Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà, best known as Pierre Paul François Camille Savorgnan de Brazza (January 26,1852 - September
14, 1905), was a
Franco-Italian explorer, born in Italy and later naturalizedFrenchman.
With the backing of the Société de Géographique de Paris, he opened up for France entry along
the right bank of the Congo that eventually led to French colonies in Central
Africa. His easy manner and great physical charm, as well as his pacific
approach among Africans, were his trademarks. Under French colonial rule, Brazzaville,
the capital of the Republic of the Congo was named in his honor.
Born in Rome on January 26,1852, Pietro
Savorgnan di Brazzà was the seventh son of Count Ascanio Savorgnan di
Brazzà, a nobleman of Udine with many French connections and Giacinta Simonetti.
Pietro was interested in exploration from an early age and won entry to the French naval school at Brest,
graduated as an ensign, and went on the French ship Jeanne d'Arc to Algeria.
Exploration to Africa
His next ship was the Venus, which stopped
at Gabonregularly, and in 1874, de Brazza made two trips, up the Gabon Riverand Ogoue
River. He then proposed to the government that he explore the Ogoueto its source, and with the help of friends in high places, including Jules Ferryand Leon
Gambetta, he secured partial funding, the rest coming out of his own
pocket. He also became a naturalized French citizen at this time, adopting the
French spelling of his name.
In this expedition, which lasted from 1875-1878,
armed with cotton textiles and tools to use for barter, accompanied by Noel
Ballay, a doctor, Alfred Marche, a naturalist, a sailor, thirteen Senegaleselaptots and four
local interpreters, Brazza charmed and talked his way deep inland.
The French authorized a second mission,
1879-1882. Reaching the Congo River in 1880, Brazza proposed to King Makoko of the Batekes that he
place his kingdom under the protection of the French
flag. Makoko, interested in trade possibilities and in gaining an edge over
his rivals, signed a treaty. Makoko also arranged for the establishment of a
French settlement at Mfoa on the Congo's Malebo Pool,
a place later known as Brazzaville; after Brazza's departure, the outpost was
manned by two laptots under the command of Senegalese Sergeant Malamine
Camara, whose resourcefulness had impressed Brazza during their several
months trekking inland from the coast.
In 1886, Brazza was named governor-general of theFrench
Congo. Journalists' reports of the contrast between the decent wages and
humane conditions there contrasted with the personal regime of Belgian King Léopold on the opposite bank, in
the Congo Free State, made him some important enemies,
and a mounting smear campaign in the French press led to his dismissal in 1898.
By 1905, he was asked to look into the colonial conditions, which had
deteriorated during his absence, but the National Assembly voted to suppress his
embarrassing report, a copy of which was found amongst his personal effects
after his death. He died suddenly of a fever at Dakar. There were
rumors that he had been poisoned.
The epitaph for his burial site in Algiers reads, "une
mémoire pure de sang humain" ("a memory untainted by human
A mausoleum has been built in his honor in Brazzaville.
his remains were exhumed in Algiers to be reinterred in Brazzaville on 3 October,
along with those of his wife and four children.
The decision to honor Pierre de Brazza as a
founding father of the Republic of the Congo has elicited protests among many
Congolese. Mwinda Press, the journal of the Association of Congolese Democrats
in France, wrote articles quoting Théophile Obenga who depicted Pierre de Brazza as
a colonizer and not a humanist, declaring him to have raped a Congolese woman,
a princess and the equivalent of a Vestal
Virgin, and to have pillaged villages, raising highly charged questions as
to why the colonizer should be revered as a national hero instead of the
Congolese who fought against colonization.
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