Fashion and Westernization

While the Congolese in Baloji’s music video appear well dressed, it is important to look into why they wear this attire. As mentioned in the last blog post, most of the people in the video are wearing very Westernized clothes, or put in another way, the clothing of their oppressors. Behind the clothing, the men and women in the video looked upset and disappointed, giving a realistic feel for how the Congolese actually felt. There were difficult times in the Democratic Republic of Congo decades before the Belgians had complete sovereignty, but as far as the Congolese people keeping their identities goes, things would get much worse.

During the middle of the twentieth century, the Belgians made the decision to increase the urbanization found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Didier Gondola explains both Belgium’s and the Congolese mindset about urbanization  in “The History of Congo”, saying “The colonial city precipitated the social transformations brought about by colonization… they were the product of the Europeans’ imposition of a new urban order and Africans’ efforts to take hold of the city, to interpret and appropriate urban life, symbols, and spaces” (Gondola 92).

What this is saying is that an entirely new lifestyle was introduced to Africans in the twentieth century. The basis and overall ideas were crafted by Europeans, but there were some decisions that the Congolese chose to add parts of their identity. This is seen in the music video where some of the men are dressed in typical Westernized suits of the 1950s, while other men wear more laid back clothing with patterns and colors that align more with African traditions.

A more large difference is seen more heavily in what the women wear. A handful of the women have very westernized dresses in lighter, duller colors; but there are also women that wear brighter colors and have more interesting designs than what was probably introduced by the Belgians.

With this imagery, it is clear to see an array of different styles and expressions that were seen in the Belgians of this time. Although not every single person wore westernized clothing, this video shows that colonizers have begun to push for these looks more heavily. Their facial expressions show uncomfortability and bits of disdain, which was the internal thoughts of many Congolese who saw their lifestyles forcibly changed.

Through research, I found a Times article from 1949 that explained the mindset of European colonizers, and why they found it important to push their look and ideas on to their colonized “subjects”. In an article titled “European Colonization of East Africa”, the European Press comments that their guidance is necessary “because without the stimulus and stability of good quality of white settlement and the encouragement of white enterprise and investment for development, the country will stagnate” (Times 1949). I recognize that this article is based on on colonizers’ ideas for East Africa, and that this is the European Press (published by the British) and not the Belgians, but this same ideology for westernization was held in west and central Africa. Colonizers were only looking out for themselves, and to them, forcing Africans to follow in their ways (even to the point of dress) was the best thing for their own success. Baloji is commenting on this idea by showing how forcing westernized beliefs only makes people upset and like they lost their identities.

 

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