This page was last updated: July 5, 2015
When I first saw the Mwata wearing a brass helmet of foreign origins, I was drawn to it and wanted to know more about it. After interviewing several people, I found out that their are many stories that are floating around about that hat. below is the story.
1. It was from a Portuguese General who came to the Mwata for trade and for a gift, he gave his helmet to the Mwata.
2. A woman from England when passing thru gave the Mwata a British Generals helmet for his bravery.
And there are many more ideas that the villagers think.
So I took photos of the helmet and started my research, and after much investigation, I found out that it is a French fire brigade helmet used around the 1850s. One of the clues is on the front of the helmet says "Sapeurs Pompiers De Paris" Then it wasn't long before I found the truth. Now the question is how did a French fire brigade helmet make its way all the way to Kazembe is a mystery. I can only speculate that a french trader brought the helmet to Kazembe for trade for a slave or for a gift knowing that he would not be aware of its original purpose he presented it as a Generals helmet.
A side close up of the Mwatas helmet. Notice the missing chin and plumage holder.
This is a photo I took off the Internet with the chin and plumage holder still intact
Origins of Sapeurs Pompiers De Paris
The first fire brigades in the modern sense were created in France in the early 18th century. In 1699, a man with bold commercial ideas, François du Mouriez du Périer (grandfather of French Revolution's general Charles François Dumouriez), solicited an audience with King Louis XIV. Greatly interested in Jan Van der Heiden's invention, he successfully demonstrated the new pumps and managed to convince the king to grant him the monopoly of making and selling "fire-preventing portable pumps" throughout the kingdom of France. François du Mouriez du Périer offered 12 pumps to the City of Paris, and the first Paris Fire Brigade, known as the Compagnie des gardes-pompes (literally the "Company of Pump Guards"), was created in 1716. François du Mouriez du Périer was appointed directeur des pompes de la Ville de Paris ("director of the City of Paris's pumps"), i.e. chief of the Paris Fire Brigade, and the position stayed in his family until 1760. In the following years, other fire brigades were created in the large French cities. It is around that time that appeared the current French word pompier ("firefighter"), whose literal meaning is "pumper". and refers to the manual pumps that were originally used. On March 11, 1733 the French government decided that the interventions of the fire brigades would be free of charge. This was decided because people always waited until the last moment to call the fire brigades to avoid paying the fee, and it was often too late to stop fires. From 1750 on, the French fire brigades became para-military units and received uniforms. In 1756 the use of a protective helmet for firefighters was recommended by King Louis XV, but it took many more years before the measure was actually enforced on the ground. Well trained and well equipped, the French fire brigades were in the process of professionalisation on the eve of the French Revolution.
Napoleon Bonaparte, drawing from the century-old experience of the gardes pompes, is generally attributed as creating the first "professional" firefighters, known as Sapeurs-Pompiers from the French Army. Created under the Commandant of Engineers in 1810, the company was organized after a fire at the ballroom in the Austrian Embassy in Paris which injured several dignitaries.
The Sapeurs Pompiers are the firefighters of France. They are organized, supervised and trained by the French Ministry of the Interior; specifically, they fall under the Civil Defence and Security Directorate. There are approximately 250,584 fire service personnel in France operating 15,000 emergency vehicles out of 10,238 emergency centers.
Sapeur means "sapper" and refers to the first official corps created by Napoleon I; it was a military engineer corps.
A sapper, in the sense first used by the French military, was one who sapped (undermined) another's fortifications.
When an army was defending a fortress with cannon, they had an obvious height and therefore range advantage over the attacker's own guns. The attacking army's artillery had to be brought forward, under fire, so as to facilitate effective counter-battery fire. This was achieved by digging what the French termed a 'Sappe'. Using techniques developed and perfected by Vauban, the sapeurs (sappers) began the trench at such an angle so as to avoid enemy fire 'enfilading' (passing directly along) the sappe. As they pressed forward, a position was prepared from which cannon could suppress the defenders on the bastions. The sappers would then change the course of their trench, zig-zagging their way toward the fortress wall. Each leg brought the attacker's artillery closer and closer until (hopefully) the besieged cannon would be sufficiently suppressed for undermining to begin. Broadly speaking, sappers were originally experts at demolishing or otherwise overcoming or bypassing fortification systems.
Sapeurs Pompiers De Paris is displayed on the front of the helmet. With a coat of arms.and decorated leaves.