A JOURNAL OF A TOUR IN THE CONGO FREE STATE
MARCUS R. P. DORMAN, M.A.
Author of A History of the British Empire in the Nineteenth Century. The Mind of the Nation, A Study of Political Thought in the Nineteenth Century; Ignorance, a Study of the Causes and Effects of Popular Thought; and From Matter to Mind.
Originally published in 1905 by J. Lebegue and Co., Brussels and Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., Ltd., London
Dedicated by Permission to His Majesty Leopold II, King of Belgium and Sovereign of the Congo Free State.
This journal is practically my Diary reproduced with the minimum of editing in order that the impressions gained on the spot should be described without modification. It was never intended for publication, and was written only as an aid to memory. Consequently it is little more than a collection of rough notes.
Having left England with a prejudice against the Government of the Congo Free State and returned with a very strong feeling in its favour, I feel however that it is my duty to publish an account of what I did see for the benefit of those whose opinions are not already formed beyond recall.
As in all controversies where feelings subordinate reason and people judge more by their emotions than by evidence, many are too quick to-day to attribute interested motives to those whose opinions are not similar to their own. Since a great number of people in the Congo and at home are curious to know whether I was sent out by the Congo Government, the British Government or the Times, I will state here once for all that I went to the Congo entirely to please myself and with the hope of shooting big game. In order indeed to satisfy curiosity, I will go further and state that not only was I not paid for telling the truth, but that the trip cost me a great deal of money.
It is however delightful to remember that wherever I went I was treated with the greatest kindness and courtesy by all whether they approved of the system of the Congo Government or not and it gives me great pleasure to thank here the State officials, Missionaries of all denominations and Traders of various nationalities for their hospitality, friendship and valuable assistance.
London to Banana.
There was no time to spare. The ship sailed from Southampton in forty eight hours and I had only just arranged to accompany Lord Mountmorres on a tour in the Congo Free Stale. He was going out for the purpose of discovering the true condition of affairs in that country and of writing articles thereupon for the Globe but incidentally hoped to have some big game shooting. After one has read much about a country it is always interesting to visit it and as the prospect of good sport was added in this case, I at once decided to brave the cannibals, wild beasts, and—most dangerous of all—the climate, and to seize the opportunity to visit the Congo.
It was necessary to purchase a complete camp outfit, suitable clothes and much food-stuff and to arrange certain affairs at home. The first part was however rendered easy for it was only necessary to duplicate the order already given by Lord Mountmorres, and with a rapidity which could not be equalled anywhere else, the Army and Navy Stores and Messrs. Silvers packed and despatched tent, furniture and cases in a few hours.
As there are many and varied discomforts which cannot be avoided when travelling in the Congo, or any other tropical and half-civilised country, it is just as well not to add to their number by omitting to benefit by the experience of others. A few hints may therefore be inserted here without apology for the benefit of other travellers. The first articles to be considered are a tent, bed, and mosquito-net. Now when the usual oblong tent with a penthouse roof is pitched and the bed made, surmounted by the mosquito-net, the only place in which there is room for it, is in the middle of the tent between the two poles. The result is that as the roof slopes, it is absolutely impossible to stand upright on either side and much space is therefore wasted. It would be better to arrange for the bed to stand close to one side of the tent and for the net to be attached to the sloping roof leaving the middle and the other side free for table and chair. Circles of hooks for clothes should be attached to the poles and large pockets in the walls of the tent itself are useful. It is needless to specify particulars about furniture, and I will only say that the folding or concertina pattern bed, bath, washhandstand and table proved very comfortable and withstood the great strain of being packed and unpacked nearly every day for six months without breaking down. A strong, long lounge chair is absolutely necessary. In climates where there is much glare, everything should be made of green canvas. The well-known Lord's patent petrol lamp is certainly the best and although it necessitates carrying a good supply of oil, is cleaner and more convenient than candles. There is not space here to give a list of all the necessities for travelling and camping in the forests of Africa and it is enough to say that one has to carry a complete house, furniture, kitchen utensils and much food. Wheat and milk cows do not exist in the forest and very little grows which is edible. It is therefore necessary to carry sufficient flour, butter, lard, condiments, tinned meats, vegetables and fruits in order to cook, and to make a variety from the antelopes, fish, game, goats and chickens which are procurable on the spot. Water bottles and filters are very necessary, but for Africa the best change at home—those which have porcelain cores—are of no use for the water is very muddy, and the minute pores at once become blocked. The charcoal filters, although bulky to carry, are therefore the best for the forest. The question of alcohol must be left to the individual himself, but it must be remembered that there are only a very few places where it can be purchased in the Congo and that the State officials are only permitted to have a limited amount for themselves. Undoubtedly the best wine for the climate is good claret or burgundy, and the healthiest spirit, whisky. It is however, well to have some medical comforts in the shape of champagne and brandy to take after attacks of fever. Excellent native coffee can be purchased; tea and sugar must be carried. Drugs, especially iron, quinine, arsenic and phenacetin are essential as also splints, bandages and dressings in case of accidents.
Now it must be remembered that the climate is hot and humid. Metals rust at once, leather and cloth become mouldy, food stuffs will keep one or two days only after the tins are opened, and cigars, tobacco and cigarettes become damp and ferment. In packing therefore, all the food, cigars, cigarettes and tobacco should be soldered airtight and in tins so arranged that when once opened, it is possible to shut them again. A tin of sardines or condensed milk once opened cannot be carried in a case liable to be upside down at any moment. There are however, some bottles with screw tops and india-rubber rings in which Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell send out jam. These are airtight and so very useful for when they are empty they can be cleaned and used for milk, sardines, or anything else again and again. Messrs. Huntley and Palmer pack biscuits in their usual tins but with an inner lid soldered, and these are also very convenient. Above all things, remember curry powder, pickles, chutney and Worcester sauce, for even goat's flesh can be rendered pleasant if it tastes of something else. All this may sound trivial, but it is really very important, for the appetite is easily lost in the Congo and if the strength is not maintained by plenty of food, sickness is certain to follow. Leather cases for rifles and guns are not good as they deteriorate. The best case I have ever seen was made for me by a ship's boatswain. It was of strong sail canvas made to fit the rifle and covered outside with ordinary ship's paint; the inside speedily became lined with oil and the whole formed an excellent guard against the damp. It is however, necessary to have firearms cleaned and oiled nearly every day whether used or not.
Clothes of cloth are not necessary. Drill, khaki and flannel are sufficient with light helmets and plenty of strong boots. It must be remembered that everything has to be carried by porters. Clothes, blankets, etc. should be packed in tin boxes with rubber edges so that when shut they are airtight; tents pack in bales and every article of furniture should fold up. The whole equipment must be arranged so that each load is about 50 or 60 lbs and is conveniently shaped for carrying on the head or shoulder. We were careful to choose the lightest articles, whenever consistent with strength, and thus our baggage when completed weighed only a little more than two tons.
All was ready when we left Waterloo at 10.25 a.m. on Friday June 24th 1904 accompanied by Sir Alfred Jones and Sir Ralph Moor who saw us off at Southampton. The latter has had much experience of Africa and told some blood-curdling stories of the manners of the natives. Adulterers used to be punished in a most barbarous way. A youth who had erred with one of the numerous wives of a Chief, was nailed by the ears to a tree in the forest and left to starve. Women also were treated with equal severity and all manner of mutilations were practised. Such atrocities have of course been suppressed by the Congo Free State.
Having reached Southampton, we went on board the S.S. Leopoldville, a ship of about 5,000 tons burden, very clean and well-found. She belongs to the Compagnie maritime belge which runs a ship every third week from Antwerp and Southampton to Boma and Matadi. We sailed about 2 p.m. and a savoury smell from the galley reminded us that it was about seven hours since we had breakfasted.
Some of the passengers were English military officers and miners bound for the Gold Coast, but most were evidently officials of the Congo Free State. The conversation soon turned upon the agitation in Europe against the Congo Government, and it was extraordinary with what sorrowful indignation the various charges were refuted. This impressed me greatly at the time for it was in marked contrast with the indifference shown by an average Englishmen when his country and methods are abused by foreigners. Probably the explanation is, that we are so used to unmerited abuse, that we regard it as part of the normal order of things. The Congo State on the other hand, has only recently become sufficiently prosperous to attract attention.
One of the passengers dressed as a Catholic Priest, proved a veritable mine of information. This was Mgr. Derikx, Prefet Apostolique of Uele in the Upper Congo. He had had five years' experience of the country and was well versed in all its institutions and ways. Another was a young military officer, M. Arnold, already of the rank of Commandant, for he had shown distinguished service in the field—or rather the forest—and also as an administrator at a State Post. There were also many other officials, soldiers, lawyers and commercial agents on board.
I determined therefore, to read the various books and reports written against the Congo—whether the writers had ever been in the country or not—then to question the officials who had worked there, and finally to see the actual condition of affairs for myself.
We tumbled about in The Bay of Biscay a little and the motion did not much aid the digestion of the contents of histories and blue and white books. A welcome break was therefore made when we reached Teneriffe on June 29th. It is early afternoon and the view of Santa Crus from the sea is very beautiful. In the foreground is ultra-marine coloured water; on shore, bright yellow houses with red roofs dotted among palms and other foliage of vivid green, and behind all, frowns the great grey mountain 12,000 feet high. The hills stretching up from the sea are in many cases terraced for gardens and vineyards and a new hotel stands out prominently on one side. It is a glorious picture, but if the eye is delighted as the boat approaches the shore, the nose is offended immediately on landing. Streets, houses and people near the harbour are dirty and odoriferous and as the shops are all shut for a saint's day, the town looks dismal in spite of the bright sun.
After changing some money at the shop of a jew who gave us the wrong amount and looked injured when we insisted upon the right, we took an open carriage and drove to the Cathedral. The building is not imposing from the outside, but is highly gilded within where is the famous Holy Cross which gives the town its name. There are also many wax figures representing saints, mostly dressed in the costume of the seventeenth century and enclosed in glass cases. The boy who acted as our guide having discovered our nationality, pointed out with great glee English organ, English clock. and finally with satirical humour—probably unconscious—English flags. These flags are those lost by Nelson at the siege of Santa Crus where he lost his arm and a good story is told about them. An ambitious British middy stole them from the Cathedral and was very disappointed, when instead of being at once promoted, he was forced to apologize and restore them.
We next drive up a broad, fairly well kept, boulevard to the Bull Ring situated in an open space behind the town. A woman conducts us into the ring and shows us the stables in which the infuriated beasts are kept before they are asked to shed their blood for the idle amusement of the spectators. On the walls are many names which look like British, and the guide is quite astonished when we refuse to add ours to their number.
Commandant Arnold here takes on board six camels, for it is hoped these ships of the desert will also sail equally well in the forest. The experiment is at any rate not expensive, for they only cost L16 each and will carry several hundred pounds weight of baggage.
From time to time the Congo Government has been charged with forcing the natives to work against their will and with ill-treating them, and it has also been alleged that the native soldiers committed many atrocities during the wars against the revolting tribes. Many of these charges have been collected and published in Civilisation in Congoland written by Mr. H.R. Fox-Bourne, the Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society. The author has not travelled in the country himself, but relies chiefly upon the evidence of the late Mr. Edward Glave, at one time an official of the Congo International Association, and of the late Mr. Sjoeblom who was a Swedish Missionary in the Congo. The book is not cheerful reading, for indeed it is chiefly a record of crimes which have been committed in the past.
It has been frequently stated that acting under the orders, or at least with the connivance of the agents of the Congo State and those of the Commercial Companies in the country, the native police or sentries have punished in a most barbarous manner all those natives who refused to work. It is alleged indeed, that these sentries have actually cut off the hands of those who did not collect the rubber or food-stuff demanded by the agents. To even read of such sickening horrors is terrible, and I was therefore much relieved to find that none of the State officials on board had ever seen natives maimed in that or any other manner by the soldiers of the State. There seems however, to be no doubt that the native chiefs in the past mutilated both the living and dead as punishment for crime. Mgr. Derikx told me that he had heard of a case where a chief had ordered that the hand of his own son should be cut off because he had committed adultery with one of his numerous wives.
We arrived at Dakar, the capital of the French colony of Senegambia, at daylight on July 3rd. Navigation is not easy here, for a reef runs parallel to the coast and the channel between, is neither broad nor deep. The town is built on the shores of a bay and faces an island strongly fortified. The whole colony is being rapidly developed; a railway runs to St. Louis and roads are being constructed across the desert towards Timbuctoo and the northern coasts. A flourishing industry in palm oil is carried on and Dakar is also an important military centre. Several of the officers however, were engaged in the peaceful pursuit of fishing at the end of the breakwater when we arrived.
At Dakar, Commandant and Madame Sillye come on board. The former has served for ten years in the Congo and is now taking out ten horses purchased in Senegambia, from which he hopes to breed. They are a fine looking set, very quiet and well behaved, and take up their quarters opposite the camels without creating any disturbance. We have now quite a menagerie on board. Besides the camels and horses, there are pigeons to be trained as carriers, guinea pigs with which the doctors investigating the terrible disease the Sleeping Sickness, will experiment and several dogs belonging to the passengers. Various kinds of rubber and other living plants also occupy an appreciable part of the promenade deck. Passengers and cargo indeed, are strong evidence of the earnest way in which the Congo is being developed.
It is necessary now to turn from the actual visual facts and to study the statements of others. While doing so however, we must bear in mind the main outlines of the history of the Congo Free State. The opening up of the Congo was entirely due to the initiative of King Leopold of Belgium aided by the explorations of the late Sir H.M. Stanley. In 1878, after Stanley's first descent of the Congo, a society of philanthropists was formed called the Comite d'etudes du Haut-Congo but this was changed in 1882 to the Association Internationale du Congo. Stanley and a French officer, M. de Brazza, then both worked up from the coast at the same time and the former reached Lake Leopold on June 1st 1882, while the latter concluded treaties with the Chiefs on the north bank of the river and founded the French Congo.
The International Association of the Congo at once organised itself into an Independent State and on April 22nd 1884 a Declaration was made by the Government of the United States of America that it recognized the flag of the International Association as that of a friendly Government. At the end of 1884 and the beginning of 1885, Conventions were arranged between the Governments of Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Russia and Sweden and Norway and the International Association of the Congo in which all those countries recognised the flag of the International Association as that of a friendly Government. It is therefore clear that the chief Powers of the World regarded the Association as an Independent State and negotiated with it as such.
At the same time the Powers of Europe were annexing various parts of Africa, and with the idea of regulating in a spirit of mutual goodwill the conditions most favourable for the development of civilisation and commerce, a Conference was arranged at Berlin by Prince Bismarck. All the Powers of Europe and the United States of America sent plenipotentiaries who sat from November 15th 1884 to February 26th 1885 and agreed to the General Act of Berlin of the latter date. In this it is decreed that all nations should enjoy complete liberty of commerce in all the territories constituting the basin of the Congo and its tributaries, and also in other parts of Central Africa mentioned, that slavery should be abolished and that the Congo river should be open to general navigation.
We shall have to refer to this Treaty later, but it is important to note here that the United States of America and all the great Powers of Europe had recognised the International Association as an Independent State before it was signed. Furthermore, before this date, Conventions had been signed with France and Portugal to arrange the frontiers between the territories of those Powers and the International Association. The General Act of Berlin had however nothing to do with frontiers at all, but stated the general principles which it seemed were best suited to the needs of the people and territories in Central Africa, to which all the African Powers, and among them the International Association, voluntarily agreed. It is therefore clear that the clauses of the Act apply to all the Powers in the territories defined, and that the Act itself was not concerned with founding or regulating the system of Government of the International Association, which six months later took the name of the Etat Independant du Congo with His Majesty Ring Leopold II. as sovereign.
While engaged in studying these treaties, we arrived at Free Town, Sierra Leone on July 5th. Here again the place forms a beautiful picture from the sea. A reef runs far out and is marked by a lighthouse, while the town itself, protected by a fort with grass ramparts, lies on the south side of a kind of bay, which, however, has more the appearance of the mouth of a large river. Palms and other tropical plants grow to the water's edge and among them are yellow and red houses while higher up the hills behind, are isolated bungalows and the barracks, at this time occupied by the West African regiment. In the distance, bleak and bare mountains passively regard the scene. On landing, one meets faces showing every shade from ivory white to jet black and clothes of every known colour. The roads are not paved in any way, as there are neither horses nor wheeled vehicles here. Indeed, the houses are built in rows facing each other, a gutter is cut in front and the space between forms a street. The Custom House is an imposing structure near the beach and the Cathedral is a handsome Gothic church, but as one end was covered with scaffolding, it was not looking its best. A light railway runs up the hill to the barracks of the native regiment and a special train was arranged for the passengers of the Leopoldville.
Hotel accommodation in Sierra Leone is, like the demand for it, limited. It is, however, possible to obtain a meal at the Victoria. Altogether Free Town leaves the impression that it could be developed into a most attractive watering place if it were nearer Europe and had a better climate.
It is now getting rather hot and tropical, while the sea is as smooth as a mirror and equally reflects the glare.
I continue to read up the Congo controversy. The report of Mr. Casement, at one time British Consul at Boma, created quite a sensation when it appeared. He stated that the Congo Free State had granted concessions to Trading Companies, which is a fact, and that the agents of these companies compelled the natives by force to collect rubber, which however, he does not attempt to prove by his own experience, but relies entirely upon reports of natives and hearsay evidence. He quoted one case which illustrates the extreme difficulty of discovering the truth from natives. He examined a boy named Epondo who stated that his left hand had been cut off by a native sentry. Not knowing the native dialect, Mr. Casement employed an interpreter, but he was convinced by the manner and gestures of the villagers that the boy's story was true. When the report appeared, the boy was again examined by some officials of the State, when he at once contradicted the first statement and said that his arm and hand had been severely bitten by a wild boar when he was a child and that the hand afterwards fell off. Now one of these tales is obviously false and there is evidence to show which, for the scar of a clean cut wound is different from that following gangrene. However, at this time I had not seen the boy, so of course could give no opinion. This is the only case of reputed mutilation which could be discovered for the benefit of Mr. Casement and was a very unfortunate example of an atrocity, for in the first place it was the left hand that was missing and the soldiers were supposed always to cut off the right, and in the second, there was great doubt whether it was the result of an accident or not.
We were now coasting off Liberia and Captain Sparrow who was in command of the Leopoldville cheered us up with the statement that the charts of this part had not been revised for eighty years, that there were many rocks and that ships frequently went ashore here. Wreckers then went out and looted everything on board. It is not therefore, a pleasant place in which to make an enforced landing.
Liberia itself however, must be interesting to visit, for it is an independent republic of negroes with an elected President, Senate and House of Representatives. It sells palm oil to other countries and buys alcohol, arms and ammunition, thus exchanging a peaceful luminant and lubricant for the elements of moral and physical strife. Fortunately no rocks appear through the bottom of the ship and Commandant Sillye relieves the monotony of the voyage by describing the Constitution of the Congo State, which however, like other constitutions, is occasionally revised. At its head is the Sovereign of the State aided by Ministers at Brussels, next in rank comes the Governor-General and Vice-Governor-Generals, one of whom is always at Boma. There are also Royal Commissioners and Inspectors of the State who are very high officials, but whose duties are not easily defined. The whole country is divided into Districts which are governed by District Commissioners. The Districts are divided into zones ruled by zone chiefs under the control of the District Commissioners. Finally the Posts and Stations are commanded by Post-Commanders. All these may be described as civil administrative officials who, subject to the general system and laws have practical control over more or less limited areas. The officers of the Force Publique rank as Commandant, Captain, Lieutenant and Under-Lieutenant, and there are also several white non-commissioned officers. The natives rank as sergeants, corporals and privates.
On July 8th we arrive at Sekondi, Gold Coast Colony. The town from the sea seems to consist of white houses and huts with the usual red roofs. On a hillock near the shore is an old Dutch fort now used as a signalling station, and on the left, half way up a hill, an hotel has been built. The place is not very pretty or attractive-looking for there is not much colour and no mountains are visible. We anchor some distance from the beach and several open boats at once put off. These are each propelled by ten or twelve natives, who sit on the sides of the boat and ply their paddles, lustily singing as they work together and with a will. The paddles are shaped somewhat like those of a Canadian canoe, except that the blade is star shaped. All the cargo is swung overboard into these boats or canoes as they are called, and the passengers are lowered in a kind of chair. As there is a heavy ground swell running, the canoes are bobbing up and down like corks alongside. The chair is suspended in mid air and lowered rapidly as the canoe washes up, while all hope that it and its occupant will descend at the right moment.
One of the passengers was an English officer, Captain Wheeler, with whom we had played many games of deck cricket on the voyage. First his regulation seventy cubic feet of baggage was lowered—an extraordinary amount, for no one without the aid of a slide rule and logarithms could possibly calculate it—and then he himself made the perilous descent—without a ducking. He would next have 240 miles of train journey to Coomassie and then a walk—or rather a journey in a hammock—for another 300 miles to his station.
We now travel parallel to the Gold Coast which looks hot and uninviting, for there are but few patches of green or trees until Cape Coast Castle is reached. Here is a fort which must have impressed natives and slave dealers greatly in the past, a few houses and an imposing looking church dotted in the red sand. The whole line of the Coast here, somewhat recalls the Atlantic sea board of Georgia, U.S.A. and the towns look as though they would be as hot as Aden at its best or rather worst.
After leaving the Gold Coast, our course is shaped across the Bight of Benin straight for the Congo. There is plenty of time therefore, to study the system of justice in the Congo. This, like everything else in the country, is essentially simple and practical. There is a Court of Premiere Instance at Boma and others called Territorial Courts at Matadi, Stanley Pool, East Kwango, The Equator, Bangalas, Aruwimi, Stanley Falls and Kassai. In each Court is a Judge, an Officer of the Public Ministry and a Registrar, but in the Territorial Courts, the judge may assume the functions of all. These courts hear all civil cases, whether European or native, but the Court at Boma is alone competent to hear trials for capital offences, whether committed by soldiers or civilians. The Court of Appeal consists of the President, two Judges, an Officer of the Public Ministry and a Registrar, and hears all appeals from the judgments of the other Courts, and also from those given by Courts Martial against civilians who are not natives in those regions subjected to special rule. Natives who commit offences against other natives, are left to be dealt with by the local Chief. The Public Minister can however interfere if he thinks the crime will not be punished if left to the Chief.
The Public Ministry consists of a Procureur d'Etat appointed by the Sovereign, who acts in the Court of Appeal and of substitutes appointed by the Governor General, who act in the other Courts. Their duty is to discover all infractions of the law in the whole territory of the State and to see that all decrees, arrests, ordinances and penal regulations are carried out. They are especially instructed to arrange that any native who has been injured receives full compensation before any fine is taken to the profit of the State.
Any region can be placed under military law by a decree of the Governor General. Civilians however, are only subject to the ordinary penal laws, and those who are not natives, can appeal against any decision of a Court Martial. In practice these simple methods work admirably and it is difficult to understand why they should not be equally successful in old civilised countries and a good substitute for the complicated and cumbrous machinery of to-day.
 This list is taken from Justice Repressive (Etat Independant du Congo) and is based on a Decree of 1896. Since then other Territorial Courts have been or are about to be added.
 Some of the greater Chiefs and Sultans have the power to inflict the death sentence.
Banana to Leopoldville.
The amount of sand in the bath water on the morning of July 12th indicated that we were approaching the mouth of a large river. The Atlantic indeed, which had varied in colour from dirty green near the English Channel to ultra marine at Teneriffe, was now of a fine amber tint. As yet land was not in sight; it was comparatively cool and a slight breeze was blowing. About midday the low lying coast of Central Africa became visible as a dark line and half an hour afterwards a simple break could be seen in this line which was the clearly defined mouth of the Congo. On reference to the chart it became clear that although the lower Congo forms a delta in some places twenty miles in width, all the streams coalesce and flow through an opening not more than five miles wide. On both sides the coast is low lying and well wooded.
As we approach nearer, the northern point resolves itself into the extremity of a peninsula, for one branch of the river turns northward thus leaving a strip of land a few hundred yards wide. We pass through the mouth of the river, thread our way between several buoys, turn up this northern channel and arrive at an anchorage in which eight or nine small ships are riding. As we take up our position a boat leaves the shore flying the Congo Flag, a blue ground with a golden star in the centre. Soon after we go ashore in a dug out. propelled by Kru boys to the town of Banana, which is built on this sandy peninsula and is thus guarded by sharks on one side and crocodiles on the other. We land at a wooden pier used chiefly for loading canoes. On each side are magnificent palms, some being more than fifty feet high and all bearing many cocoa nuts at this season about half ripe. These palms are not indigenous, but flourish here. The main highway of Banana is a path of clean yellow sand about ten feet wide, shaded by an avenue of these palms and crosses at intervals small tidal streams by rustic wooden bridges. Many tropical trees and shrubs grow on each side of the avenue, and in the bright sunshine the whole forms a very beautiful picture. It is unfortunate that the effect reminds one somewhat forcibly of a transformation scene of a pantomime and thus appears artificial although in reality, it is absolutely natural. The resemblance is still further strengthened by the numerous ladies of the ballet who leisurely stroll along clothed in nature's ebony black. No one seems to know the origin of the name of the town, for the Banana palm is not found here at all.
At the extreme end of the point, and extending inwards for several hundred yards, are the grounds of the Dutch Trading Company, which has been established here for more than fifty years and ships many of the products of the country. The wooden sheds painted white are very picturesque amid the vivid green foliage. Beyond this area is the house of Dr. Carre, the Commissaire of the District of Banana, which like all the other houses in the town is raised on piles above the level of the sand, for the double purpose of ensuring a current of air beneath and of keeping it dry when the peninsula is flooded. It faces the sea and behind is a small garden in which are many meteorological instruments. Among these are an anemometer slowly revolving in the light air, maximum and minimum bulbs in the shade, on the ground and beneath it, a most ingenious sun dial, and a heliometer. Walking inland along the central avenue, we pass some native shops, one of which bears the interesting name of Williams Brothers. In many of the verandahs, native women wrapped in highly coloured cloths but with bare feet and legs, are working sewing machines or tending their children. Further on is a space laid out in regular squares, in each of which is a well built wooden house raised on piles, and an ornamental garden, the flower beds being bordered either with sea shells or with glass bottles pushed neck downwards into the sand, leaving about two inches projecting above the surface. A little further on is an hotel facing the sea in which is apparently poor accommodation and not much to eat or drink. Beyond this is the native village, consisting of square huts and rough gardens in which some potatoes seem to be growing in spite of the soil and temperature.
Only about twenty Europeans live at Banana and their chief excitement is the arrival of the steamer. Most of them indeed came off to dinner and held a kind of concert in the saloon afterwards. All night long winches and men were creaking, groaning, and shouting, as some of the cargo was put overboard into two large lighters. It was not however, destined for Banana and was transshipped here only to lighten the Leopoldville so that she could pass a certain bar higher up the river. The cargo consisted of coal in the shape of brickets, cement, rice, oil, cloth, clothes, beads, salt and general provisions. As soon as sufficient had been removed, the two lighters were attached one to each side of the ship and we started up the main stream, which here runs between the south or Portuguese bank and a series of islands. All these are covered with dense forest the only living things visible being great black eagles with white wings. On the left bank of the river we pass Malela, a station for collecting bamboos, and soon after Kissange on the opposite side where palm oil is made and shipped. A little higher up, the country opens out and a range of hills becomes visible in the distance, the plain between being covered with coarse grass six or seven feet high, relieved at intervals by solitary palm trees. This is all Portuguese territory, the Congo State here possessing only a narrow strip of land along the northern bank. The course of the river here is very sinuous, winding in and out among the hills, the curves being cut more sharply each day as the water eats into the sand and carries it to be digested in the great stomach of the Atlantic.
In this district both the State and the Portuguese have started large farms for breeding European cattle which thrive here satisfactorily. Higher up a solitary rock overhangs the left bank. This is known as Fetish Rock from the legend that the natives used to throw live people from it into the river as sacrifices. This is possibly true but there is little evidence to show that the natives of the Congo ever sacrificed either living or dead to propitiate anyone or anything.
Near here we anchor for the night and are welcomed by a host of most noisy and vicious mosquitoes who have a particular partiality to good healthy European-fed blood. Again we are delayed to unload and this time into a small steamer the Lagoon—for the ship is still too deep in the water to cross the bar. This sandy obstruction has an unpleasant habit of shifting its position and it is necessary therefore to make careful soundings every voyage at this time of the year when the water is low. These are carried out by Captain Sparrow and Mr. Wright the chief Congo pilot with the aid of a most ingenious sounding machine. It consists of a simple pulley wheel raised on a standard about ten feet above the deck of a small pilot steamer. Over this passes a line weighted at both ends but unequally, and both weights hang down in the water, the heavier naturally being on the bottom of the river. To prevent this line—which corresponds to the ordinary lead line—trailing, as the boat moves forward, a second line is fixed to the weight and passes under water to the bows of the vessel where it is attached As the vessel passes slowly through the water, the weight rises and falls according to the level of the bottom, and the counterweight hauls in the slack of the line, which is marked in the usual way by coloured tapes. At any moment therefore, the depth of water can be determined by observing the tapes. There is now only 15-1/2 feet on the bar, so it is necessary to lighten the Leopoldville still more before it will be possible to cross. Thus early one of the chief difficulties in the Congo the transport of goods—is demonstrated.
A fine crocodile lies asleep on the bank within easy range as we go back to the ship in the launch, but no one has a rifle so his dreams are undisturbed. As the Leopoldville will not be able to reach Boma until the morrow, we decide to go on in the Heron, a small ship which calls for all the State passengers. After Fetish Rock, the river bends sharply to the right and soon after Boma is in sight. At this distance however, the town merely appears as groups of white houses amid trees backed by green hills. Guarding the approach is a strong looking fort which already has a history, for it was captured by rebels and held for one or two days a few years ago.
As the sun was seeking his couch we arrive at the iron pier at Boma on which we find Mr. Underwood, the Director of the well known English trading house of Messrs. Hatton and Cookson. With him we walk down the main business street of the town; a wide shady road lined with shops, hotels, and restaurants and traversed by a steam tram. At the end of this street the road continues to the right, up an incline and opposite to the corner is one of the entrances to the Residency. Passing this we leave a Catholic church, constructed of corrugated iron, on the right and enter a shady avenue in which is the Secretariat. We are then introduced to Mr. Vandamme, the Secretaire General, who at once takes us to the Residency and presents us to Mr. Costermans, the Governor General of the Congo Free State, who hopes we shall travel wherever we feel inclined and see anything we desire.
The Residency is a large two storey house surrounded by a wide verandah and is built of iron plates bolted together. It is raised about ten feet from the ground on iron pillars and approached by a wide staircase with wooden steps. It is surrounded by a well kept garden in which are some statues and many tropical plants. The view from the verandah, looking up and down the river is very pretty. Although the house is in good condition and the dining room large enough to seat thirty people, it is thought not to be worthy of its function, and another large building will soon be erected on the same site.
After this visit we proceed to a house which is kept for the use of the higher State Officials when they pass through Boma and which was now placed at our disposal. It is constructed in a similar manner to the Residency and although smaller, contains three lofty reception and two bed rooms. Two boys. are told off to attend to our wants and after a rest we take a stroll round the town with Mr. Vandamme. Most of the official residencies are situated in one Avenue and are surrounded by gardens in which palms, bulbous trees, and acacias give welcome shade to the roses beneath. The Avenue du Plateau leads up a gentle incline to the Law Courts in which once a week sits the Court of Premiere Instance. Near by is the prison and the terminus of the tramway. From the summit of the hill a grand view is obtained of the river winding between the hills to the East, and at one's feet is a native village nestling in a valley, for the natives dislike wind and cold almost as much as they do rain. Separated from it is another native village in which the Government has placed the educated people who can read and write and many are now ambitions to qualify for admission.
It is now time to return to dinner with Mr. Vandamme where we meet Mr. Gohr, the Director of Justice, and Mr. Underwood. Everyone here dines in white, which is both cool and picturesque. Our host has an excellent native cook who gives us some very good vegetable soup, one of the numerous Congo fishes, all of which are nice, a very tender chicken, an excellent salad and a well made omelette, all of which are products of the country. Flour and butter have however, to be imported, as no wheat will grow in this part of the country and the cows give scarcely enough milk for their calves. Everyone retires and rises early, so at 9 p.m. we seek our house guided by a boy with a lantern, for most of the streets of Boma are not lighted artificially.
Next day we call on Mr. Nightingale who is at present acting as British Consul. The consulate is about a mile from the town situated on the banks of the river and is well constructed of wood. Mr. Nightingale offers kindly to lend us any assistance on our voyage that we may require. Afterwards we buy many things which will be necessary up country, among which are bags of salt, a very popular form of money in some parts, and tins of petrol for the lanterns.
Everyone in Boma works hard, from the Secretaire General who is at his office from 7 a.m. to midday and from 2.30 to 5 p.m. to the hardy healthy-looking native who wields his pick as he chats with his fellows. Roads are being made and gardens laid out in various places. One very noticeable feature of the natives here, is that they nearly all bear wellmarked vaccination marks. Here and there a policeman patrols in an effective costume of blue and red and armed with a short sword. Everywhere is order, method, and cleanliness, and it is very difficult to realise that a quarter of a century ago only three trading houses stood on the site of this prosperous and well-regulated little town. In the evening we dined with the Governor General who has both a good cook and butler; the wines being excellent. Outside, the band of the Force Publique played selections of music, rendered the more interesting by the fact that not one of the players could read a note of music and each learnt his part entirely by ear. Most of the guests were our fellow travellers and well known to us. The conversation turned upon the Sleeping Sickness, Beri Beri, the difficulty of growing wheat in the Congo, and the climate. It is not very hot in Boma about this time, for it is the winter or dry season and the nights are so cold that only the very hardy mosquitoes are sufficiently wide awake to prevent people sleeping. Still it is hotter, than we ever experience in England, and with forethought for the comfort of his guests, Mr. Costermans usually commands white costumes instead of European dress.
The native hospital is a newly-built stone and brick structure and is under the charge of an Italian, Dr. Zerbini. The wards are well arranged in separate wings, permitting good ventilation and isolation. The beds are iron with bamboos stretched lengthwise, thus forming a kind of spring mattress. There are many cases of Sleeping Sickness in the hospital exhibiting various symptoms. In the early stages the patient has many fits of emotional excitement and these alternate with periods of physical and mental languor. Afterwards he lies for weeks or months as if dead and can only be persuaded to eat with great difficulty. Ultimately complete coma supervenes. A motile bacillus has been discovered which is supposed to cause the disease and there is evidence that this may be carried by a mosquito or fly, but until the discoveries of the doctors, sent out by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, are published, it is premature to give an opinion. Up to the present many remedies have been prescribed without success. There is no small pox and little phthisis, and it is interesting to learn that appendicitis is unknown in Africa. Rupture is very common among the natives and venereal diseases are frequent.
As I was destined to become well acquainted with the Croix rouge, the hospital for Europeans, I will describe this institution later. On the reverse slope of the central hill of Boma are the quarters of the army, the Force Publique. The soldiers are fine looking fellows with a very pretty uniform; blue wide cut breeches to the knee, the legs and feet being bare, blue shirt with red facings and belt, and a red fez. They are armed with Albini rifles, a very strong weapon which will stand any amount of rough usage. Everything is scrupulously clean and the married quarters especially look very comfortable. Each couple has a room fitted with bed, table and chairs. They are recruited from all over the country and the service is so popular that in many parts far more men volunteer to serve than are required. The force does not exceed 13,600 in number and is recruited for long or short service.
The prison is situated on the plateau in an open, airy place. The building is constructed of iron plates and the separate cells and rooms are lofty and clean. There are one or two Europeans here who have been sentenced for theft or for cruelty to natives, for the State is determined that all its subjects should be well treated. These are of course kept entirely separate from the natives. Only the natives who have been sentenced to more than one year are sent here and then after a time they are forwarded to the penal settlements. Some are cannibals, but most are thieves, and all wear light chains. It is somewhat warm walking about Boma but there is no alternative, for there are no carriages and only a horse or two for the Governor General. The State regulates very strictly the importation of arms. Permission has to be obtained from the Governor General before any fire arms can be landed; then each one is stamped on the butt with the Star of the State and a number which is registered. If anyone in the country wishes to purchase a weapon from another, both buyer and seller have to obtain permission from the Governor General. These laws are very excellent for they effectually keep modern weapons out of the hands of the natives. Having complied with the regulations and declared our ammunition, our rifles and guns are restored to us with pretty little souvenir marks on the butts. We next apply for a special licence to shoot big game, and this is promised, but as it takes time to prepare will be sent up country after us.
The import duly on alcohol is very heavy and runs up to 47 per cent. ad valorem and no still of any kind is permitted to be set up in the country. Beyond Matadi indeed, special permission has to be obtained before Europeans can carry any spirituous liquors, and then they have to declare that it is not for sale to the natives. Heads of commercial houses are made responsible for the observance of this law by their employes and the State officials themselves are only permitted to have three litres of spirits each month, while absinthe is entirely prohibited. Every white man, however, is given one litre of red wine each day as a ration and there seems to be no limit to the amount of beer which may be drunk, except its great price, for a bottle of lager costs 3 francs at Leopoldville and twice that amount higher up the river.
It is indeed becoming apparent that the Government is a veritable parent and a stern one also. However, as we promise to be good boys we are permitted to carry a few cases of whisky and wine—after paying the duty—to act as medical comforts. in case of sickness. These medical comforts are also a feature of the State, each white being allowed a bottle or two of champagne and port every three months. Every official indeed receives much kindness and consideration from the State but is severely punished any lapse of duty. The whites are fined for carelessness or negligence, by stopping their pay for a certain number of days, and for serious offences any official may be revocated, when he will perhaps lose six months' or even a years' pay. Offences against the penal laws are of course punished by imprisonment.
An excellent institution in Boma is the colonie scolaire where foundlings are reared and educated. Orphans, deserted children, half-castes, all are received and trained for some useful purpose, some entering the army, some engaging on the plantations, some becoming servants to the officials.
It is impossible to form any idea of the Congo native in Boma, for the blacks are of very different nationalities. Natives from Lagos, Sierra-Leone, Portuguese and French territory, all are attracted by the high wages to be earned in the town. Indeed at present most of the positions of responsibility, requiring a fair education, are held by foreign blacks, for very few true Congolese can be trusted. The personal servants we engaged were thus all foreigners in the State service. Two rejoiced in the names of Chikaia and Jean, and acted as boys. i.e. as valets, butlers and general servants while Luembo was cook, and Mavunga, washerman. Each one had a formal contract of five articles signed by us, by a delegate for the Governor General, and by the Judge of Premiere Instance, whose duty it was to see the contract was not broken. The State indeed, superintends everything even to the finding and engaging of private servants for travellers. The wages earned by these boys are very much higher than servants receive in India or China. The cook was paid 35 francs and the others 25 francs per month and all found.
The Customs, the Post Office, and the Land Office, are all conveniently situated in one building on the beach near to the landing pier. In the latter, all the landowners in the State are registered, careful maps being prepared showing the extent and position of each plot of land. The land laws are very simple. The villages are the absolute freehold property of the natives, and are registered in the names of the Chiefs. Vacant lands as usual are the property of the State and the Chartered Companies, Missionaries, and Traders, as a rule, are annual leaseholders but the lease is always renewed if the conditions on which it is granted are observed.
On Sunday we lunched with the Governor General, Mr. Gohr, the Director of Justice—who at present is in the unenviable position of having many critics in Europe, usually imperfectly informed of the details and evidence laid before the judges—Mr. Vandamme, who knows everyone and everything connected with the State, Commandant and Madame Sillye, Judge and Madame Webber, and some others. Afterwards, Mr. Webber, the Judge of the Court of Premiere Instance, who is an excellent pianist, gives us proof of his talent. This is the last pleasant music we are fated to hear for many a month, for nothing but concertinas and gramophones are found in the interior.
Having obtained bundles of permits to do various things, and arranged for letters and parcels to be sent after us into the interior, we left Boma on the morning of July 19th for Matadi in the Leopoldville.. The Congo just above Boma somewhat resembles the Highlands of Scotland, and the similarity was emphasised by the fact that it was raining hard. The hills were bare of trees, the current ran rapidly, forming whirlpools, while many sleepy crocodiles lazily flopped into the water as we passed. After ascending some twenty miles, the river turns sharply to the right and runs between cliffs which descend sheer into the water, forming a narrow chasm not more than half a mile broad. As the whole of the immense volume of water in the Congo has to pass through this gorge, it is enormously deep and the current is very rapid. The depth has not been accurately ascertained, but it is certainly 500 feet, if not more, and the flow of the water is at the rate of nearly ten knots an hour, so that the smaller steamers cannot ascend at all, and the larger only creep slowly up.
Matadi is soon after in sight. It is built on the south side of the Congo valley, for, as a glance at the map will explain, the State owns both banks at this point, but further up, the river becomes the frontier with the French Congo. Matadi is an ancient—if the word may be used in connection with the Congo at all—settlement, constructed at the point where navigation on the river is interrupted by cataracts and rapids for some two hundred miles until smooth water is reached again at Stanley Pool. A caravan route runs from Matadi to Leopoldville, and it was during the march of twenty days over the mountains that in the early days, so much trouble was occasioned by the native porters. All this is abolished now by the railway. The town itself stands on the side of a steep hill and consists of narrow streets paved with cobbles. Here as usual in the Congo, man is restricted to his primeval method of locomotion. Two iron piers jut into the stream and at their ends the European steamers discharge their cargoes into the railway trucks alongside. High up on the hill stands a capacious stone structure, the house of the Commissioner of the Matadi District, Mr. De Rache, with whom we dine, after arranging to leave by the train which starts next day. The distance to be traversed is 220 miles and the fare is L8 each 1st. class and L1 second for the boys. Besides this, baggage over a hundred kilos, is charged at the rate of one franc a kilo, which is probably the highest rate paid for railway travelling in the world. Our fares indeed cost us about L80.
Early in the morning of the 20th, we leave Matadi. The train consists of two engines, two open covered carriages for the second class passengers, who are mostly natives, a saloon and baggage wagon. The gauge is a very narrow one, so space is all-important, but the man who designed the chairs in the saloon must have exercised the most fiendish ingenuity to make them as uncomfortable as possible. There are six on each side, arranged in pairs with a small bracket table in between, and each one is on a pivot. The back is straight upright and the seat is of cane, cone-shaped, the highest point being in the centre. Now as the curves and gradients of the line are very sharp indeed, it is necessary to hold fast the whole time, to prevent slipping on to the floor. If one puts a foot on the opposite seat to steady oneself, it at once revolves, leaving the leg in mid air. However, we fix ourselves in as well as possible and enjoy the magnificent scenery. For a few hundred yards the line runs along the valley of the Congo and a good view of the lowest cataract is obtained, the brown water dashing over the rocks and throwing up spray which is converted into brilliant jewels by the youthful sun not yet an hour old. Then turning sharply to the right, the train runs up the valley of the Posu, a mountain torrent which rushes and roars through a narrow defile. Snorting angrily, the engines climb up this steep gradient, cross the river by an iron bridge and then groaning under the brakes, slide down into another valley. The main direction however, is upwards, and as the country opens out below, one gets a first impression of the enormity and grandeur of Central Africa. As far as the eye reaches, are ranges of hills, the Palabala Mountains crowned by a great cone which appears first on one side then the other, as we cork-screw our way up. The line indeed is a marvel of engineering construction, for a most difficult piece of country is traversed without a single tunnel and with very few cuttings and embankments. The length of the railway is, of course, very much greater than a straight line would be between the same points, for it frequently countermarches backwards and forwards up a hill side, and after a detour of perhaps a quarter of a mile, comes back to the same place, but thirty or forty feet higher up. The company which undertook the task of building the line met with many difficulties, but finished it at a cost of L3,000,000 and many native lives. It was built between the years 1891 and 1897 and the workmen were recruited from Senegal and the British Colonies of Africa. Frequent stops are necessary for the engines to drink and gain their second winds, for their work here is very arduous. After two or three hours, however, a plateau is reached and the line runs for miles through dense forests of palms, acacias and parasol trees (native Motumbi). The name exactly describes these trees, for the branches are arranged like the ribs, and the leaves spread out and form the covering of the sunshade.
Between the belts of forests the country is covered with coarse grass, six or seven feet high, dotted here and there with palms. No vestige of animal life is visible and only a few natives who are engaged on the railway. These inhabit villages near at hand, formed of huts built of reeds or bamboo and thatched with grass. The men wear a loin cloth only, but the women are wrapped in a plain piece of richly coloured cloth which reaches from the neck to the ankle leaving the arms and feet bare. This is evidently a simple length of stuff some three or four feet wide and, to the masculine eye at least, its method of support remains a mystery, for no trace of button, hook or pin is apparent. Their faces are of the negroid type with broad noses and thick lips and the figures of the women approach the shape of an S reversed thus [backwards S] and are similar to those which our American cousins have so largely developed. The men are as a rule thin and tall with very long legs and all appear to have only small arches to their feet. On the lower Congo however, there are many foreigners and several other types are visible. As far as one can judge by the railway cuttings, the soil on the plateau is coarse sand and gravel containing iron and quite unsuitable for agricultural purposes under such a hot sun. The air however, as we approach Tumba, about 2000 feet above sea level, is dry and fresh and at 4 p.m. we halt there for the night.
We are met by Commandant Delhaz, the Commissaire of the Cataracts District, who kindly places a bungalow at our disposal for the night and shows us round the settlement. There is only a small native village here, but large barracks consisting of lines of clean, clay huts constructed by the soldiers. Tumba is indeed an important military centre and here again the appearance of the troops is very fine as they march to the strains of the band which renders snatches from Faust, Carmen and other well known airs with a few native variations. A farm has been established in the neighbourhood to feed the garrison and an automobile road is in course of construction.
Next morning, we dress by candle light and make a hasty breakfast, in the midst of which, at 6 a.m., reveille sounds and the troops assemble in the square in front of the Residency. Half an hour afterwards, the train starts, and having perched ourselves on the summits of the seats, we soon reach Sonna Gongo the half-way house for travellers of the future. Here is a depot for locomotives and carriages and wooden hotels are being constructed to accommodate travellers who, after August, will stop here for the night instead of at Tumba.
Leaving Sonna Gongo, the line rapidly searches for a lower level and the view is magnificent, as a great endless expanse of land is unfolded. Here and there are banks of smoke caused by the veldt fires and often close to the railway the high dry grass has been lighted by a chance spark from an engine, and is burning furiously. We now zigzag down hill instead of up and far beneath, can be seen the thin line of rails glistening in the sun like fillets of silk. Having reached this level, we plunge through inviting looking forests at one time full of elephants, buffaloes and other game, but practically deserted now save by monkeys and parrots.
Soon after the train stops at a station where the natives have assembled to sell fruit and kwanga, a kind of bread made from the flour of the manioc root and the chief article of native diet. It consists chiefly of starch and is not unpleasant when fresh and toasted. The natives however, prefer all food in a high stage of decomposition and it is some time before the very smell of it ceases to make one feel ill. To see them eating kwanga fish or the flesh of elephants, monkeys, antelopes or other animals generally both rotten and raw is most disgusting and brings home the fact sharply that man here is of a very low type.
The oranges the natives sell are very acid, more resembling grape-fruit than the orange of Florida, but the bananas are as good as any in the world and the pine apples—three of which can be bought for half a franc—are equal to the finest hot-house variety.
The line now descends again until it reaches a flat hot, sandy and uninteresting plain across which it runs absolutely straight for seven miles until it reaches Kinshasa on the South bank of Stanley Pool. A few miles further on, is the rail head, Leopoldville. Like everything else in the Congo, this town has been arranged and built for practical use. The railway runs along the beach so as to facilitate the loading and unloading of the steamers of the upper river, and in a very short time all our baggage is taken from the train and carried straight on board the Flandre where we find cabins booked for us. This is an excellent arrangement and saves much trouble, for although the steamer does not sail for two days, passengers are allowed to live on board while in port. Indeed it is very necessary, for there are no hotels in the town, and no accommodation for visitors except a few rooms in the commercial houses.
Some traits of the native's character were now to be demonstrated to us. His main idea always is, to do as little work as possible and he will often take the greatest trouble in his effort to accomplish this object. Each native endeavoured to put his load as near the gangway as possible which was soon blocked and then he had to come back, hoist the package on his head again and carry it to its proper place. Although this performance took place every day, unless an officer was constantly on the watch, the foolish fellows in their attempts to shirk duty brought upon themselves extra work. The cabins were unfurnished, for everyone carries his own bed on the Congo, and most also their own tent. It was therefore necessary to unpack a bed. Here was a difficulty. All the bags and boxes were carefully numbered by the Army and Navy Stores and the invoice no doubt sent to my London address but I left before it arrived, and there was no possibility of discovering which number meant bed. Seizing a likely looking bale, the boys unlace it, and find a part of a tent, and a second attempt brings to light another part of a tent. It is now growing dark and a light is necessary, but in which of these seventy odd cases is the lamp? Not knowing the native mind, I explain that it is necessary to hurry and find the bed before dark. This evidently conveys no meaning at all to the boys, for in the first place it was not their bed and so it mattered nothing to them, and in the second, they had never hurried before in their lives, and could not do so now, even if they wished. Lacing the first bales up slowly and deliberately, they open another and find a canvas bath and washhandstand. These are at any rate useful, and encouraged by success we try again and come across hand-irons and starch. At length we find a thing like a large concertina which is really a folding bed with pillows and blankets, complete. By great good luck a mosquito curtain is then found and the steward kindly lends a candle.
Hot, sticky, tired and cross we prepare for our first meal on a Congo steamer. It consisted of a soup of mystery, chicken, which had been washed in the river close to a group of natives bathing and a goat, killed an hour before dinner, whose flesh was thrown quivering into the pot. However, there was some bread and tinned peaches and it was no use being fastidious in Central Africa. This was washed down with the regulation half litre of red wine, a kind of claret which is quite drinkable and some native coffee which had a delicate and fine aroma, but was badly made.
The captain—as indeed are nearly all the officers of the river steamers—was a Scandinavian and spoke English very well. He explained that the ship was not very clean or inviting-looking, which was the truth, but as the lower deck was lumbered up with the horses of Commandant Sillye and was swarming with natives, it was only to be expected.
Then to bed, but not to sleep, for the boys to save themselves trouble, had not fixed the mosquito net properly. In my innocence I merely ordered them to do it and had not stood by and watched. It is indeed necessary always to see that the native does as he is told, for the moment one's back is turned, he is eating if there is anything rotten enough at hand to tempt him and if not, he quietly goes to sleep. Even these State servants who speak the native language and also a kind of French, really live the lives of animals, for they eat, drink, and sleep if left alone and only work when they are shown how, and watched all the time.
The result was that I spent a most horrible night, for the mosquitoes were terribly hostile and evidently recognised a new European with some healthy blood. In the morning, my head, which I had had shaved in the Congo fashion, was covered with large bumps and face, neck, hands and wrists were all blotches. It was therefore with little appetite that I sat down to a breakfast of bread, dutch cheese, curious tinned butter and weak coffee without milk. Little however, did I think then that in six short months a Congo steamer would seem like a first class hotel, so entirely is everything altered by comparison.
The Higher Congo.
Next day we make a formal call on Mr. Mahieu, Inspecteur d'Etat of the Congo State, whose headquarters are at Leopoldville. He is a very busy man with a multitude of duties, for the paternal system is continued all through the State and the most trivial matters are always referred to the highest official in the neighbourhood. As we are to lunch at the Residency, we do not stay long, but take a ride with Commandant and Mme. Sillye on four of the horses the former purchased at Dakar. Although a little stiff after their holiday of a month, they have not been otherwise affected by their sea voyage and two days in the train. Along the beach are many steamers charging and discharging and others on the slips being repaired or partly built. These steamers are all brought out in sections and put together on the beach. They are flat bottomed, are driven by stern wheels and only draw three or four feet of water. They all burn wood, and special depots are formed at intervals on the rivers where stores of this fuel are collected. Should however, a steamer run short, it is only necessary to stop and send the crew ashore with knives for the banks are lined with forest.
Leaving the beach we ride through avenues of palms and mango trees to higher ground, whence a beautiful view can be obtained of Stanley Pool. This is really a part of the river about sixteen miles wide, shut in by hills on each side, but its size is not apparent from the water itself, as a great number of islands cut the stream into numerous narrow channels. Towards the south, the river narrows again and at this point is the uppermost of the cataracts, the water hurling itself against the rocks in its efforts to escape and recoiling in spray high into the air. From just below Leopoldville all the way to Matadi, the river indeed rushes down narrow gorges, but above, for nearly a thousand miles, it is navigable for steamers. On a hill above the rapid, is a large tree under which Stanley pitched his tent and which still bears his name.
Many native villages exist near Leopoldville, consisting of huts formed of wooden frames and thatched with grass. There are no plantations or factories here but great numbers of natives are at present employed in road making and in constructing a new slip for launching the steamers. Evidently our little party gives rise to much comment for several of the natives have probably never seen a horse before, and a cavalcade of four of these strange animals is something entirely new. On our way back to the ship we pass down the main street in which are the administrative offices, the mess, the doctors' and other private houses and close to the beach, the Residency, over which flies the State flag and in front of which patrols a sentry. At first one thought the sentry in front of the chief official's house in each town, was merely a symbol of authority as in Europe, afterwards however, it becomes apparent that the system of Government in the Congo is based on absolute uniformity. Every Post, however big or small, has its State flag and every chief official, from the Governor to the chief of a Wood Post, has a sentry at his door. Each morning at sunrise the flag is hoisted, while the guard presents arms and every evening at sunset it is lowered with like ceremony. Indeed, the whole system is military, for everyone rises, works, eats and sleeps at the command of the clarion. It is a custom at most official and private parties in the Congo, to hand round port wine and cigars before sitting down to table. At first this seemed a strange kind of aperative., but soon the glass of port became very agreeable after the morning's work.
Ten or twelve guests were assembled on the verandah when we arrived, and soon Mr. Armarni joined the group. He is an Italian, an ex-naval officer of distinction and now Commissaire du Roi of the Congo, a position which ranks with, but after, that of Governor General. By a simple and practical device, the relative rank of all the Administrative and Military officials can be determined at a glance. Each wears a blue gauntlet on each wrist and forearm over the white sleeve of his coat and affixed on this are a number of gold bands. A captain of a river steamer, perhaps has three or four bands, a Chef de Poste, four or five, a Commissaire of a Zone or District, seven or eight, an Inspecteur d'Etat, nine or ten, and the Governor General, eleven. In order however, to economise space and perhaps to facilitate counting, when more than three stripes are worn, a broad strip is substituted which corresponds to the original three. Thus an official with five stripes wears one broad and two narrow ones, while the Governor General wears three broad stripes and two narrow ones. The chief decoration, the order of the Lion, can only be gained by Belgians, but the Congo Star is given to all after a certain term of service. Those who hold purely civil appointments such at Judges, Secretaries and Directors of Transport, wear no stripes at all.
At 2.30 p.m. a bugle sounded and a chattering throng of natives hurried past the Inspector's house towards the beach to resume work, which is always interrupted for three hours at 11.30 a.m. during the heat of the day. In order to feed these people and the soldiers of the Force Publique at Leopoldville, about a ton and a half of kwanga is prepared every day from the manioc grown in the villages around, and every able bodied native has to contribute his or her quota of work. Each person indeed is supposed to work for at least forty hours each month, and whether engaged on roads, buildings, or other public work, or in collecting rubber, wood for the steamers, or kwanga for food, is paid at the current rate. The principle of the system of Government, although entirely novel, is undoubtedly sound and suited to the country and the condition of the native. The whole territory is divided into two great parts, the lands of the native chiefs and the vacant lands called here the Domaine Prive. The Government has however, disposed of part of these to Concessionary Companies in this sense, that the Companies have the right to exploit all the products of the forest in these areas. Other portions have been leased to Missions, to Commercial Houses and to private people. The Government collects the rubber, ivory, food stuffs, and other produce from the Domain Lands and with the proceeds, constructs roads, navigates the rivers, maintains the Government and army and generally develops the country and civilises the natives.
Trading relations are formed with the chiefs as follows: Agents are sent into their districts with brass wire, cloth, salt, beads, or other things likely to attract the natives, and these are exchanged for rubber, ivory, gum copal, manioc, fish, fowl or other produce; thus the value of rubber, ivory or any other substance is determined in terms of brass wire, cloth or salt and so its value in sterling. Similarly, the value of native labour is discovered and the native paid accordingly. The brass wire is cut into lengths called mitakos, this form of currency having been introduced by the late Sir H.M. Stanley. The length of the mitako, and so its value, varies in different parts of the country. At present there seems to be no limit to the amount of wire cut into mitakos, but as the natives use great quantities to make brass rings for the arms and legs of both sexes, it is difficult to say to what extent the currency is being debased. The pay of skilled labour here is high, and unskilled workers receive about as much as similar labourers in India. The natives pay no taxes in money or its equivalent, but instead are compelled to do this 40 hours' work per month for the State.
In the afternoon we cross the neck of Stanley Pool and visit Brazzaville, the capital of the French Congo. The town is situated close to the beach, but the Government offices are high up on a hill above. Having found the Secretariat, we explain that we are British travellers and desire to pay our respects to the Governor. The Secretary telephones as we wait in the office and presumably the Governor asks whether we have introductions and what we want, for the answer goes back Non, ils sont venus, Pop!!! However, the Governor, Mr. Gentil, who has spent many years in the Congo, receives us very kindly, offers to help us with steamers on the river, gives us some letters of introduction to French officials on the Ubangi and permits to shoot game. Every where indeed one meets with kindness, help and consideration from the officials in Africa, which is in marked contrast to the hide bound system of formalities which it is necessary to observe and maintain in Europe.
A great blowing of the steamer's whistle now takes place, for it is getting late and it is impossible to navigate the Congo after sunset. The captain is therefore becoming anxious, but enough light remains to see the buoys and we reach Leopoldville soon after 6 p.m. We have arranged to dine at the Mess, an excellent institution wherein all the Europeans of every rank, except the very highest officials, sit down together. The Commandant of the Force Publique, the Commandant of the Port, the Directors of Transports and Posts, and the Doctors, all take their dinner with the working artisans. Altogether about 130 men attend the mess, where the cooking and service is excellent while each has a small bottle of wine and a cup of coffee. By this means, every man is ensured good wholesome food, and the necessity of restaurants, in which indiscriminate drinking might take place, is avoided.
Next morning, July 23rd. the Flandre leaves Leopoldville and steams to Kinshasa where we stop and land. Here as usual the keynote is development. Roads are being made, avenues of palms, mangoes and pine apples planted and store houses, factories and plantations constructed. At the coffee factory here, the beans are extracted from the shells, sorted into sizes and qualities and packed in bags. Many kinds of coffee have been planted in the Congo, but none are equal to the wild variety found in the forest, which is as good as any in the world when properly made. Near at hand is a brick field, where the bricks are made in metal moulds, the clay being forced in by long levers. They are not made as quickly as those fashioned by a machine but the process is a great improvement on the old-fashioned method of brick making in wooden moulds. It is already apparent that beer is regarded as a luxury here so we order some dozens at three francs a bottle and having taken some photos return to the ship.
On the beach were some fine elephant tusks which have been collected by the agents of the Societe Anonyme Belge. When a native finds a pair of tusks in the territory of the company, the State takes one as a royalty and the company buys the other for a certain quantity of cloth. This only represents a fraction of the value in Europe, but is gladly accepted by the native who has no use for it except to make war horns. Indeed in the old days, the chiefs used to form a kind of fence round their huts by sticking the points in the ground, little thinking that in another part of the world, not even the millionaire of fiction ever constructed such an expensive railing. Then the Arab slave raiders came and stole both the native women and the ivory, so that the white man who gives beautiful coloured cloth for these useless elephants' tusks is regarded as a very generous trader. In the afternoon the Flandre continued her journey threading her way between the numerous islands in Stanley Pool, and finally tied up to the bank of the island of Bamu which is French territory. This island enjoys the distinction of being the only one in the Congo which has an owner, for all the rest are declared to be no man's land by international treaty. It is reputed to be full of game, and we go ashore to look for it, but return without seeing anything. As the mosquitoes prevent all sleep in the cabin, we arrange to make up a bed on deck and obtain a better night's rest, for it is comparatively cool here in the evening in the open.
I am very anxious to bathe next morning, but the captain strongly disadvises for the currents are very strong here, and the river is full of crocodiles. In the midst of breakfast we are startled by the report that the ship is on fire, and smoke is seen to be issuing from the fore hatch, under which much of the wood used for fuel is stored. None of the Europeans however, are more excited than the natives, who, leisurely and with due deliberation, hand up buckets of water. Nothing indeed could make a native hurry. The captain seems a trifle upset, and states that it may be necessary to run on a rock, and thus make a hole in the bows and flood the hold. This seems to be rather a desperate remedy, but no one shows the slightest interest. This appeared curious at the time; since however, it has transpired that fires in the holds are of common occurrence, and that as the ships are all of iron, they usually burn themselves out without harming anything. Soon after however, the captain with an alarmed look, rushes up on deck and said that a terrible crime or a great mistake had been committed. It appeared that by some error, our cases of beer and some others belonging to Commandant Sillye had been left on the beach at Kinshasa. Immediately we anchored last night a native boatswain, or capita, was sent with six men in a canoe to fetch them and ought to have returned by midnight. Nothing however, was heard of the boat until now when the capita appeared and told a harrowing story. He found the cases all right and started to return across the river, but as it began to blow hard, he thought it better to make for land and wait until the morning before trying to find the ship. He succeeded in landing on the island of Bamu and soon after a white man appeared with some Senegalese soldiers and demanded to know what was in the cases. He explained, when the white man fired and killed all the crew, but he ran away and escaped. The affair seemed serious so Lord Mountmorres and Commandant Sillye left for Brazzaville to discover the truth, while I stayed on the ship to superintend the landing of our cargo if the fire extended.
Soon after the Commandant of the Port of Leopoldville arrived in a steamer and asked if we wanted assistance as another ship had run on the rocks higher up and sunk and he was hastening to rescue any possible survivors. Sunday, July 24th indeed, seemed to be a veritable day of horrors, but still no one appeared at all excited. By midday the fire in the forehold was extinguished and thus one danger was removed. Later in the afternoon just before sunset, an immense flock of ducks and geese crossed the river, but as they were flying nearly a hundred feet up in the air, it was impossible to shoot them. Soon after Mountmorres and Sillye returned and reported they had found all the crew safe, except one man who had probably deserted and had also brought back the cases of beer. The white man was a French officer of Customs, who had naturally thought the crew of the canoe were engaged in smuggling and had fired blank cartridges to frighten them. So passed an eventful day with much smoke but little fire. It was indeed becoming apparent that the Congo was a true land of exaggerations. On all sides were great hills, great plains, great forests, great rivers, great beasts, great trees, and great lies.
Next day we continued our course up Stanley-Pool, which meant threading our way up narrow channels between uninteresting sandbanks covered with forest or grass. In the distance could be seen the hills forming the boundaries of the Pool and at its upper end Dover Cliffs so called from their resemblance to that part of the English coast. About midday we sighted the Anversville, the vessel which was supposed to have been sunk, comfortably lying on a sand bank, and the Brugesville which had gone to her assistance, also resting on the same bank. One of the passengers came off to the Flandre and told us that no one was hurt and all the baggage was safe and that he had heard we had been burnt out, attacked by natives and all killed. Truly the Congo is a wonderful place.
As the Flandre moors we decide to go ashore hunting. Within a few yards of the bank is the lair of a hippopotamus and the spoor of elephants. It is however, very difficult walking, for patches of land are covered with long grass seven or eight feet high and the rest is bog. After struggling along for a few minutes, I hear a curious noise like a very asthmatic fog horn not above five yards away. Nothing is however, visible, for the grass forms a complete cover. Again the grunt with a suspicious after-sniff and at the same moment Chikaia, who is carrying my gun snaps his fingers—the usual sign to indicate game—and beckons me to follow. I endeavour to do so, and at once sink in the bog up to the knees, but fortunately keep my rifle dry. By clutching the grass, I get out and we follow the spoor of the hippo as rapidly as possible. This is very clearly marked, for the grass has been recently thrust aside and there are great holes in the soft mud over a foot wide and deep, made by the great feet of the beast. These holes were in pairs lying close together, showing that the hippo was galloping as he passed and unfortunately they led straight to the river.
Next day we leave the Pool and enter a part of the river called the Channel. Here there are no islands and both banks are visible all the time, the width not being more than a mile in some places. A low range of hills covered with acacias or coarse grass, exists on each side. As usual, we stop at a Wood Post to take fuel on board. This is cut in logs three or four feet long and stacked in heaps about the same in width and height. Sticks are placed in the ground connected by lines at the required height and the logs are laid in rows until the space is filled. The result is a cubic yard of wood known in the Congo as a bras, but the bras differs in size and price considerably, in some cases the cost being 5 mitakos and in others double that amount. A native can easily collect a bras of wood in the forest and carry it to the bank in a day and in some of the Wood Posts fifty or sixty natives are employed. Even then however, the demand for wood by the big steamers is sometimes greater than the supply.
At 6 p.m. every day the steamer stops for the night and makes fast to a tree on the bank. All the native passengers at once go ashore, light fires and arrange their beds for the night. They sleep on mats or with the whole body, and head also, wrapped up closely in rugs. Either their feet or heads are always within a few inches of the fire and their bodies radiate out like the spokes of a wheel. Until 9.30 p.m., however, when all lights on the steamer must be put out, a ceaseless chatter proceeds with an occasional angry discussion as the natives take their meal of kwanga, fish, and any odd piece of meat they can procure. It is a somewhat weird sight, the black forms showing dimly in the ruddy light of the fires under the trees. The bell on the steamer rings the command and everyone goes to bed, and then one appreciates the real silence of the equatorial forest which one has heard about at home. Within a few yards, hundreds of frogs commence to croak loudly and continue steadily, with a few pauses to breathe, until daybreak. Hundreds of monkeys screech shrilly in the trees and millions of mosquitoes hum steadily within an inch or two of one's ears. All manner of animal cries are heard in the forest and the hippos blow loudly as they rise to the surface to breathe. As a matter of fact, the noise at midnight in the forest, when every beast, bird and insect is busy hunting for food, is greater than at any other time, and at midday only, one enjoys comparative quiet when all the animal kingdom is asleep.
One evening I went ashore with Chikaia for a stroll on the beach, carrying only a gun. We soon found a number of ducks and as they had never been fired at before probably, they were not scared away by the noise of the gun, but kept wheeling round and round overhead affording very easy shots. It would indeed have been easy to shoot them all. There was, however, no reason to do so and having collected a couple or two to make a welcome change from the daily goat of the steamer, we started back when a fine antelope-cheval rushed from the wood across the sandy beach towards the water. Chikaia at once became very excited and wished me to fire, but it was useless, as the beast was more than a hundred yards away. It was satisfactory to find the boy was a keen sportsman, even though he did not appreciate the different capacities of a gun and a rifle. However, I made a mental note never to go, even for a casual stroll in Africa, without both weapons.
On returning to the ship, we hear that the Captain's boy has killed a hippo and that dozens of others are waiting to be shot. We therefore determine to try some shooting by moonlight and Chikaia is delighted when he sees the gras as he calls my Lee-Metford come out of its case. It is a beautiful night with clear, cool air. Streams of silver flow from the moon on the water, while the palms tower high with majestic crowns. Here we are in the very midst of real nature and yet again it unpleasantly recalls the scenery of a theatre. It is indeed extraordinary with what accuracy scenic artists construct tropical scenes. The surroundings tend to make one sentimental and regret that this veritable garden of Eden should be exploited to make billiard balls and rubber tyres for automobiles and bicycles. The native also, instead of hunting elephant and hippos, eating his fill and sleeping, and eating again and sleeping again until the carcase has disappeared and then hunting again, now has to collect rubber juice and cut wood for an ugly looking steam flat. Such however, is civilisation in the Congo.
Spoor of elephants and hippos abound and the grunt of the latter can frequently be heard, but they are not sitting up on their haunches waiting to be shot. The clear, shrill chirp of the sentry bird is indeed warning the big beasts that something strange is moving and we shall have to lie still for a long while probably before getting a chance at the great heads as they are raised from the water.
After a walk of about a mile, we arrive at the place where the captain's boy was supposed to have killed the hippo. The truth was he had fired at a beast who, as the spoor clearly showed, had walked calmly into the river and not a trace of blood could be seen. After a time, with practice perhaps, one will be able to gauge the truth from an ordinary Congo statement.
Next day we reach the mouth of the Kasai, a large tributary which drains much of the Equatorial District of the Congo. Here is a State Post, Kwamouth, with a few well constructed houses and a Catholic Mission where pretty walking sticks with ivory handles can be purchased and where the Fathers make a few cigars from Congo tobacco which are not at all bad smoking. A little further up the river, is the deserted Catholic Mission of St. Marie which has evidently been at one time well arranged with a large manioc plantation and garden. Here however, the Sleeping Sickness appeared and the mortality was so heavy that the place was abandoned. The disease had no doubt existed before, but it was this terrible epidemic which first attracted the serious notice of Europeans.
It is becoming clear that there are a great number of nationalities represented in the Congo. Most of the political and military appointments are held by Belgians, but there are many Italian military officers also. Nearly all the marine are Scandinavians and the language of the river is therefore, chiefly English, although every State official must speak a certain amount of French. A few Germans also hold appointments, and the trading houses are run chiefly by English and Dutch, while there are missionaries of several nationalities. In the army, orders are given in French, but on the ships and in the stations, the native is commanded in a kind of jargon based on the Bangala dialect. The Danish captain of a Congo steamer thus as a rule, speaks, besides his own language, English, French and Bangala and can make himself understood in all.
On pay day, rolls of brass wire are cut up into mitakos, which become longer the higher one travels up the river, this arrangement having been introduced by Stanley and never altered. Here the mitako is 28 centimetres long and it is worth 5 cents, while at Basoko it is 40 centimetres long and worth 10 cents. The native crew are paid three mitakos for their food per day which would purchase twice as much kwanga as they could possibly eat. The capitas and wheelman are also paid monthly wages which vary with the nature of their work.
By July 28th we have passed through the Channel into a portion of the river which is very wide and has the appearance of a great lake studded with islands. The banks are invisible, for the country here is absolutely flat and continues so for many hundreds of miles until the Province Orientale is reached. Between these islands, which are usually well wooded, we pass slowly up the river, for the current is still strong although the surface of the water appears absolutely still and the light glares as from a mirror. Some of the islands are however, only covered with grass and a herd of buffaloes on one come charging down to the river to drink. Unfortunately one of the passengers fires a kind of saloon rifle, which might possibly have killed a rabbit at twenty yards, and frightens them back. This is a great pity, for if we had had time, we could easily have bagged one or two and had some fresh beef for dinner.
At midday on the 29th we reach Mopolenga and stop for wood. The land in the neighbourhood is well cultivated and manioc, sweet potatoes, bananas and pineapples flourish. The manioc plant has a green stem, reddish branches and green leaves arranged in clusters of six which turn downwards forming the shape of a parasol, evidently a popular, as it is an appropriate, pattern for vegetable life in this hot country. The root of the manioc yields the flour, which is made into kwanga and unless it is well boiled, is supposed to be very injurious. The animals here consist chiefly of monkeys, parrots and finches, but many ducks fly from a swamp near the water.