The Teke people (Tio/Bateke) are an amalgamation of agriculturalist, skillful fishermen and powerful river-traders as well as Kiteke-speaking ethnic group of Central African Bantu origins. They occupy a series of savanna plateaus spanning more than 120,000 km2 across south-eastern Gabon, the center, the south and the north of Republic of Congo, and south-western Democratic Republic of Congo (Dupré & Pinçon 1997).

Great installation ceremony of the new King Makoko, King of Tekes at the Royal Mausoleum. Courtesy Patrick Robert

The name "Teke" means "to buy," and it shows the occupation of the people was trading. According to their denomination, François Ewani (1979:56) states that "the terms Teke and Tyos designate the same people speaking the Kiteke language or Etyo".
Its population is situated mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and with a minority in Gabon. In the Republic of Congo, Teke can be found in the departments of the Plateaux where they are the major community and are neighbours of the Mbosi and the Moye, the Cuvette-ouest where they are neighbours of the Mbosi, the Pool where they are neighbours of the Kongo, the Niari and the Bouenza where they are neighbours of the Kongo, and the Lekoumou where they are neighbours of the Kongo.
Teke people

Several subgroups form the big whole human Teke. One can mention: Boma, Nzikou, Nziziu, Kukuya, Angungwel or ngungwel (Bangangoulou), Fumu, Mfununga (Wumbu), Nzabi, Sisi, Tsangui, Mbamba, Yaka, Teke-Tsayi, the Lale, Tegue (Teke-Alima), Mbeti (Mbere).
                           Teke woman from Gabon in traditional costume

According to Abraham Constant Ndinga-Mbo (1984:49) Teke are the oldest stratum of the Bantu population in the Republic of Congo. The historical analysis considers three ways of the first Bantu migration movements, leaving all of the basin of the Nile: the southern way, the equatorial way and the northern way. The Bantu groups borrowed the Nordic way. Indeed, this itinerary is the one that would have been followed by the Bantu detachments that, after having crossed the south-Sudan, the present country of the Central African Republic, reached the region of the Chad lake. This lagoon region of Chad has, it seems, served as a temporary habitat to these Bantu groups before migrating again toward the basin of the Benue (Itoua, op.cit.: 51-52) The Benue was not also a definitive habitat for all of them. From this position the Bantu groups took another migration southwards while borrowing three directions (Guthrie, 1985):
- The first wave had driven the Bantu from the zone between the Benue and the Cross-country while following the Atlantic coast, colonizing the region between the Sangha and the Ogoué;
- The second and the third allowed the Bantu to cross the big equatorial forest from the east to the west. The first group crossed the course of the high Ogoué to reach the Pool Malebo (Stanley Pool). The second group reached the Congo by the Sangha.

Gabon`s President Ali Bongo Ondimba and ethnic Teke man with his First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba arrive at the opening ceremony of the Francophone Summit in Montreux 

These directions seem to be those that would have been followed by the Teke peoples living in Gabon and Congo, and the Maka of the Sangha, after several centuries of stay in the region of the Bénoué that they would have reached before 2500 BC.
The first migrants, the Teke that occupy the high hills covered with savannas and shallows accommodating some forests galleries, arrived on these lands before 1400 of our era. They already knew to work with iron and to weave the raffia that they found in the galleries. They already practiced agriculture and hunt in savanna with tools made of iron, the breeding of goats and poultry. Their food régime, since the installation on their present land, is dominated by the tubers: cassava, yam and potatoes.

                               Teke man from the Republic of Congo

Dominique Ngoie Ngalla (1985) referring to the founding myths, reveals that the Teke would come down from Nguunu, this ancestor of most populations of the south-Congo. Successors of the Pygmies (Tswa, Baboongo and Babi) in the penetration in Congo, they occupied a vast territory that Gilles Sautter has delineated from the Mambili (to the north) to the buttresses of the Mayombe. On these vast sites, they founded a big kingdom of Tio, rival of the Kongo kingdom. In 15th and 16th centuries, Teke waged a war with the Kongo to southwest, and by the mid-fifteenth century they were powerful traders in tobacco and slaves. The Teke kingdom, by the early 18th century, grown large and very powerful through trade and military conquest. It extended on both sides of the Congo (DR) River from Malebo Pool (formerly Stanley Pool) northward to the area around Bolobo.
Belgian Congo - Bateke village near Leopoldville. The Bateke are a Central African ethnic group that speak the Teke languages. Belgian postcard sent in 1913.
Belgian Congo - Bateke village near Leopoldville. Belgian postcard sent in 1913. © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection

Their king (Onkoo) is known in history under the appellation of Makoko. Under the thrust, nearly simultaneous of the Mbosi to the north and the Kongo to the south, the Teke abandoned vast extended of their territories to confine themselves in their present boundaries where there are in the center vast and arid hills and mountains.
In 1880, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza- French citizen- started a trading station, which later became Brazzaville, near Malebo Pool. De Brazza met the great Teke King, Ilo Makoko and negotiated with him for the region to become a French Colony. In 1882, the Kingdom of Teke was ceded to the middle Congo colony (part of French Equatorial Africa), of which de Brazza was the Commissioner-General. In the early 19th and 20th centuries the French operated a harsh, violent, and oppressive regime, and Ilo Makoko`s successor tried unsuccessfully to revolt against the Colonialist in 1898. Over three quarters of the Tekes were killed in reprisals. Independence was finally won 1960 as part of the Republic of the Congo.

The Teke historically breed dogs and cats for domestic purposes. The chien Bateke is a small lean hunting dog with a short, medium gray coat. The chat Bateke is large cat with nearly the same coloring as the dog. These animals constitute landraces, rather than formal breeds (they are not recognized by any major fancier and breeder organizations). A majority of domesticated cats and dogs in areas bordering the Congo River are of these breeds, though ownership of domesticated animals in general is rare in the region.
Casimir Zagourski (1883-1944), Teke Chief, Belgian Congo, L’Afrique qui disparait! Series 1, no. 3, c. 1929-37, silver gelatin print on postcard stock. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

The notable Teke people include Omar Bongo, former President of Gabon, and his son Ali Bongo Ondimba, current president of Gabon as well as Charles David Ganao (1928-2012), Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo (1996-1997).

El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba (born Albert-Bernard Bongo; 30 December 1935 – 8 June 2009), was an ethnic Teke man and a Gabonese politician who was President of Gabon for 41 years from 1967 until his death in 2009.

Teke are also known for their creative arts. Tekestatues have a religious function, but are above all used for their magical qualities. The Teke have two sorts of statue: the Nkida which do not have a magical charge, and the Butti which do.
Teke statues are small in size, between 15 and 80 cm. There are generally parallel lines along the cheeks that represent tattoos. The forms are squat. The style of the statues is ‘cubist’ with angular forms and a helm shaped coiffure. The trapezoid beard is a sign of authority and prestige among the Teke. The mouth has important ritualistic significance; half open but doesn’t reveal the teeth. The arms are usually down by the sides, bent at a right angle, the hands placed on either side of the stomach; sometimes they have a magical charge or ‘bilongo’. The legs are usually bent, but there are some squatting statues. Teke statues are rarely feminine.
Butti statue Teke -Republic of  Congo

Nkida statues represent an important person that has passed on (a famous hunter, a father or mother of a large family, a great cook, a well known warrior, a good fisherman, a great warrior…). This statue is uniquely representative; it does not carry a magical charge.
The Teke from the North West, notably the Tsaye, use small disc shaped masks. These round flat masks, divided horizontally by a strip, are decorated with abstract geometric motifs, white, black, blue, red or brown. Holes were made around the edge in order to hook on a costume made of raffia, feathers and fibres which hid the dancer. Two slits allowed the dancer to see out without being seen. At the back of the mask, a u-shaped roll surrounded the dancer’s head.

                                           Teke mask
The Bateke Plateaux is a geographical area extending across three Central African countries roughly bounded by the cities of Franceville, Gabon; Brazzaville, Republic of Congo; and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The plateaus themselves are a series of six elevated areas located primarily in the Republic of Congo. In Gabon, the Bateke Plateaux area comprises the foothills of these largely Congolese plateaus.
Soils and Geology: Dominated by grassland and riparian forests, these plateaus are part of an ancient sand dune system called the Kalahari Sands (Haddon 2000). The Kalahari Sands system finds its northernmost extension in Central Africa (Haddon 2000). The plateaus are composed of two layers of sands including aeolian deposits from the Tertiary period from the Kalahari Desert and a second layer of ochre sands (Peyrot 1991). The sands represent some of the deepest sand deposits in the world. In Gabon, they form the divide between the Ogooué and Congo River basins.
These sands and their savannas end abruptly in south-eastern Gabon where rainforest on laterite soils begins. This meeting of two substrates favours a forest-savanna mosaic which creates a
diversity of habitats for both forest and grassland dwelling people, plants, and animals.
The Bateke Plateaux landscape also comprises numerous cirques which are attributed to erosion
related to exceptional rainfall events in the past; these cirques are in various stages of revegetation
(Schwartz and Lanfranchi 1990: 169). The sands have a high percolation rate resulting in heavy water loss despite high rainfall. This high rainfall sometimes confuses vegetation modellers whose models predict forest cover for the plateau area (see Delire et al. 2008). In the Kalahari Sands in Zimbabwe, sand depth and soil moisture have the greatest effect on vegetation structure (Childes and Walker 1987). Despite this, in a continental wide comparison of savannas, the Kalahari Sands had a higher than expected density of trees (Sankaran et al. 2005). This may be partially explained by rooting depth (Holdo and Timberlake 2008).
Rainfall and Climate: Gabon’s rainfall varies from 3,300 mm per year on the coast to as little as 1,500 mm in parts of the interior (White 1983: 73). In 2006, the rainfall records from PPG on the Mpassa River measured 2,650 mm. In 2008-2009, records from the Ekouyi –Mbouma study site measured 2,890 mm (Fig. 2). Both of these measurements exceed the ranges normally reported for the area including 2,000-2,250 (Vande Weghe 2008: 33), 1000-2,000 (White 1983: 73), 1,800-
2,000 (Mpoinza and Samba-Kimbata 1990: 36), or “greater than 1600 mm” (Schwartz and Lanfranchi 1990: 169). In the plateau area, rains seem to be quite variable depending on whether one is on a major river valley bottom, like the Mpassa, where the 2,600 mm per year occurred or whether on a tributary of the Mpassa, as in the case of the 2,890 mm reading at the village of Ekouyi. Irregularity is to be expected between years, however, rainfall variation in the Plateaux Bateke is exceptional and can vary by more than 15% between years (a variability only rivaled by Mt. Cameroon) (Mpounza and Samba-Kimbata 1990: 39).
According to PPG records, daytime temperatures were nearly constant 2004 – 2006 ranging
between 24.4 – 26.8°C. However, night time temperatures vary seasonally, being notably colder
than daytime temperatures in the dry season. Wind direction and storm fronts also change seasonally, with dry season winds coming from the south-west and rainy season winds coming from the north-west.
Fauna:  Faunal diversity is not exceptionally rich, but the species assemblage is unusual for this part of Gabon. In this region, lions once roamed the savanna, Grimm’s duiker finds its range limit
(Kingdon 1997), as do numerous plant species more common in the Zambesian vegetation to the south. The most common animal species in these savannas are Grimm’s Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), Side-striped Jackal (Canis adustus), Yellow-backed Duiker (Cephalophus silvicultor), and to a lesser extent the African Civet (Civettictis civetta), Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer subsp. nanus) and Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) (Bout 2006).
Flora:  New plant species endemic to the Plateaux forests have been discovered (Stone et al. 2006) as well as in the savanna, but most grassland species are not endemic to the area
(Walters et al. 2006). The savanna vegetation ecology has been studied in depth, particularly
around Brazzaville (Koechlin 1961a; Koechlin 1957). In the Plateaux Bateke, several habitats exist including a variety of grasslands (humid, woody, and herbaceous). These are scattered between copses and riparian forests. These savannas end where the major forest block begins (see White 1983). There seems to be little correspondence between sand type and savanna type, particularly in the open and shrubby types. Therefore, catena drawings have not been given.
Herbaceous savanna (kape): This category represents grassland without a major woody component (e.g. except for occasional individuals of Annona senegalensis) Grasses can vary in dominance and include a mixture of Anadelphia afzeliana (Rendle) Stapf, Ctenium newtonii Hack,
Elionurus hirtifolius Hack., Loudetia simplex (Nees) Hubb, Melinis nerviglumis (Franch.) Zizka, Panicum juncifolium Stapf, Schizachyrium thollonii (Franch.) Stapf, and Sporobolus congoensis Franch.
Wooded savanna (mpila): Wooded grassland abuts the edge of the forest and is dominated by the savanna trees Hymenocardia acida Tul. and Annona senegalensis Pers., with less frequent tree species representing Maprounea africana Müll. Arg., Ochna afzelii R. Br. ex Oliv., Bridelia ferruginea Benth., Syzygium guineense (Willd.) DC., and Vitex madiensis Oliv. Sometimes beneath the canopy of Albizia adianthifolia (Schumach.) W. Wight trees dense stands of Aframomum alboviolaceum (Ridl.) K. Schum. and Hyparrhenia cyanescens (Stapf) Stapf can be found in association with a large termite mound (Fig. 3b). Bird species specific to this area include (pers. comm. P. Christy): Sooty Chat, Fiscal Shrike, White Browed Scrub Robin, Amathyst Sunbird, Rattling Cisticola, Cabanis Bunting, Striped Kingfisher, Cape Turtle Dove, Pale Flycatcher, and Fork-tailed Drongo.
Humid grassland (yohro): Some hills form catchments where wet grasslands or peat bogs form (Makany 1972). These are dominated by herbaceous species of Xyris spp., Utricularia spp., Mesanthemum radicans (Benth.) Korn., and are sometimes associated with the woody species Clappertonia ficifolia Decne.
Copses (kadjia): Copses are small forests that are often former village sites, frequently located on hill tops. The vegetation of these is mainly secondary species including Oncoba welwitschii Oliv., Vernonia conferta Benth., Laccosperma secundiflorum (P.Beauv.) Kuntze, Gnetum africanum Welw., Dioscorea praehensilis Benth. and Millettia laurentii De Wild.. Fruit trees can also be present including avocado and sapho (Dacryodes edulis (G. Don) H.J. Lam). These areas are
sometimes cultivated and sometimes used as sources of gathered materials for basketry, leaf sauces, and wild fruits. The canopies of these copses are often punctured by emergent oil palms; these testify that a given copse was formerly a village site.

The Teke or Tyos (Tios) speak the Kiteke language or Etyo," which is a Bantu language belonging to the larger Niger-Congo language family.

These plateaus also represent distinct Bantu language groups in the B70-B79 range (Guthrie 1953). Numerous attempts have been made to classify the languages and thus the people, with various authors attempting to subdivide them into as many as 16 sub-groups (Sautter 1960) or as few as Guthrie’s ten. Work conducted by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Linton 2008) over the past 10 years in both the Republic of Congo and Gabon indicates that there are 12 language subgroups comprising approximately 390,000 speakers in the three countries.

Bateke early migrations
Vansina’s (1990) seminal work on Central African history based on linguistic analysis provides a synthesis of Equatorial African history. Early large-scale Bantu migrations into the Bateke Plateaux ended around 1000 AD; smaller migrations continued influenced by politics and resources. During this early phase in history, Vansina (1990) notes the development of nature spirit-linked land tenure and the rise of early more centralised political structures.

This migration story differs substantially from that offered by southern Bateke myth which indicates that there was joint establishment of several ethnic groups including the Kongo, Bateke, and Vili peoples (Ebouli 2001; Soret 1973). Soret indicates that this myth matches observations by the Portuguese in the 1500s (1973: fig. 35), however, this analysis predates that of the linguistic one offered by Vansina. Others indicate that the Bateke were the first occupants, after the Pygmies, in Central Congo, which may be an attempt to claim to be first occupiers of the land (Ndinga-Mbo 1981: 75). The first metal-working and plantation burning in the Haut Ogooue were noted in 400 B.C. (Clist 1995).

A stopover of Chief Makoko in Brazzaville, French Congo. Leader in uniform with tribe. French flag in the background. Congo Français. Photograph by J. Audema General. circa 1905

Establishment of the Bateke kingdom: domains ruled by land spirits
In M-C. Dupré’s comprehensive work on Bateke history as viewed through the lens of metal working, she describes six periods in Bateke history from 1000 AD to present (Dupré and Pinçon 1997). With data contributed from archaeological findings at the edges of the Bateke kingdom, historical notes, and oral history from the Bateke Tsayi of Zanaga, Congo, Dupré proposes a cyclical history centering on the “dilemma of man versus riches” (1997:199).
Throughout the six phases proposed, there is a bi-cephalous rule with a tendency towards one or the other of two poles: that of frugality represented by the village chief and that of excess represented by the land chief. The tendency was driven externally by factors of resource extraction, trade, and foreign influence. In the following section I try to mesh Dupré’s and Vansina’s perspectives on Bateke history.

Early in Bateke history, around 1000 AD, metal working was prominent and the mediator between humans and the land spirits was the ngaa, or medicine man. Land spirits, or nkira, were a source of political power in the landscape, mediated by a land chief, or ngantse. Vansina notes that this was the first step in the emergence of the savanna kingdoms south of the equatorial rainforest (Vansina 1990). Around 1100AD, there is the first centralisation of power on the plateaus with the introduction of a supreme land spirit: the Nkwe Mbali, symbolised by the lion. This spirit, also called the “Lion’s court” is, to this day, spiritually centred on the Lefini River’s Mah Falls, in the Republic of Congo where six anvils are buried. These anvils represent the power of the Bateke ruler, the Onkoo (or Makoko) and five ngaa. At this point, there is a centralisation of power over four plateaus (between Mbe and the Koukouya Plateau) and the formation of the Bateke kingdom which ruled over the 12 domains (subdivisions of land ruled by land chiefs) of the Mbe Plateau where the Onkoo lived. Elsewhere in the savannas south of the equatorial rain forest, the Kongo and Loango kingdoms were developing in line with the Tio (eastern Bateke) kingdom, which Vansina dates to the 1300s.

               Visitor bows before Teke Makoko (King)

The Bateke kingdom is the least centralised of the three, where the land chiefs autonomously held sway over their territories, mediating between the nature spirits and humankind. Land chiefs also existed in the Kongo kingdom, but there they were directly accountable to the king. Where the Bateke based their rule on a nature spirit, the adjacent kingdoms ruled by virtue of their ancestors. The geographical area associated with nkira coincides almost exactly with that of the geographical
distribution of Bateke people. In contrast, the Teke-derived nkani political structure (based on
judges) expanded well beyond the borders of the Tio Kingdom (Vansina 1990: 148).
Charles David Ganao  (20 July 1927 – 6 July 2012) was a Teke man and a Congolese politician who served as Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo from 27 August 1996 to 8 September 1997. Ganao was born in Djambala, in the present-day Plateaux Department of the Republic of Congo.

According to Dupré and Pinçon, by 1200-1400 AD trade relations were developing for the first time at the Bateke kingdom’s edges. Migrations towards the south occur and it is a time of warfare against the Kongo kingdom. During the 1500s commerce on the Congo River becomes important with the opening of the large market at Malebo Pool (between Brazzaville and Kinshasa). At this point, the Onkoo strikes a deal with a major Bateke river trader of the Congo named Ngobila. Ngobila, who formerly paid tribute to the Onkoo, is now liberated from this duty and is the only person besides the Onkoo empowered to wear the sacred lion skin. The Loango are trading partners with the Bateke in the interior and the Portuguese observations in 1598 are the first written accounts of the Bateke and other peoples (Pigafetta and Lopés 1883).
The Portuguese enter into trade with the Loango kingdom and export slaves to Brazil (Pinçon 1991). At this point, the slave trade becomes a diversifying factor in the economy; it equalizes the status of people, reducing the concentration of power in the elite groups by creating a merchant middle class (Vansina 1990).

Separation of the north western Bateke from the Tio Kingdom: Amaya Mokini
and the rise of the leopard
During the 1600-1700s economic activity destabilizes the authority of the Onkoo; additionally a series of powerful cults are introduced in various plateaus which compete with the Onkoo’s authority. The major challenge is the introduction of a powerful cult surrounding 12 nkobi fetish boxes; these infiltrated the Tio Kingdom along the Likouala trade route, most likely originating with the Loango Lemba cult (Vansina 1990). Vansina indicates that the Atlantic trade increased riches dramatically, allowing rulers to buy the nkobi fetishes. By 1750, this allowed the Bateke on the northern edge of the Tio kingdom to adopt this alternative source of power and become independent from the kingdom.

                                   Bateke people of Gabon. Circa 1905

It is at this time that the spiritual centre of Amaya Mokini gains prominence; it is the highest point on the Ogooué-Congo River drainage divide and the centre of north-western Bateke mpu or power. The Nkani gain power and form a decentralised ruling system based on “small states organised in community villages under the authority of a chief” (Ebouli 2001: 32). This creates a series of hierarchies that Ebouli classifies in descending order as country (kasi) to land (ntse) to village (mpuru) to house (ndjo); each level having a leader. This is in stark contrast to the Tio Kingdom in which power is strictly centralised at Mbé.

The King Makoko Ilo flanked the casket containing the treaty of cession of territories Bateke to France. Circa 1880.

As a further contrast to the Onkoo’s Nkwe Mbali, Amaya Mokini is called Nkwe a Nzami or the
“Court of God”. According to Dupré and Pinçon (1997), Moubie, a Bateke-Tsayi hero, was one
of the first to discover the power of Amaya, an act which soon attracted the attention of the
Koukouya, the Teke-Alima, the Ntsabi, and even the Onkoo himself. In myth, Amaya is an area named after the son from an illegitimate union between the wife of an nkani and a land chief named Amaya. Dupré and Pinçon (1997) indicate that this form of myth telling, in which many political terms are layered, is typical in Bateke history. A place of mystic origins, stories of Amaya Mokini are still kept by the ebaningi, the former emissaries of the land chief (Le Bomin 2004).

Amaya Mokini represents a departure from the rule by the Tio Kingdom. Tio authority is
replaced by the Nkani, an initiation brotherhood (Ebouli 2001) whose power is based on the
leopard (Dupré and Pinçon 1997). “One sees how the trips to Amaya Mokini served to reorganise
the relationships between diverse Teke groups” (Dupré and Pinçon 1997: 74). From
the rise of Amaya as an alternative Teke power base, a series of new political structures are cast
in the different subgroups. The Koukouya Plateau sees the rise of the leopard and the
introduction of the sky lords who fought it (Bonnafé 1978). The coming of the sky lords
changed the way in which the land chief ruled, creating a bi-cephalous system, where earth and
sky lords ruled together. Further to the south, the discoverer of Amaya’s power moves into
Teke-Tsayi country, bringing the Nzineke lords and a political structure organised around the
Moubial chiefs (Dupré 1990; Dupré and Pinçon 1997). Leopard symbolism penetrates many
parts of the area, creating new political alliances and replacing the lion of the Tio Kingdom in
many plateaus except Mbé itself.

These events mark the disintegration of the Onkoo’s power. For the Tsayi, Dupré (1997) notes that there were out-migrations from the Koukouya Plateau to avoid the tribute relationship with the Onkoo. Further separating the eastern Bateke from those of the edges, around 1840 a series of border wars broke out between the northern Teke, the Mbede, and Mboshi (Vansina 1990). The Mboshi pushed the north-western Bateke out of the Alima area and into the present day Lékoni area (Dupré & Pinçon 1997; Lotte 1953), which in turn pushed the N’dumu towards Franceville (Milleto 1951).

The Onkoo and de Brazza: 1880
Despite wars and a loss of supporters, the Onkoo still held sway over the Pool area on the Congo River. During these perturbations in and around the Kingdom, de Brazza was exploring the plateaus in the trading interests of the French (de Brazza 1888; de Brazza 1887). In de Brazza’s travel notes, he carefully delimited the extent of the Bateke kingdom (Brunschwig 1972:52; 30 Oct 1880 de Brazza). Brunschwig notes that these limits stretched from Nkhemi River south to Malebo Pool and then inland to the Mpama River near the Koukouya Plateau. He further notes that the Mfuunu of Congo-Kinshasa, the Nguugalu of the River, and the Koukouya all recognized the importance of the Onkoo but did not have a tribute relationship with him and were not represented in his court (Brunschwig 1972: 52). It was during this time of reduced influence of the Tio Kingdom that the French signed a trade treaty with the Bateke of the Pool (de Brazza 1880). A year later, in 1881, Stanley made an  agreement with a powerful Teke ivory trader named Ngaliema to establish a post in present day Kinshasa (Pakenham 1992: 151).
De Brazza`s convoy of Batéké Franceville in Le Monde illustrated, 1884 (© MCAD)

By 1884, the signatory Onkoo had died (Dolisie 1927), prompting the French to guess the identity of the new successor and how he would influence trade. The Bateke still controlled the Pool despite pressure from the Bobangi river traders. Vansina writes that eight years after signing the treaty, the competition with the European economy significantly reduced Tio trading power (Vansina 1973: Chapter XI). Guiral in 1889 noted the preference by Central Africans for European wares and the competition this created for locally-made items. As the Congo River trade gained importance, trade by river replaced traditional overland trade that used foot paths which had once connected the Tio and Loango kingdoms (Vansina 1973).

                            Artistic impression of Teke Ilo Makoko

During this time of increased trade in the Pool area, the Bateke began to withdraw from the trade economy and moved into the plateaus. While the Bobangi river traders pushed into the Pool, there were increased Bateke migrations northward out of the Tio Kingdom. Vansina (1973: 496) notes that,
"Like the impact of the environment, the impact of external trade can be found in all
aspects of life. It was so serious that in the 1880s the ecological balance between man
and his environment on the plains was disturbed."

Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza in Congo

This disturbance was linked to low labour availability to grow food for the urban market, and
malnutrition. Dupré interprets this withdrawal as a return to the land spirits because the Bateke
attributed the sleeping sickness epidemic that had struck the plateaus to their neglect.
Concessions and the rural exodus: 1900s
According to Papy, the interior plateaus held little economic interest for the French, resulting in their reduced contact with the Bateke than compared with neighbouring groups (1949). Coquery-Vidrovitch’s work on the concession system in the AEF gives some insight into the reduced economic development in the area. In the Alima area, oil palm plantations and Ongokea fruit gathering operations were introduced, however the French considered the Bateke to be indifferent, not intelligent, and great sorcerers.
The Bateke themselves chose to withdraw rather than submit to the French who they felt had
deposed their ruler. Coquery-Vidrovitch (1972) indicates that the French left the Congo “backcountry” somewhat untouched, maintaining only weak activities in the plateaus. The Bateke themselves seemed to be particularly resistant to these activities to the degree that they are even called, “losers”.
While other populations in Congo were used as labourers in mineral exploitation, particularly copper, “le plateau Batéké, peuple de Téké, d’Achikuya, de Tegué (sur l’Alima) et de Djikini (sur le Kouyou), resta longtemps fermé » Coquery-Vidrovitch 1972 : 82-3. The Bateke were seen as having scattered villages that conducted irregular commerce with the concessions. In particular, the Koukouya Plateau was known as “le refuge de toutes les fortes tetes” (Moyen- Congo Rapport Annuel 1913 cited in Coquery-Vidrovitch 1972:83).
Bateke of Congo sidelined in their former territories (1950s)
Brazzaville was established on Bateke territory but, rather than working with resident Bateke, the French brought in labourers from neighbouring ethnic groups. In Potopoto, a workers’ city developed outside Brazzaville, the Bateke numbered 3,200 out of 37,800 workers. In 1950, the Bateke numbered 4,000 to the 16,000 Balali (Sautter 1966: 384). This didn’t sit well with the
Bateke residents, who proclaimed, "de Brazza a dit que cette terre était aux Bateke. Brazza a signé la grande paix avec les Bateke. Je dis, moi, aux Balali: cette terre n'est pas à toi, tu es un
voleur. Papy 1949 : 128

                       Cultural portrayal of  Ngalifourou, Queen of Teke (Congo)

These sentiments have been sung by Bateke musician “N'gantshie” Strervos Niarcos of Kinshasa, and descendent of the Roi Ngaliema, former land chief of Kinshasa in the 1880s. Niarcos sang of Bateke land loss on his album “Bateke”. However, he most notably sang about the Religion Kitende, a cult devoted to European clothing (pers. comm. J. Trappido, 2009).
Mbé, the capital of the Bateke kingdom, was cut off from Brazzaville until the 1960s when the road was improved. Strangely, the Bateke who were once the major trading partners of the French had dispersed either into their remote and “inhospitable” plateaus or into an urban society where they were mere labourers (Sautter 1966: 384). Some consider that the Bateke lost out in modern Congo society, despite being the first negotiators with de Brazza and Stanley (Sautter 1966: 385).

Bateke economy is mostly agrarian. There are two large-scale types of cultivation that are
conducted: forest plantations (ngwunu) and savanna plantations (ntieni). Additionally there are
small gardens behind houses in the village (obugha). Trees are planted throughout the village.
Forest plantations (ngwunu): These plantations are the major source of cultivated foods. These are generally jointly managed by married persons who split the labour into the male role of cutting down the large trees in the new plantation, and the female role of planting, weeding, and harvesting. Sometimes single women desiring a plantation will solicit labour from the youth or unmarried men and compensate them with food, alcohol, or money. Some members of the elite as well as city-dwellers from the village will engage the village women’s association to make plantations in their absence. Additionally, some women will go into town to help their urban relatives make plantations there or to make smaller secondary plantations for their own consumption during frequent town stays.
Early in the long dry season in June, men and women set about clearing the brush in the subcanopy
of the forest. By early July, the men begin the task of chopping down the large trees. The vegetation is left to dry and by mid-August the plantations are ready to burn. Planting begins in September or October. Crops planted in ngwunu include manioc (Manihot esculenta Crantz), three to four varieties of forest yams (Dioscorea sp.), calabash (Lagenaria sp.), small amounts of corn (Zea mays L.), Talinum triangulare (Jacq.) Willd., Basella alba L., Celosia argentea L., Solanum sp. (ntiangui) and gourds for their oil seeds (Cucumeropsis mannii Naudin). Extensive plantations of
pineapple (Ananas comosus (L.) Merr.) are planted, something that began in the 1950s. These are used for wine making. Formerly, wine was only made from the naturalised and smaller species of Ananas sativus Schult. & Schult. f. which is found in the forest, some hunting camps, and old village sites. Some women still gather these pineapples, which are sweeter, for wine making. This is locally referred to as the Bateke pineapple (kantu atege)
Savanna cultivation (antieni): Following the planting of ngwunu, in October and November women create plantations or antieni. These plantations are largely for yams but may also contain manioc. This process occurs in new savanna not far from the village but outside the goat grazing zone. Antieni (sometimes called apayi or ekala) can be created in groups or alone. The process consists of using a large hoe to overturn the sod, creating long furrows (ekala) numbering about 20 in the average plantation. These furrows are then planted with at least three varieties of savanna yam (e.g. mva) and one variety of a tuber (njolo) in the mint family. Also planted are Bateke
groundnuts (Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.), oseille (Rumex sp.), tobacco (Nicotiana sp.), and
sesame (Sesamum radiatum Schumach. & Thonn.). The knife which was used to divide the yam roots which were planted is left in the savanna plantations, struck in the ground, until the first leaves of the yams grow. This ensures success of the plantation.
These plantations require little maintenance. Once they are planted, they are left until the harvest period: February-March for the leaf and seed crops, and July-August for the root crops. Antieni are guarded against predation (particularly against bush pig) and by burning of the tall grass surrounding the plantation just after it is planted. This also avoids accidental fires later destroying the crops.
Dawn gardens (obugha):  Behind houses in the village, small vegetable or medicinal plant gardens are created. Vansina called these small easily-accessible areas, “dawn gardens”. These are surrounded by fences to keep the goats out, and the soil is often improved by the addition of vegetable compost. Vegetables cultivated include aubergine (Solanum sp.), oseille, hot peppers (Capsicum anuum L.), taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott), and sometimes tomatoes (Lycopersicon sp.). Medicinal plants include non-natives such as Sansevieria Thunb., njuma-njuma (Ocimum sp.), and Lantana camara L. Banana trees (Musa sp.) are sometimes planted in these gardens to commemorate a birth. It is here that the placenta of the new-born is buried; later, when severely sick, this person may have a healing ceremony conducted under his/her tree.
Cultivated fruit trees:  Non-native fruit trees are often planted in village forests. These trees sometimes indicate the former homesteads of deceased relatives. The primary tree species planted are mango (Mangifera indica L.), avocado (Persea americana Mill.), oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.), and atanga (Dacryodes edulis) trees. Despite their scattered nature throughout the village, fruit trees always have an owner who has a right to the harvest. The harvest of these trees is
normally consumed by the owner’s household, but sometimes surplus fruit may be sold. Oil palm, one of the most important plants in village life, yields many products including oil, fruit, fibre, and fermentable sap. Only a few decades ago, the cutting down of an oil palm to make palm wine was forbidden since a tree provided much more than wine. Wine was only harvested by climbing to the top and securing the sap without killing the tree. Now, oil palms are regularly cut down for making palm wine.
Hunting:  Hunting is a passion for the Bateke. Since part of this study is related to the savanna hunting tradition, this form of hunting will be described in detail later.  Cable traps are sometimes set around plantations or along trap-lines. These are checked regularly. Animals trapped this way include porcupine or small gazelles. Sometimes men will hunt alone in the savanna or forest with guns. These can be short excursions or long expeditions on foot, involving camping. Prey of various sizes is targeted including medium-sized birds.
 Hunting is sometimes done by groups of 6-7 men. The party uses a long light-weight net (now made of synthetic materials and purchased ready-made) and dogs to hunt porcupine and small antelope. Previously, stouter nets called awungu were used to catch bush-pig, a craft which was introduced to the Bateke by the neighbouring Obamba forest people at a time when bush pig were devastating their plantations. Today, these stout nets are no longer used nor are bush pig caught in anything but traps or with guns. However, net hunting for porcupine continues. Post hunt, long lengths of these nets can be found drying in the sun behind houses.
Hunting with dogs is the norm. Formerly dogs would wear ndimbi bells that would aid hunters in distinguishing their dogs in the forest. Today, dogs are used to drive game into nets or to run down game that has been shot.
Fishing:  Fish supplements the animal protein in diet throughout the year. While salted and smoked fish are sometimes bought in town, fresh fish is regularly caught with a variety of methods. Sometimes a solitary affair, most active fishing occurs by people working in groups.
Passive fishing: the capture of fish in the absence of the fisher by means of nets, traps, or hooks.
Lassoua: these narrow cone-shaped traps are constructed from palm fibres. During the rainy season, just before a heavy rain, dams are built across small rivers and these traps are placed within the dam to catch fish.
Kayoubi: This trap is a round cage with a one-way entry. Bait is placed inside and the cage is
submerged in water to attract fish and frogs. A small door on the side aids removal of the catch.
Night-hooks: At nightfall, men will set baited hooks in small rivers to catch catfish. The lines are checked the following morning.
Nets: Small nets are sometimes installed in small rivers. These are in places of easy access where the net-owner can check them regularly, such as next to the manioc processing stations.
Active fishing: the capture of fish when the fisher is present.
Bucket (kayuba): This can occur in rivers or in floodplains. When conducted in rivers, the river
is dammed off and emptied with buckets to harvest the fish that are left behind. Often these
areas are near the manioc processing stands in the river, and the walls are left mostly intact.
Thus fishing can occur easily following manioc processing at the end of the day. The wall is
reinstated, and groups of women will use buckets to empty all the water inside the barrier. In
the floodplain, during the dry season when the lakes in the savannas and floodplains are
beginning to dry up, women will dam and empty portions of these.
Stream diversion: sometimes men will make small ox-bows out of forest streastreams to privatise a
fishing spot. Once near Saaye, a major river (the Obia) was diverted for a day by women to capture fish in the drying river-bed.
Pole fishing: This type of fishing is done throughout the year in rivers and lakes.
Noodling: searching submerged holes in river banks for catfish. Holes are located and the fisher
inserts ones hand into the hole, blindly immobilising the fish’s fins and stingers, and removes it.
Sometimes fishers’ bodies are nearly fully submerged during this activity. This form of fishing
yields large fish.
Vegetation mat searching: Vegetation mats may also be searched. Working waist deep in the river, women will uproot all the vegetation in a small stretch and simultaneously flip it over. Then, the vegetation mat is systematically searched for hiding fish.
Basket (njili): In drier times of the year, but not necessarily during the long dry season, groups of women will go fishing with baskets called njili. These are essentially mats that have been folded in half and bound together to create rectangular, loose-weave baskets. The mouth is widened with a coil of liana. Small lakes and portions of oxbow lakes are dammed with aquatic plants and earth.
Then, all vegetation is removed from the interior of the lake. One to two smaller njili are installed in these dams with their mouths facing inwards towards the fishing area. Groups of two then pull larger njili between them to dredge the bottom of the lake, stopping regularly to upright the basket and remove fish, frogs, tadpoles, and trailing vegetation. Every hour or so, the njili in the dams are “rushed”, meaning that a two-some will drag their large njili towards the end basket, forcing some fish to rush into it. The two baskets are simultaneously uprighted and the fish removed. The final hour is spent noodling.
This type of fishing is an all-day affair requiring a group of about 8 women. All sizes of small and large fish are kept, as are frogs and tadpoles. The catch is divided evenly amongst all fisherwomen. Often fresh fish is prepared quickly over a fire and eaten just before heading home that evening.

Social Organisation among the Teke
This is not a centralized state, and the authority of the king is above all religious. The Teke king is sacred. He plays an intermediary role between the spirits and the living. He is the guarantee of both fertility and cosmic order. He was aided by three people that made him undergo a series of enthronement rites over a period of two years. The diviner (Nganga) predicted the duration of the king’s reign by carrying out magical processes. The griots recalled past history, such as the justice and courage of kings.  The king’s main duty was to preserve the prosperity of his kingdom by carrying out specific rituals.

Each family came under the orders of the chief of the family who had absolute life and death rights over the family members. The greater the family unit, the greater the prestige of the chief, and chiefs would take on increasing numbers of slaves in order to increase this prestige.
The village elected a chief and this chief was subordinate to the clan chief who controlled several villages. The chief of the clan possessed a fetish figure called’ father of the earth’, which was a large wooden statue. The lower back of the statue had a band of cloth around it, a piece of metal was stuck in the belly button and the eyes were made from two fragments of mother of pearl. This fetish figure guaranteed the well being and the fertility of the village’s inhabitants. This figure presided over festivities and rituals. It was the guardian of order and could exclude anybody that behaved badly.
At a religious level, the village chief chosen to be the religious chief was the most important. He owned a basket containing the bone remains of ancestors and  magical statues.
The Teke often chose the blacksmith as the village chief, he was an important figure and his responsibility was hereditary. The diviner (Nganga), who was at the same time a healer and a witch, was very powerful. He was paid to give personal statues their protecting powers, and to play the role of priest in case of death or illness. His tools were a mirror, several statuettes, a feather duster, and a rattle made from a hollow dry fruit.
Among the masculine Mungala society, the clan chiefs and the diviners (Nganga) assured the education of the future initiates.
To create a new village the diviner uses a magical statuette and a bell. He tries to obtain the ancestor’s agreement when choosing the position of the new village. Once the Nganga has found it, the men dig a hole, pour in some palm wine and then fill the hole in with white clay. The aim is to thank the ancestors and to obtain their protection.

Religious Belief
The Teke believed in a Supreme Being and creator of the universe, called Nzami. However, they only worshipped an ancestral cult under the supervision of the diviner (Nganga). The Teke worshipped the cult of the genies or spirits of nature. They hoped to obtain their assistance, and when they went hunting they carried with them a small statue to bring them luck.

Nganga means sage, magician, judge, or priest. A person becomes Nganga either by inheriting the position or following a dream. The Nganga owns a statuette containing the soul of an ancestor called Tamakuwi. He is also capable of uncovering witches.
Among the Teke, the cult of the ancestors is very important. The ancestors live in the sacred forests, near rivers, in clearings, in caves…If the descendants do not honour their ancestors they believe that they will come back to torment them, be it with sickness, or mental illness. In order to avoid this, each family worships its ancestors. This cult materializes itself in anthropomorphic statues.

Teke Statues
Teke statues have a religious function, but are above all used for their magical qualities. The Teke have two sorts of statue: the Nkida which do not have a magical charge, and the Butti which do.
Teke statues are small in size, between 15 and 80 cm. There are generally parallel lines along the cheeks that represent tattoos. The forms are squat. The style of the statues is ‘cubist’ with angular forms and a helm shaped coiffure. The trapezoid beard is a sign of authority and prestige among the Teke. The mouth has important ritualistic significance; half open but doesn’t reveal the teeth. The arms are usually down by the sides, bent at a right angle, the hands placed on either side of the stomach; sometimes they have a magical charge or ‘bilongo’. The legs are usually bent, but there are some squatting statues. Teke statues are rarely feminine.
The statue may have been made by the Nganga or the person who wants to own it, perhaps the family chief. It is also possible that a professional sculptor was charged with both the making and sale of the statue.
Nkida statues represent an important person that has passed on (a famous hunter, a father or mother of a large family, a great cook, a well known warrior, a good fisherman, a great warrior…). This statue is uniquely representative; it does not carry a magical charge.
A Butti statue is only effective if it has been consecrated by a diviner or Nganga. The diviner puts a series of diverse ingredients in a small cavity in the statue’s stomach. For a magical statue this might be; vegetable matter, animal or minerals, and if it is a statue of an ancestor, the magical charge might contain hair, nails, or pieces of the dead person’s skin. This mixture is called ‘Bilongo’ or remedy. The reliquary statues of the ancestors are kept in houses and worshipped. They generally have a beautiful shiny patina due to the large number of oil libations, red powder, and fruit and seeds that have been chewed and spat out. The status of the ancestor represented by the statue is signified by a metal necklace.
In order to obtain the services of the magical Butti statue, the first day of the new or full moon, an ointment made of red powder and oil are made for the statue. These rites take place in the morning and might occur before a hunt, a journey, or an important sale…
Janus statues are those of the chiefs.
The form of Bilongo often indicates the function of the statue.
Before leaving for a big game hunt, the diviner calls upon the divine forces. Small statues of between 6 and 12 cm are carried on the hunter’s arms to protect the expedition. Similarly to the other statues, their stomachs are covered in a poultice made of animal matter.
A special statuette, with a cylindrical impasto is used by the Nganga to ease the pains of pregnant women. After the birth, the placenta is buried in the house where the child will be raised. Part of the placenta is also used to mix in with the ingredients for the statue’s magical charge and will protect the child up until puberty. This statue is placed above the burial point of the placenta.
As well as his usual tools (bell made from brass or wood, mirror, feather duster), the Nganga owns a certain number of small statues. One of these, called ‘Matompa’, helps to avoid sleep sickness (trypanosomiasis). For the ceremony dedicated to the fight against this illness, the diviner sacrifices a number of chickens and kid goats, according to the wealth of the village. The animal’s blood is mixed with certain magical substances and is introduced into the hollow space in the statue’s stomach. The statue is then wrapped in a piece of cloth which is attached with a piece of string to the neck and hips. When the statue is finished it is offered to the chief. The ceremony ends in a dance.

Teke Masks
The Teke from the North West, notably the Tsaye, used small disc shaped masks in the framework of their secret society called Kidumu. This political and religious society intervened in all the major events in the social life of the village, notably: the marriage of a notary, a chief’s death, circumcision, an alliance, a judgement. The mask wearer danced alone accompanied by an orchestra at the end of the ceremony.
These round flat masks, divided horizontally by a strip, are decorated with abstract geometric motifs, white, black, blue, red or brown. Holes were made around the edge in order to hook on a costume made of raffia, feathers and fibres which hid the dancer. Two slits allowed the dancer to see out without being seen. At the back of the mask, a roll on three sides surrounded the dancer’s head.

Other Objects Made by the Teke
The Teke also made axes and metal necklaces, notably in yellow copper.

"Makoko, the King of Bateke."
Creator: unknown
Date: 01.01.1918-31.12.1945

Photo source:http://afriktradition.blogspot.com/


  1. Enjoyed this article post very much - extensive and educational information on the Bateke - had to share with those I know. Thank you for your good works forward.


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