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African Market Photographer Jonas Elmqvist Bujumburra, Burundi


Photographer Jonas Elmqvist The Swedish Photographer Jonas Elmqvist is born in 1970 in Stockholm. He has no formal education in photography but have studied geography and communications at Lund University. In all his carrer he has been working with images both as photographer and graphic designer. Jonas is describing his photography as moments when he has open a door into an new part of live and is standing in the door way and letting the impressions come to him. Most of his photographs are technical simple often taken with same lens on the camera for severals weeks. But don't be missled, the timing and framing are precise and executed with passion.


African market After a day of travel through Rwanda over the

as we were travelling alongside Boy Scouts and

mountains to Burundi the plains surrounding

Girl Guides from Burundi.

Bujumbura opened out before us. High up in the mountains it was cold and rainy but on the plains

Three years earlier in 2005 the civil war in Burundi

the nice central African weather met us. The light

had ended. Over 300 000 were killed in the twelve-

was intense, the temperature was about 30

year long conflict. The conflict had the same origin

degrees centigrade and the air was dry. It was late

as that in Rwanda, between the two ethnic groups

afternoon as we entered Bujumbura.

Tutsi and Hutu. In Rwanda that ended up in a genocide. Hundred of thousands of machete

I was visiting a friend who was an aid worker in

equipped Hutus had slaughtered over 800 000

Tanzania. I had joined him on a trip to Rwanda and

Tutsi and moderate Hutu men, women, elderly and

Burundi for about two weeks. This was a golden

children in less than 3 months. Would that be an

moment to get close to the central African culture

open wound in the society or would life go on as

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Carrying Everything can be carried on your head. In a land

for sale in Bujumbura and will be rerouted out to

where buses and cars are something you use as a

the countryside after changing owners at the

last resort when it's not possible to walk yourself,

market in Bujumbura.

everything is carried in your hands or on your head. The later is the only way to carry these heavy

The market itself is under a huge roof, about 15

things without being worn out.

metres high and 100 metres along each side. Inside there are endless small alleys, most of

All these people are merchants carrying goods in

them less than one metre wide. There is no other

and out, from left and right. They are crossing

way than to carry the goods in your hand or on

streets, loading cars and trucks, emptying small

your head, if you want to get them out of the

minivans and there seems to be no end to the

market.

work. From the air it probably would look like an ant colony.

There are very few bags or dedicated carrying equipment. Almost everything is carried in its

In a market like this one in Bujumbura there are

original box, simple plastic bags or is wrapped

no big brands or stores. Everything is on a very

with some cloth and held together with small

small scale: the largest market stands are just a

strings.

few square metres. But a lot of the goods are not

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Business as usual Trade and markets are the economic nerve centre for all cultures. Some goods were only available to buy during some parts of the day and other goods were available almost 24-7. In the beginning I had some problems to find where things were sold. There were no signs and if there were any signs they were probably be in Swahili. But there was a hidden system. Fresh food was outside and everything else was kept inside. Almost all the businessmen and women were working in clusters. Fabrics were sold in one place and seed in another. It is very simple when you see the pattern behind the chaos.

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African market


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Muzungo I have never felt so white as I did on my first day at

colonisers, they were called German. The French

the market in Bujumbura. Muzungo means “white

were the French. Et cetera.

guy”. It can be said in a friendly way or it can be quite aggressive. In any case it's hard to ignore.

But after World War I, when the Belgians came to

You automatically turn your head and then

take over the territory from the Germans, they

everybody shouts Muzungo after you. This was very

were called Abazungu, not Belgians.

refreshing and I'm sure that after being called Muzungo constantly for a couple of days, I will

Because the verb that Muzungu and Abazungu

never call anybody anything else but their name.

come from is “kuzungura,” which means “to replace, to take over”. … [Nowadays all western

In the word Muzungo, there is a whole palette of associations. Morgan C. explains it like this: The Rwandans didn’t always call white people "Muzungo". Back when the Germans were the

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people are called Muzungo].


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In the sun there is no hurry Everything takes its time, and people in Africa know that. Things will be solved but when the sun is high in the sky everything goes slow. There is no problem with this because everybody has the same rhythm.

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There are no free meals In Burundi you have to take care of yourself and those close to you. Building social networks is important. There is practically no social welfare system at all; you must work to stay alive. The people from Africa I travelled with ignored beggars. They felt sorry for them but were not interested in helping anybody who did not work for their food. Actually it was quite seldom I met beggars. In Burundi there is always a job to do, even if it is not so well paid. There is no limit to how little you can earn, therefore almost everybody works in one or other way. When I had been walking the same streets for a couple of days I found people who sat or stood on the same spot everyday. The woman sitting on a simple chair or the man standing at the crossroads with a white shirt and newly polished shoes. What are they doing? They are of course working; opening a gate or having an exchange office in their pocket.

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Dark Africa From a Western view of point there is no more dangerous thing to do, outside of visiting a war zone, than visiting black Africa. I don't know what makes them so afraid. Perhaps it is the brutal genocide in 1993 or the fact that all the European colonial powers were forced out of Africa in the 20th century. It's true that many awful things have happened in Africa and often it has some connection with history and the old Europe. Most parts of Africa are poor if you compare with Europe, but the dreams of the young and the elder in Burundi are more or less the same as I have: to fall in love, get an education, have a good job, have fun with your friends etc. The young people I met in Burundi lived a life quite similar to my life in Sweden, with the exception of our relative economic wealth. History connects European culture with African culture. It's easy to adopt and like Africa; a laugh is never far away.

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My key to Africa Per Eriksson was my key to Africa. He opened doors and let me enjoy his network in Africa. 2008 was his last year as the Swedish Temperance movement’s project manager in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I visited him just a few weeks before he went home to Sweden. Per, Thank You!


African Market  

After a day of travel through Rwanda over the mountains to Burundi the plains surrounding Bujumbura opened out before us. High up in the mou...

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