Ma Onko, oil on canvas / 100 x 75 cm – 39.4 x 29.5 in / 2006 – Sold

Marseille 1880,  the crew of a ship of French settlers is seated in a bar, 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 its 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 (deformed in Makoko), King of the Batéké, 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 trade center since the 13th century and after a few days of walking, the exceptional convoy finally reached its destination. The next day, informed by 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 Marseille, carefully fixed on a superb ebony cane, and said : « Here is my favorite present, it has been gave 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 thereby, 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 him an advantage over his enemies, he will be quickly disappointed when much of the settlers began to oppress the people and plunder their wealth.

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

Ma-Onko : The Chief of Bateke
Meeting between De Brazza and Ma-Onko
Zaïre (D. Republic of Congo)

Editions of works available.