First Fruits of the System

The Crime of the Congo

The first testimony which I shall cite is that of Mr. Glave, which covers the years 1893 up to his death in 1895. Mr. Glave was a young Englishman, who had been for six years in the employ of the State, and whose character and work were highly commended by Stanley. Four years after the expiration of his engagement he travelled as an independent man right across the whole country, from Tanganyika in the east to Matadi near the mouth of the river, a distance of 2,000 miles. The agent and rubber systems were still in their infancy, but already he remarked on every side that violence and disregard of human life which were so soon to grow to such proportions. Remember that he was himself a Stanleyman, a pioneer and a native trader, by no means easy to shock. Here are some of his remarks as taken from his diary.

The Crime of the Congo
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Dealing with the release of slaves by the Belgians, for which so much credit has been claimed, he says (Cent. Mag., Vol. 53):

“They are supposed to be taken out of slavery and freed, but I fail to see how this can be argued out. They are taken from their villages and shipped south, to be soldiers, workers, etc., on the State stations, and what were peaceful families have been broken up, and the different members spread about the place. They have to be made fast and guarded for transportation, or they would all run away. This does not look as though the freedom promised had any seductive prospects. The young children thus ‘liberated’ are handed over to the French mission stations, where they receive the kindest care, but nothing justifies this form of serfdom. I can understand the State compelling natives to do a certain amount of work for a certain time; but to take people forcibly from their homes, and despatch them here and there, breaking up families, is not right. I shall learn more about this on the way and at Kabambare. If these conditions are to exist, I fail to see how the anti-slavery movement is to benefit the native.”

With regard to the use of barbarous soldiers he says:

“State soldiers are also employed without white officers. This should not be allowed, for the black soldiers do not understand the reason of the fighting, and instead of submission being sought, often the natives are massacred or driven away into the hill…. But the black soldiers are bent on fighting and raiding; they want no peaceful settlement. They have good rifles and ammunition, realize their superiority over the natives with their bows and arrows, and they want to shoot and kill and rob. Black delights to kill black, whether the victim be man, woman, or child, and no matter how defenceless. This is no reasonable way of settling the land; it is merely persecution. Blacks cannot be employed on such an errand unless under the leadership of whites.”

He met and describes one Lieutenant Hambursin, who seems to have been a capable officer:

“Yesterday the natives in a neighbouring village came to complain that one of Hambursin’s soldiers had killed a villager; they brought in the offender’s gun. To-day at roll-call the soldier appeared without his gun; his guilt was proved, and without more to do, he was hanged on a tree. Hambursin has hanged several for the crime of murder.”

Had there been more Hambursins there might have been fewer scandals. Glave proceeds to comment on treatment of prisoners:

“In stations in charge of white men, Government officers, one sees strings of poor emaciated old women, some of them mere skeletons, working from six in the morning till noon, and from half-past two till six, carrying clay water-jars, tramping about in gangs, with a rope round the neck, and connected by a rope one and a half yards apart. They are prisoners of war. In war the old women are always caught, but should receive a little humanity. They are naked, except for a miserable patch of cloth of several parts, held in place by a string round the waist. They are not loosened from the rope for any purpose. They live in the guard-house under the charge of black native sentries, who delight in slapping and ill-using them, for pity is not in the heart of the native. Some of the women have babies, but they go to work just the same. They form, indeed, a miserable spectacle, and one wonders that old women, although prisoners of war, should not receive a little more consideration; at least, their nakedness might be hidden. The men prisoners are treated in a far better way.”

Describing the natives he says:

“The natives are not lazy, good-for-nothing fellows. Their fine powers are obtained by hard work, sobriety and frugal living.”

He gives a glimpse of what the chicotte is like, the favourite and universal instrument of torture used by the agents and officers of the Free State:

“The ‘chicotte’ of raw hippo hide, especially a new one, trimmed like a corkscrew, with edges like knife-blades, and as hard as wood, is a terrible weapon, and a few blows bring blood; not more than twenty-five blows should be given unless the offence is very serious. Though we persuaded ourselves that the African’s skin is very tough it needs an extraordinary constitution to withstand the terrible punishment of one hundred blows; generally the victim is in a state of insensibility after twenty-five or thirty blows. At the first blow he yells abominably; then he quiets down, and is a mere groaning, quivering body till the operation is over, when the culprit stumbles away, often with gashes which will endure a lifetime. It is bad enough the flogging of men, but far worse is this punishment when inflicted on women and children. Small boys of ten or twelve, with excitable, hot-tempered masters, often are most harshly treated. At Kasnogo there is a great deal of cruelty displayed. I saw two boys very badly cut. I conscientiously believe that a man who receives one hundred blows is often nearly killed, and has his spirit broken for life.”

He has a glimpse of the treatment of the subjects of other nations:

“Two days before my arrival (at Wabundu) two Sierra Leoneans were hanged by Laschet. They were sentries on guard, and while they were asleep allowed a native chief, who was a prisoner and in chains, to escape. Next morning Laschet, in a fit of rage, hanged the two men. They were British subjects, engaged by the Congo Free State as soldiers. In time of war, I suppose, they could be executed, after court-martial, by being shot; but to hang a subject of any other country without trial seems to me outrageous.”

Talking of the general unrest he says:

“It is the natural outcome of the harsh, cruel policy of the State in wringing rubber from these people without paying for it. The revolution will extend.” He adds: “The post (Isangi) is close to the large settlement of an important coast man, Kayamba, who now is devoted to the interests of the State, catching slaves for them, and stealing ivory from the natives of the interior. Does the philanthropic King of the Belgians know about this? If not, he ought to.”

As he gets away from the zone of war, and into that which should represent peace, his comments become more bitter. The nascent rubber trade began to intrude its methods upon his notice:

“Formerly the natives were well treated, but now expeditions have been sent in every direction, forcing natives to make rubber and to bring it to the stations. Up the Ikelemba, we are taking down one hundred slaves, mere children, all taken in unholy wars against the natives…. It was not necessary in the olden times, when we white men had no force at all. This forced commerce is depopulating the country…. Left Equateur at eleven o’clock this morning, after taking on a cargo of one hundred small slaves, principally boys, seven or eight years old, with a few girls among the batch, all stolen from the natives. The Commissary of the district is a violent-tempered fellow. While arranging to take on the hundred small slaves a woman who had charge of the youngsters was rather slow in understanding his order, delivered in very poor Kabanji. He sprang at her, slapped her in the face, and as she ran away, kicked her. They talk of philanthropy and civilization! Where it is, I do not know.”

And again:

“Most white officers out on the Congo are averse to the india-rubber policy of the State, but the laws command it. Therefore, at each post one finds the natives deserting their homes, and escaping to the French side of the river when possible.”

As he goes on his convictions grow stronger:

“Everywhere,” he said, “I hear the same news of the doings of the Congo Free State—rubber and murder, slavery in its worst form. It is said that half the libérés sent down die on the road…. In Europe we understand from the word libérés slaves saved from their cruel masters. Not at all! Most of them result from wars made against the natives because of ivory or rubber.”

On all sides he sees evidence of the utter disregard of humanity:

“To-day I saw the dead body of a carrier lying on the trail. There could have been no mistake about his being a sick man; he was nothing but skin and bones. These posts ought to give some care to the porters; the heartless disregard for life is abominable…. Native life is considered of no value by the Belgians. No wonder the State is hated.”

Finally, a little before his death, he heard of that practice of mutilation which was one of the most marked fruits of the policy of “moral and material advantage of the native races” promised at the Berlin Conference:

“Mr. Harvey heard from Clarke, who is at Lake Mantumba, that the State soldiers have been in the vicinity of his station recently fighting and taking prisoners; and he himself had seen several men with bunches of hands signifying their individual skill. These, I presume, they must produce to prove their success! Among the hands were those of men and women, and also those of little children. The missionaries are so much at the mercy of the State that they do not report these barbaric happenings to the people at home. I have previously heard of hands, among them children’s, being brought to the stations, but I was not so satisfied of the truth of the former information as of the reports received just now by Mr. Harvey from Clarke. Much of this sort of thing is going on at the Equateur Station. The methods employed are not necessary. Years ago, when I was on duty at the Equateur without soldiers, I never had any difficulty in getting what men I needed, nor did any other station in the old, humane days. The stations and the boats then had no difficulty in finding men or labour, nor will the Belgians, if they introduce more reasonable methods.”

A sentence which is worth noting is that “The missionaries are so much at the mercy of the State that they do not report these barbaric happenings to the people at home.” Far from the question being one, which, as the apologists for King Leopold have contended, has been fomented by the missionaries, it has actually been held back by them, and it is only the courage and truthfulness of a handful of Englishmen and Americans which have finally brought it to the front.

 

So much for Mr. Glave’s testimony. He was an English traveller. Mr. Murphy, an American missionary, was working in another part of the country, the region where the Ubangi joins the Congo, during the same years. Let us see how far his account, written entirely independently (Times, November 18, 1895), agrees with the other:

“I have seen these things done,” he said, “and have remonstrated with the State in the years 1888, 1889, and 1894, but never got satisfaction. I have been in the interior and have seen the ravages made by the State in pursuit of this iniquitous trade. Let me give an incident to show how this unrighteous trade affects the people. One day a State corporal, who was in charge of the post of Solifa, was going round the town collecting rubber. Meeting a poor woman, whose husband was away fishing, he asked: ‘Where is your husband?’ She answered by pointing to the river. He then asked: ‘Where is his rubber?’ She answered: ‘It is ready for you.’ Whereupon he said ‘You lie,’ and lifting up his gun, shot her dead. Shortly afterward the husband returned and was told of the murder of his wife. He went straight to the corporal, taking with him his rubber, and asked why he had shot his wife. The wretched man then raised his gun and killed the corporal. The soldiers ran away to the headquarters of the State, and made representations of the case, with the result that the Commissary sent a large force to support the authority of the soldiers; the town was looted, burned, and many people were killed and wounded.”

Again:

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