African Nations and Territory Identity

The dismantlement of African Land and Nations
and the artificial construction of the 1872 Colonial Africa c. -1960 c.

Henri Brunschwig analysed the decisions of the Conference of Berlin, and points out not to have had in Berlin the effective allotment of that as much is said, the truth is that the European national and intercontinental ideologies had finished to instrument the relation between borders of European dominance at the Conference of Berlin.

This operation represents a particular character in has much not to have had in Berlin the presence of any African individual or state.

The Conference of Berlin was a test of the European will of hegemony, the Conference contributed, exactly if indirectly, for the setting of these borders, that the deceased OUA (Organization of African Unity) became unquestionable and destined to the perpetual duration!

The colonial conquest, generally studied in its practical military, who strengthen the domination of the men, forgets the crucial element the construction of the colonial building: the metamorphosis of the "land" - and the territories - African, substituted for the colonial territory, managed for the colonial administration and the colonists.

Or either, it looks for to changed itself African land (that it integrates, does not forget it, the religious or sacred space), in simple European territory, what it banishes the African religious forces, indispensable operation to the laicism of the land and that it precedes and authorizes its commercialisation.

It can say that we find here the support basic that separates the Africans of the Europeans: for the Africans the land has no value of exchange, therefore it does not belong to the group if not thanks to the mediation of the spirits; for the Europeans the land alone acquires its true sensible advertising from the moment where it can be appropriate for a person whom, for this it saw, can consider it in the market.

The value of social and symbolic use opposes in this case in violent way to the value of exchange. The colonial effort goes in the direction to make to coincide territory and maps, in way it to be able to impose tasks, between which they count to the expulsion or the displacement of the native populations. That becomes obvious that we cannot leave of in interrogating them regarding the conditions of cohabitation, forcibly conflict, between the African and the European systems in Africa in the first phase of the French, Portuguese and Belgium colonial domination, where the colonized necessarily intends to construct its territory - i.e.: Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa, Angola - and to create a new identity (integrator of the colonist) that they allow the concretion it of its colonial projects.

Military campaigns

Wars of pacification, operations of effective occupation constitute certainly a formula panoply that reflected flowing important of the colonial politics in the ends of XIX century and in the first quarter of XX century, but if to widen our reflection we give ourselves count that the dismantlement of the African Nations and Traditional territorial structures, its symbolic markers and its social uses, is the structure element of the colonial strategies destined to create the colonial territory in Africa.

African Spirituality

The creation myths repeat times without account the intervention of one thaumaturgue in charge "creating the land"; the founding hero of the nation requests to the deities - to the spirits - local authorization to install its group and to organize its territory there. This process creates an identity that if it feeds and if it consolidates through a continuous and "cultivated" relation with the spirits. The spirits state the linking between the livings creature and deceased - that is, ancestor -, frequent divinised.

The society must thus give always accounts to the spirits, guarantees of the proper identity and the historical construction of the group.

Projects and politics of dismantlement of the land and the African territories

The projects of definition of the colonial politics are multiplied since the ends of the XIX century, having as objective to dismantle the structures that assure the autonomy of the Nations and Traditional territories of Africa, substituting them for European systems of organization. In the practical one, a continuous discrepancy between the ambitions humanists and globalzing of the Europeans and the littleness of its accomplishments is verified.

The politics of dismantlement of the African territories and occupation of the space are multiple and function in net: the dilacerations of the land, the territories, the African ways, the elimination of its symbolic and functional markers results of the construction of the ways of iron and the road nets - that they follow the tram traced for the African nets of circulation -, of the injection of automobiles, machines and unknown objects that the European commerce goes banalzing and for the proper linguistic system adoptee in the operations of geopolitics; the introduction of industrial cultures - coffee, cotton, sugar - that for its proper profile they demand great land surfaces, and the expropriation of the Africans of its ancestral lands; also the obligator cultures impose to the new Africans systems of production in function of the interests of the colonizers; the multiplication of urban structures - of the commercial populations to the cities - which demand the reorganization of the spaces, the expulsion of the Africans, the installation of colonists and administrative authorities and the proper Africans integrated in the regimen of the colonial work, in the peripheral zones and outcast; the organization of measures administrative and legal and destined to eliminate the freedom of the Africans: and the obligatory of the payment of the tax in money, imposition of rules of half considered work the most efficient one to civilize the African, the setting of the residence place, the passbook of the aboriginal as corollary to consecrate the lower status of the African; the process of Europeanism of the colonial territory.

The injection of colonists, but also the "whitening" of the quotidian of the Africans removing to them any form of autonomy: to eat, to dress according to, to sleep, to say, to pray, to work, to organize the house European models.

Perverse impositions since they are followed of form of ridicule of the Africans who adhere to the Europeans proposals. The paper of the missions in such a way in that it says respect to the expansion of the Christian religions, as in that if it relates to the diffusion of the practical values and the cultural ones of the colonized the change of the symbolic systems particularly visible in the religious structures that if multiply (churches and chapels, crosses and crucifixes), sending for the space of the interdict the religious expressions of the Africans and devaluating linguisticamente (idols, witchcrafts, etc.) its religious symbols. But also the introduction of Europeans symbols taxes to the Africans: the Portuguese flag whose mast can be stuck in the land "violating" the spirits, the currency wants metallic, wants in paper.

To transform the territory demands immediate, and the symbolically cruel one, alteration of the African assignments, substituted for names (Mpumbo passed the Leopoldville and Mbanza Kongo the Sao Salvador) destined to strengthen the metamorphosis of African lands in European territory.

The dismantlement of the African land and the construction of the Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa and Angola colonial territory scientifically had been organized by the colonizer, dragging obtain the creation of a Angolan colonial identity destined to eliminate the vitality of the African cultures. This situation authorized the white colonist to recoup the conceptual equipment and the practical Europeans, indispensable to the esvaziamento of the African forms and to the organization of ways and destined rules to assure the colonial modernization.

Without its territories, the Africans had looked for to preserve the basic values of its identity, exactly if "prisoners" of "manufactured" ethnics, controlled spaces, discriminatory hierarchies, cultural and material forms imposed by the force.

They had adhered to the idea of that the identity was not static and had given the instruments - using the proposals of the colonizer - to construct a Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa or an Angolan colonial identity. The strategy is clear: a new identity was inevitable, for that if it imposed the control and the management of the process, moving away the colonizer and preserving, thus, secular values that today remain in a Angolan identity marked by the diversity of the historical groups that compose it.

Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa

In 1884 at the request of Portugal, German Chancellor Otto von Bismark called together the major western powers of the world to negotiate questions and end confusion over the control of Africa. Bismark appreciated the opportunity to expand Germany's sphere of influence over Africa and desired to force Germany's rivals to struggle with one another for territory.

The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African Continent. By the time Africa regained its independence after the late 1950s, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily. The African politico-geographical map is thus a permanent liability that resulted from the three months of ignorant, greedy acquisitiveness during a period when Europe's search for minerals and markets had become insatiable.

At the time of the conference, 80% of Africa remained under Native Traditional and local control.

Fourteen countries were represented by a plethora of ambassadors when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884 by the imperial chancellor and architect of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck to settle the political partitioning of Africa. Bismarck wanted not only to expand German spheres of influence in Africa but also to play off Germany's colonial rivals against one another to the Germans' advantage. The countries represented at the time included Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey, and the United States of America. Of these fourteen nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time.

The initial task of the conference was to agree that the Congo River and Niger River mouths and basins would be considered neutral and open to trade. Despite its neutrality, part of the Kongo Basin became a personal Kingdom (private property) for Belgium's King Leopold II and under his rule, over half of the region's population died.

At the time of the conference, only the coastal areas of Africa were colonized by the European powers. At the Berlin Conference the European colonial powers scrambled to gain control over the Interior of the Continent. The conference lasted until February 26, 1885 - a three month period where colonial powers haggled over geometric boundaries in the interior of the continent, disregarding the cultural and linguistic boundaries already established by the Native Indigenous African population. What ultimately resulted was a hodgepodge of geometric boundaries that divided Africa into fifty irregular countries. This new map of the continent was superimposed over the one thousand Indigenous cultures and regions of Africa. The new countries lacked rhyme or reason and divided coherent groups of people and merged together disparate groups who really did not get along.

Following the conference, the give and take continued. By 1914, the conference participants had fully divided Africa among themselves into fifty unnatural and artificial States.

The Act allotted "spheres of influence" to the relevant powers and established the Kongo basin as the Kongo Free State under the sovereignty of Leopold II in his personal capacity as head (and chief financial backer) of the private International Kongo Association. Some of the main provisions of the Act are as follows; note in particular the doctrine of "effective occupation" as prescribed in Art. XXXV.

The Berlin Conference:

The General Act of Feb. 26, 1885

Chap. I [relating to the Kongo River Basin and adjacent territories]

I. The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom

II. All flags, without distinction of nationality, shall have free access to the whole of the coast-line of the territories . . .

III. Goods of whatever origin, imported into these regions, under whatsoever flag, by sea or river, or overland, shall be subject to no other taxes than such as may be levied as fair compensation for expenditure in the interests of trade . . .

IV. Merchandise imported into these regions shall remain free from import and transit duties [subject to review after 20 years]

V. No power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the . . regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade...

VI. All the powers exercising sovereign rights or influence in the aforesaid territories bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being and to help in suppressing slavery, and especially the Slave Trade. They shall, without distinction of creed or nation, protect and favour all religious, scientific, or charitable institutions and undertakings created and organized for the above ends, or which aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilization.
Christian missionaries, scientists, and explorers, with their followers, property, and collections, shall likewise be the objects of especial protection.
Freedom of conscience and religious toleration are expressly guaranteed to the natives, no less than to subjects and to foreigners . . .

Chap. II Documents relative to the Slave Trade

IX. ............the Powers which do or shall exercise sovereign rights or influence in the territories forming the .. basin of the Congo declare that these territories may not serve as a market or means of transit for the trade in slaves, of whatever race they may be. Each of the Powers binds itself to employ all the means at its disposal for putting an end to this trade and for punishing those who engage in it.

Chap. IV Act of Navigation for the Kongo

XIII. The navigation of the Kongo, without excepting any of its branches or outlets, is, and shall remain, free for the merchant ships of all nations equally . . . the subjects and flags of all nations shall in all respects be treated on a footing of perfect equality . . . no exclusive privilege of navigation will be conceded to Companies, Corporations, or private persons whatsoever . . .

Chap. V Act of Navigation for the Niger.

XXVI. The navigation of the (River) Niger, without excepting any of its branches and outlets, is and shall remain entirely free for the merchant ships of all nations equally . . .[both Britain and France which had parts of the region of the Niger under protectorate status also undertook to apply the principle of free trade in their territories]

Chap. VI [Regarding new occupations on the coasts of Africa]

XXXIV. Any power which henceforth takes possession of a tract of land on the coasts of the African Continent outside of its present possessions, or which, being hitherto without such possessions, shall acquire them and assume a protectorate. . . shall accompany either act with a notification thereof, addressed to the other Signatory Powers of the present Act, in order to enable them to protest against the same if there exists any grounds for their doing so.

XXXV. The Signatory Powers of the present Act recognize the obligation to insure the establishment of authority in the regions occupied by them on the coasts of the African Continent sufficient to protect existing rights, and, as the case may be, freedom of trade and of transit under the conditions aggreed upon.

XXXVII. The Powers signatory to the present general Act reserve to themselves the right of eventually, by mutual agreement, introducing therein modifications or improvements the utility of which has been shown by experience ......................................

Done at Berlin, the 26th day of February, 1885.

Map of the African Political Entities before the Scramble 1884

In this Map of the Kongo region in 1887 shows that much of the interior territory is marked has unexplored, its therefore clear to us to realize the clear ignorant and irresponsible manner in which those state powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 have acted.

Stanley's Congo Treaties

For almost six years during 1879 to 1884, the great explorer Stanley labored on behalf of King Leopold of Belgium to survey the basin of the Upper Congo River with a view to establishing his own imperial enclave in Central Africa. The 1880s was the heyday of Western imperialism when great powers such as Britain, France and Germany began to lay claim to huge swathes of the African continent in what became known as the 'scramble for Africa'. The ambitious Leopold, through energy, determination and, not least, his own wealth devised his own plan to participate in this scramble. He founded the International African Association which, during Stanley's sojourn in the Congo, became the International Association of the Congo. During the years he spent in Africa, Stanley signed 'treaties', according to his own claim, with over 450 native chiefs, thus acquiring for Leopold sovereignty over their territories in accordance with the general terms of the sample treaty below. These developments were duly endorsed by the Berlin Conference attended by the great powers that gave approval to Leopold's organization of his African territory as the Congo Free State in 1885.

Henry M. Stanley, Commanding Expedition to the Upper Congo, acting in the name and on behalf of the International African Association, and the king and chiefs of Ngombi and Mafela, having met together in conference at South Manyanga, have, after deliberation, concluded the following treaty, viz.:

Art. I. The chiefs of Ngombi and Mafela recognize that it is highly desirable that the International African Association should, for the advancement of civilization and trade, be firmly established in their country. They, therefore now, freely of their own accord, for themselves and their heirs and successors for ever, do give up to the said Association the sovereignty and all sovereign and governing rights to all their territories. They also promise to assist the said association in its work of governing and civilizing this country, and to use their influence with all the other inhabitants, with whose unanimous approval they make this treaty, to secure obedience to all laws made by the said association, and to assist by labor or otherwise, any works, improvements, or expeditions which the said association shall cause at any time to be carried out in any part of these territories.

Art. II. The chiefs of Ngombi and Mafela promise at all times to join their forces with those of the said Association, to resist the forcible intrusion or repulse the attacks of foreigners of any nationality or color.

Art. III. … the chiefs . . solemnly affirm that all this country belongs to them; that they can freely dispose of it; and that they neither have already, nor will on any future occasion, make any treaties, grants, or sales of any parts of these territories to strangers without the permission of the said Association. All roads and waterways running through this country, the right of collecting tolls on the same, and all game, fishing, mining, and forest rights, are to be the absolute property of the said association, together with any unoccupied lands as may at any time hereafter be chosen.

The International African Association agree to pay to the chiefs . . the following articles of merchandise, namely, one piece of cloth per month to each of the undersigned chiefs . . .; and the said chiefs hereby acknowledge to accept this bounty and monthly subsidy in full settlement of all their claims on the said Association.

The International African Association promises:
1. To take from the natives of this ceded country no occupied or cultivated lands, except by mutual agreement.
2. To promote to its utmost the prosperity of the said country.
3. To protect its inhabitants from all oppression or foreign intrusion.
4. It authorizes the chiefs to hoist its flag; to settle all local disputes; and to maintain its [I.A.A.] authority with the natives.
Agreed to, signed and witnessed,……… (etc.)

Reference: Henry M. Stanley, The Congo and the Founding of its Free State (1885), Vol. II, pp. 195-7

The Berlin Conference
The General Act of 26th February 1885

It was not until after the mid-nineteenth century that the imperialist great powers of Europe showed renewed interest in the continent of Africa, particularly in the hitherto unexplored central regions comprising modern-day Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This interest was heightened by the expected opportunities for raw materials and investment that these territories could provide for Europe's continuing industrialization. There was competition, of course, among the powers as they eyed the opportunities and set the stage for intrusion. Much interest was concentrated on the Congo region (modern Zaire) upon which King Leopold II of Belgium had set his sights (it later turned out to be a lucrative source of rubber). However, the old colonial nation of Portugal, with African interests in Angola and Mozambique extending back over three centuries, also saw the Congo region as its historical sphere of influence. International rivalry and diplomatic infighting such as developed out of this competition for influence prompted France and Germany to suggest the notion of a European conference to resolve contending claims and provide for a more orderly ‘carving up’ of the continent. The Conference met at Berlin from November 1884 through Februart 1885 and resulted in the following agreement--The Berlin Act of 1885. It was attended by representatives of Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Russia, U.S.A., Portugal, Denmark, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Turkey.

The Act allotted "spheres of influence" to the relevant powers and established the Congo basin as the Congo Free State under the sovereignty of Leopold II in his personal capacity as head (and chief financial backer) of the private International Congo Association. Some of the main provisions of the Act are as follows; note in particular the doctrine of "effective occupation" as prescribed in Art. XXXV.

Chap. I [relating to the Congo River Basin and adjacent territories]

I. The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom
II. All flags, without distinction of nationality, shall have free access to the whole of the coast-line of the territories . . .
III. Goods of whatever origin, imported into these regions, under whatsoever flag, by sea or river, or overland, shall be subject to no other taxes than such as may be levied as fair compensation for expenditure in the interests of trade . . .
IV. Merchandise imported into these regions shall remain free from import and transit duties [subject to review after 20 years]
V. No power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the . . regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favor of any kind in matters of trade...
VI. All the powers exercising sovereign rights or influence in the aforesaid territories bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being and to help in suppressing slavery, and especially the Slave Trade. They shall, without distinction of creed or nation, protect and favor all religious, scientific, or charitable institutions and undertakings created and organized for the above ends, or which aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilization.
Christian missionaries, scientists, and explorers, with their followers, property, and collections, shall likewise be the objects of especial protection.
Freedom of conscience and religious toleration are expressly guaranteed to the natives, no less than to subjects and to foreigners . . .

Chap. II Documents relative to the Slave Trade

IX. ............the Powers which do or shall exercise sovereign rights or influence in the territories forming the .. basin of the Congo declare that these territories may not serve as a market or means of transit for the trade in slaves, of whatever race they may be. Each of the Powers binds itself to employ all the means at its disposal for putting an end to this trade and for punishing those who engage in it.

Chap. IV Act of Navigation for the Congo

XIII. The navigation of the Congo, without excepting any of its branches or outlets, is, and shall remain, free for the merchant ships of all nations equally . . . the subjects and flags of all nations shall in all respects be treated on a footing of perfect equality . . . no exclusive privilege of navigation will be conceded to Companies, Corporations, or private persons whatsoever . . .

Chap. V Act of Navigation for the Niger

XXVI. The navigation of the (River) Niger, without excepting any of its branches and outlets, is and shall remain entirely free for the merchant ships of all nations equally . . .[both Britain and France which had parts of the region of the Niger under protectorate status also undertook to apply the principle of free trade in their territories]

Chap. VI [Regarding new occupations on the coasts of Africa]

XXXIV. Any power which henceforth takes possession of a tract of land on the coasts of the African Continent outside of its present possessions, or which, being hitherto without such possessions, shall acquire them and assume a protectorate. . . shall accompany either act with a notification thereof, addressed to the other Signatory Powers of the present Act, in order to enable them to protest against the same if there exists any grounds for their doing so.
XXXV. The Signatory Powers of the present Act recognize the obligation to insure the establishment of authority in the regions occupied by them on the coasts of the African Continent sufficient to protect existing rights, and, as the case may be, freedom of trade and of transit under the conditions aggreed upon.
XXXVII. The Powers signatory to the present general Act reserve to themselves the right of eventually, by mutual agreement, introducing therein modifications or improvements the utility of which has been shown by experience ......................................

Done at Berlin, the 26th day of February 1885

Report of the British Consul, Roger Casement, on the Administration of the Congo Free State

The colonial regime of the Belgian King Leopold II - the Congo Free State - became one of the more infamous international scandals of the turn of the century. Leopold had acquired the vast Congo region through considerable investment of his own fortune in setting up his administration there and by cajoling the great powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 to award his International Congo Association title to what was to become the Congo Free State. By the mid-1890s the Congo Basin and its products became a source of great wealth to Leopold who used his riches to beautify his Belgian capital Brussels while using his agents in Africa to establish a brutal exploitative regime for the extraction of rubber in the interior forest regions of the Free State [Note: the term 'Free' signified the free trade that the Berlin Act obliged Leopold to establish for the benefit of all nations who wished to trade there; a condition that the King managed to flout through awarding territorial concessions for rubber extraction to a number of private companies, some of which were mere disguises for Leopold's own aggrandizement.

Leopold's ability to administer the Congo government coupled with his gift for self-promotion and dissimulation, kept knowledge of what was taking place there to a minimum. Inevitably the truth leaked out as it became known through missionary reports and the like that the natives were being willfully exploited and brutally treated in the interests of amassing revenue for the King and his agents. Foremost in the campaign to expose the regime - based on forced labor and various forms of terror - was E.D. Morel whose ceaseless pursuit of Leopold's regime resulted in questions being raised in the British House of Commons, for Britain, after all, had been a signatory to the Berlin Act which bound the Congo Government "to bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes and to care for their moral and material welfare." The Report (below) of the British consul sent to investigate the accumulating reports of torture, murder and virtual enslavement was published to the world in 1904 and from that point on the pressure for reform mounted until, finally, Leopold was forced to yield up his private African preserve to the Belgian government which formally took over the 'Belgian Congo' by an act of annexation in August 1908.

Leopold II has not fared well by historians. As one English historian has bitterly commented: "(Leopold) was an Attila in modern dress, and it would have been better for the world if he had never been born."

I have the honor to submit my Report on my recent journey on the Upper Congo.

. . . the region visited was one of the most central in the Congo State . . Moreover, I was enabled, by visiting this district, to contrast its present state with the condition in which I had known it some sixteen years ago . . and I was thus able to institute a comparison between a sate of affairs I had myself seen when the natives loved their own savage lives in anarchic and disorderly communities, uncontrolled by Europeans, and that created by more than a decade of very energetic European intervention . . by Belgian officials in introducing their methods of rule over one of the most savage regions of Africa.
. . . a fleet of steamers . . navigate the main river and its principal affluents at fixed intervals. Regular means of communication are thus afforded to some of the most inaccessible parts of Central Africa.

A railway, excellently constructed in view of the difficulties to be encountered, now connects the ocean ports with Stanley Pool, over a tract of difficult country, which formerly offered to the weary traveler on foot many obstacles to be overcome and many days of great bodily fatigue. . . The cataract region, through which the railway passes . . . is . . the home, or birthplace of the sleeping sickness--a terrible disease, which is, all too rapidly, eating its way into the heart of Africa . . . The population of the Lower Congo has been gradually reduced by the unchecked ravages of this, as yet undiagnosed and incurable disease, and as one cause of the seemingly wholesale diminution of human life which I everywhere observed in the regions revisited, a prominent place must be assigned to this malady . . . . Communities I had formerly known as large and flourishing centers of population are to-day entirely gone . . .
On the whole the Government workmen (Congolese natives) . . struck me as being well cared for . . The chief difficulty in dealing with so large a staff [3,000 in number] arises from the want of a sufficiency of food supply in the surrounding country. . . . The natives of the districts are forced to provide a fixed quantity each week . . which is levied by requisitions on all the surrounding villages . . . This, however necessary, is not a welcome task to the native suppliers who complain that their numbers are yearly decreasing, while the demands made upon them remain fixed, or tend even to increase. . . . The (official in charge)is forced to exercise continuous pressure on the local population, and within recent times that pressure has not always taken the form of mere requisition. Armed expeditions have been necessary and a more forcible method of levying supplies [e.g., goats, fowl, etc.] adopted than the law either contemplated or justifies.

The result of an expedition, which took place towards the end of 1900, was that in fourteen small villages traversed seventeen persons disappeared. Sixteen of these whose names were given to me were killed by the soldiers, and their bodies recovered by their friends . . Ten persons were tied up and taken away as prisoners, but were released on payment of sixteen goats by their friends . . .
A hospital for Europeans and an establishment designed as a native hospital are in charge of a European doctor. . . When I visited the three mud huts which serve (as the native hospital), all of them dilapidated . . I found seventeen sleeping sickness patients, male and female, lying about in the utmost dirt. The structures I had visited . . had endured for many years as the only form of hospital accommodation for the numerous native staff of the district.

. . . The people have not easily accommodated themselves to the altered condition of life brought about by European government in their midst. Where formerly they were accustomed to take long voyages down to Stanley Pool to sell slaves, ivory, dried fish, or other local products . . they find themselves today debarred from all such activity . . . The open selling of slaves and the canoe convoys, which navigated the Upper Congo (River), have everywhere disappeared. . . . (but) much that was not reprehensible in native life has disappeared along with it. The trade in ivory has today entirely passed from the hands of the natives of the Upper Congo . .
Complaints as to the manner of exacting service are . . frequent . . . If the local official has to go on a sudden journey men are summoned on the instant to paddle his canoe, and a refusal entails imprisonment or a beating. If the Government plantation or the kitchen garden require weeding, a soldier will be sent to call in the women from some of the neighboring towns. . .; to the women suddenly forced to leave their household tasks and to tramp off, hoe in hand, baby on back, with possibly a hungry and angry husband at home, the task is not a welcome one.

I visited two large villages in the interior . . wherein I found that fully half the population now consisted of refugees . . I saw and questioned several groups of these people . . . They went on to declare, when asked why they had fled (their district), that they had endured such ill-treatment at the hands of the government soldiers in their own (district) that life had become intolerable; that nothing had remained for them at home but to be killed for failure to bring in a certain amount of rubber or to die from starvation or exposure in their attempts to satisfy the demands made upon them. . . . I subsequently found other (members of the tribe) who confirmed the truth of the statements made to me.

. . . on the 25th of July (1903) we reached Lukolela, where I spent two days. This district had, when I visited it in 1887, numbered fully 5,000 people; today the population is given, after a careful enumeration, at less than 600. The reasons given me for their decline in numbers were similar to those furnished elsewhere, namely, sleeping-sickness, general ill-health, insufficiency of food, and the methods employed to obtain labor from them by local officials and the exactions levied on them.
At other villages which I visited, I found the tax to consist of baskets, which the inhabitants had to make and deliver weekly as well as, always, a certain amount of foodstuffs. (The natives) were frequently flogged for delay or inability to complete the tally of these baskets, or the weekly supply of food. Several men, including a Chief of one town, showed broad weals across their buttocks, which were evidently recent. One, a lad of 15 o so, removing his cloth, showed several scars across his thighs, which he and others around him said had formed part of a weekly payment for a recent shortage in their supply of food.

. . . A careful investigation of the conditions of native life around (Lake Mantumba) confirmed the truth of the statements made to me--that the great decrease in population, the dirty and ill-kept towns, and the complete absence of goats, sheep, or fowls--once very plentiful in this country--were to be attributed above all else to the continued effort made during many years to compel the natives to work india-rubber. Large bodies of native troops had formerly been quartered in the district, and the punitive measures undertaken to his end had endured for a considerable period. During the course of these operations there had been much loss of life, accompanied, I fear, by a somewhat general mutilation of the dead, as proof that the soldiers had done their duty.

. . . Two cases (of mutilation) came to my actual notice while I was in the lake district. One, a young man, both of whose hands had been beaten off with the butt ends of rifles against a tree; the other a young lad of 11 or 12 years of age, whose right hand was cut off at the wrist. . . . I both these cases the Government soldiers had been accompanied by white officers whose names were given to me. Of six natives (one a girl, three little boys, one youth, and one old woman) who had been mutilated in this way during the rubber regime, all except one were dead at the date of my visit.

[A sentry in the employ of one of the concessionary private companies] said he had caught and was detaining as prisoners (eleven women) to compel their husbands to bring in the right amount of rubber required of them on the next market day. . . . When I asked what would become of these women if their husbands failed to bring in the right quantity of rubber . . , he said at once that then they would be kept there until their husbands had redeemed them.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(Signed) R. Casement

The full Report runs for forty pages of the Parliamentary Papers to which is appended another twenty pages of individual statements gathered by the Consul, including several detailing the grim tales of killings, mutilation, kidnapping and cruel beatings of men, women and children by soldiers of Bula Matadi (i.e., the name used by the natives for the Congo Administration of King Leopold). Copies of the Report and enclosures were transmitted by the British government to the Belgian government as well as to governments (Germany, France, Russia, et al.) who were signatories to the Berlin Act in 1885. The Congo administration was thus forced to initiate an investigation into the atrocities detailed in the Report which led to the arrest and punishment of white officials who had been responsible for cold-blooded killings during a rubber-collecting expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national who was given five years' penal servitude for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives.

[Ref.: British Parliamentary Papers, 1904, LXII, Cd. 1933]

"Were a map of the - Independet State of the Congo - laid upon a map of Europe, with the mouth of the Congo River where France and Spain meet at Biarritz, the boundaries of the Congo would reach south to the heel of Italy, to Greece, to Smyrna; east to Constantinople and Odessa; northeast to St. Petersburg and Finland, and northwest to the extreme limits of Scotland."

Britain and the Congo Free State, 1903

Dispatch of Lord Lansdowne to the signatories of the Berlin Act, 8th of August 1903

The attention of His Majesty's Government has during recent years been repeatedly called to alleged cases of ill-treatment of natives and to the existence of trade monopolies in the Independent State of the Congo . . .
[In the House of Commons debate of July 20] . . it was alleged that the object of the Administration was not so much the care and government of the natives as the collection of revenue; that this object was pursued by means of a system of forced labor, differing only in name from slavery; that the demands upon each village were exacted with a strictness which constantly degen- erated into great cruelty; and that the men composing the armed force of the State were in many cases recruited from the most warlike and savage tribes, who not infrequently terrorized over their own officers and maltreated the natives without regard to discipline or fear of punishment.

As regards the ill-treatment of natives, a distinction may be drawn between isolated acts of cruelty committed by individuals, whether in the service of the State or not, and a system of administration involving and accompanied by systematic cruelty or oppression.
The fact that many individual instances of cruelty have taken place in the Congo State is proved beyond possibility of contradiction by the occurrence of cases in which white officials have been convicted of outrages on natives. These white officials must, however, in view of the vast extent of the territory under their administration, in most cases be of necessity isolated the one from the other, with the result that detection becomes additionally difficult. It is therefore not unfair to assume that the number of convictions falls considerably short of the number of actual offences committed. It is, however, with regard to the system of administration that the most serious allegations are brought against the Independent State.

It is reported that no efforts are made to fit the native by training for industrial pursuits; that the method of obtaining men for labor or for military service is often but little different from that formerly employed to obtain slaves; and that force is now as much required to take the native to the place of service as it used to be to convey the captured slave. It is also reported that constant compulsion has to be exercised in order to exact the collection of the amount of forest produce allotted to each village as the equivalent of the number of days' labor due from the inhabitants, and that this compulsion is often exercised by irresponsible native soldiers uncontrolled by any European officer.

His Majesty's Government do not know precisely to what extent these accusations may be true; but they have been so repeatedly made, and have received such wide credence, that it is no longer possible to ignore them, and the question has now arisen whether the Congo State can be considered to have fulfilled the special pledges, given under the Berlin Act, to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for their moral and material advancement. . . . .

Moreover, information which has reached His Majesty's Government from British officers in territory adjacent to that of the State tends to show that, notwithstanding the obligations accepted under Article VI of the Berlin Act, no attempt at any administration of the natives is made, and that the officers of the Government do not apparently concern themselves with such work, but devote all their energy to the collection of revenue. The natives are left entirely to themselves , so far as any assistance in their government or in their affairs is concerned. The Congo stations [i.e., State trading posts, etc.] are shunned, the only natives seen being soldiers, prisoners, and men who are brought in to work. The neighborhood of stations which are known to have been populous a few years ago is now uninhabited, and emigration on a large scale takes place to the territory of neighboring States [e.g., the French Congo], the natives usually averring that they are driven away from their homes by the tyranny and exaction of the soldiers. . . . . .
But the fact remains that there is a feeling of grave suspicion, widely prevalent among the people of this country [i.e., Britain], in regard to the condition of affairs in the Congo State, and there is a deep conviction that the many charges brought against the State's administration must be founded on a basis of truth.

In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government are of opinion that it is incumbent upon the Powers parties to the Berlin Act to confer together and to consider whether the obligations undertaken by the Congo State in regard to the natives have been fulfilled; and, if not, whether the Signatory Powers are not bound to make such representations as may secure the due observance of the provisions contained in the Act.

As indicated at the beginning of this dispatch, His Majesty's Government also wish to bring to the notice of the Powers the question which has arisen in regard to rights of trade in the basin of the Congo. Article I. of the Berlin Act provides that the trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom in the basin of the Congo; and Article V. provides that no Power which exercises sovereign rights in the basin shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favor of any kind in matters of trade. In the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the system of trade now existing in the Independent State of the Congo is not in harmony with these provisions.

With the exception of a relatively small area on the Lower Congo, and with the further exception of the small plots actually occupied by the huts and cultivation patches of the natives, the whole territory is claimed as the private property either of the State or of holders of land concessions [i.e., private companies to which permission was given to exploit the land resources, as in the case of rubber]. Within these regions the State or, as the case may be, the concession-holder alone may trade in the natural produce of the soil. The fruits gathered by the natives are accounted the property of the State, or of the concession-holder, and may not be acquired by others. In such circumstances, His Majesty's Government are unable to see that there exists the complete freedom of trade or absence of monopoly in trade which is required by the Berlin Act. On the contrary, no one other than the agents of the State or of the concession-holder has the opportunity to enter into trade relations with the natives; or, if he does succeed in reaching the natives, he finds that the only material which the natives can give in exchange for his trade goods or his money is claimed as having been the property of the State or of the concession- holder from the moment it was gathered by the native.

. . . . His Majesty's Government consider that the time has come when the Powers parties to the Berlin Act should consider whether the system of trade now prevailing in the Independent State is in harmony with the provisions of the Act; and, in particular, whether the system of making grants of vast areas of territory is permissible under the Act if the effect of such grants is in practice to create a monopoly of trade by excluding all persons other than the concession-holder from trading with the natives in that area. Such a result is inevitable if the grants are made in favor of persons or Companies who cannot themselves use the land or collect its produce, but must depend for obtaining it upon the natives, who are allowed to deal only with the grantees.

His Majesty's Government will be glad to receive any suggestions which the Governments of the Signatory Powers may be disposed to make in reference to this important question, which might perhaps constitute, wholly or in part, the subject of a reference to the Tribunal at the Hague.


The Berlin West African Conference 1884-1885

When the Berlin Conference opened in November 1884 King Leopold’s of Belgium position seemed to be a strong one, so long as he played his cards well. As early as April he had secured the United States' recognition of the Association's flag as that of a 'friendly government'.' The Americans quite erroneously believed that the free states which the Association intended to establish on the upper Congo would in time be able to govern themselves rather on the model of the recently established republic of Liberia; there was also in the United States considerable trust in King Leopold's promise of a free trade regime in the Congo basin, and approval for his avowed intention of suppressing the slave trade.

France had not recognised the sovereign rights of the Association before the opening of the Conference, but in exchange for the privilege of buying the Association's assets, should Leopold be forced to sell out by reason of his heavy expenses, she had agreed in April 'to respect the stations and free territories of the Association and to place no further obstacle to the extension of its rights'. In November Germany, like the United States, recognised the Association's flag as that of a 'friendly state'. During the Berlin Conference the Association was gradually to take shape in the delegates' minds as a state with sovereign rights.

The official discussions among the representatives of the fourteen Powers who took part in the Berlin Conference concerned free trade and free navigation in the Congo and the Niger, the formalities to be observed in the future for valid annexation of African territory, the protection of the native peoples and the suppression of the slave trade. The Conference had no mandate to deal with territorial questions as such, but behind the scenes claims and counterclaims were fought out, and in practice were regarded as more important than the official business. As to humanitarian questions, little time was devoted to them; the effect of the Conference's deliberations upon the future of the African peoples was less important in the eyes of the delegates than were the spoils to be divided among the European nations.

So far as territorial claims were concerned, it was necessary to prove that the treaties which both the Association and France had concluded with African chiefs were valid (and in the case of the Association, that such treaties could legally be
made with a private body). Stanley later stated thus the Association's position at the beginning of the Conference:

The Association were in possession of treaties made with over four hundred and fifty independent African chiefs, whose rights would be conceded by all to have been indisputable, since they held their lands by undisturbed occupation, by long ages of succession, by real divine right. Of their own free will, without coercion, but for substantial considerations, reserving only a few easy conditions, 'they had transferred their rights of sovereignty and of ownership to the Association. The time had arrived when a sufficient number of these had been made to connect the several miniature sovereignties into one concrete whole, to present itself before the world for general recognition of its right to govern, and hold these in the name of an independent state, lawfully constituted according to the spirit and tenor of international law.'

European diplomats at the time of the Berlin were not interested in finding out whether the African chiefs had understood the treaties to which they had affixed their marks, neither were they interested in verifying by what 'substantial considerations' the consent of the chiefs had been bought, nor whether, they had the right to make the concessions they did. The latter consideration was only brought up when a certain piece of territory was in dispute between France and the Association; at one point in the negotiations it was important for the Association to prove that de Brazza had been mistaken in his estimate of the territorial influence of Makoko, a chief with whom he had concluded a treaty at Stanley Pool. It was an unquestioned assumption at Berlin that the European Powers had the right to annex African territory for their own advantage, so long as the nominal consent of a certain number of African chiefs had been obtained.

It was also an unquestioned assumption that the native peoples would benefit by the change, and indeed that certain conditions which would ensure that they did so should be laid upon the annexing Powers. It was the delegates' common wish not to allow a renewal of 'that policy of extermination of the natives which had formerly been practised in the two Americas'. As we have seen, the Africans were theoretically regarded as having the right of sovereignty and of being capable of transmitting it to others. Since they had given up this right, it was recognised that the Powers had a duty to watch over the preservation of the native’s tribes and to 'care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being'. This was to be done by the suppression of slavery and the slave trade, by protection and favour without distinction of creed or nation of all religious, scientific and charitable institutions which aimed at the instruction and civilisation of the native peoples, by giving special protection to missionaries, scientists and explorers, and by granting freedom of conscience and religious toleration.'

Clearly these were pious hopes rather than a programme which could be imposed upon the individual Powers; their fulfilment depended entirely upon the goodwill of the latter. The Antislavery Society, working through the British delegation at Berlin, had secured a declaration of principle on the repression of the slave trade, but there were no definite proposals for effective joint action on the part of the Powers. Great Britain also brought up the question of abolition of the liquor traffic, but vested interests chiefly German were too strong to allow this suggestion to be adopted. The formula 'protection and favour' as applied to religious, scientific and charitable institutions replaced that of 'favour and aid'. Turkey had insisted that Moslem missionaries should be placed on an equal footing with Christian missionaries, but the Powers regarded Islam as the most serious enemy of European colonisation in Africa; for this reason the meaning of the phrase was considerably weakened.

Thus, in spite of the lofty sentiments expressed at Berlin, in practice the extent to which the stipulations of the Conference were applied depended upon the dispositions of the various colonial authorities. For the Congo itself, it became clearer as the Conference drew to a close that this dependence was to be upon the personal will of Leopold II. For one by one during the Conference the Powers followed the lead of the United States and Germany in recognising the flag of the Association as that of a friendly government. Thus in February 1885, on the same day that the Powers of Europe signed the General Act of Berlin, the Association was able to mark its own adherence to this Act. During the debates the Association had hardly been mentioned by name, but the delegates at Berlin had come to assume that it was to be invested with authority to carry out the programme which they were laying down for the Congo basin. Nor were they under any illusion concerning Leopold's position in the Association, and were not surprised when he assumed its direction in name, as well as in fact. Internationalism had served its purpose. De Winton, who had replaced Stanley as the King's representative in the Congo, proclaimed the King of the Belgians the 'Sovereign of the Congo Independent State' at Boma in July 1885; a month later Leopold II notified the Powers to the same effect. He was acting in a purely personal capacity; in giving him permission to assume the sovereignty of the Congo Independent State the Belgian Parliament had insisted that there was to be no link whatever between Belgium and the new state save in the person of their King.

So the inhabitants of some million square miles of African territory were submitted to the authority not of an elected European Parliament but of a single European monarch; at home the King of the Belgians was a constitutional ruler, but in the Congo he was an absolute sovereign. There could be outside limitation of his liberty of action only by virtue of international public opinion and of the enlightened but somewhat vague prescriptions of the Berlin Act. But in 1885 there seemed no reason to doubt that the King would use his despotic powers wisely, in pursuit of his avowed objective of bringing legitimate commerce and Western civilisation to the Congo basin.

The Size of the Undertaking

The first and most urgent task which lay before the infant state in the Congo was that of exploring its own territory; exploration was a necessary preliminary to occupation. In 1885 little was known about the geography of the interior of Leopold II's vast realm, and even less about the King's new subjects. There was no pre-existing unity whatever among the African peoples in the territory entrusted to the King of the Belgians, while such political cohesion as was there before the coming of the Europeans had been rudely broken up by the demarcation lines traced over central Africa with no respect for tribal divisions; thus the Bakongo, for example, were to find themselves under three different European administrations, some under the French, others under the Portuguese and others again under Leopold.

The value of the thousands of miles of rivers which stretched inland from Stanley Pool was also an unknown factor. But it seemed probable that the Congo and its tributaries would be able to provide the highways by which white men could penetrate into the heart of their new kingdom. As one old Bakuba chief was to remark later, it was useless to think of resisting their influence, since 'wherever the rivers flowed, the white man's steamers came'.' For it was steam power which carried the Europeans up the Congo and its tributaries; the discoveries of modern science were reducing the physical barriers to inland advance and paving the way for European domination in Africa. As early as December 1882 Stanley had accomplished the task of carrying his first steamboat around the lower river cataracts and had launched the En Avant on Stanley Pool; it was not long before the Baptist mission had followed suit with the Peace.

Thus by the time that the Congo Independent State achieved formal recognition in 1885, a certain amount of exploration had already been accomplished, and several steamers were plying up and down the main river to supply the State stations and the mission stations which had been established above the Pool. Stanley had discovered Lake Tumba and Lake Leopold II in 1883 and Hanssens had recognised the confluence of the Ubangi and the Congo. Between October 1884 and March 1885 the English Baptist missionary Grenfell explored the Ruki and the Busira, travelled up the Itimbiri for 100 miles until he reached its falls, the Aruwimi as far as the Yambuya cataracts not far from its confluence with the Congo, and the Lomami for 140 miles. When he returned down river, he turned northward into the Ubangi and followed its course for 200 miles as far as the Zongo rapids.

In 1885 he explored the eastern and southern tributaries of the Congo - the Lulonga, the Maringa, the Busira, and the Juapa - and followed this up in 1886 by the exploration of the Kasai, the Lulua and the Kwango. His chart of the Congo was published in 1887 by the Royal Geographical Society. Other explorers had done equally striking work. In 1885 a German explorer, Von Wissman, had descended the Lulua and the Kasai and reached Stanley Pool, thus proving that the Kasai did not empty its waters into the Congo via the Ruki or the Lulonga, but was connected with the Kwa. In later years Vangele explored the Ubangi, Wolf the Sankuru, Le Marinel the Lualaba, Van de Velde the Kwango, Hodister the Mongala, and Roget the Uele and the Bomu. Between 1887 and 1889 the Aruwimi and the Ituri became a little better known as a result of Stanley's Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. All this exploratory work established one important fact: that navigable waterways led into almost every part of the Congo basin, and that Europeans had but to make use of the steam force at their disposal in order to penetrate and occupy the territory.

At the same time, as this exploratory work was in progress, other expeditions were preparing the way for the commercial exploitation of the upper river, always a major preoccupation of Leopold II. In 1886 the Compagnie du Congo pour le Commerce et l'Industrie was formed in Belgium, and in the following year it sent out two expeditions.

Ernest Cambier went to the lower Congo to survey the site of the future railway which would link the coast with Stanley Pool; while Alexandre Delcommune examined the upper Congo from the point of view of its commercial possibilities; both operations were supervised by Albert Thys. Then in 1889 the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Congo was formed.

But expeditions to the lower Congo were not limited to the engineers and technicians whose task it was to prepare the ground for the railway; in 1887, for example, Edouard Dupont, director of the Belgian Museum of Natural History, made his way out to study the geology of the region.

Side by side with exploration and study went European settlement. State stations were founded on the main river at Basoko, on the Ubangi and in the Kasai. The missionaries, who had been first in the field, were determined not to be left behind by State settlement. The Baptist mission intended to push on up the main river; in 1886 it planted a station at Lukolela and in 189o two more at Upoto and Monsembe. The Livingstone Inland Mission handed over its work to the American Baptists in 1884, but a few years later former L.I.M. supporters in London formed a new mission, the Congo Balolo Mission, which took as its field the network of Congo tributaries lying to the north and south of the Equator, within the curve of the main river?the Lulonga, the Lopori, the Maringa, the Juapa, and the Busira. The first C.B.M. station was planted in 1887 at the confluence of the Lulonga and the Congo. Bishop Taylor's self-supporting American Methodist mission arrived in the lower Congo in 1885; most missionaries remained below Stanley Pool, but one travelled up the Kasai and settled at Luluabourg near the State post. He died alone there in 1888, however, and was left without a successor. These missions were all Protestant. Leopold II had been anxious to persuade Belgian Catholic missions to take up work in the Congo, but they had been slow to respond to his appeals; not until 1888 was it decided that the Belgian Scheut Fathers should replace the French Holy Ghost Fathers in Congo State territory. At the end of the year their first station was planted at Berghe-Ste. Marie (Kwamouth).

The People and their Life

In the process of exploring the Congo River and its tributaries and making their first tentative settlements, Europeans were beginning to discover something about the ethnography of the Congo basin. Explorers were not only concerned to chart
the river itself, they also took care to note the physical characteristics, the customs and the way of life of the peoples who lined the river banks. Of course it was only very slowly that Europeans came to make a synthesis of their various pieces of information, and to build up a general picture of the Congolese peoples, their past history and their present ways of living.' In the absence of written records it is difficult to be definite about the past, but by comparing fragmentary oral traditions with the findings of archaeology, historians can now begin to piece together the story.

In the early years of exploration and settlement, there was one ethnic group in the Congo - that of the Pygmies - which remained almost unknown by Europeans. The Pygmies belonged to the forest regions, which were the most difficult of access; they preferred to live in seclusion from their Bantu neighbours and were even more shy and distrustful of Europeans. Schweinfurth had noted occasional Pygmies in the Uele, Grenfell saw others on the Busira in 1885, and Stanley found Pygmy settlements in the northeast during his journey with the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. Today it is possible to be reasonably certain that the Pygmies were the oldest inhabitants of the land. Gradually they gave way before a series of Negro invasions, and now remain as little isolated pockets to be found in thickly forested regions of the Congo between the Equator and Lake Leopold II, in the forests of the Aruwimi - Ituri, the Juapa, the Sankuru, and the upper Lomami, and to the west of Lake Tanganyika. Only in the Ituri, and among the small groups of Pygmies in the Sankuru and the upper Lomami, can they be found unmixed; here the Pygmies are around four feet in height, with a brownish yellow skin, large heads on short necks, a generous covering of hair Stanley said it felt as though he were stroking a fur when he passed his hand over the body of the first Pygmy he met and what seem to Europeans to be overlong arms and legs, which are too short. In other regions the slight increase in height, and the somewhat darker tone of the skin - 'the common red clay brick when half baked would correspond best in colour to that of these little people' reported Stanley - show the influence of Negro stock. When uninfluenced by the Negro peoples, the Pygmies live in a hand-to-mouth manner on whatever edible fruits, nuts and roots they can find the search for these is usually the women's work and on such wild animals as can be brought to earth by the poisoned arrows of the men. The clan sticks closely together, but a Pygmy who is not of the clan is as much a stranger as a man of another race.

Theirs is a nomadic existence, with no attempts at tilling the soil nor tending flocks and herds, and their household furniture is limited to what can be carried with them. The scanty clothing they use is made of bark and fibre. Sometimes, however, Pygmies have come into fairly close contact with Bantu settlements, and by exchanging the game they have caught for bananas, sweet potatoes and ground nuts, and for iron arrowheads, they have benefited from the more advanced material civilisation of their neighbours. Sometimes a Pygmy girl marries a Negro the opposite does not seem to occur and settles down in his village, attracted by the more comfortable life to be enjoyed there. But since she continues to visit her family, and in old age may return to live with them again, she begins to, introduce them to the way of living to which she has become accustomed. Thus the Pygmy culture is slowly being absorbed by the Bantu, for where the Pygmies have settled down in one place for several years at a time, in imitation of the Negroes, they have taken up agricultural work and acquired more material possessions than they can easily carry around with them, so that their way of life has gradually lost its distinctive character.

The bulk of the people with whom the European traders, missionaries, and officials came into contact as they travelled the Congo River and its tributaries were, however, Negroes, and of these the great majority spoke languages of the Bantu family. Physically, these Bantu speaking Negroes differed considerably from person to person and from tribe to tribe. Woolly hair was perhaps the most consistent feature. Skin colour could vary from coal black to ash grey or chocolate brown. The forest dwelling tribes in the centre of the Congo basin were in general of smaller stature than those who lived in the more open bush or savannah country to the south, the cast and the northeast.

The Bantu languages are related to one another very closely, often as closely as are German and Dutch, for example, and linguists are today agreed that this indicates that the Bantu peoples began their great dispersion through the southern half of Africa not more than about 2,000 years ago. The Bantu languages are, taken as a whole, more closely related to the languages spoken in the forest belt of west Africa than to any other group of African languages. The probability is therefore that the earliest Bantu speakers came from west Africa, and that they were the first iron using cultivators to settle in the lower lying and more humid parts of Africa south of the Equator that is to say, in and around the Congo basin, the Great Lakes and the lower Zambezi valley. As their numbers increased in this central belt, they spread outwards from it both southwards and north-eastwards. Linguistically, although not always culturally, they were to absorb the fairer skinned Hamites and Sudanic Negroes who came to farm and hunt on the higher, drier plateaux of east, central and southern Africa.

The Congo basin and its peripheries lay, therefore, at the heart of the Bantu world. It was the part of that world where the Bantu peoples still manifested the most clearly the signs of their west African origins. Like the majority of the west African forest peoples, the basic Bantu populations of the Congo are matrilineal, which is to say that a man considers himself more closely responsible for his sister's children than for his own, and inheritance passes in the same way from uncle to nephew. There are many other characteristics of matrilineal peoples in west Africa and the Congo notably the prevalence of secret societies, many of which are connected with the elaborate initiation rites to which both boys and girls are submitted at adolescence.

In the Congo as in west Africa, matrilineal institutions have given rise to representational art of a highly sophisticated kind, expressed above all in sculptured wooden masks and figures;' along with this has gone a technical excellence in crafts such as the weaving and dyeing of textiles in raffia and palm fronds, the carving of ivory objects of all sorts, the design and decoration of iron tools and weapons, which have gone very far ahead of general African standards. The German ethnologist Leo Frobenius wrote:

“In 1906, when I penetrated into the region of the Kasai and the Sankuru, I found villages still existing whose principal streets were lined on both sides, and for miles on end, with four rows of palm trees, and whose charmingly decorated houses were each of them a work of art. There was not a man who did not carry sumptuous weapons of iron or copper, with inlaid hilts and damascened blades.... Everywhere there were velvets and silken stuffs. Every cup, every pipe, every spoon was a piece of artistry, fully worthy of comparison with the creations of the Romantic style of Europe.”

Even cannibal tribes, such as the Bayaka and the Basonge, were distinguished by the extreme cleanliness and neatness of their villages and the evident love of beauty in their material possessions.

The matrilineal Bantu peoples, who formed the basis of the Congo's population, were, however, the subjects rather than the creators of such political states as existed in this part of Africa at the time of its partition by Europeans. It would seem that the matrilineal Bantu cultivators who were responsible for the agricultural settlement of the land consisted of lineage groups obeying no political authority higher than the clan elder. The creators of kingdoms were later arrivals, who came as conquerors from the north east, equipped with important ideas of political organisation which they brought southwards, from Ethiopia and perhaps the southern Sudan, and also with superior technical knowledge in various fields such as mining, hunting, and warfare.

We do not know how early these political developments began. In the centre of the Luba country around the upper Lualaba it may have been as early as the eighth or ninth centuries A.D. Certainly, at this date the copper deposits of the Katanga were already being exploited by people equipped with advanced metallurgical techniques who were trading either northwards to the Sudan or eastwards to the Indian Ocean, perhaps both. The builders of the Zimbabwe civilisation of Southern Rhodesia probably moved southwards from this area in about the tenth century and it was from this direction also that the founders of the Congo kingdoms seem to have originated, perhaps in the fourteenth century. The main political revolution, however, was that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when Luba - Lunda dynasties established themselves over the whole of what is now the southern Congo from the frontier of Loanda to Lake Moero and beyond. This last was almost certainly a movement stimulated by the commercial opening of the west coast to trade by the Portuguese. The Lunda Kingdoms of Mwata Yamvo and Mwata Kazembe were established with the aid of European firearms and their ruling classes dressed in European textiles; in exchange for these they exported copper, malachite, ivory and slaves. By the eighteenth century they were trading with the Zambezi as well as with Loanda.

Over to the east of the Congo State Hamitic peoples who had moved southward in quest of pasture for their cattle had settled on the shores of Lake Edward and Lake Kivu, and in Rwanda?Burundi. They were considerably taller and slimmer than the Bantu often well over six feet in height with longer heads, narrow noses and thin lips. This is how Stanley described these peoples and their relationship with the Bantu among whom they lived his Wahuma are the Bahuma (of Hamitic stock) and his Bavira the Babira (Bantu):

We discovered that there were two different and distinctly differing races living in this region (to the southwest of Lake Albert) in harmony with each other, one being clearly of Indo - African origin, possessing exceedingly fine features, aquiline noses, slender necks, small heads, with a grand and proud carriage; an old, old race, possessing splendid traditions, and ruled by inflexible custom which would admit of no deviation. Though the majority had a nutty brown complexion, some even of a rich dark brown, the purest of their kind resemble old ivory in colour, and their skins have a beautifully soft feel, as of finest satin. These confine themselves solely to the breeding of cattle, and are imbued with a supercilious contempt for the hoemen, the Bavira, who are strictly agricultural. No proud dukeling in England could regard a pauper with more pronounced contempt than the Wahuma profess for the Bavira. They will live in the country of the Bavira, but not in their villages; they will exchange their dairy produce for the grain and vegetables of the hoemen, but they will never give their daughters in marriage but to a Mhuma born. Their sons may possess children by Bavira women, but this is the utmost concession.'

Everywhere they travelled in the Congo State, Europeans were to find a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being who had created the universe. He was not of great practical importance in daily life, since having once created the world he left it very much to itself, and lived far away in a celestial village in much the same style as that of a Bantu chief on earth. According to the Basakata, he had created a man and a woman, fixed a climbing plant between his village and the earth, and said to them: 'Now go down to earth by this creeper and stay there. So far as I am concerned, my work is over." So it was not the Creator but rather the intermediary powers between God and man who were of immense practical importance for daily living; that is, the ancestors, the spirits, the King, who to some extent participated in the life-giving force of the Creator, and who could increase or decrease at will the life-force of men living on the earth. Both the individual and the group had to placate these intermediaries, so that their influence would be beneficent, so that they would remember to nourish the life-force of man and of society, and would not allow it to decrease or disappear.

There were two attitudes possible in face of this situation, the one religious, when men implored the higher powers for their assistance by prayers or rites, and the other magical, when the rites in themselves were thought to be efficacious. Of course the two attitudes could exist together in the same person; they were not considered to be mutually exclusive. Religion and magic played a very large part in Bantu life. Calamities which Europeans would have put down to natural causes were attributed to the intervention of spirits; thus there was a constant need to placate them, and to invoke benevolent ancestors or the divine authority of a chief as a counterbalance against these forces of evil. The sowing and the gathering of the crops, the initiation of a boy to adult life or the preparation of a girl for marriage, the making of a contract, all had to be surrounded with suitable rites which were the affair of the community rather than of the individual.

These, then, were the Bantu speaking peoples with whom the Europeans came into contact during their early years of exploration and settlement on the upper Congo and its tributaries; such were their social and political relationships, their technical and material achievements, their art, and their beliefs. Theirs was a society which regarded the preservation of the status quo as its highest good, where the distinction between 'sacred' and 'secular' was unknown, and where the individual was caught up in a complex of traditional institutions and social relationship which conditioned his behaviour and left him with little scope for personal initiative. It was into this kind of society that white men came, Europeans with their glorification of the idea of 'progress', their distinctions between the natural and the supernatural, and their energetic individualism. With the differences between black and white as great as they were, it seems inevitable that the two groups should have misunderstood one another.

African Reactions to the European Invasion

Once again we realise how unfortunate it is that we can so rarely learn from African sources how the black men reacted to the coming of the whites. European comment at this stage was no more favourable than it had been in the days before the foundation of the Congo Independent State, but, as before, it is all we have to rely on. This necessarily gives us a somewhat one-sided picture.

However, in the case of one tribe which the Europeans found living in the Kasai in the late nineteenth century, there exists an oral tradition which recounts the white men's arrival on the African coast at the end of the fifteenth century. The Bapende inhabited the west coast of Angola, near Loanda, at the time that the Portuguese arrived; later they moved north-eastward and settled in the Kasai region, well inland.

Their traditions record that the strange white beings who appeared at the coast seemed to their ancestors to be spirits, and that their forefathers tried to defend their country, but found their bows and arrows to be of no avail against the firearms of the whites. The Bapende were afraid, and retreated inland; some, bolder than the rest, however, returned to trade with the Portuguese. The Europeans introduced manioc, maize, groundnuts and tobacco into the country, and it seems to have been this which most impressed the Africans about their coming. The prayer which the people continued to use to ensure that their crops were good clearly shows European influence, but it has lost anything but a material significance. This is what the Bapende recounted:

Our fathers lived comfortably in the plain of Lualaba. They had cattle and crops; they had salt marshes and banana trees. Suddenly they saw a big ship on the sea. It had white sails, which shone like knives. White men came out of the water, talking in a manner, which nobody understood. Our ancestors were afraid, they said they were Vumbi; spirits come back to earth. They pushed them back to the sea with showers of arrows. But the Vumbi spit fire with a noise of thunder. Very many men were killed. Our ancestors fled away. The chiefs and seers said that formerly these Vumbi were the possessors of the land. Our fathers left the plain of Lualaba, fearing the return of the ship Ulungu. They withdrew to the river Lukala. Others stayed near the sea. The big ship came back and white men reappeared. They asked for fowls and eggs; they gave cloth and pearls. The Whites came back again. They brought maize and manioc, knives and hoes, groundnuts and tobacco. From that time until now, the Whites have brought us nothing but war and misery. It was at Loanda that they brought groundnuts, maize and manioc and showed us how to cultivate them. To succeed with these crops. one must pray. They pray like this:

Creator God Maweza, First-born, ,Have mercy upon us Keep us safe Give us our daily bread Feed us always. In thy name Maweza Give us today our bread Thy manioc Thy maize Thy groundnuts Thy sorghum Thy bananas All thy good things Mazewa Keep them for us!'

When they made their way into the Congo interior in the late nineteenth century, the Europeans found that there were many Africans who, like the Bapende, not having seen white men before, concluded on first sight that these pale faces belonged to spirits, and sometimes thought them to be the spirits of their ancestors. Thus Charles Bateman, a former English naval officer who took service under Leopold II in 1884 and accompanied Wolf and Wissman to the Kasai, reported that the Bashilele called him 'Chienvu' believing him to be a reincarnation of a chief of that name who had died some time before, and similarly with the other Europeans of the expedition.' In quite another region, Grenfell said he was met with cries of 'Bedimo!' (ghosts) when he travelled up the Juapa in 1885, the first white man to be seen there. He found that he could make peace at one spot with the Africans, and that news of his harmlessness would then travel upriver for a certain distance, but after this stretch he had to begin the process all over again.

But the fear that the white men were spirits who had returned to trouble them, appeared to leave the Africans once they had discovered that the Europeans were human beings like themselves. Grenfell reported:

The assertion that we were men like themselves, that we ate and drank, and were hungry, that we slept as they did, and that we had the same number of fingers and toes as they possessed [were] arguments usually sufficient to convince the native mind.

It was even better, of course, if the European was able to produce a white baby and a white woman; in an instant this was enough to change hostile demonstrations into an enthusiastic welcome, for everyone wanted to feel and hold the baby. Once they had lost their fear, Africans were exceedingly curious about white travellers and their behaviour; it was no unusual thing for these latter to report that 'we were surrounded by hundreds of friendly people, who seemed unable to gaze sufficiently at us'. Africans were critical, too, and sometimes judged European standards to be lower than their own. One of a crowd watching with interest the ablutions of a European traveller, might well ask scornfully: 'Is that all he is going to wash? Why, we wash all over!' Only the explanation of an African accompanying the European that when at home his master bathed regularly, could save the white man's reputation for cleanliness.'

And it took Europeans some time to acquire a reputation for possessing human feelings. One of the missionaries of the Livingstone Inland Mission recounted that after a night spent in attending his sick wife, he overheard an African woman exclaiming in surprise: 'What do you think? These white people actually love each other like we do! She is ill, and he looks pale.

But it seemed to the Europeans that fear and curiosity often gave way to a shrewd assessment of the material advantages which might be expected from the coming of the whites. Like the Bapende on the coast in the fifteenth century, Africans in the Congo interior were not slow to realise that they might well benefit from European possessions and from European techniques. An example comes from Grenfell's journey early in 1884. One evening frightened and hostile Africans would not allow him to camp on their beach, as he wished, so that he had to spend the night on a sandbank in the middle of the river. During the night it was necessary to shoot two hippopotami which had tried to wander across the camp, so that in the morning the Africans found several tons of meat waiting for them on the sandbank. This was quite enough to make them change their minds about the advisability of allowing Europeans to sleep near them, and they began to wish that the white men might often come and visit them.

When the members of the Baptist mission were made welcome on the upper river, they declared themselves to be under no illusions as to the reasons for this. At Lukolela the Africans were pleased to see Davies and Richards when they arrived to found a station in 1886, for, according to Bentley, 'they doubtless recognised that their advent opened to them a source of cotton cloth, looking glasses, knives and brass wire, practically inexhaustible'. Farther up the river, at Bolobo, the chief Ibaka had appeared to be favourably impressed by what he had seen of the activities of the Europeans at Lukolela, and so asked them to build at Bolobo too, 'to give him medicine when he is sick, and to be his white men'. And a year or two later, when the Baptist missionaries wanted to push on upriver, they said they realised that 'there was no anxious desire for the Gospel on the part of those wild cannibals of Bopoto; they expected that material advantages would accrue from our settlement among them, and so they invited us'.' Where it was not the case that missionaries brought material benefits with them, they were apparently not wanted. Bishop Taylor's missionaries, who arrived in 1886 and intended to work on self supporting lines, bought up the two deserted State stations of Vivi and Isangila, settled down to agricultural work, and had ten acres under cultivation by 1889. But an observer reported:

[The Africans] do not like these foreigners who install themselves in their midst without any wealth, and who bring no immediate tangible advantage to their neighbours.

The consensus of opinion among the missionaries was that when they were made welcome, it was for the material benefits which they brought with them, and not for any other reason. There is no way of checking this opinion from African sources, except in so far as an African tradition like that of the Bapende seems to indicate that one of the things which most impressed their forefathers was the new foodstuffs which the Europeans introduced to them, and that a European prayer which presumably had originally a Christian formulation, had lost all its spiritual significance when handed down from one generation of Africans to another. Certainly the missionaries must have appeared to the Africans as people to whom material possessions were of considerable importance, for white men regarded as necessary for their comfort, and even for their existence, quantities of articles and foodstuffs which were unheard-of luxuries for the Africans. Before the coming of the Europeans, the Bantu peoples had made little effort towards technical progress or the acquisition of material possessions; they had simply not paid the degree of attention to these things that they had, for instance, to family and social relationships. At first sight it might seem surprising that they should welcome the whites for the sake of that technical progress which they themselves had neglected. But it appeared to Europeans that the Africans saw no reason why they should not benefit from those useful and beautiful things which the white men apparently possessed in superabundance, even though, left to themselves, they would never have considered it worth while to take the trouble to develop similar techniques. What irritated Europeans was that the Africans seemed to have no idea of the effort that had gone into the production of the cloth and tools and medicines which they coveted; they had no wish to work for these things, but merely to have them bestowed upon them by a kindly providence.

So for the Africans, the missionaries were people for whom their material possessions had considerable importance, however much they might preach about taking no thought for the morrow. But there was one missionary who suddenly realised the gap, which existed between his preaching and his practice and sought to close it in a somewhat dramatic fashion. Henry Richards, one of the pioneers of the Livingstone Inland Mission, had spent six years in the Congo by 1884, and during this time he had, as he put it, preached the Law, in order to give the Africans a sense of sin. But it seemed to him that his work was a complete failure; there were no conversions among the people to whom he preached. So he decided to preach the Gospel and discovered, as he did so, how far his practice differed from his words. So he decided to live the Gospel, too, even to the point of obeying quite literally the command to give to every man that asks of you'. The Africans of Banza Manteke, surprised to find that a missionary was thus willing to act on what he preached, soon claimed all his possessions. But afterwards it occurred to them that a European simply could not exist as they could, without all the trimmings which they had taken from him, so one by one they came to return his belongings. What is more, a good number of them asked for baptism;' they were won, perhaps, by Richards' sincerity, where years of his admonitions had failed to move them. There were not many missionaries, however, who acted on their own spiritual counsels in so concrete a manner; one could hardly blame the Africans who listened to their sermons for being somewhat confused by the discrepancy between certain evangelical advice and the example of those who preached it.

It was not only the missionaries who claimed that Africans welcomed white men for the sake of what they hoped to receive from them; this was a recurring theme with all classes of Europeans. State agents were equally convinced that where the black men welcomed the whites, this could be explained in material terms. Already in 1883, when Stanley was making treaties on the upper river, one of his companions recorded that two days' journey above Lukolela, the people were very glad to see Stanley's party, had loaded them with gifts and wanted them to stop. He explained this by saying that some of these people had already visited Leopoldville, and 'knew the riches of the white man'.' But even where the people had not previously been in contact with Europeans, they were won over by a display of wealth. Delcommune speaks of Totay, a Chief whom he met at Ylambu on Lake Leopold II in 1888, and who was at first so frightened by the appearance of the steamer that he forbade his subjects even to speak of him to the white men. Presently, however, he became bolder, and himself came to talk to Delcommune: 'The white man has come to us with his great house which walks on the water. What has he come to do here? Does he come as a friend, or to make war? Let the white man reply.' On being reassured as to the party's friendly intentions, and impressed by the trade goods displayed to his delighted gaze, he finally concluded, said Delcommune, that he was glad to be the friend of men who possessed such beautiful things. And on the Ruki, where the chief of the fishing village of Bombumba was bolder than his subjects (all of whom ran away and left him to face the Europeans alone), Delcommune presented him with gifts a handkerchief, beads, a knife, fork, and spoon. These astonished and delighted the chief immensely, so that his smile grew wider and wider, and he and his people were soon won over to friendship with the whites, and to an alliance scaled in the approved manner by an exchange of blood.

Thus in the early period of settlement on the upper river, Europeans got the impression that on the whole Africans thought that the white men's wealth could be turned to good account, if the invaders were welcomed in a friendly manner. Of course there were exceptions, when the Africans objected to any change in the status quo, and not even the wealth of the Europeans was sufficient to win them over. At Bolobo Stanley's station was burned down by the Africans, for 'the Bolobo people were a strong, wild folk, who thoroughly understood that they were stronger than the white man'.' At Mswata, however, Stanley's first station above the Pool, there was a more typical reaction. The chief Ngo-ibila was 'a shrewd man, well disposed to white men'; he gave the impression to an English missionary that he considered Europeans to be 'cows worth keeping, and to be milked at pleasure'. And gradually Europeans noticed that the Independent State's blue flag with the golden star, taken over from the International Association of the Congo, came to be regarded by the Africans as a fetish which augured good luck and prosperous days .

The first reaction to European possessions had been one of amazement. 'It is too-too wonderful! ... we have seen a thing today that our fathers never saw', was the excited comment of the Babira when Stanley showed them a mirror. When Africans became a little more accustomed to the white men with their steamers and their guns, their cloth and their cutlery, they attributed to Europeans the most far-reaching powers. The white man became for them 'a being for whom anything is possible, who has universal knowledge and talents, so that nothing on his part surprises them'." Often they attributed his technical superiority to magical powers, to the possession of a fetish stronger than their own. Sometimes the explanation had its sinister side; the missionary Weeks recorded that many Africans believed that it was not white men, but sea sprites, who wove the cloth they possessed:

We have found an opening leading to their oceanic factory, and, whenever we need cloth, the captain of a steamer goes to this hole and rings a bell; and the sprites, without showing themselves, push up the end of a piece of cloth, and the captain's men pull on it, two, three, or more days until he has all he requires. He then throws in, as payment, a few dead bodies of black people he has bought from those bad native traders who have bewitched their people and sold them to the white men, who buy them for this purpose.... It has often been pointed out to me that cloths are too finely woven to be the work of white men with two eyes, but are made by the sea sprites, who, having only one eye, have the sight of two concentrated in it, and are consequently able to weave these fine textures.

Sometimes Africans even believed white men to have power over death itself, as can be seen from an incident which happened to Harry Johnston as he travelled down the Congo from Bolobo with Lieutenant Orban in 1883. When the two Europeans reached the village of Itimba they found that a man of standing in the region had recently died, and they offered to fire a salute in his honour.

The Chief and people were delighted. Could there be a greater honour for the deceased than to receive his farewell salute at the hands of a white man, with his wonderful gun from Mputo the mysterious region beyond the sea-the unknown perhaps heaven itself? ('for are not these white men sons of heaven?') So thought the old chief, as he led us to see the corpse: with an earnest, pleading tone, he took our hands in his, and said, 'Oh you, who are going home', and he pointed to the pale and peaceful evening sky -'you will send him back to us, will you not? you will tell him his hut is waiting for him, his wives will prepare his manioc white as a cotton cloth, and there shall be malafu in plenty, and a goat killed. You will send him back will you not? ... We tried as gently as possible for he appealed to both of us in his distress to explain at once our utter inability to reanimate his hideous corpse with the breath of life, and to encourage him with vague hopes that all was not in vain, but he shook his grizzled head sadly at the confession of our powerlessness face to face with death.'

At times Europeans deliberately fostered the belief that they possessed miraculous powers over nature, when this was to their own advantage in a particular situation. Once when the Englishman Bateman was travelling in the Kasai, he found the Chief of the village of Beni - Kashia unfriendly. It chanced that a thunderstorm intervened in their discussion and one of the villagers was nearly killed by lightning. Here was a threat, which lay near to hand: Bateman told the chief that if he did not disarm his men and behave in a friendlier manner, he would as a reprisal call back the thunderstorm and destroy the village. This worked splendidly: the threat, it seemed, was implicitly believed.

The apparently blind obedience of Africans in face of white omnipotence was a source of amused wonder to Europeans. Thys recounts that when he travelled up river in the Stanley in 1887, the captain made a party of Bangalas leave the boat one night and camp on shore, for fear they would otherwise start a fight with the Zanzibaris on board. An unusually heavy storm followed, and afterwards Thys wrote in his diary:

There are the Bangalas in the wood, poor devils! Their fires are scarcely lit. And they obey, although they are eighty and we are only a handful of whites and they would obey just the same, in fact, if there were only a single white man on board. Is it because of their respect for the white man? Is it their discipline? Is it self-interest? Perhaps the three together?"

The attitude of Africans towards Europeans during this early period their apparently easy acceptance of the material benefits which the white man brought, and their boundless faith in his power to do anything he chose to do, whether in the realm of the natural or the supernatural seems to resemble very closely their attitude towards their own ancestors. For according to the Bantu peoples, their ancestors, while possessing certain human attributes, held a considerably higher place than their own in the hierarchy of forces which ascended upwards, depending each upon the one above it in the scale, and finally upon the supreme Force, the Creator. If they chose for there was no obligation upon them to do so ?their ancestors could load them with material advantages, with fine weather and heavy crops, with good health and success in war. At the sight of the technical achievements and the extraordinary possessions of the white men, it must have seemed only sensible to conclude that Europeans were capable of fulfilling very much the same sort of function.

The Reactions of the Europeans to the People they Found

The Europeans who came into contact with the Bantu speaking peoples had not the slightest doubts of their own superiority. The establishment of the Congo Independent State made little difference to the feelings towards each other of Europeans and Africans. As before, the Europeans were inclined to judge the Africans by their own standards, and to produce the most sweeping condemnations. Often enough a European who could recognise and praise the qualities of an individual African, would generalise in the most critical manner about the race as a whole. The Africans were cruel, said the Europeans,
they were lazy, ignorant, untruthful and gluttonous. Their whole society was corrupt. One of the agents of the Independent State wrote:

In entering into contact with [the Bantu peoples] the Belgians have found them in a state of extreme barbarity and corruption. Nothing which these disinherited peoples remember, nothing in their traditions, their social life, nor the material objects which surround them, give any indication of a better period in the past, of a time when they possessed a more advanced civilisation. . . . The intelligence of the black, although quite lively, only seems to exercise itself in evil.'

The missionaries were equally critical. The Scheutist Father Cambier wrote home to his brother from Berghe - Ste. Marie early in 1889:

If the heat of the climate is no torment, does that mean to say that we lack sufferings here, to help us through Purgatory? Each day brings its own little miseries, but the sharpest torment is to see, one might even say to smell, that one is in a land given over to the devil. It is impossible to imagine the shades which haunt the understanding of these poor blacks, or the corruption which stains their hearts. These men are laziness incarnate, turning their hands to nothing, becoming drunk, but ... dead drunk, from beer made from sugarcane; whereas the women and slaves, driven with the whip, work pitifully hard. And what can I say of the way of life? Is it possible that God can allow such shameless less? It seems that a curse must lie upon this bestial race.

The Protestants felt the same. Baptist missionaries in the lower Congo had been highly critical of the Africans they found there. On the upper river they saw no reason to change their opinions. When Grenfell and Comber travelled upriver in 1884 they wrote home that:

The chief characteristics of Bolobo people appear to be drunkenness, immorality and cruelty, out of each of which vices spring actions almost too fearful to describe. In hearing of these, one living out here almost gets to feel like calling the people terrible brutes and wretches, rather than poor miserable heathen. The light of their consciences must condemn them in most of their sins.

In similar strain Holman Bentley, when he described the cannibal practices of some of the tribes living on the banks of the Ubangi, declared:

To this awful depth have these children of the Heavenly Father fallen, until they have indeed become children of the devil! Shall we let these 'innocent heathen' go on in their simple way, or shall we 'trouble' them with the Gospel? This is how they live up to their light I Again we say, If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! This is no 'worked up' picture, it is the daily life of thousands at the present time in darkest Africa.'

For the missionaries however, the Bantu remained 'the children of the Heavenly Father' however low they might have fallen. They had only to be reclaimed for their rightful destiny, by the efforts of the missions; as Father Cambier said, even if it seemed that a curse lay on the black race, yet 'the power and mercy of God are infinite, He can and will seize these poor souls from Satan, if we Christians put our resources, our devotion and our lives into the work'. The missionaries were forced by their message to preach the fundamental equality of white and black as children of God. The German zoologist Richard Bilttner, who met the English missionary John Weeks in 1885, said of him:

He believed himself called to be the apostle of white and black alike, named his poor and helpless coloured fellow creatures his brothers, and struggled against the arrogance of the white race in favour of the equality of the black.

The same could have been said of very many of Weeks's fellow missionaries.

Most Europeans in the Congo would have agreed with the missionaries' criticisms of Bantu society, with its 'maximum of violence, discomfort and wretchedness', and its 'minimum of peace, comfort and pleasure'.4 There were very few white men in the Congo to take up Rousseau's idea of the 'good savage'. True, in 1885 the engineer Gustave Petit-Bois talked a little enviously of the tranquillity of the Africans' life. There was no struggle for existence among them, he declared, and there was perfect equality in Bantu society; all the men left their village together in the mornings to hunt or trade, while the women took up their baskets and their babies, and departed to the fields. It seemed to him an ideal life. 'Is not this the society according to nature of which Jean-Jacques dreamed?' he inquired.' But it was the question of an anti-clerical and a leading Freemason, and Petit-Bois had spent less than two months in the Congo. Neither missionaries nor State agents who settled down in Africa for a longer period would have agreed with his praise of Bantu society.

In their sweeping criticisms of African cruelty, however, Europeans sometimes forgot that, not so long before, no less cruelty had been displayed by white men in the prosecution of the slave-trade. And as for the laziness of African men, it did not occur to them, as it did to a later generation, that in Bantu society work had been divided between the men and the women on the basis that everything which had to do with the taking of life-hunting, fighting and so on-belonged to the men, and all which tended to the preservation of life-the cultivation of the crops, for example-fell to the women's share. The coming of the Europeans meant in effect that a good part of the men's work had been taken from them, for there were fewer attacks on neighbouring villages, or battles in defence of home territory. But the men could hardly be expected to change the nature of their employment overnight, to fit the changed circumstances, and to take up the hoeing and weeding which from time immemorial had been regarded as women's work.

Then there was the charge of ignorance. 'Will it be believed', inquired Bateman, after some Africans had nearly sent their boat over a waterfall through their own carelessness, 'that any human being could be so utterly sceptical of the simplest laws of nature, so absurdly blind to the most evident connexion between the laws of cause and effect?' A belief in magic led the Bantu naturally enough to attribute any misadventure to the intervention of hostile spirits, even if it was in fact due to their own lack of foresight. To Europeans this seemed quite ridiculous. Bateman continued:

These hardened and ungrateful blockheads could see nothing wonderful in their unaccountable deliverance from the jaws of instant death, but only in the fact of their coming into any kind of misadventure at all-a circumstance which they positively ascribed to my black magic, and not to their own foolhardiness! This truly African disbelief in physical law is doubtless inseparable from a low position in the scale of human knowledge, and we laugh at it.'

There was also the question of untruthfulness; it appeared to Europeans that the Bantu were constitutionally prone to this. 'Lots of humbugging all round. [The Africans] cordially despise our powers of observation, and think we are easily hoodwinked,' wrote Grenfell in his diary in 1890 with reference to inquiries being made about cases of ritual murder after the death of a chief. But the Bantu had been well trained in politeness; they liked to say what they knew their questioner wanted to hear. If it would distress him to know that several people were going to be killed, they argued that there was no reason at all to inform him of it.

Europeans sometimes acknowledged that the sweeping criticisms which some of them made about Africans were often unjustified. With regard to the charge of gluttony, for example, the missionary Weeks wrote:

Savages are often regarded as gluttons, but when it is remembered that they really have only one square meal a day; that when on journeys they live in 'the poorest and scantiest fashion possible; that they go long periods without a good feed of meat; it is not a matter of surprise that the evening meal is a large one, and that on some special occasions, such as a wedding or a funeral, they eat freely and expansively of the foods put before them. The natives think the white men are great eaters, because they sit down to at least three meals a day, whereas they only sit down to one.'

Sometimes, too, Europeans acknowledged that it was not always the fault of the Africans when relations were strained. The German explorer Wissman, for instance, wrote:

One hears ... endless complaints that the natives are difficult to handle and are faithless and wily. But it hardly appears how often the fault for this lies with the whites.

However critical Europeans might be of Bantu society as they found it, they did not regard the situation as hopeless. They were convinced that they were in contact with a race whose evolution had been retarded, but which was, nevertheless, essentially perfectible.' Their own ancestors, they reminded themselves, had once been in a like state.

Albert Thys wrote:

Of course it is true that the Negroes do not look ahead: in this they are like all simple peoples, like all peoples still in an early stage of development. But just because of that one should not deny them the possession of any good qualities, nor deny that the race is perfectible.

It is true that the Negro does not think enough about drawing profit from the richness of his soil that he is somewhat lazy, that he scarcely ever thinks of the morrow, but it was also the same for us, if we will take a look at history. For how long have famines ceased to be prevalent in Europe? Remember what terrible ravages they made in the fertile plains of Provence! In Caesar's time was not our beautiful Flanders fallow, and our fertile plains of Hesbaye uncultivated

And the engineer Petit-Bois:

Good people of Capita, what were your ancestors doing when Julius Casesar was occupied with the conquest of Gaul? ... You must know that it was this Julius Caesar who made us sit down rather in spite of ourselves, it is true-at the banquet of civilisation. Before that, we lived like you, outside the main current of things. Today it is your turn to enter into it.

So the situation of the Bantu peoples was not without hope, argued the Europeans, since they themselves had had to pass through a period during which they were introduced to civilisation. Now they conceived it to be their duty to give a similar initiation to the Africans. The geologist Edouard Dupont, Director of the Belgian Royal Museum of Natural History, who spent a few months of study in the Congo in 1887, described the European vocation in grandiose terms:

The European nations have come with generosity to tackle the plight of these disinherited countries, and will enable them to flourish with all the means at the disposal of our age. West Africa has been delivered from the sufferings, which have weakened it until today. Africa has entered into a decisive and definitive stage of development.... Under a kindly and enlightened direction (the Africans) will be able to make an effort to draw fertility and riches out of their devastated and unproductive soil, their habits will become gentler, and they will abandon the customs which decimate their population even now and are an evil almost comparable with that of the slave trade itself. At last Europe has taken up her true role-that of bringing civilisation to the world-in central Africa.'

Liebrechts, working in the service of the State, was in full agreement with these sentiments. 'Left to himself', he declared, 'the Negro would never have improved himself; it has taken the direct and commanding action of the European to change him. If the Africans did not wish to accept civilisation at first, it was to be imposed on them by the white men, and later they would be grateful enough, thought the Europeans. 'The savages need to be handled properly', declared the German von Francois, 'on the one hand they must feel power and strength, on the other we must patiently bring them to see the advantages which contact with civilisation gives them.

It was all the easier to show 'power and strength' since the Bantu tribes were divided amongst themselves: there was no common front to unite them as black men against the white men. Time and again Europeans found that ancient tribal hostilities turned out to be of great assistance; in the Kasai, for example, Bateman records that he found the Bakete eager to throw off the Bakuba yoke, and so very ready to make an alliance with the Europeans. Harry Johnston had noted in 1884 that it was African divisions, which had accounted for Stanley's rapid success.

What has hitherto made Mr. Stanley's work so rapid and so comparatively easy has been the want of cohesion amongst the African chiefs; he has had no great jealous empire to contend with, as he would have had farther north or farther south. If one village declined to let him settle among them, the next town out of rivalry received him with open arms. There has been no mot d'ordre, and this had enabled him to effectually implant himself in their midst.... Union . . . would inevitably turn them with race jealousy against the white man, the entry of civilisation into the Congo countries would be hindered, and this great work made dependent upon the caprices of an African despot. The black man, though he may make a willing subject, can never rule. These people are well disposed in
their present condition to receive civilisation, but the civilisation must come not as a humble suppliant but as a monarch. It must be able to inspire respect as well as naive wonder, and this is what the expedition as conducted by Mr. Stanley has succeeded in doing.'

Europeans of this period were well satisfied with themselves, and with their own civilisation. They possessed the 'gospel of human progress', according to Bateman, and to spread this gospel Europeans must be prepared to suffer. Thus Bateman spoke of

. . . the life-war that we wage with ignorance and barbarism in Africa, their last great stronghold in the world. Amid the wilderness, how limited the civilising influence of each station! How vain, too, seems the noble holocaust of human life, those lives in which, alas! we are compelled to lay the deep foundations of regenerated social life in Africa! How firm the grasp with which the pioneer must hold the gospel of all human progress and true conquest, even that 'whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it'; yet surely as the river of our time flows on to the great ocean of eternity, our work is done, the toilsome task achieved.

Thus his appeal was to 'all who have at heart the regeneration of long-degraded races of their fellow-men'.

But the contact between white and black was not to be an altogether one-sided affair. If Europeans were to bring civilisation to Africa, sometimes at cost to themselves, they could also expect that Africa would provide an outlet for the manufactured goods which Europe found herself able to produce in abundance as a result of the industrial revolution. In fact, it was by means of trade that civilisation would enter Africa; thus both Belgium and the Congo stood to gain from King Leopold's African venture, argued Thys when he returned from his Congo trip in 1887:

The Negro is a born trader, and perhaps in this fact lies the greatest hope for the success of the African enterprise. When the European met the proud races of America, he was not able to make contact with them; they withdrew before him, and in reality, we never brought the redskin race into subjection, but exterminated it. Here, there is nothing of the kind to fear. The commercial sense, which is so developed in the Negro, naturally, encourages him to approach the white man, to enter into relation with him to become his auxiliary. Thus by this contact between the races, finally we shall not suppress the Negro race but strengthen it, civilise it, and later emancipate it. It is this, which makes the enterprise pursued by the King in Africa so truly complete. It is not only a utilitarian work by which our commerce and industry gain an outlet, but it is also a highly philosophical work, because it introduces civilisation into the midst of the backward peoples of an immense continent.'

European Settlement 1885-90

Counting missionaries, State agents and independent traders, there were 430 whites resident in the Congo State by the end of 1889. One hundred and seventy-five of these were Belgians, fifty-eight were Portuguese, and then came the Dutch, the English, the Danes, and the Swedes, the French and the Americans, in descending numerical order. About 300 of them were to be found below Stanley Pool, and the rest were missionaries and State agents on the upper river. As yet there were no European settlers in the Congo; the climate and the soil had not proved sufficiently enticing. Bishop Taylor's self-supporting mission had failed to support itself by the agricultural work, which its missionaries had taken up, and although in 1886 two Germans belonging to Wissman's expedition had wanted to settle at the confluence of the Sankuru and the Lubi when their term of office with the State expired, this idea had not been followed up. At the time, the Belgian Mouvement Gdographique had pointed out that the Congo interior would provide an excellent field for European colonisation, but as yet no Belgians were even slightly interested in settling there. Thus it was for the purpose of trade, for the work of evangelisation, or in the service of Leopold II, that Europeans were living in the Congo Independent State during the first few years of its existence.

The Africans with whom the majority of these Europeans first came into contact were the lower river carriers on whose labour the whites at the Pool and on the upper river were totally dependent for their supplies. As Stanley had foreseen, it was impossible to open up the Congo basin without a railway, which would round the lower river cataracts and thus link the coast with Stanley Pool. In the meantime, Stanley's road provided a temporary solution, but it still left the problem of porterage, for every load had to be carried on African heads. Stanley had brought Africans from Zanzibar for the work, and at first the missions had fetched men of the Kru tribe from the coast cast of Liberia when the lower river tribes proved unwilling to act as carriers. This was too expensive a method to be continued for long, however, and it was essential to mobilise local labour. But since the demand for carriers far outweighed the supply, there was constant competition between the State, the traders, and the missionaries.'

Inevitably the lower river porterage system engendered considerable ill feeling between Europeans and Africans. Buttner complained in 1886 that the demands of the lower river carriers were completely unreasonable. Between Vivi and the Pool, he declared, the carriers had become so conceited, knowing that they were indispensable, that they asked whatever they liked in payment for their services. On the other hand there is no doubt that the lower river peoples suffered a good deal under the strain of a system, which 'laid so many burdens over the years on their heads and shoulders that it finished by crushing them, so that their bones mingled with the dust of the path and the whole region was depopulated'. Among the lower river tribes there grew up a considerable dislike and even hatred of the white men who had forced such unpleasant work upon them; it is indicated by a song which the Scheutist missionary Emeri Cambier heard in the lower Congo in 1888:

O mother, how unfortunate we are! ...
The white man has made us work,
We were so happy before the white arrived,
We would like to kill the white man who has made us work,
But the whites have a more powerful fetish than ours,
The white man is stronger than the black man,
But the sun will kill the white man,
But the moon will kill the white man,
But the sorcerer will kill the white man,
But the tiger will kill the white man,
But the crocodile will kill the white man,
But the elephant will kill the white man,
But the river will kill the white man.

Liebrechts as a servant of the Congo Independent State, could only defend the porterage system as a necessary evil, a price which Africans must be prepared to pay for European civilisation:

Some people say that those who employ this system are barbarous, and load them with anathemas. But alas, in the greater part of Central Africa, this is the only means of transport, and to give it up would mean renouncing the development of civilisation. Such a renunciation would engender evils as great as those of the porterage system. There could be nothing worse for Africans at present than to lose European influence, for they would only fall into a state of anarchy which would lead to the extermination of the race.'

Yet unfortunate as the porterage system was, with all its attendant hardships, at least it offered the opportunity for a personal relationship to develop between a European and the African carriers on whom he was so dependent. The missionary John Weeks wrote:

As I became acquainted with the language, I found my personal lads and carriers no mean companions. Their ready sympathy when you fell into a stream; their hearty, good-natured laughter at your and their own mishaps; their genial chatter, the stories they told, the country gossip they recounted, and the conundrums they propounded, all helped to shorten the journey, and smooth the stony road.

And again, speaking of the evenings spent around the fire in the company of his carriers:

The white man has arranged with his capita (head carrier) where they are to lunch and sleep on the morrow. All the carriers have a say in the matter, for have they not to carry loads weighing from fifty pounds to seventy pounds each according to their pay? And a caravan must not go faster than its slowest unit, or walk farther in a day than its weakest member can reach before sunset; otherwise the white man may find himself at night minus his bed and mosquito curtain, or his case of provisions, which has happened more than once; a white man on the road does well to consult his men about the next day's journey.

In this situation, a European was forced to realise that his African carriers were beings whose human needs he neglected at his peril. As Wissman declared:

Courage and determination are not enough to bring the white explorer through the dangers of Africa. Many expeditions have miscarried because the accompanying black man ran away or simply refused to go any further. In such cases one may ask who has been to blame for the difficulties which have arisen. In part, obviously, the carriers themselves....

But we must also be honest enough 'to apportion a large part of the blame to ourselves, the white leaders, for not always having acted justly in our judgment and treatment of the black man.... The carrier desires to be well treated for he is a man and has a human sensibility. . . . Even those who have an extremely lax conception of the difference between 'mine' and 'thine' - and there are many such in Africa are perfectly well aware whether or not they are being correctly treated by their master. It is proverbial that one is quicker to recognise the faults of one's employer, and that one judges them more severely, than one's own; and so it is also with the black man. He is very quickly able to judge his master, and in most cases he does so justly. But if he feels that he is being correctly treated, and can recognise that the white man has human feelings for him too, then in case of necessity he will double his efforts without complaining, he will accept patiently such reproofs as may be necessary if they are given at the right moment, and remain true and faithful to his master.'

But while the lower river porterage system had its brighter side, it was clear that as soon as possible a railway had to be constructed to link the coast with the Pool. To Albert Thys went the credit of collecting the necessary funds for this from Belgian sources, so that King Leopold could dispense with the assistance which he had first asked and been promised from English financiers. Thys was an ardent patriot, who is reported to have asked himself in everything he undertook: 'What advantage is this going to bring to my country? He always thought of the Congo in relation to Belgium. But, like King Leopold himself, he knew well enough how to appeal to philanthropic sentiment, playing on the now familiar theme of the misery and ignorance of Africans when untouched by European civilisation; thus when in May 1889 he published his proposals for the lower Congo railway, he concluded:

We have set out the matter of a railway in the cataract region of the Congo with scrupulous sincerity. Now it is for the capitalists to decide. But the question will not only interest the financiers. We must also appeal to philanthropists and men of goodwill who are horrified by the barbarities of the slave trade; to men of science who want to discover the scientific riches of central Africa, which previously they have been unable to investigate; to religious and believing men who suffer to see the unfortunate blacks held in the ignorance of fetish worship. All these friends of humanity will find that the Congo railway is the means par excellence of allowing civilisation to penetrate rapidly and surely into the unknown depths of Africa.

The Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Congo, founded in 1889, had nineteen Europeans in Africa at the end of that year. By the end of 1890 there were 170 Europeans in the Congo in its employment, and 2,000 African workers; these latter came mainly from the Kru tribe, from Accra or from Sierra Leone, since all available labour on the spot was needed to keep the porterage system working. The recruitment both of Europeans and of Africans caused considerable difficulties. On the one hand, while the engineers were carefully chosen and good men for their job, some of the foremen and specialised workers, recruited too hastily, turned out to be incapable and stubborn adventurers; on the other hand, the Africans often had no idea how to use European tools, disliked their work, and frequently had to be rounded up and chased to it in the mornings. The situation provided a considerable problem for the five-year - old administration. Finally it was decided in 189o to inculcate a spirit of military discipline among the railway workers by forming them into a kind of militia, which could be called on if there were troubles in the interior, or if the territory of the State should be attacked. The director of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer became the commanding officer of this special militia, the superintendents became the captains, the foremen lieutenants, and so on. Henceforth somewhat better order obtained among the employees of the Compagnie.

When Thys left for Africa in 1887, in charge of the two expeditions of the Compagnie du Congo pour le Commerce et l'Industrie, he was not preoccupied solely with plans for a railway in the lower river region, and for the commercial development of the upper Congo. In addition, King Leopold had charged him with the confidential mission of reporting on the functioning of the Congo administration. So Thys had long talks with Government officials, residents and officers, and closely observed, amongst other things, the relations of white and black. He was indignant with the way in which certain Europeans treated Africans, and in his report to the King he spoke bitterly of the general chaos and indiscipline of the administration. He had several concrete suggestions to make; the territories should be divided into districts to allow closer local supervision, there should be a strict hierarchy established among the State officials so that the responsibilities and powers of each were made clearer, and State personnel should be obliged to wear a uniform.

The work of the administration was extremely difficult in its first few years. To begin with, other Europeans engaged in trade and missionary work in the Congo found it very hard to realise that the Association Internationale du Congo had acquired the powers and authority of a civil state, for they had formerly considered its agents to be on an equal footing with themselves. At first they saw none of the advantages which settled government might be expected to provide, while the disadvantages were obvious, in the form of taxation, restrictive regulations on land and transport, and the general delay involved in any dealings with the administration.

The disadvantages of European government were even more obvious to the Africans in the lower Congo; the administration interfered with their settled way of life, and forced them to break stones and to carry heavy loads between the coast and the Pool. The fact that after a while they were able to move freely along the government's road as far as Leopoldville, without fear of the marauding tribesmen who formerly despoiled unwary travellers, seemed small gain to set against the loss of their independence. Perhaps Petit-Bois had been somewhat over idealistic when he talked of the tranquillity of the African way of life which he observed in the lower Congo in 1886, of the lack of any struggle for existence and of the human equality within this society. But it is probable that when the Africans looked back nostalgically a few years later, this is how their life when untouched by European influence must have seemed to them. They would have forgotten the insecurity and remembered only the freedom of the long, idle days when they were their own masters.

European traders, and missionaries, of course, were well enough able to appreciate the benefits of State rule once the administration had proved that it was able to keep the road open, to protect caravans and to bring a certain amount of law and order to the region. Thus the missionaries explained to the 'unwilling Africans that civil government was the divine remedy for the sins of their past, and that European government was a necessity for them since previously Africans had created no stable government of their own:

They [the people of Nzundu, near the Baptist mission station of Wathen] are afraid of the State Government, and very much resent its interference with their affairs. They did not get much sympathy from me, however, for I told them plainly that God had permitted the State authorities to take possession of their country because they could not rule themselves. They were always fighting and killing one another.... This they could not deny.'

But it was not an easy matter for the State authorities to put an end to the 'fighting and killing one another' and it could not be done all at once, especially on the upper river, where Europeans were few and far between. When Dupont interviewed Governor-General Janssen at Boma early in 1888, he was told that the State officials knew that they had to move slowly. In its relations with the Natives, the State was trying first of all to win the confidence of the population, declared the Governor-General; its agents had been told to study the local customs and languages, to move gradually in their efforts to suppress those African customs which could not be tolerated by a civilised power, and to do all they could to show that European civilisation was going to bring real advantages to the Africans.

If an administrator was to carry out this programme, he had to become a good listener. This was difficult, for Europeans in Africa were more inclined to command than to listen; some of them, however, managed to learn the art. Liebrechts, for example, who was left in charge of Bolobo Station by Stanley in 1884, recounted how he took part in the local ceremonies on occasions of joy and sorrow, of birth and death, 'when the duty of humanity allowed this', and how he sat with the Africans around their village fires in the evenings.' By listening to their discussions, their stories and their jokes, he learned that Africans possessed their own set of standards, that they were not so completely lawless as many of his fellow Europeans seemed to suppose, but that those standards differed considerably from those to which Europeans had been conditioned. It was clear, he declared, that:

... The European must take account of [the Africans'] mentality, and their own way of understanding their duty. The black, in all good faith, may accomplish an act which he believes to be meritorious, although to us, in the present state of our behaviour, it seems only fit to be condemned. So how can you judge these peoples without taking account of their milieu? Thus it is so important that Europeans should learn both the customs and the dialect of the peoples among whom they have to live. Such a knowledge, together with a constant awareness of what is going on, and a patience which will be sorely tried in relations with the natives, will certainly produce results. Conflict comes rarely in Congo when the two sides know each other's tendencies. The blacks like to talk, they can not just say 'yes' or 'no' to however simple a question. So let us talk with them, seeing we are faced with such great gossipers. It is the surest way to get to know their thoughts and intentions.

An administrator who knew how to listen was not long in becoming popular with the Africans on the upper river. He could act in the capacity of an independent arbiter, capable of settling their differences and of handing out useful advice on all sorts of occasions. Liebrechts records how popular Hanssens had become at Bolobo; when the people knew that he was coming upriver, they showed their pleasure by their shouts and cries of welcome:

For the Bayanzi, it was Captain Hanssens who personified the European occupation, and his name was very popular in the region.

Thys, travelling upriver in 1887, was amazed to see the reception given to a State steamer at Basoundi, 'where the welcome of the population recalled that which the good inhabitants of Cythera gave to the Greek navigators'.' A little later, the welcome given to the steamer at Bangala station was equally impressive, and Thys wrote:

In spite of yourself, you are moved to see the exuberant joy of the whole population, when you think how very quick have been the results achieved by the State. It was only ten years ago that Stanley, descending the Congo, had to use arms to force a passage here and only five years ago that Captains Hanssens and Coquilhat founded Bangala station! Who can have doubts about the future, when he sees such wonderful progress!

In the Kasai, too, Bateman found that his Bakete neighbours at Luebo were 'excellent neighbours and kind friends, and wellwishers to the European State. When he left the station which he had planted, he regretfully said goodbye to his 'many friends among the natives'.

Among the missionaries, also, there were some who became very popular with the people among whom they settled. When Summers of Bishop Taylor's mission died alone among the Bena Lulua, in 1888, he had won such a position that they gave him a funeral, which resembled that of a king. And when Darby of the Baptist mission left the Babango, after eight years' residence among them, Grenfell noted in his diary:

Darby is evidently very popular, for the people are much averse to his leaving. They have been calling him all sorts of bad names because he leaves them. 'You know our language and can teach us, and now you are going to leave us in the dark again. You are bad! You are bad! What are you going for?' He replies 'Don't I want to see my father, sisters and brothers? That is not bad.' 'But what do you want to go all that way for? Are we not all your people? Are we not your brothers and sisters? Don't we all belong to you?' 'But perhaps 1 want to bring a wife to help me!' 'Oh! that's no reason. Look here (pointing to a circle of women); one, two, three, four, five, sixtake which one you like take them all!!!"'

There was a threefold division in the work of the missionaries who had made their first settlements in the Congo; Comber noted it when he made his report on the Baptist mission station at Ngombe in 1887. The missionaries preached, taught and trained boys in school, dispensed medicines and undertook the industrial labour necessary for the foundation of a mission.' At the time Comber wrote, there were about twenty boarders in the Ngombe school and a handful of patients in a small, temporary hospital, while the industrial work was confined to what was necessary to erect the few simple buildings which made up the station. It was the day of small things, but already the missionary had taken on the roles of teacher, healer and employer.

The missionaries' first undertaking, of course, had been to learn the language of the people among whom they settled and to reduce it to writing the latter particularly in the case of the Protestant missionaries who were eager to flood central Africa with Bibles in the vernacular as quickly as possible. The
missionary had begun by collecting lists of words from the cluster of curious small boys who gathered round him or perhaps he engaged one of them as his assistant for the salary of seven pence halfpenny a month. Then he would gather a little
group of boys to whom a particularly intensive instruction could be given. As early as 1883 it had been realised that Europeans could never evangelise the whole territory, and it was held that the mission stations should be centres for the training of future African evangelists. Children were taken to live at the mission
station either freed slave children, or else those who came with the consent of their parents to remove them from the influence of their tribal background.

As for medical work, it happened to be the one effective answer which the missionary could give to the nganga, however little this factor might have weighed with him when he first took up his ministry of healing. At first the Africans might not be able to grasp the scientific principles which lay behind the white man's use of medicine, but they could see that his methods were effective. Thus they became willing to accept the missionary's condition that they should remove their fetishes before he could treat them. The missionary himself soon gained the reputation of being a sort of nganga, and a very powerful one. Father Cambier, who in 1889 established the Scheutist mission at Berghe-Ste. Marie, at the confluence of the Kwa and the Congo, and immediately began to try out the simple remedies which his brother, a doctor, had taught him, quickly found himself baptised 'Nganga-Bouka' by the Africans the 'physician-sorcerer'.

Already, as teachers of previously unknown arts, as judges and settlers of quarrels, and as physicians whose cures were 'remarkably effective, Europeans were in fact fulfilling some of the functions which Bantu society had formerly delegated to the chief and the witchdoctor, and Africans were beginning to transfer to them something of the dependent attitude which they had formerly shown towards their traditional authorities. Missionaries had not gone into Bantu society with the idea of breaking up its traditional pattern, but they did not always realise how closely all the institutions of that society hung together, so that if one were attacked, the whole structure must sooner or later give way. With regard to Bantu family life, for example, they were inclined to condemn outright both polygamy and the dowry system, by which the bride's family received a compensation from the intending husband for their loss of what a woman represented in Bantu society, both as child bearer and manual worker. But for the Bantu, the number of a man's wives was the main indication of his wealth and his status in society, while the dowry system had a stabilising effect in that it gave both the wife's family and the husband an interest in seeing that a marriage did not break up. Before these institutions could be replaced, a money economy would have to be introduced so that there were new criteria of a man's status in society, while a completely different conception of marriage must become accepted if the need for the external assistance of the dowry system in stabilising marriages were to be removed.

The missionaries did see, however, that if young Africans were not removed from their tribal background, it would be well-nigh impossible for them to live as Christians, so, great was the power of the group over the individual in Bantu society. While he still exercised his full membership of the clan, there were obligations incumbent upon the individual which were incompatible with Christian teaching; he was expected to take over the wives of a deceased brother, for example, and he showed a lack of respect for the memory of his relatives if he allowed them to go down into the grave unaccompanied by slaves. So children were separated from their background and brought to live on the mission station; the first converts came from among the personal boys who had made their homes with the missionary, who had helped him in his language struggles, and had lived in close contact with him over a period of time. The case of a Mukongo called Nlemvo is typical; he became attached to Holman Bentley as a small boy, helped him in his work on the Kikongo language and went with him to England in 1884. He was baptised in 1888, the first baptism at Bentley's station of Wathen.

It was not only the missionaries who took African boys to Europe; when Alexandre Delcommune returned to Belgium for a short while in 1883 he was accompanied by his 'boy' who had grown accustomed to his service and had not wished to leave him.' He also took his little daughter, granddaughter of Jouva-Pava, a Chief who lived near Boma. The chief had been reluctant to give his daughter to Delcommune, saying that she was still too young for marriage (Delcommune admits that she was only eleven or twelve) and in any case 'could not become the housekeeper of a white man because she was a princess of royal blood and so must marry honourably'. Finally, however, he gave in when promised a substantial compensation, but insisted that Delcommune must go through a form of marriage according to the traditional rites of the Bakongo. Already in the early years of European settlement, missionaries began to be requested to take over the education of half-caste children by those fathers who did not want to send them to Europe to be brought up there, but who did not wish to leave them to fend for themselves in Bantu society. The contact between European and Bantu cultures also began to produce quite another kind of 'black-white-man', as he was called by the Bantu; this was the African who had received a smattering of European education and who 'paraded among his fellows' in trousers and a tie?

In 189o the Congo Independent State was only five years old, and Europeans had reached the upper Congo but a few years before its creation. Contacts between black and white still had the freshness of novelty. The advent of Europeans had on the whole been accepted by the Bantu with a kind of wondering awe at the superior technical powers of the whites; it was only on the lower river, under the carrier system, that the disadvantages of their coming had been seriously felt by Africans who had abruptly and reluctantly been introduced to the European conception of work. The whites had found themselves critical of Bantu society; and there was a good deal they intended to change, in their role as self-appointed missionaries of civilisation and progress. This society, so long static and conservative, was just beginning to feel the impact of European ideas and European initiative.


Federation of the Free States of Africa



Secretary General
Mangovo Ngoyo

Email: [email protected]