THE CONGO AND COASTS OF AFRICA
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS, F.R.G.S.
AUTHOR OF "SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE," "THE SCARLET CAR," "WITH BOTH ARMIES IN SOUTH AFRICA," "FARCES," "THE CUBAN AND PORTO RICAN CAMPAIGNS"
ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR AND OTHERS
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS NEW YORK 1907
CECIL CLARK DAVIS
MY FELLOW VOYAGER ALONG THE COASTS OF AFRICA
I THE COASTERS 3
II MY BROTHER'S KEEPER 32
III THE CAPITAL OF THE CONGO 55
IV AMERICANS IN THE CONGO 93
V HUNTING THE HIPPO 118
VI OLD CALABAR 142
VII ALONG THE EAST COAST 176
MR. DAVIS AND "WOOD BOYS" OF THE CONGO Frontispiece
MRS. DAVIS IN A BORROWED "HAMMOCK," THE LOCAL MEANS OF TRANSPORT ON THE WEST COAST 10
A WHITE BUILDING, THAT BLAZED LIKE THE BASE OF A WHITEWASHED STOVE AT WHITE HEAT 22
THE "MAMMY CHAIR" IS LIKE THOSE SWINGS YOU SEE IN PUBLIC PLAYGROUNDS 28
A VILLAGE ON THE KASAI RIVER 42
"TENANTS" OF LEOPOLD, WHO CLAIMS THAT THE CONGO BELONGS TO HIM, AND THAT THESE NATIVE PEOPLE ARE THERE ONLY AS HIS TENANTS 52
THE FACILITIES FOR LANDING AT BANANA, THE PORT OF ENTRY TO THE CONGO, ARE LIMITED 56
"PRISONERS" OF THE STATE IN CHAINS AT MATADI 60
BUSH BOYS IN THE PLAZA AT MATADI SEEKING SHADE 70
THE MONUMENT IN STANLEY PARK, ERECTED, NOT TO STANLEY, BUT TO LEOPOLD 82
THE Deliverance. THE RIVER RACED OVER THE DECK TO A DEPTH OF FOUR OR FIVE INCHES. BETWEEN HER CABIN AND THE WOOD-PILE, WERE STORED FIFTY HUMAN BEINGS 86
THE NATIVE WIFE OF A Chef de Poste 90
ENGLISH MISSIONARIES, AND SOME OF THEIR CHARGES 98
THE LABORING MAN UPON WHOM THE AMERICAN CONCESSIONAIRES MUST DEPEND 106
MR. DAVIS AND NATIVE "BOY," ON THE KASAI RIVER 128
THE HIPPOPOTAMUS THAT DID NOT KNOW HE WAS DEAD 134
THE JESUIT BROTHERS AT THE WOMBALI MISSION 138
THERE, IN THE SURF, WE FOUND THESE TONS OF MAHOGANY, POUNDING AGAINST EACH OTHER 152
A LOG OF MAHOGANY JAMMED IN THE ANCHOR CHAINS 156
THE PALACE OF THE KING OF THE CAMEROONS 160
THE HOME OF THE THIRTY QUEENS OF KING MANGO BELL 164
THE MOTHER SUPERIOR AND SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH AND THEIR CONVERTS AT OLD CALABAR 168
THE KROO BOYS SIT, NOT ON THE THWARTS, BUT ON THE GUNWALES, AS A WOMAN RIDES A SIDE SADDLE 172
GOING VISITING IN HER PRIVATE TRAM-CAR AT BEIRA 182
ONE-HALF OF THE STREET CLEANING DEPARTMENT OF MOZAMBIQUE 190
CUSTOM HOUSE, ZANZIBAR 194
CHAIN-GANGS OF PETTY OFFENDERS OUTSIDE OF ZANZIBAR 198
THE IVORY ON THE RIGHT, COVERED ONLY WITH SACKING, IS READY FOR SHIPMENT TO BOSTON, U.S.A. 202
THE LATE SULTAN OF ZANZIBAR IN HIS STATE CARRIAGE 206
H.S.H. HAMUD BIN MUHAMAD BIN SAID, THE LATE SULTAN OF ZANZIBAR 210
A GERMAN "FACTORY" AT TANGA, THE STORE BELOW, THE LIVING APARTMENTS ABOVE 214
SOUDANESE SOLDIERS UNDER A GERMAN OFFICER OUTSIDE OF TANGA 218
THE CONGO AND COASTS OF AFRICA
No matter how often one sets out, "for to admire, and for to see, for to behold this world so wide," he never quite gets over being surprised at the erratic manner in which "civilization" distributes itself; at the way it ignores one spot upon the earth's surface, and upon another, several thousand miles away, heaps its blessings and its tyrannies. Having settled in a place one might suppose the "influences of civilization" would first be felt by the people nearest that place. Instead of which, a number of men go forth in a ship and carry civilization as far away from that spot as the winds will bear them.
When a stone falls in a pool each part of each ripple is equally distant from the spot where the stone fell; but if the stone of civilization were to have fallen, for instance, into New Orleans, equally near to that spot we would find the people of New York City and the naked Indians of Yucatan. Civilization does not radiate, or diffuse. It leaps; and as to where it will next strike it is as independent as forked lightning. During hundreds of years it passed over the continent of Africa to settle only at its northern coast line and its most southern cape; and, to-day, it has given Cuba all of its benefits, and has left the equally beautiful island of Hayti, only fourteen hours away, sunk in fetish worship and brutal ignorance.
One of the places it has chosen to ignore is the West Coast of Africa. We are familiar with the Northern Coast and South Africa. We know all about Morocco and the picturesque Raisuli, Lord Cromer, and Shepheard's Hotel. The Kimberley Diamond Mines, the Boer War, Jameson's Raid, and Cecil Rhodes have made us know South Africa, and on the East Coast we supply Durban with buggies and farm wagons, furniture from Grand Rapids, and, although we have nothing against Durban, breakfast food and canned meats. We know Victoria Falls, because they have eclipsed our own Niagara Falls, and Zanzibar, farther up the Coast, is familiar through comic operas and rag-time. Of itself, the Cape to Cairo Railroad would make the East Coast known to us. But the West Coast still means that distant shore from whence the "first families" of Boston, Bristol and New Orleans exported slaves. Now, for our soap and our salad, the West Coast supplies palm oil and kernel oil, and for automobile tires, rubber. But still to it there cling the mystery, the hazard, the cruelty of those earlier times. It is not of palm oil and rubber one thinks when he reads on the ship's itinerary, "the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Bight of Benin, and Old Calabar."
One of the strange leaps made by civilization is from Southampton to Cape Town, and one of its strangest ironies is in its ignoring all the six thousand miles of coast line that lies between. Nowadays, in winter time, the English, flying from the damp cold of London, go to Cape Town as unconcernedly as to the Riviera. They travel in great seagoing hotels, on which they play cricket, and dress for dinner. Of the damp, fever-driven coast line past which, in splendid ease, they are travelling, save for the tall peaks of Teneriffe and Cape Verde, they know nothing.
When last Mrs. Davis and I made that voyage from Southampton, the decks were crowded chiefly with those English whose faces are familiar at the Savoy and the Ritz, and who, within an hour, had settled down to seventeen days of uninterrupted bridge, with, before them, the prospect on landing of the luxury of the Mount Nelson and the hospitalities of Government House. When, the other day, we again left Southampton, that former departure came back in strange contrast. It emphasized that this time we are not accompanying civilization on one of her flying leaps. Instead, now, we are going down to the sea in ships with the vortrekkers of civilization, those who are making the ways straight; who, in a few weeks, will be leaving us to lose themselves in great forests, who clear the paths of noisome jungles where the sun seldom penetrates, who sit in sun-baked "factories," as they call their trading houses, measuring life by steamer days, who preach the Gospel to the cannibals of the Congo, whose voices are the voices of those calling in the wilderness.
As our tender came alongside the Bruxellesville at Southampton, we saw at the winch Kroo boys of the Ivory Coast; leaning over the rail the Soeurs Blanches of the Congo, robed, although the cold was bitter and the decks black with soot-stained snow, all in white; missionaries with long beards, a bishop in a purple biretta, and innumerable Belgian officers shivering in their cloaks and wearing the blue ribbon and silver star that tells of three years of service along the Equator. This time our fellow passengers are no pleasure-seekers, no Cook's tourists sailing south to avoid a rigorous winter. They have squeezed the last minute out of their leave, and they are going back to the station, to the factory, to the mission, to the barracks. They call themselves "Coasters," and they inhabit a world all to themselves. In square miles, it is a very big world, but it is one of those places civilization has skipped.
Nearly every one of our passengers from Antwerp or Southampton knows that if he keeps his contract, and does not die, it will be three years before he again sees his home. So our departure was not enlivening, and, in the smoking-room, the exiles prepared us for lonely ports of call, for sickening heat, for swarming multitudes of blacks.
In consequence, when we passed Finisterre, Spain, which from New York seems almost a foreign country, was a near neighbor, a dear friend. And the Island of Teneriffe was an anticlimax. It was as though by a trick of the compass we had been sailing southwest and were entering the friendly harbor of Ponce or Havana.
Santa Cruz, the port town of Teneriffe, like La Guayra, rises at the base of great hills. It is a smiling, bright-colored, red-roofed, typical Spanish town. The hills about it mount in innumerable terraces planted with fruits and vegetables, and from many of these houses on the hills, should the owner step hurriedly out of his front door, he would land upon the roof of his nearest neighbor. Back of this first chain of hills are broad farming lands and plateaus from which Barcelona and London are fed with the earliest and the most tender of potatoes that appear in England at the same time Bermuda potatoes are being printed in big letters on the bills of fare along Broadway. Santa Cruz itself supplies passing steamers with coal, and passengers with lace work and post cards; and to the English in search of sunshine, with a rival to Madeira. It should be a successful rival, for it is a charming place, and on the day we were there the thermometer was at 72 deg., and every one was complaining of the cruel severity of the winter. In Santa Cruz one who knows Spanish America has but to shut his eyes and imagine himself back in Santiago de Cuba or Caracas. There are the same charming plazas, the yellow churches and towered cathedral, the long iron-barred windows, glimpses through marble-paved halls of cool patios, the same open shops one finds in Obispo and O'Reilly Streets, the idle officers with smart uniforms and swinging swords in front of cafes killing time and digestion with sweet drinks, and over the garden walls great bunches of purple and scarlet flowers and sheltering palms. The show place in Santa Cruz is the church in which are stored the relics of the sea-fight in which, as a young man, Nelson lost his arm and England also lost two battleflags. As she is not often careless in that respect, it is a surprise to find, in this tiny tucked-away little island, what you will not see in any of the show places of the world. They tell in Santa Cruz that one night an English middy, single-handed, recaptured the captured flags and carried them triumphantly to his battleship. He expected at the least a K.C.B., and when the flags, with a squad of British marines as a guard of honor, were solemnly replaced in the church, and the middy himself was sent upon a tour of apology to the bishop, the governor, the commandant of the fortress, the alcalde, the collector of customs, and the captain of the port, he declared that monarchies were ungrateful. The other objects of interest in Teneriffe are camels, which in the interior of the island are common beasts of burden, and which appearing suddenly around a turn would frighten any automobile; and the fact that in Teneriffe the fashion in women's hats never changes. They are very funny, flat straw hats; like children's sailor hats. They need only "U.S.S. Iowa" on the band to be quite familiar. Their secret is that they are built to support baskets and buckets of water, and that concealed in each is a heavy pad.
After Teneriffe the destination of every one on board is as irrevocably fixed as though the ship were a government transport. We are all going to the West Coast or to the Congo. Should you wish to continue on to Cape Town along the South Coast, as they call the vast territory from Lagos to Cape Town, although there is an irregular, a very irregular, service to the Cape, you could as quickly reach it by going on to the Congo, returning all the way to Southampton, and again starting on the direct line south.
It is as though a line of steamers running down our coast to Florida would not continue on along the South Coast to New Orleans and Galveston, and as though no line of steamers came from New Orleans and Galveston to meet the steamers of the East Coast.
In consequence, the West Coast of Africa, cut off by lack of communication from the south, divorced from the north by the Desert of Sahara, lies in the steaming heat of the Equator to-day as it did a thousand years ago, in inaccessible, inhospitable isolation.
Two elements have helped to preserve this isolation: the fever that rises from its swamps and lagoons, and the surf that thunders upon the shore. In considering the stunted development of the West Coast, these two elements must be kept in mind—the sickness that strikes at sunset and by sunrise leaves the victim dead, and the monster waves that rush booming like cannon at the beach, churning the sandy bottom beneath, and hurling aside the great canoes as a man tosses a cigarette. The clerk who signs the three-year contract to work on the West Coast enlists against a greater chance of death than the soldier who enlists to fight only bullets; and every box, puncheon, or barrel that the trader sends in a canoe through the surf is insured against its never reaching, as the case may be, the shore or the ship's side.
The surf and the fever are the Minotaurs of the West Coast, and in the year there is not a day passes that they do not claim and receive their tribute in merchandise and human life. Said an old Coaster to me, pointing at the harbor of Grand Bassam: "I've seen just as much cargo lost overboard in that surf as I've seen shipped to Europe." One constantly wonders how the Coasters find it good enough. How, since 1550, when the Portuguese began trading, it has been possible to find men willing to fill the places of those who died. But, in spite of the early massacres by the natives, in spite of attacks by wild beasts, in spite of pirate raids, of desolating plagues and epidemics, of wars with other white men, of damp heat and sudden sickness, there were men who patiently rebuilt the forts and factories, fought the surf with great breakwaters, cleared breathing spaces in the jungle, and with the aid of quinine for themselves, and bad gin for the natives, have held their own. Except for the trade goods it never would be held. It is a country where the pay is cruelly inadequate, where but few horses, sheep, or cattle can exist, where the natives are unbelievably lazy and insolent, and where, while there is no society of congenial spirits, there is a superabundance of animal and insect pests. Still, so great are gold, ivory, and rubber, and so many are the men who will take big chances for little pay, that every foot of the West Coast is preempted. As the ship rolls along, for hours from the rail you see miles and miles of steaming yellow sand and misty swamp where as yet no white man has set his foot. But in the real estate office of Europe some Power claims the right to "protect" that swamp; some treaty is filed as a title-deed.
As the Powers finally arranged it, the map of the West Coast is like a mosaic, like the edge of a badly constructed patchwork quilt. In trading along the West Coast a man can find use for five European languages, and he can use a new one at each port of call.
To the north, the West Coast begins with Cape Verde, which is Spanish. It is followed by Senegal, which is French; but into Senegal is tucked "a thin red line" of British territory called Gambia. Senegal closes in again around Gambia, and is at once blocked to the south by the three-cornered patch which belongs to Portugal. This is followed by French Guinea down to another British red spot, Sierra Leone, which meets Liberia, the republic of negro emigrants from the United States. South of Liberia is the French Ivory Coast, then the English Gold Coast; Togo, which is German; Dahomey, which is French; Lagos and Southern Nigeria, which again are English; Fernando Po, which is Spanish, and the German Cameroons.
The coast line of these protectorates and colonies gives no idea of the extent of their hinterland, which spreads back into the Sahara, the Niger basin, and the Soudan. Sierra Leone, one of the smallest of them, is as large as Maine; Liberia, where the emigrants still keep up the tradition of the United States by talking like end men, is as large as the State of New York; two other colonies, Senegal and Nigeria, together are 135,000 square miles larger than the combined square miles of all of our Atlantic States from Maine to Florida and including both. To partition finally among the Powers this strip of death and disease, of uncountable wealth, of unnamed horrors and cruelties, has taken many hundreds of years, has brought to the black man every misery that can be inflicted upon a human being, and to thousands of white men, death and degradation, or great wealth.
The raids made upon the West Coast to obtain slaves began in the fifteenth century with the discovery of the West Indies, and it was to spare the natives of these islands, who were unused and unfitted for manual labor and who in consequence were cruelly treated by the Spaniards, that Las Casas, the Bishop of Chiapa, first imported slaves from West Africa. He lived to see them suffer so much more terribly than had the Indians who first obtained his sympathy, that even to his eightieth year he pleaded with the Pope and the King of Spain to undo the wrong he had begun. But the tide had set west, and Las Casas might as well have tried to stop the Trades. In 1800 Wilberforce stated in the House of Commons that at that time British vessels were carrying each year to the Indies and the American colonies 38,000 slaves, and when he spoke the traffic had been going on for two hundred and fifty years. After the Treaty of Utrecht, Queen Anne congratulated her Peers on the terms of the treaty which gave to England "the fortress of Gibraltar, the Island of Minorca, and the monopoly in the slave trade for thirty years," or, as it was called, the asiento (contract). This was considered so good an investment that Philip V of Spain took up one-quarter of the common stock, and good Queen Anne reserved another quarter, which later she divided among her ladies. But for a time she and her cousin of Spain were the two largest slave merchants in the world. The point of view of those then engaged in the slave trade is very interesting. When Queen Elizabeth sent Admiral Hawkins slave-hunting, she presented him with a ship, named, with startling lack of moral perception, after the Man of Sorrows. In a book on the slave trade I picked up at Sierra Leone there is the diary of an officer who accompanied Hawkins. "After," he writes, "going every day on shore to take the inhabitants by burning and despoiling of their towns," the ship was becalmed. "But," he adds gratefully, "the Almighty God, who never suffereth his elect to perish, sent us the breeze."
The slave book shows that as late as 1780 others of the "elect" of our own South were publishing advertisements like this, which is one of the shortest and mildest. It is from a Virginia newspaper: "The said fellow is outlawed, and I will give ten pounds reward for his head severed from his body, or forty shillings if brought alive."
At about this same time an English captain threw overboard, chained together, one hundred and thirty sick slaves. He claimed that had he not done so the ship's company would have also sickened and died, and the ship would have been lost, and that, therefore, the insurance companies should pay for the slaves. The jury agreed with him, and the Solicitor-General said: "What is all this declamation about human beings! This is a case of chattels or goods. It is really so—it is the case of throwing over goods. For the purpose—the purpose of the insurance, they are goods and property; whether right or wrong, we have nothing to do with it." In 1807 England declared the slave trade illegal. A year later the United States followed suit, but although on the seas her frigates chased the slavers, on shore a part of our people continued to hold slaves, until the Civil War rescued both them and the slaves.
As early as 1718 Raynal and Diderot estimated that up to that time there had been exported from Africa to the North and South Americas nine million slaves. Our own historian, Bancroft, calculated that in the eighteenth century the English alone imported to the Americas three million slaves, while another 2,500,000 purchased or kidnapped on the West Coast were lost in the surf, or on the voyage thrown into the sea. For that number Bancroft places the gross returns as not far from four hundred millions of dollars.
All this is history, and to the reader familiar, but I do not apologize for reviewing it here, as without the background of the slave trade, the West Coast, as it is to-day, is difficult to understand. As we have seen, to kings, to chartered "Merchant Adventurers," to the cotton planters of the West Indies and of our South, and to the men of the North who traded in black ivory, the West Coast gave vast fortunes. The price was the lives of millions of slaves. And to-day it almost seems as though the sins of the fathers were being visited upon the children; as though the juju of the African, under the spell of which his enemies languish and die, has been cast upon the white man. We have to look only at home. In the millions of dead, and in the misery of the Civil War, and to-day in race hatred, in race riots, in monstrous crimes and as monstrous lynchings, we seem to see the fetish of the West Coast, the curse, falling upon the children to the third and fourth generation of the million slaves that were thrown, shackled, into the sea.
The first mention in history of Sierra Leone is when in 480 B.C., Hanno, the Carthaginian, anchored at night in its harbor, and then owing to "fires in the forests, the beating of drums, and strange cries that issued from the bushes," before daylight hastened away. We now skip nineteen hundred years. This is something of a gap, but except for the sketchy description given us by Hanno of the place, and his one gaudy night there, Sierra Leone until the fifteenth century utterly disappears from the knowledge of man. Happy is the country without a history!
Nineteen hundred years having now supposed to elapse, the second act begins with De Cintra, who came in search of slaves, and instead gave the place its name. Because of the roaring of the wind around the peak that rises over the harbor he called it the Lion Mountain.
After the fifteenth century, in a succession of failures, five different companies of "Royal Adventurers" were chartered to trade with her people, and, when convenient, to kidnap them; pirates in turn kidnapped the British governor, the French and Dutch were always at war with the settlement, and native raids, epidemics, and fevers were continuous. The history of Sierra Leone is the history of every other colony along the West Coast, with the difference that it became a colony by purchase, and was not, as were the others, a trading station gradually converted into a colony. During the war in America, Great Britain offered freedom to all slaves that would fight for her, and, after the war, these freed slaves were conveyed on ships of war to London, where they were soon destitute. They appealed to the great friend of the slave in those days, Granville Sharp, and he with others shipped them to Sierra Leone, to establish, with the aid of some white emigrants, an independent colony, which was to be a refuge and sanctuary for others like themselves. Liberia, which was the gift of philanthropists of Baltimore to American freed slaves, was, no doubt, inspired by this earlier effort. The colony became a refuge for slaves from every part of the Coast, the West Indies and Nova Scotia, and to-day in that one colony there are spoken sixty different coast dialects and those of the hinterland.
Sierra Leone, as originally purchased in 1786, consisted of twenty square miles, for which among other articles of equal value King Naimbanna received a "crimson satin embroidered waistcoat, one puncheon of rum, ten pounds of beads, two cheeses, one box of smoking pipes, a mock diamond ring, and a tierce of pork."
What first impressed me about Sierra Leone was the heat. It does not permit one to give his attention wholly to anything else. I always have maintained that the hottest place on earth is New York, and I have been in other places with more than a local reputation for heat; some along the Equator, Lourenco Marquez, which is only prevented from being an earthen oven because it is a swamp; the Red Sea, with a following breeze, and from both shores the baked heat of the desert, and Nagasaki, on a rainy day in midsummer.
But New York in August radiating stored-up heat from iron-framed buildings, with the foul, dead air shut in by the skyscrapers, with a humidity that makes you think you are breathing through a steam-heated sponge, is as near the lower regions as I hope any of us will go. And yet Sierra Leone is no mean competitor.
We climbed the moss-covered steps to the quay to face a great white building that blazed like the base of a whitewashed stove at white heat. Before it were some rusty cannon and a canoe cut out of a single tree, and, seated upon it selling fruit and sun-dried fish, some native women, naked to the waist, their bodies streaming with palm oil and sweat. At the same moment something struck me a blow on the top of the head, at the base of the spine and between the shoulder blades, and the ebony ladies and the white "factory" were burnt up in a scroll of flame.
I heard myself in a far-away voice asking where one could buy a sun helmet and a white umbrella, and until I was under their protection, Sierra Leone interested me no more.
One sees more different kinds of black people in Sierra Leone than in any other port along the Coast; Senegalese and Senegambians, Kroo boys, Liberians, naked bush boys bearing great burdens from the forests, domestic slaves in fez and colored linen livery, carrying hammocks swung from under a canopy, the local electric hansom, soldiers of the W.A.F.F., the West African Frontier Force, in Zouave uniform of scarlet and khaki, with bare legs; Arabs from as far in the interior as Timbuctu, yellow in face and in long silken robes; big fat "mammies" in well-washed linen like the washerwomen of Jamaica, each balancing on her head her tightly rolled umbrella, and in the gardens slim young girls, with only a strip of blue and white linen from the waist to the knees, lithe, erect, with glistening teeth and eyes, and their sisters, after two years in the mission schools, demurely and correctly dressed like British school marms. Sierra Leone has all the hall marks of the crown colony of the tropics; good wharfs, clean streets, innumerable churches, public schools operated by the government as well as many others run by American and English missions, a club where the white "mammies," as all women are called, and the white officers—for Sierra Leone is a coaling station on the Cape route to India, and is garrisoned accordingly—play croquet, and bowl into a net.
When the officers are not bowling they are tramping into the hinterland after tribes on the warpath from Liberia, and coming back, perhaps wounded or racked with fever, or perhaps they do not come back. On the day we landed they had just buried one of the officers. On Saturday afternoon he had been playing tennis, during the night the fever claimed him, and Sunday night he was dead.
That night as we pulled out to the steamer there came toward us in black silhouette against the sun, setting blood-red into the lagoon, two great canoes. They were coming from up the river piled high with fruit and bark, with the women and children lying huddled in the high bow and stern, while amidships the twelve men at the oars strained and struggled until we saw every muscle rise under the black skin.
As their stroke slackened, the man in the bow with the tom-tom beat more savagely upon it, and shouted to them in shrill sharp cries. Their eyes shone, their teeth clenched, the sweat streamed from their naked bodies. They might have been slaves chained to the thwarts of a trireme.
Just ahead of them lay at anchor the only other ship beside our own in port, a two-masted schooner, the Gladys E. Wilden, out of Boston. Her captain leaned upon the rail smoking his cigar, his shirt-sleeves held up with pink elastics, on the back of his head a derby hat. As the rowers passed under his bows he looked critically at the streaming black bodies and spat meditatively into the water. His own father could have had them between decks as cargo. Now for the petroleum and lumber he brings from Massachusetts to Sierra Leone he returns in ballast.
Because her lines were so home-like and her captain came from Cape Cod, we wanted to call on the Gladys E. Wilden, but our own captain had different views, and the two ships passed in the night, and the man from Boston never will know that two folks from home were burning signals to him.
Because our next port of call, Grand Bassam, is the chief port of the French Ivory Coast, which is 125,000 square miles in extent, we expected quite a flourishing seaport. Instead, Grand Bassam was a bank of yellow sand, a dozen bungalows in a line, a few wind-blown cocoanut palms, an iron pier, and a French flag. Beyond the cocoanut palms we could see a great lagoon, and each minute a wave leaped roaring upon the yellow sand-bank and tried to hurl itself across it, eating up the bungalows on its way, into the quiet waters of the lake. Each time we were sure it would succeed, but the yellow bank stood like rock, and, beaten back, the wave would rise in white spray to the height of a three-story house, hang glistening in the sun and then, with the crash of a falling wall, tumble at the feet of the bungalows.
We stopped at Grand Bassam to put ashore a young English girl who had come out to join her husband. His factory is a two days' launch ride up the lagoon, and the only other white woman near it does not speak English. Her husband had wished her, for her health's sake, to stay in his home near London, but her first baby had just died, and against his unselfish wishes, and the advice of his partner, she had at once set out to join him. She was a very pretty, sad, unsmiling young wife, and she spoke only to ask her husband's partner questions about the new home. His answers, while they did not seem to daunt her, made every one else at the table wish she had remained safely in her London suburb.
Through our glasses we all watched her husband lowered from the iron pier into a canoe and come riding the great waves to meet her.
The Kroo boys flashed their trident-shaped paddles and sang and shouted wildly, but he sat with his sun helmet pulled over his eyes staring down into the bottom of the boat; while at his elbow, another sun helmet told him yes, that now he could make out the partner, and that, judging by the photograph, that must be She in white under the bridge.
The husband and the young wife were swung together over the side to the lifting waves in a two-seated "mammy chair," like one of those vis-a-vis swings you see in public playgrounds and picnic groves, and they carried with them, as a gift from Captain Burton, a fast melting lump of ice, the last piece of fresh meat they will taste in many a day, and the blessings of all the ship's company. And then, with inhospitable haste there was a rattle of anchor chains, a quick jangle of bells from the bridge to the engine-room, and the Bruxellesville swept out to sea, leaving the girl from the London suburb to find her way into the heart of Africa. Next morning we anchored in a dripping fog off Sekondi on the Gold Coast, to allow an English doctor to find his way to a fever camp. For nine years he had been a Coaster, and he had just gone home to fit himself, by a winter's vacation in London, for more work along the Gold Coast. It is said of him that he has "never lost a life." On arriving in London he received a cable telling him three doctors had died, the miners along the railroad to Ashanti were rotten with fever, and that he was needed.
So he and his wife, as cheery and bright as though she were setting forth on her honeymoon, were going back to take up the white man's burden. We swung them over the side as we had the other two, and that night in the smoking-room the Coasters drank "Luck to him," which, in the vernacular of this unhealthy shore, means "Life to him," and to the plucky, jolly woman who was going back to fight death with the man who had never lost a life.
As the ship was getting under way, a young man in "whites" and a sun helmet, an agent of a trading company, went down the sea ladder by which I was leaning. He was smart, alert; his sleeves, rolled recklessly to his shoulders, showed sinewy, sunburnt arms; his helmet, I noted, was a military one. Perhaps I looked as I felt; that it was a pity to see so good a man go back to such a land, for he looked up at me from the swinging ladder and smiled understanding as though we had been old acquaintances.
"You going far?" he asked. He spoke in the soft, detached voice of the public-school Englishman.
"To the Congo," I answered.
He stood swaying with the ship, looking as though there were something he wished to say, and then laughed, and added gravely, giving me the greeting of the Coast: "Luck to you."
"Luck to YOU," I said.
That is the worst of these gaddings about, these meetings with men you wish you could know, who pass like a face in the crowded street, who hold out a hand, or give the password of the brotherhood, and then drop down the sea ladder and out of your life forever.
MY BROTHER'S KEEPER
To me, the fact of greatest interest about the Congo is that it is owned, and the twenty millions of people who inhabit it are owned by one man. The land and its people are his private property. I am not trying to say that he governs the Congo. He does govern it, but that in itself would not be of interest. His claim is that he owns it. Though backed by all the mailed fists in the German Empire, and all the Dreadnoughts of the seas, no other modern monarch would make such a claim. It does not sound like anything we have heard since the days and the ways of Pharaoh. And the most remarkable feature of it is, that the man who makes this claim is the man who was placed over the Congo as a guardian, to keep it open to the trade of the world, to suppress slavery. That, in the Congo, he has killed trade and made the products of the land his own, that of the natives he did not kill he has made slaves, is what to-day gives the Congo its chief interest. It is well to emphasize how this one man stole a march on fourteen Powers, including the United States, and stole also an empire of one million square miles.
Twenty-five years ago all of Africa was divided into many parts. The part which still remained to be distributed among the Powers was that which was watered by the Congo River and its tributaries.
Along the north bank of the Congo River ran the French Congo; the Portuguese owned the lands to the south, and on the east it was shut in by protectorates and colonies of Germany and England. It was, and is, a territory as large, were Spain and Russia omitted, as Europe. Were a map of the Congo laid upon a map of Europe, with the mouth of the Congo River where France and Spain meet at Biarritz, the boundaries of the Congo would reach south to the heel of Italy, to Greece, to Smyrna; east to Constantinople and Odessa; northeast to St. Petersburg and Finland, and northwest to the extreme limits of Scotland. Distances in this country are so enormous, the means of progress so primitive, that many of the Belgian officers with whom I came south and who already had travelled nineteen days from Antwerp, had still, before they reached their posts, to steam, paddle, and walk for three months.
In 1844 to dispose amicably of this great territory, which was much desired by several of the Powers, a conference was held at Berlin. There it was decided to make of the Congo Basin an Independent State, a "free-for-all" country, where every flag could trade with equal right, and with no special tariff or restriction.
The General Act of this conference agreed: "The trade of ALL nations shall enjoy complete freedom." "No Power which exercises or shall exercise Sovereign rights in the above-mentioned regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favor of any kind in matters of trade." "ALL the Powers exercising Sovereign rights or influence in the afore-said territories bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the condition of their moral and material welfare, and to help in suppressing slavery." The italics are mine. These quotations from the act are still binding upon the fourteen Powers, including the United States.
For several years previous to the Conference of Berlin, Leopold of Belgium, as a private individual, had shown much interest in the development of the Congo. The opening up of that territory was apparently his hobby. Out of his own pocket he paid for expeditions into the Congo Basin, employed German and English explorers, and protested against the then existing iniquities of the Arabs, who for ivory and slaves raided the Upper Congo. Finally, assisted by many geographical societies, he founded the International Association, to promote "civilization and trade" in Central Africa; and enlisted Henry M. Stanley in this service.
That, in the early years, Leopold's interest in the Congo was unselfish may or may not be granted, but, knowing him, as we now know him, as one of the shrewdest and, of speculators, the most unscrupulous, at the time of the Berlin Conference, his self-seeking may safely be accepted. Quietly, unostentatiously, he presented himself to its individual members as a candidate for the post of administrator of this new territory.
On the face of it he seemed an admirable choice. He was a sovereign of a kingdom too unimportant to be feared; of the newly created State he undoubtedly possessed an intimate knowledge. He promised to give to the Dutch, English, and Portuguese traders, already for many years established on the Congo, his heartiest aid, and, for those traders still to come, to maintain the "open door." His professions of a desire to help the natives were profuse. He became the unanimous choice of the conference.
Later he announced to the Powers signing the act, that from Belgium he had received the right to assume the title of King of the Independent State of the Congo. The Powers recognized his new title.
The fact that Leopold, King of Belgium, was king also of the Etat Independant du Congo confused many into thinking that the Free State was a colony, or under the protection, of Belgium. As we have seen, it is not. A Belgian may serve in the army of the Free State, or in a civil capacity, as may a man of any nation, but, although with few exceptions only Belgians are employed in the Free State, and although to help the King in the Congo, the Belgian Government has loaned him great sums of money, politically and constitutionally the two governments are as independent of each other as France and Spain.
And so, in 1885, Leopold, by the grace of fourteen governments, was appointed their steward over a great estate in which each of the governments still holds an equal right; a trustee and keeper over twenty millions of "black brothers" whose "moral and material welfare" each government had promised to protect.
There is only one thing more remarkable than the fact that Leopold was able to turn this public market into a private park, and that is, that he has been permitted to do so. It is true he is a man of wonderful ability. For his own ends he is a magnificent organizer. But in the fourteen governments that created him there have been, and to-day there are, men, if less unscrupulous, of quite as great ability; statesmen, jealous and quick to guard the rights of the people they represent, people who since the twelfth century have been traders, who since 1808 have declared slavery abolished.
And yet, for twenty-five years these statesmen have watched Leopold disobey every provision in the act of the conference. Were they to visit the Congo, they could see for themselves the jungle creeping in and burying their trading posts, their great factories turned into barracks. They know that the blacks they mutually agreed to protect have been reduced to slavery worse than that they suffered from the Arabs, that hundreds of thousands of them have fled from the Congo, and that those that remain have been mutilated, maimed, or, what was more merciful, murdered. And yet the fourteen governments, including the United States, have done nothing.
Some tell you they do not interfere because they are jealous one of the other; others say that it is because they believe the Congo will soon be taken over by Belgium, and with Belgium in control, they argue, they would be dealing with a responsible government, instead of with a pirate. But so long as Leopold is King of Belgium one doubts if Belgians in the Congo would rise above the level of their King. The English, when asked why they do not assert their rights, granted not only to them, but to thirteen other governments, reply that if they did they would be accused of "ulterior motives." What ulterior motives? If you pursue a pickpocket and recover your watch from him, are your motives in doing so open to suspicion?
Personally, although this is looking some way ahead, I would like to see the English take over and administrate the Congo. Wherever I visit a colony governed by Englishmen I find under their administration, in spite of opium in China and gin on the West Coast, that three people are benefited: the Englishman, the native, and the foreign trader from any other part of the world. Of the colonies of what other country can one say the same?
As a rule our present governments are not loath to protect their rights. But toward asserting them in the Congo they have been moved neither by the protests of traders, chambers of commerce, missionaries, the public press, nor by the cry of the black man to "let my people go." By only those in high places can it be explained. We will leave it as a curious fact, and return to the "Unjust Steward."
His first act was to wage wars upon the Arabs. From the Soudan and from the East Coast they were raiding the Congo for slaves and ivory, and he drove them from it. By these wars he accomplished two things. As the defender of the slave, he gained much public credit, and he kept the ivory. But war is expensive, and soon he pointed out to the Powers that to ask him out of his own pocket to maintain armies in the field and to administer a great estate was unfair. He humbly sought their permission to levy a few taxes. It seemed a reasonable request. To clear roads, to keep boats upon the great rivers, to mark it with buoys, to maintain wood stations for the steamers, to improve the "moral and material welfare of the natives," would cost money, and to allow Leopold to bring about these improvements, which would be for the good of all, he was permitted to levy the few taxes. That was twenty years ago; to-day I saw none of these improvements, and the taxes have increased.
From the first they were so heavy that the great trade houses, which for one hundred years in peace and mutual goodwill bartered with the natives, found themselves ruined. It was not alone the export taxes, lighterage dues, port dues, and personal taxes that drove them out of the Congo; it was the King appearing against them as a rival trader, the man appointed to maintain the "open door." And a trader with methods they could not or would not imitate. Leopold, or the "State," saw for the existence of the Congo only two reasons: Rubber and Ivory. And the collecting of this rubber and ivory was, as he saw it, the sole duty of the State and its officers. When he threw over the part of trustee and became the Arab raider he could not waste his time, which, he had good reason to fear, might be short, upon products that, if fostered, would be of value only in later years. Still less time had he to give to improvements that cost money and that would be of benefit to his successors. He wanted only rubber; he wanted it at once, and he cared not at all how he obtained it. So he spun, and still spins, the greatest of all "get-rich-quick" schemes; one of gigantic proportions, full of tragic, monstrous, nauseous details.
The only possible way to obtain rubber is through the native; as yet, in teeming forests, the white man can not work and live. Of even Chinese coolies imported here to build a railroad ninety per cent. died. So, with a stroke of the pen, Leopold declared all the rubber in the country the property of the "State," and then, to make sure that the natives would work it, ordered that taxes be paid in rubber. If, once a month (in order to keep the natives steadily at work the taxes were ordered to be paid each month instead of once a year), each village did not bring in so many baskets of rubber the King's cannibal soldiers raided it, carried off the women as hostages, and made prisoners of the men, or killed and ate them. For every kilo of rubber brought in in excess of the quota the King's agent, who received the collected rubber and forwarded it down the river, was paid a commission. Or was "paid by results." Another bonus was given him based on the price at which he obtained the rubber. If he paid the native only six cents for every two pounds, he received a bonus of three cents, the cost to the State being but nine cents per kilo, but, if he paid the natives twelve cents for every two pounds, he received as a bonus less than one cent. In a word, the more rubber the agent collected the more he personally benefited, and if he obtained it "cheaply" or for nothing—that is, by taking hostages, making prisoners, by the whip of hippopotamus hide, by torture—so much greater his fortune, so much richer Leopold.
Few schemes devised have been more cynical, more devilish, more cunningly designed to incite a man to cruelty and abuse. To dishonesty it was an invitation and a reward. It was this system of "payment by results," evolved by Leopold sooner than allow his agents a fixed and sufficient wage, that led to the atrocities.
One result of this system was that in seven years the natives condemned to slavery in the rubber forests brought in rubber to the amount of fifty-five millions of dollars. But its chief results were the destruction of entire villages, the flight from their homes in the Congo of hundreds of thousands of natives, and for those that remained misery, death, the most brutal tortures and degradations, unprintable, unthinkable.
I am not going to enter into the question of the atrocities. In the Congo the tip has been given out from those higher up at Brussels to "close up" the atrocities; and for the present the evil places in the Tenderloin and along the Broadway of the Congo are tightly shut. But at those lonely posts, distant a month to three months' march from the capital, the cruelties still continue. I did not see them. Neither, last year, did a great many people in the United States see the massacre of blacks in Atlanta. But they have reason to believe it occurred. And after one has talked with the men and women who have seen the atrocities, has seen in the official reports that those accused of the atrocities do not deny having committed them, but point out that they were merely obeying orders, and after one has seen that even at the capital of Boma all the conditions of slavery exist, one is assured that in the jungle, away from the sight of men, all things are possible. Merchants, missionaries, and officials even in Leopold's service told me that if one could spare a year and a half, or a year, to the work in the hinterland he would be an eye-witness of as cruel treatment of the natives as any that has gone before, and if I can trust myself to weigh testimony and can believe my eyes and ears I have reason to know that what they say is true. I am convinced that to-day a man, who feels that a year and a half is little enough to give to the aid of twenty millions of human beings, can accomplish in the Congo as great and good work as that of the Abolitionists.
Three years ago atrocities here were open and above-board. For instance. In the opinion of the State the soldiers, in killing game for food, wasted the State cartridges, and in consequence the soldiers, to show their officers that they did not expend the cartridges extravagantly on antelope and wild boar, for each empty cartridge brought in a human hand, the hand of a man, woman, or child. These hands, drying in the sun, could be seen at the posts along the river. They are no longer in evidence. Neither is the flower-bed of Lieutenant Dom, which was bordered with human skulls. A quaint conceit.
The man to blame for the atrocities, for each separate atrocity, is Leopold. Had he shaken his head they would have ceased. When the hue and cry in Europe grew too hot for him and he held up his hand they did cease. At least along the main waterways. Years before he could have stopped them. But these were the seven fallow years, when millions of tons of red rubber were being dumped upon the wharf at Antwerp; little, roughly rolled red balls, like pellets of coagulated blood, which had cost their weight in blood, which would pay Leopold their weight in gold.
He can not plead ignorance. Of all that goes on in his big plantation no man has a better knowledge. Without their personal honesty, he follows every detail of the "business" of his rubber farm with the same diligence that made rich men of George Boldt and Marshall Field. Leopold's knowledge is gained through many spies, by voluminous reports, by following up the expenditure of each centime, of each arm's-length of blue cloth. Of every Belgian employed on his farm, and ninety-five per cent. are Belgians, he holds the dossier; he knows how many kilos a month the agent whips out of his villages, how many bottles of absinthe he smuggles from the French side, whether he lives with one black woman or five, why his white wife in Belgium left him, why he left Belgium, why he dare not return. The agent knows that Leopold, King of the Belgians, knows, and that he has shared that knowledge with the agent's employer, the man who by bribes of rich bonuses incites him to crime, the man who could throw him into a Belgian jail, Leopold, King of the Congo.
The agent decides for him it is best to please both Leopolds, and Leopold makes no secret of what best pleases him. For not only is he responsible for the atrocities, in that he does not try to suppress them, but he is doubly guilty in that he has encouraged them. This he has done with cynical, callous publicity, without effort at concealment, without shame. Men who, in obtaining rubber, committed unspeakable crimes, the memory of which makes other men uncomfortable in their presence, Leopold rewarded with rich bonuses, pensions, higher office, gilt badges of shame, and rapid advancement. To those whom even his own judges sentenced to many years' imprisonment he promptly granted the royal pardon, promoted, and sent back to work in the vineyard.
"That is the sort of man for me," his action seemed to say. "See how I value that good and faithful servant. That man collected much rubber. You observe I do not ask how he got it. I will not ask you. All you need do is to collect rubber. Use our improved methods. Gum copal rubbed in the kinky hair of the chief and then set on fire burns, so my agents tell me, like vitriol. For collecting rubber the chief is no longer valuable, but to his successor it is an object-lesson. Let me recommend also the chicotte, the torture tower, the 'hostage' house, and the crucifix. Many other stimulants to labor will no doubt suggest themselves to you and to your cannibal 'sentries.' Help to make me rich, and don't fear the 'State.' 'L'Etat, c'est moi!' Go as far as you like!"
I said the degradations and tortures practised by the men "working on commission" for Leopold are unprintable, but they have been printed, and those who wish to read a calmly compiled, careful, and correct record of their deeds will find it in the "Red Rubber" of Mr. E.R. Morel. An even better book by the same authority, on the whole history of the State, is his "King Leopold's Rule in the Congo." Mr. Morel has many enemies. So, early in the nineteenth century, had the English Abolitionists, Wilberforce and Granville Sharp. After they were dead they were buried in the Abbey, and their portraits were placed in the National Gallery. People who wish to assist in freeing twenty millions of human beings should to-day support Mr. Morel. It will be of more service to the blacks than, after he is dead, burying him in Westminster Abbey.
Mr. Morel, the American and English missionaries, and the English Consul, Roger Casement, and other men, in Belgium, have made a magnificent fight against Leopold; but the Powers to whom they have appealed have been silent. Taking courage of this silence, Leopold has divided the Congo into several great territories in which the sole right to work rubber is conceded to certain persons. To those who protested that no one in the Congo "Free" State but the King could trade in rubber, Leopold, as an answer, pointed with pride at the preserves of these foreigners. And he may well point at them with pride, for in some of those companies he owns a third, and in most of them he holds a half, or a controlling interest. The directors of the foreign companies are his cronies, members of his royal household, his brokers, bankers. You have only to read the names published in the lists of the Brussels Stock Exchange to see that these "trading companies," under different aliases, are Leopold. Having, then, "conceded" the greater part of the Congo to himself, Leopold set aside the best part of it, so far as rubber is concerned, as a Domaine Prive. Officially the receipts of this pay for running the government, and for schools, roads and wharfs, for which taxes were levied, but for which, after twenty years, one looks in vain. Leopold claims that through the Congo he is out of pocket; that this carrying the banner of civilization in Africa does not pay. Through his press bureaus he tells that his sympathy for his black brother, his desire to see the commerce of the world busy along the Congo, alone prevents him giving up what is for him a losing business. There are several answers to this. One is that in the Kasai Company alone Leopold owns 2,010 shares of stock. Worth originally $50 a share, the value of each share rose to $3,100, making at one time his total shares worth $5,421,000. In the A.B.I.R. Concession he owns 1,000 shares, originally worth $100 each, later worth $940. In the "vintage year" of 1900 each of these shares was worth $5,050, and the 1,000 shares thus rose to the value of $5,050,000.
These are only two companies. In most of the others half the shares are owned by the King.
As published in the "State Bulletin," the money received in eight years for rubber and ivory gathered in the Domaine Prive differs from the amount given for it in the market at Antwerp. The official estimates show a loss to the government. The actual sales show that the government, over and above its own estimate of its expenses, instead of losing, made from the Domaine Prive alone $10,000,000. We are left wondering to whom went that unaccounted-for $10,000,000. Certainly the King would not take it, for, to reimburse himself for his efforts, he early in the game reserved for himself another tract of territory known as the Domaine de la Couronne. For years he denied that this existed. He knew nothing of Crown Lands. But, at last, in the Belgian Chamber, it was publicly charged that for years from this private source, which he had said did not exist, Leopold had been drawing an income of $15,000,000. Since then the truth of this statement has been denied, but at the time in the Chamber it was not contradicted.
To-day, grown insolent by the apathy of the Powers, Leopold finds disguising himself as a company, as a laborer worthy of his hire, irksome. He now decrees that as "Sovereign" over the Congo all of the Congo belongs to him. It is as much his property as is a pheasant drive, as is a staked-out mining claim, as your hat is your property. And the twenty millions of people who inhabit it are there only on his sufferance. They are his "tenants." He permits each the hut in which he lives, and the garden adjoining that hut, but his work must be for Leopold, and everything else, animal, mineral, or vegetable, belongs to Leopold. The natives not only may not sell ivory or rubber to independent traders, but if it is found in their possession it is seized; and if you and I bought a tusk of ivory here it would be taken from us and we could be prosecuted. This is the law. Other men rule over territories more vast even than the Congo. The King of England rules an empire upon which the sun never sets. But he makes no claim to own it. Against the wishes of even the humblest crofter, the King would not, because he knows he could not, enter his cottage. Nor can we imagine even Kaiser William going into the palm-leaf hut of a charcoal-burner in German East Africa and saying: "This is my palm-leaf hut. This is my charcoal. You must not sell it to the English, or the French, or the American. If they buy from you they are 'receivers of stolen goods.' To feed my soldiers you must drag my river for my fish. For me, in my swamp and in my jungle, you must toil twenty-four days of each month to gather my rubber. You must not hunt the elephants, for they are my elephants. Those tusks that fifty years ago your grandfather, with his naked spear, cut from an elephant, and which you have tried to hide from me under the floor of this hut, are my ivory. Because that elephant, running wild through the jungle fifty years ago, belonged to me. And you yourself are mine, your time is mine, your labor is mine, your wife, your children, all are mine. They belong to me."
This, then, is the "open door" as I find it to-day in the Congo. It is an incredible state of affairs, so insolent, so magnificent in its impertinence, that it would be humorous, were it not for its background of misery and suffering, for its hostage houses, its chain gangs, its chicottes, its nameless crimes against the human body, its baskets of dried hands held up in tribute to the Belgian blackguard.
THE CAPITAL OF THE CONGO
Leopold's "shop" has its front door at Banana. Its house flag is a golden star on a blue background. Banana is the port of entry to the Congo. You have, no doubt, seen many ports of Europe—Antwerp, Hamburg, Boulogne, Lisbon, Genoa, Marseilles. Banana is the port of entry to a country as large as Western Europe, and while the imports and exports of Europe trickle through all these cities, the commerce of the Congo enters and departs entirely at Banana. You can then picture the busy harbor, the jungle of masts, the white bridges and awnings of the steamers. By the fat funnels and the flags you can distinguish the English tramps, the German merchantmen, the French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese traders, the smart "liners" from Liverpool, even the Arab dhows with bird-wing sails, even the steel, four-masted schooners out of Boston, U.S.A. You can imagine the toiling lighters, the slap-dash tenders, the launches with shrieking whistles.
Of course, you suspect it is not a bit like that. But were it for fourteen countries the "open door" to twenty millions of people, that is how it might look.
Instead, it is the private entrance to the preserves of a private individual. So what you really see is, on the one hand, islands of mangrove bushes, with their roots in the muddy water; on the other, Banana, a strip of sand and palm trees without a wharf, quay, landing stage, without a pier to which you could make fast anything larger than a rowboat.
In a canoe naked natives paddle alongside to sell fish; a peevish little man in a sun hat, who, in order to save Leopold three salaries, holds four port offices, is being rowed to the gangway; on shore the only other visible inhabitant of Banana, a man with no nerves, is disturbing the brooding, sweating silence by knocking the rust off the plates of a stranded mud-scow. Welcome to our city! Welcome to busy, bustling Banana, the port of entry of the Congo Free State.
In a canoe we were paddled to the back yard of the cafe of Madame Samuel, and from that bower of warm beer and sardine tins trudged through the sun up one side of Banana and down the other. In between the two paths were the bungalows and gardens of forty white men and two white women. Many of the gardens, as was most of Banana, were neglected, untidy, littered with condensed-milk tins. Others, more carefully tended, were laid out in rigid lines. With all tropical nature to draw upon, nothing had been imagined. The most ambitious efforts were designs in whitewashed shells and protruding beer bottles. We could not help remembering the gardens in Japan, of the poorest and the most ignorant coolies. Do I seem to find fault with Banana out of all proportion to its importance? It is because Banana, the Congo's most advanced post of civilization, is typical of all that lies beyond.
From what I had read of the Congo I expected a broad sweep of muddy, malaria-breeding water, lined by low-lying swamp lands, gloomy, monotonous, depressing.
But on the way to Boma and, later, when I travelled on the Upper Congo, I thought the river more beautiful than any great river I had ever seen. It was full of wonderful surprises. Sometimes it ran between palm-covered banks of yellow sand as low as those of the Mississippi or the Nile; and again, in half an hour, the banks were rock and as heavily wooded as the mountains of Montana, or as white and bold as the cliffs of Dover, or we passed between great hills, covered with what looked like giant oaks, and with their peaks hidden in the clouds. I found it like no other river, because in some one particular it was like them all. Between Banana and Boma the banks first screened us in with the tangled jungle of the tropics, and then opened up great wind-swept plateaux, leading to hills that suggested—of all places—England, and, at that, cultivated England. The contour of the hills, the shape of the trees, the shade of their green contrasted with the green of the grass, were like only the cliffs above Plymouth. One did not look for native kraals and the wild antelope, but for the square, ivy-topped tower of the village church, the loaf-shaped hayricks, slow-moving masses of sheep. But this that looks like a pasture land is only coarse limestone covered with bitter, unnutritious grass, which benefits neither beast nor man.
At sunset we anchored in the current three miles from Boma, and at daybreak we tied up to the iron wharf. As the capital of the government Boma contains the residence and gardens of the governor, who is the personal representative of Leopold, both as a shopkeeper and as a king by divine right. He is a figurehead. The real administrator is M. Vandamme, the Secretaire-General, the ubiquitous, the mysterious, whose name before you leave Southampton is in the air, of whom all men, whether they speak in French or English, speak well. It is from Boma that M. Vandamme sends collectors of rubber, politely labeled inspecteurs, directeurs, judges, capitaines, and sous-lieutenants to their posts, and distributes them over one million square miles.
Boma is the capital of a country which is as large as six nations of the European continent. For twenty-five years it has been the capital. Therefore, the reader already guesses that Boma has only one wharf, and at that wharf there is no custom-house, no warehouse, not even a canvas awning under which, during the six months of rainy season, one might seek shelter for himself and his baggage.
Our debarkation reminded me of a landing of filibusters. A wharf forty yards long led from the steamer to the bank. Down this marched the officers of the army, the clerks, the bookkeepers, and on the bank and in the street each dumped his boxes, his sword, his camp-bed, his full-dress helmet. It looked as though a huge eviction had taken place, as though a retreating army, having gained the river's edge, were waiting for a transport. It was not as though to the government the coming of these gentlemen was a complete surprise; regularly every three weeks at that exact spot a like number disembark. But in years the State has not found it worth while to erect for them even an open zinc shed. The cargo invoiced to the State is given equal consideration.
"Prisoners of the State," each wearing round his neck a steel ring from which a chain stretches to the ring of another "prisoner," carried the cargo to the open street, where lay the luggage of the officers, and there dropped it. Mingled with steamer chairs, tin bathtubs, gun-cases, were great crates of sheet iron, green boxes of gin, bags of Teneriffe potatoes, boilers of an engine. Upon the scene the sun beat with vicious, cruel persistence. Those officers who had already served in the Congo dropped their belongings under the shadow of a solitary tree. Those who for the first time were seeing the capital of the country they had sworn to serve sank upon their boxes and, with dismay in their eyes, mopped their red and dripping brows.
Boma is built at the foot of a hill of red soil. It is a town of scattered buildings made of wood and sheet-iron plates, sent out in crates, and held together with screws. To Boma nature has been considerate. She has contributed many trees, two or three long avenues of palms, and in the many gardens caused flowers to blossom and flourish. In the report of the "Commission of Enquiry" which Leopold was forced to send out in 1904 to investigate the atrocities, and each member of which, for his four months' work, received $20,000, Boma is described as possessing "the daintiness and chic of a European watering-place."
Boma really is like a seaport of one of the Central American republics. It has a temporary sufficient-to-the-day-for-to-morrow-we-die air. It looks like a military post that at any moment might be abandoned. To remove this impression the State has certain exhibits which seem to point to a stable and good government. There is a well-conducted hospital and clean, well-built barracks; for the amusement of the black soldiers even a theatre, and for the higher officials attractive bungalows, a bandstand, where twice a week a negro band plays by ear, and plays exceedingly well. There is even a lawn-tennis court, where the infrequent visitor to the Congo is welcomed, and, by the courteous Mr. Vandamme, who plays tennis as well as he does every thing else, entertained. Boma is the shop window of Leopold's big store. The good features of Boma are like those attractive articles one sometimes sees in a shop window, but which in the shop one fails to find—at least, I did not find them in the shop. Outside of Boma I looked in vain for a school conducted by the State, like the one at Boma, such as those the United States Government gave by the hundred to the Philippines. I found not one. And I looked for such a hospital as the one I saw at Boma, such as our government has placed for its employes along, and at both ends of, the Isthmus of Panama, and, except for the one at Leopoldville, I saw none.
In spite of the fact that Boma is a "European watering-place," all the servants of the State with whom I talked wanted to get away from it, especially those who already had served in the interior. To appreciate what Boma lacks one has only to visit the neighboring seaports on the same coast; the English towns of Sierra Leone and Calabar, the French town of Libreville in the French Congo, the German seaport Duala in the Cameroons, but especially Calabar in Southern Nigeria. In actual existence the new Calabar is eight years younger than Boma, and in its municipal government, its street-making, cleaning, and lighting, wharfs, barracks, prisons, hospitals, it is a hundred years in advance. Boma is not a capital; it is the distributing factory for a huge trading concern, and a particularly selfish one. There is, as I have said, only one wharf, and at that wharf, without paying the State, only State boats may discharge cargo, so the English, Dutch, and German boats are forced to "tie up" along the river front. There the grass is eight feet high and breeds mosquitoes and malaria, and conceals the wary crocodile. At night, from the deck of the steamer, all one can see of this capital is a fringe of this high grass in the light from the air ports, and on shore three gas-lamps. No cafes are open, no sailors carouse, no lighted window suggests that some one is giving a dinner, that some one is playing bridge. Darkness, gloom, silence mark this "European watering-place."
"You ask me," demanded a Belgian lieutenant one night as we stood together by the rail, "whether I like better the bush, where there is no white man in a hundred miles, or to be stationed at Boma?"
He threw out his hands at the gas-lamps, rapidly he pointed at each of them in turn.
"Voila, Boma!" he said.
From Boma we steamed six hours farther up the river to Matadi. On the way we stopped at Noqui, the home of Portuguese traders on the Portuguese bank, which, as one goes up-stream, lies to starboard. Here the current runs at from four to five miles an hour, and has so sharply cut away the bank that we are able to run as near to it with the stern of our big ship as though she were a canoe. To one used more to ocean than to Congo traffic it was somewhat bewildering to see the five-thousand-ton steamer make fast to a tree, a sand-bank looming up three fathoms off her quarter, and the blades of her propeller, as though they were the knives of a lawn-mower, cutting the eel-grass.
At Matadi the Congo makes one of her lightning changes. Her banks, which have been low and woody, with, on the Portuguese side, glimpses of boundless plateaux, become towering hills of rock. At Matadi the cataracts and rapids begin, and for two hundred miles continue to Stanley Pool, which is the beginning of the Upper Congo. Leopoldville is situated on Stanley Pool, just to the right of where the rapids start their race to the south. With Leopoldville above and Boma below, still nearer the mouth of the river, Matadi makes a centre link in the chain of the three important towns of the Lower Congo.
When Henry M. Stanley was halted by the cataracts and forced to leave the river he disembarked his expedition on the bank opposite Matadi, and a mile farther up-stream. It was from this point he dragged and hauled his boats, until he again reached smooth water at Stanley Pool. The wagons on which he carried the boats still can be seen lying on the bank, broken and rusty. Like the sight of old gun carriages and dismantled cannon, they give one a distinct thrill. Now, on the bank opposite from where they lie, the railroad runs from Matadi to Leopoldville.
The Congo forces upon one a great admiration for Stanley. Unless civilization utterly alters it, it must always be a monument to his courage, and as you travel farther and see the difficulties placed in his way, your admiration increases. There are men here who make little of what Stanley accomplished; but they are men who seldom leave their own compound, and, who, when they do go up the river, travel at ease, not in a canoe, or on foot through the jungle, but in the smoking-room of the steamer and in a first-class railroad carriage. That they are able so to travel is due to the man they would belittle. The nickname given to Stanley by the natives is to-day the nickname of the government. Matadi means rock. When Stanley reached the town of Matadi, which is surrounded entirely by rock, he began with dynamite to blast roads for his caravan. The natives called him Bula Matadi, the Breaker of Rocks, and, as in those days he was the Government, the Law, and the Prophets, Bula Matadi, who then was the white man who governed, now signifies the white man's government. But it is a very different government, and a very different white man. With the natives the word is universal. They say "Bula Matadi wood post." "Not traders' chop, Bula Matadi's chop." "Him no missionary steamer, him Bula Matadi steamer."
The town of Matadi is of importance as the place where, owing to the rapids, passengers and cargoes are reshipped on the railroad to the haut Congo. It is a railroad terminus only, and it looks it. The railroad station and store-houses are close to the river bank, and, spread over several acres of cinders, are the railroad yard and machine shops. Above those buildings of hot corrugated zinc and the black soil rises a great rock. It is not so large as Gibraltar, or so high as the Flatiron Building, but it is a little more steep than either. Three narrow streets lead to its top. They are of flat stones, with cement gutters. The stones radiate the heat of stove lids. They are worn to a mirror-like smoothness, and from their surface the sun strikes between your eyes, at the pit of your stomach, and the soles of your mosquito boots. The three streets lead to a parade ground no larger than and as bare as a brickyard. It is surrounded by the buildings of Bula Matadi, the post-office, the custom-house, the barracks, and the Cafe Franco-Belge. It has a tableland fifty yards wide of yellow clay so beaten by thousands of naked feet, so baked by the heat, that it is as hard as a brass shield. Other tablelands may be higher, but this is the one nearest the sun. You cross it wearily, in short rushes, with your heart in your throat, and seeking shade, as a man crossing the zone of fire seeks cover from the bullets. When you reach the cool, dirty custom-house, with walls two feet thick, you congratulate yourself on your escape; you look back into the blaze of the flaming plaza and wonder if you have the courage to return.
At the custom-house I paid duty on articles I could not possibly have bought anywhere in the Congo, as, for instance, a tent and a folding-bed, and for a license to carry arms. A young man with a hammer and tiny branding irons beat little stars and the number of my license to porter d'armes on the stock of each weapon. Without permission of Bula Matadi on leaving the Congo, one can not sell his guns, or give them away. This is a precaution to prevent weapons falling into the hands of the native. For some reason a native with a gun alarms Bula Matadi. Just on the other bank of the river the French, who do not seem to fear the black brother, sell him flint-lock rifles, as many as his heart desires.
On the steamer there was a mild young missionary coming out, for the first time, to whom some unobserving friend had given a fox-terrier. The young man did not care for the dog. He had never owned a dog, and did not know what to do with this one. Her name was "Fanny," and only by the efforts of all on board did she reach the Congo alive. There was no one, from the butcher to the captain, including the passengers, who had not shielded Fanny from the cold, and later from the sun, fed her, bathed her, forced medicine down her throat, and raced her up and down the spar deck. Consequently we all knew Fanny, and it was a great shock when from the custom-house I saw her running around the blazing parade ground, her eyes filled with fear and "lost dog" written all over her, from her drooping tongue to her drooping tail. Captain Burton and I called "Fanny," and, not seeking suicide for ourselves, sent half a dozen black boys to catch her. But Fanny never liked her black uncles; on the steamer the Kroo boys learned to give her the length of her chain, and so we were forced to plunge to her rescue into the valley of heat. Perhaps she thought we were again going to lock her up on the steamer, or perhaps that it was a friendly game, for she ran from us as fast as from the black boys. In Matadi no one ever had crossed the parade ground except at a funeral march, and the spectacle of two large white men playing tag with a small fox-terrier attracted an immense audience. The officials and clerks left work and peered between the iron-barred windows, the "prisoners" in chains ceased breaking rock and stared dumbly from the barracks, the black "sentries" shrieked and gesticulated, the naked bush boys, in from a long caravan journey, rose from the side of their burdens and commented upon our manoeuvres in gloomy, guttural tones. I suspect they thought we wanted Fanny for "chop." Finally Fanny ran into the legs of a German trader, who grabbed her by the neck and held her up to us.
"You want him? Hey?" he shouted.
"Ay, man," gasped Burton, now quite purple, "did you think we were trying to amuse the dog?"
I made a leash of my belt, and the captain returned to the ship dragging his prisoner after him. An hour later I met the youthful missionary leading Fanny by a rope.
"I must tell you about Fanny," he cried. "After I took her to the Mission I forgot to tie her up—as I suppose I should have done—and she ran away. But, would you believe it, she found her way straight back to the ship. Was it not intelligent of her?"
I was too far gone with apoplexy, heat prostration, and sunstroke to make any answer, at least one that I could make to a missionary.
The next morning Fanny, the young missionary, and I left for Leopoldville on the railroad. It is a narrow-gauge railroad built near Matadi through the solid rock and later twisting and turning so often that at many places one can see the track on three different levels. It is not a State road, but was built and is owned by a Dutch company, and, except that it charges exorbitant rates and does not keep its carriages clean, it is well run, and the road-bed is excellent. But it runs a passenger train only three times a week, and though the distance is so short, and though the train starts at 6:30 in the morning, it does not get you to Leopoldville the same day. Instead, you must rest over night at Thysville and start at seven the next morning. That afternoon at three you reach Leopoldville. For the two hundred and fifty miles the fare is two hundred francs, and one is limited to sixty pounds of luggage. That was the weight allowed by the Japanese to each war correspondent, and as they gave us six months in Tokio in which to do nothing else but weigh our equipment, I left Matadi without a penalty. Had my luggage exceeded the limit, for each extra pound I would have had to pay the company ten cents. To the Belgian officers and agents who go for three years to serve the State in the bush the regulation is especially harsh, and in a company so rich, particularly mean. To many a poor officer, and on the pay they receive there are no rich ones, the tax is prohibitive. It forces them to leave behind medicines, clothing, photographic supplies, all ammunition, which means no chance of helping out with duck and pigeon the daily menu of goat and tinned sausages, and, what is the greatest hardship, all books. This regulation, which the State permitted to the concessionaires of the railroad, sends the agents of the State into the wilderness physically and mentally unequipped, and it is no wonder the weaker brothers go mad, and act accordingly.
My black boys travelled second-class, which means an open car with narrow seats very close together and a wooden roof. On these cars passengers are allowed twenty pounds of luggage and permitted to collect two hundred and fifty miles of heat and dust. To a black boy twenty pounds is little enough, for he travels with much more baggage than an average "blanc." I am not speaking of the Congo boy. All the possessions the State leaves him he could carry in his pockets, and he has no pockets. But wherever he goes the Kroo boy, Mendi boy, or Sierra Leone boy carries all his belongings with him in a tin trunk painted pink, green, or yellow. He is never separated from his "box," and the recognized uniform of a Kroo boy at work, is his breechcloth, and hanging from a ribbon around his knee, the key to his box. If a boy has no box he generally carries three keys.
In the first-class car were three French officers en route to Brazzaville, the capital of the French Congo, and a dog, a sad mongrel, very dirty, very hungry. On each side of the tiny toy car were six revolving-chairs, so the four men, not to speak of the dog, quite filled it. And to our own bulk each added hand-bags, cases of beer, helmets, gun-cases, cameras, water-bottles, and, as the road does not supply food of any kind, his chop-box. A chop-box is anything that holds food, and for food of every kind, for the hours of feeding, and the verb "to feed," on the West Coast, the only word, the "lazy" word, is "chop."
The absent-minded young missionary, with Fanny jammed between his ankles, and looking out miserably upon the world, and two other young missionaries, travelled second-class.
They were even more crowded together than were we, but not so much with luggage as with humanity. But as a protest against the high charges of the railroad the missionaries always travel in the open car. These three young men were for the first time out of England, and in any fashion were glad to start on their long journey up the Congo to Bolobo. To them whatever happened was a joke. It was a joke even when the colored "wife" of one of the French officers used the broad shoulders of one of them as a pillow and slept sweetly. She was a large, good-natured, good-looking mulatto, and at the frequent stations the French officer ran back to her with "white man's chop," a tin of sausages, a pineapple, a bottle of beer. She drank the beer from the bottle, and with religious tolerance offered it to the Baptists. They assured her without the least regret that they were teetotalers. To the other blacks in the open car the sight of a white man waiting on one of their own people was a thrilling spectacle. They regarded the woman who could command such services with respect. It would be interesting to know what they thought of the white man. At each station the open car disgorged its occupants to fill with water the beer bottle each carried, and to buy from the natives kwango, the black man's bread, a flaky, sticky flour that tastes like boiled chestnuts; and pineapples at a franc for ten. And such pineapples! Not hard and rubber-like, as we know them at home, but delicious, juicy, melting in the mouth like hothouse grapes, and, also, after each mouthful, making a complete bath necessary. One of the French officers had a lump of ice which he broke into pieces and divided with the others. They saluted magnificently many times, and as each drowned the morsel in his tin cup of beer, one of them cried with perfect simplicity: "C'est Paris!" This reminded me that the ship's steward had placed much ice in my chop basket, and I carried some of it to another car in which were five of the White Sisters. For nineteen days I had been with them on the steamer, but they had spoken to no one, and I was doubtful how they would accept my offering. But the Mother Superior gave permission, and they took the ice through the car window, their white hoods bristling with the excitement of the adventure. They were on their way to a post still two months' journey up the river, nearly to Lake Tanganyika, and for three years or, possibly, until they died, that was the last ice they would see.
At Bongolo station the division superintendent came in the car and everybody offered him refreshment, and in return he told us, in the hope of interesting us, of a washout, and then casually mentioned that an hour before an elephant had blocked the track. It seemed so much too good to be true that I may have expressed some doubt, for he said: "Why, of course and certainly. Already this morning one was at Sariski Station and another at Sipeto." And instead of looking out of the window I had been reading an American magazine, filched from the smoking-room, which was one year old!
At Thysville the railroad may have opened a hotel, but when I was there to hunt for a night's shelter it turned you out bag and baggage. The French officers decided to risk a Portuguese trading store known as the "Ideal Hotel," and the missionaries very kindly gave me the freedom of their Rest House. It is kept open for those of the Mission who pass between the Upper and Lower Congo. At the station the young missionaries were met by two older missionaries—Mr. Weekes, who furnished the "Commission of Enquiry" with much evidence, which they would not, or were not allowed to, print, and Mr. Jennings. With them were twenty "boys" from the Mission and, with each of them carrying a piece of our baggage on his head, we climbed the hill, and I was given a clean, comfortable, completely appointed bedroom. Our combined chop we turned over to a black brother. He is the custodian of the Rest House and an excellent cook. While he was preparing it my boys spread out my folding rubber tub. Had I closed the door I should have smothered, so, in the presence of twenty interested black Baptists, I took an embarrassing but one of the most necessary baths I can remember.
There still was a piece of the ice remaining, and as the interest in the bathtub had begun to drag I handed it to one of my audience. He yelled as though I had thrust into his hand a drop of vitriol, and, leaping in the air, threw the ice on the floor and dared any one to touch it. From the "personal" boys who had travelled to Matadi the Mission boys had heard of ice. But none had ever seen it. They approached it as we would a rattlesnake. Each touched it and then sprang away. Finally one, his eyes starting from his head, cautiously stroked the inoffensive brick and then licked his fingers. The effect was instantaneous. He assured the others it was "good chop," and each of them sat hunched about it on his heels, stroking it, and licking his fingers, and then with delighted thrills rubbing them over his naked body. The little block of ice that at Liverpool was only a "quart of water" had assumed the value of a diamond.
Dinner was enlivened by an incident. Mr. Weekes, with orders simply to "fry these," had given to the assistant of the cook two tins of sausages. The small chef presented them to us in the pan in which he had cooked them, but he had obeyed instructions to the letter and had fried the tins unopened.
After dinner we sat until late, while the older men told the young missionaries of atrocities of which, in the twenty years and within the last three years, they had been witnesses. Already in Mr. Morel's books I had read their testimony, but hearing from the men themselves the tales of outrage and cruelty gave them a fresh and more intimate value, and sent me to bed hot and sick with indignation. But, nevertheless, the night I slept at Thysville was the only cool one I knew in the Congo. It was as cool as is a night in autumn at home. Thysville, between the Upper and the Lower Congo, with its fresh mountain air, is an obvious site for a hospital for the servants of the State. To the Congo it should be what Simla is to the sick men of India; but the State is not running hospitals. It is in the rubber business.
All steamers for the Upper Congo and her great tributaries, whether they belong to the State or the Missions, start from Leopoldville. There they fit out for voyages, some of which last three and four months. So it is a place of importance, but, like Boma, it looks as though the people who yesterday built it meant to-morrow to move out. The river-front is one long dump-heap. It is a grave-yard for rusty boilers, deck-plates, chains, fire-bars. The interior of the principal storehouse for ships' supplies, directly in front of the office of the captain of the port, looks like a junk-shop for old iron and newspapers. I should have enjoyed taking the captain of the port by the neck and showing him the water-front and marine shops at Calabar; the wharfs and quays of stone, the open places spread with gravel, the whitewashed cement gutters, the spare parts of machinery, greased and labeled in their proper shelves, even the condemned scrap-iron in orderly piles; the whole yard as trim as a battleship.