Intrepid Belgians may cross the Congo in a Land Cruiser, but it’s a far cry from what locals use to haul their stuff. The handbuilt, wooden chukudu is a humble ride, but if you have one, you won’t starve.
The giant swath in the middle of Africa currently known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo has about as sad a history as humanly possible. Brutal Western
exploitation gave way to homegrown kleptocracy, then a war which has claimed more lives than any conflict since World War II. The result is one million square miles of gloom, second to last on the UN’s Human Development Index scale.
But then human ingenuity will prevail even in the absence of roads, cars, and any semblance of government. Since the ‘70s, chukudus—simple, homemade bikes, designed to be pushed rather then ridden—have been the transport vehicle of choice for Congolese. Despite their primitive appearance, the chukudu is pretty sturdy: a well-built one will take 1300 pounds of cargo and not buckle. They also cost no more than $20 or so.
In the same way a regular bicycle is a very efficient machine to convert muscle power into speed, a chukudu allows its owner to transport significantly more stuff than he would otherwise be able to. Which, as a young man recently explained to The Washington Post, is the difference between eating and starving.
Photo Credit: Khanjan Mehta