the 21 provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo created in the 2015 repartitioning. Mai-Ndombe, Kwango, and Kwilu provinces are the result of the dismemberment of the former Bandundu province. Mai-Ndombe was formed from the Plateaux and Mai-Ndombe districts. The town of Inongo was elevated to capital city of the new province.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference</span> 1960 meeting between Belgian and Congolese leaders

    The Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference was a meeting organized in two parts in 1960 in Brussels between on the one side representatives of the Congolese political class and chiefs and on the other side Belgian political and business leaders. The round table meetings led to the adoption of sixteen resolutions on the future of the Belgian Congo and its institutional reforms. With a broad consensus, the date for independence was set on June 30, 1960.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Kwango District</span> District in Bandundu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Kwango District was a district of the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It went through various changes in extent. It roughly corresponded to the present provinces of Kwilu and Kwango.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Kwilu District</span> District in Bandundu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Kwilu District was a district of the Belgian Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It roughly corresponded to the present province of Kwilu.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Alphonse van Gèle</span> Belgian soldier

    Alphonse van Gèle, also written van Gele or Vangele, was a Belgian soldier who served as the Vice-Governor General of the Congo Free State from December 1897 until January 1899. He established the Equator Station, or Station de l’Équateur, today Mbandaka, and concluded a treaty with the powerful Zanzibar trader Tippu Tip at the Stanley Falls station, today Kisangani. He is known for having confirmed that the Uele River was the upper part of the Ubangi River.

    Yvon Kimpiobi or Kimpiob-Ninafiding Nki-Ekundi was a Congolese politician who served twice as the President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Sylvestre Mudingayi</span> Congolese politician

    Sylvestre Mudingayi was a Congolese politician who served as the President of the Senate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from October 1965 until June 1967.

    Emery Wafwana was a Congolese politician. He served as Minister of Interior of Luluabourg Province and was a member of the Chamber of Deputies.

    Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB) was a subsidiary of the soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers, created by William Hesketh Lever, which ran plantations in the Congo for the production of palm oil, using forced labour. It was established in 1911, when the soap manufacturer received a concession from the Belgian government for 750,000 hectares of forest in the Belgian Congo, mostly south of Bandundu. By 1923, a Lever soap factory was built there, and by 1924 SAVCO was established. It was the nucleus of the United Africa Company, a principal supplier to the United Kingdom of several key commodities. From 1951 it was producing Lux soap.

    Alphonse Nguvulu Lubunda was a Congolese politician and diplomat.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Districts of the Belgian Congo</span>

    The Districts of the Belgian Congo were the primary administrative divisions when Belgium annexed the Congo Free State in 1908, each administered by a district commissioner. In 1914 they were distributed among four large provinces, with some boundary changes. In 1933 the provinces were restructured into six, again with boundary changes. The number of districts fluctuated between 12 and 26 through splits and consolidations, first rising, then falling, then rising again.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Lac Léopold II District</span> District in Équateur, Belgian Congo

    Lac Léopold II District was a district of the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo. It went through various changes in extent, but roughly corresponded to the modern Mai-Ndombe Province.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Districts of the Congo Free State</span>

    The Districts of the Congo Free State were the primary administrative divisions of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908. There were various boundary changes in the period before the Congo Free State was annexed by Belgium to become the Belgian Congo.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Edmond Hanssens</span> Belgian soldier and colonial administrator

    Edmond-Winnie-Victor Hanssens was a Belgian soldier and colonial administrator. He did much to establish the Belgian presence on the Upper Congo River in the last two years of his life.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Liebrechts</span> Belgian soldier, explorer and administrator

    Charles Adolphe Marie Liebrechts was a Belgian soldier, explorer and administrator in the Congo Free State.

    En Avant (steam launch)

    The En Avant (Forward) was a small steam launch used in the early days of European exploration of the Congo River basin. It was carried in sections past the cataracts of the lower Congo, reassembled at Stanley Pool and launched in December 1881, the first powered vessel on the long navigable section between the cataracts and the Stanley Falls . In the years that followed it played an important role in exploring the Congo river system and carrying Europeans up and down the river and the tributaries as they established trading stations.

    Léon Engulu, or Engulu Baangampongo Bakokele Lokanga was a politician from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was prominent in the politics of Équateur Province in the period leading up to and following independence in 1960, and was governor of various provinces between 1962 and 1970. From 1970 to 1997 he occupied various senior positions in the governments of president Mobutu Sese Seko. From 2003 to 2018 he was a senator.