Raymond Borremans (June 3, 1906 in Paris – July 22, 1988 in Abidjan), was a French musician performing as a one-man band and a globe-trotter and encyclopaedist. He created an encyclopedia in French based around the Ivory Coast.
After an unsuccessful love Borremans left Europe in 1929. He visited parts of northern Africa (Morocco and Oran), then, from 1929 to 1934, all countries of West Africa and Equatorial Africa. For a living, he performed as a one-man band with his banjo for an audience of colonizers. When he performed with his orchestra at the Hotel de France in Grand-Bassam in 1931, he became so enchanted by the surroundings, that he settled there permanently in 1934, taking a room in the house in which has been established the foundation that bears his name. After some time he ceases his activities as a musician and buys a film projector, a movie screen and some films to travel with a mobile cinema through French West Africa to play films for an audience of local Africans from 1937 to 1974. Mid seventies, television had sufficiently been introduced in Africa for the interest in his cinema to decrease. He stopped with music and, from then until his death, focused entirely on his life work: the Encyclopédie Borremans.
Starting in 1934, he focused on the composition of this encyclopaedic dictionary for French West Africa. In the towns and villages he visited, the chiefs – among others – taught him the history of the region and its legends; he systematically took notes of everything he was told and of many other possible topics regarding what he saw or was told: from newspaper articles to landscapes, animals and events. The notes grew gradually into his encyclopaedia of French West Africa. He worked on an enormous system with index cards and a very extensive bibliography on subjects related to Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Guinea-Conakry. After their independence, the files were fragmented among these five countries. Borremans has never been able to complete his encyclopaedia: he ended up with the letter N.
The encyclopaedia found a taker in 1983. Khady Diallo coordinated the project for three years and it was published in 1986. Together with the index cards on Ivory Coast, the Grand Dictionnaire encyclopédique de Côte d'Ivoire, also known as "Le Borremans", was published in 1986. The file on Ivory Coast created 75,000 index cards for each entry. Its documentation and basic bibliography has been compared in size to the first Petit Larousse.
Borremans' library had 500 books on flora, fauna, history, ethnology, geography, politics, economics and art. His ambitious and ironic slogan was: "Comme Larousse, je sème à tout vent ; et ce, pour le continent noir ..." ( "Like Larousse, I sow against the wind and to the benefit of the dark continent ...") .
In 1987, he was handed the prize Jean Sainteny by académician Michel Deon. Borremans, after a stay of 40 years in Africa, returned to France.
His adventurous life as a self-taught man and itinerant musician has been the subject of several radio broadcasts and newspaper articles. The film N, shown at the Cambridge Film Festival 2014 recounts Borremans' story in Africa.