The King Ma Onko

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Oil on canvas / 92 x 65 cm / 2006 – Sold

Marseille 1880, the crew of a ship of French settlers is seated in a bistro, friends of each are there for a meal of goodbye before their before the great departure to the Congo. Among them, Doctor Noël Eugene Ballay, Medical Officer of the Navy and negotiator. During this pleasant meal, the doctor was dazzled by sparkling and colorful reflections from a glass ball screwed on a column of stairs. At the end of the meal Ballay discreetly seized the ball in question, and embarked with her the next day on the ship bound for the Congo.

A few days later, Savorgnan de Brazza, an explorer in the service of the French state for the development and colonization of the African territories, joined his collaborator and friend Dr. Ballay in the Congo with his own crew. The purpose of this long journey was to convince Ma-Onko  king of the Bateke people, to sign a treaty of protectorate ratified by the French government. But as usual, documents and words were not enough for the Congolese chief and in Africa in general, Savorgnan knew that the presents that will be offered to the king will do almost all the negotiating work.

So he gathered together several high-quality items to impress the King of the Batéké. On his arrival at Loango, a great center of commerce since the 13th century, and after a few days of marches, the exceptional convoy finally reached its destination. The next day, informed of the arrival of the convoy, the king was there, seated on the ground surrounded by his wives, his dignitaries, his armed guards, and a host of subjects. In their presence Savorgnan and his team unpacked the sculptures, the watches and other jewels they unrolled velvet and silk …But the king was indifferent when he saw the objects laid at his feet, he got up and directed him to his royal box, and on his return he held in his hands the glass ball of Marseilles, carefully fixed on a superb ebony cane, and said.

Here is my favorite present sent by your king, it has been handed to me by Dr. Ballay, He is a great chief! Savorgnan was relieved by the satisfaction of King Ma Onko, through the intervention of his friend Eugene Ballay, the doctor of his expedition, who had arrived a few weeks before. Thus King Ma-Onko accepted the protectorate treaty proposed by France and was born Brazzaville, now the capital of the French Congo.

This painting reflects the disappointment of a king, after signing an agreement that places the territory of Congo under French protectorate. Believing that this alliance would open up trading opportunities giving it an advantage over its enemies, it will be quickly disappointed when much of the settlers began to oppress the people and plunder the wealth.4

King Ma Onko
Congo (Zaïre)


Photo 1  : Archives de l’Afrique Noire – Editions de Lodi 2002