La Sape, the company of atmospheres and elegant people, was developed in the 1970s between the two Congos. Séverin Mouyengo witnessed this before becoming one of its greatest protagonists. With pedagogy, vitality and humor, he retracts the long journey that remained almost immobile for a long time between Pointe-Noire and Brazza.
Sapology has its followers, enthusiasts and specialists. This book is also aimed at others, as it promises a disturbing journey to say the least. This is the autobiography of Séverin Mouyengo, “the bastard of the sap”, if we believe that the title was given one day in May 1974 during a party in Pointe-Noire, while “he is not 19.
Séverin Mouyengo was first a ngaya, in other words a non-connoisseur, before lying to his mother to get the amount needed to buy “designer clothes” in the most expensive shops in the center of Brazzaville. He was then fourteen years old and threw himself into a world that took him away from school and all other professions for a while.
A process for reuse
The sapology on this side of the river then presents itself as a phenomenon of reusing the dress codes of the former colonizer, with a predilection for clothes or accessories such as sugar cane or felt, which for some dates back to the end of the 19th century or the beginning of 20th century.
The association of colors – according to the 2/2 or 3/3 rule, the interest in the latest way, the way to “take the air” with your “accoutrement” – of the “diatance 16:00”, hear the afternoon walk through the capital streets to nightclubs in the evenings – undermine a discipline that gives the universe very different from each other, but seems obsessed with the desire to appear and the need for social development.
This expression of rising through appearance is found in several anecdotes in the book, from the “gentleman” given by the school principal when he will ask for a schedule adjustment, to the confusion when he takes up his post in the water and forest administration. where his interlocutor constantly takes him to the department head.
He also far mentions a friendship from his youth with “a young white woman”. “Among the indigenous people (pygmies), he writes elsewhere, clothing corresponds to the logic of difference and status, it lacks imaginative value.” If the claim is entirely debatable, it still betrays that the sapphire’s imagination is haunted by colonial trauma, humiliation of rash hierarchies, and fear of contempt.
A non-violent challenge to the established order
The author expresses it very consciously in the appendices and prefers to stick to his own right to an experience that never gets heavy after the analysis. We can not deny the elegance of this election to the one who in 2004 was recognized as a “great Sapper” without even going to Paris.
It was six years after the Civil War forced him to bury all his clothes, he thought for a few days. When he returns home after a year, only a watch and a bracelet will have survived the storm of rain and rain. More than two hundred suits – most of them big names – and more than three hundred shirts have been rendered unusable. Meanwhile, five of his relatives have died of malnutrition.
He writes at the end of the book: “In most cases, the juveniles are young people of popular origin and from modest families, with diminished economic prospects, coming from traditional societies.” Behind this frivolity that transcended the “socialist” governments of Central Africa, there is a challenge to the “established order”, which is accompanied by an apology for “non-violence” and a desire to sublimate everyday life through beauty and joy.
This is also reflected in the many photographs that illustrate this book with its good vocabulary and the international recognition he received late, which led him to travel from South Africa to Japan for advertising space or exhibitions. “Dandy is playing his life because he can not live it,” wrote Albert Camus. And he added: “When dandies do not kill themselves or go crazy (…), they pose for posterity.”
► Séverin Mouyengo, My life in the sape, Librairie La Petite Égypte, 2021.
To listen to rfi.fr:
►Tributes to Papa Wemba: the juices greet the Pope one last time.
►Yvan Amar, “La Danse des mots”: Les Sapeurs du français.