"The Dandis of the Congo", the men who wear Gucci between hunger and a country of extreme poverty

Despite the great natural riches, Africa has high levels of poverty, and this is reflected in the dusty streets of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, as very few have asphalt, animals, children crying and running, clothes hanging everywhere, some vendors, people sitting trying to forget their hunger.

But this scenario of misery is broken with the arrival of men in bright and colorful suits, hats, and canes, who with pride and gallantry walk through the mud to give a somewhat surreal touch to the streets, because the contrast of poverty with the elegance of these dandies is great. We are going to know more about them, and maybe you will be encouraged to become one of them.

These dandies are called sapeur, they are congregated in Le Sape (the Society of Air Fresheners and Elegant People, for its acronym in French). They have their codes of honor, professional moral conduct. The term dandy arose in the 18th century to designate men who dressed extremely elegantly and with fine manners and being powerful and cultured.

In the Congo, this trend of the dandies took much longer to arrive, a product, it must be said, of their own humiliation and loss of customs to "fit in" in some European societies that try to cover up their racism with an apparent benevolence to the try to "educate and civilize" the African peoples, the migrants who arrive in their countries and who continue to be treated as strangers or even as slaves.

During the 1920s, with the First World War, poverty, the power of some European nations trying to seize wealth and even life on the African continent, a significant migration to Europe began, but those "savages" had to adapt to a new civilization, way of dressing and behaving to live in cities like Paris.

By the late 1930s and 1940s, when some Africans were just beginning to adjust to life in Europe, World War II broke out, and with it, chaos again. The conditions of poverty and death made thousands of migrants from regions such as Congo, Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria decided to return to their places of origin.

The experience of war and life in Europe brought as a consequence independence movements of several African nations, but also that many adopted the fashion they had seen in Paris and other large cities, although giving it an African touch, because it is not only about dress well, but a manifesto against colonialism.

Now the inhabitants of the Congo no longer accepted the used clothes of the European colonialists who ruled their country, but as a form of protest, they now spent their salaries, most of the times miserable, on buying Parisian fashion clothes and going out to the streets to show off the pride that the dominant groups did not have total control over them. Thus they became a very strong anti-colonial group.

The independence of the Congo was achieved during the 1960s and by the 1980s, the new governments tried to ban the dandies, perhaps because their elegance and neatness highlighted more the poverty in which they had plunged the population. Fortunately, this was short-lived, and now members of the Society of Air Fresheners and Stylish People are considered cultural icons.

To be a dandy, they must buy branded clothes, they cannot be a "pirate," and that implies that they ask for credits, save for years to buy luxury suits and shoes that the Congolese living in France wear when they go on vacation to their country. Of course, the dandies live in houses with dirt floors, small and practically without furniture, but with their wardrobe full of suits, ties, hats, and luxury shoes.

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