People & Culture

Many peoples

The sport that binds

Vincent Kompany playing football with children from KinshasaThere are some things which bring people together – supporting the national football team is one of them. International players with ties to DR Congo include Fabrice Muamba and Vincent Kompany (seen here at SOS Children's Village in Kinshasa).

With one of the largest populations in Africa, spread across a huge area, the people of DR Congo are made up of many hundreds of different groups, speaking a variety of Bantu languages.

The most common native languages are Kikongo in the southwest, Lingala in the northwest, Tshiluba in the centre and Swahili in the east. These are the official languages, alongside French, which is spoken or understood across DR Congo.

With over 215 different mother tongues, the DR Congo is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. This means that when two Congolese people meet at random, it is extremely unlikely they will speak the same native language.

A religious nation

Islam in the east

Down the eastern side of the country, slave routes of Arab traders spread Islam. Areas in the east therefore have significant Muslim populations and many mosques.

Portuguese missionaries arrived many centuries ago in the region – see History & Politics – and the Catholic Church remains strong today; around half the population are Roman Catholics.

Other Christian denominations have been growing in popularity. For example, the local Kimbanguist Church now has around 6 million followers. Though the churches have a strong presence, many Congolese combine Christianity with traditional animist practices, which include a belief in the spirits of ancestors.

The Baptist-based Kimbanguist Church was founded by a Congolese preacher called Simon Kimbangu, who began his ministry in the 1920s. He preached pacifism and the equality of blacks and whites. Locked up for thirty years by the Belgian authorities and dying in prison, his teachings still provide inspiration for his millions of followers today.

Many people also believe in ‘evil spirits’ and witchcraft. Children are thought to have close ties to the spirit world, which can lead them to be accused of sorcery and to be cast out of families – see Food & Daily Life.

Musique Zaïroise

Performing a traditional dance in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Music and dance are of huge importance to Congolese people. The region’s music is sometimes referred to as ‘musique Zaïroise’ (from Zaire, the old name of the country).

A unique style arose in the region from the jazz and rumba bands of the 1940s and 1950s. Today, this popular style of African music is known as soukous.

Many instruments are handmade and bands frequently form on the streets of towns and cities. In Goma, an annual Skiff arts festival is held as a showcase for the region’s music, poetry and films.

The recent award-winning film ‘Benda Bilili’ documents the rise of a Kinshasa street band – Staff Bend Bilili. Their tale of international success is made even more remarkable because the band members are disabled (the name of the band means ‘beyond appearances’).