Arthur Doyle.

The Crime of the Congo

Mr. Sjoblom seems to have been unable to believe at first that such deeds were done with the knowledge and approval of the whites. He ventured to appeal to the Commissary. He turned in anger on me, he adds, and in the presence of the soldiers said that he would expel me from the town if I meddled with matters of that kind any more.

It would, indeed, have been rather absurd for the Commissary to interfere when the severed hand had actually been cut off in order to be presented to him. The whole procedure is explained in the following paragraph:

If the rubber does not reach the full amount required, the sentinels attack the natives. They kill some and bring the hands to the Commissary. Others are brought to the Commissary as prisoners. At the beginning they came with their smoked hands. The sentinels, or else the boys in attendance on them, put these hands on a little kiln, and after they had been smoked, they by and by put them on the top of the rubber baskets. I have on many occasions seen this done.

Then we read in the latest State papers of the Belgian diplomatists that they propose to continue the beneficent and civilizing work which they have inherited.

Yet another paragraph from Mr. Sjoblom showing the complicity of the Belgian authorities, and showing also that the presence of the missionaries was some deterrent against open brutality. If, then, they saw as much as they did, what must have been the condition of those huge tracts of country where no missions existed?

At the end of 1895, the Commissary all the people were gathering the rubber said he had often told the sentinels not to kill the people. But on the 14th of December a sentinel passed our mission station and a woman accompanied him, carrying a basket of hands. Mr. and Mrs. Banks, besides myself, went down the road, and they told the sentinel to put the hands on the road that they might count them. We counted eighteen right hands smoked and from the size of the hands we could judge that they belonged to men, women and children. We could not understand why these hands had been collected, as the Commissary had given orders that no more natives were to be killed for their hands. On my last journey I discovered the secret. One Monday night, a sentinel who had just returned from the Commissary, said to me: What are the sentinels to do? When all the people are gathered together, the Commissary openly tells us not to kill any more people, but when the people have gone he tells us privately that if they do not bring plenty of india-rubber we must kill some, but not bring the hands to him. Some sentinels, he told me, had been put in chains because they killed some natives who happened to be near a mission station; but it was only because he thought it might become known that the Commissary, to justify himself, had put the men in chains. I said to the sentinel: You should obey the first command, never to kill any more. The people, he answered, unless they are frightened, do not bring in the rubber, and then the Commissary flogs us with the hippopotamus hide, or else he puts us in chains, or sends us to Boma. The sentinel added that the Commissary induced him to hide cruelty while letting it go on, and to do this in such a way that he might be justified, in case it should become known and an investigation should be made.

In such a case the Commissary could say, Why, I told him openly not to kill any more and he might put the blame on the soldier to justify himself, though the blame and the punishment in all its force ought to have been put on himself, after he had done such a terrible act in order to disguise or mislead justice. If the sentinels were puzzled about this message, what would the natives be?

I have said that there was more to be said for the cannibal murderers than for those who worked the system. The capitas pleaded the same excuse. Dont take this to heart so much, said one of them to the missionary. They kill us if we do not bring rubber. The Commissary has promised us if we bring plenty of hands he will shorten our service. I have brought plenty already, and I expect my time will soon be finished.

That the Commissaries are steeped to the lips in this horrible business has been amply shown in these paragraphs. But Mr. Sjoblom was able to go one stage further along the line which leads to the Palace at Brussels. M. Wahis, the Governor-General, a man who has played a sinister part in the country, came up the river and endeavoured to get the outspoken Swede to contradict himself, or, failing that, to intimidate him. To get at the truth or to right the wrong seems to have been the last thing in his mind, for he knew well that the wrong was essential to the system, and that without it the wheels would move more slowly and the head engineer in Europe would soon wish to know what was amiss with his rubber-producing machine. You may have seen all these things that you have stated, said he, but nothing is proved. The Commissary meanwhile had been holding a rifle to the head of witnesses so as to make sure that nothing would be proved. In spite of this Mr. Sjoblom managed to collect his evidence, and going to the Governor, asked him when he could listen to it. I dont want to hear any witnesses, said he, and then: If you continue to demand investigation in these matters we will make a charge against you That means five years imprisonment.

Such is Mr Sjobloms narrative involving Governor Wahis in the general infamy. It is not true, cries the Congolese apologist. Strange how Swedes, Americans, and British, laymen and clergy, all unite in defaming this innocent State! No doubt the wicked children lop off their own hands in order to cast a slur upon the benevolent and philanthropic enterprise of the Congo. Tartuffe and Jack the Ripper was ever such a combination in the history of the world!

One more anecdote of Mr. Wahis, for it is not often that we can get a Governor of the Congo in person face to face with the results of his own work. As he passed down the river, Mr. Sjoblom was able to report another outrage to him:

Mr. Banks told the Governor that he had seen it himself, whereupon M. Wahis summoned the commandant in charge the officer who had ordered the raid had already gone elsewhere and asked him in French if the story were true. The Belgian officer assured M. Wahis that it was, but the latter, thinking Mr. Banks did not understand French, said: After all, you may have seen this; but you have no witnesses. Oh, said Mr. Banks, I can call the commandant, who has just told you that it is true. M. Wahis then tried to minimize the matter, when, to his great surprise, Mr. Banks added: In any case I have, at his own request, furnished to the British Consul, who passed through here lately, a signed statement concerning it. M. Wahis rose from his chair, saying: Oh, then, it is all over Europe! Then for the first time he said that the responsible Commissary must be punished.

It need not be added that the punishment was the merest farce.

These successive reports, each amplifying the other, coming on the top of the killing of Mr. Stokes, and the action of the British Colonial Office in prohibiting recruiting for Congoland, had the effect of calling strong attention to the condition of that country. The charges were met partly by denial, partly by general phrases about morality, and partly by bogus reform. M. van Eetvelde, in Brussels, and M. Jules Houdret, in London, denied things which have since been proved up to the hilt. The reform took the shape of a so-called Natives Protection Commission. Like all these so-called reforms, it was utterly ineffectual, and was only meant for European consumption. No one knew so well as the men at Brussels that no possible reform could have any effect whatever unless the system was itself abolished, for that system produced outrages as logically and certainly as frost produces ice. The sequel will show the results of the Natives Protection Commission.


For a moment I must interrupt the narrative of the long, dismal succession of atrocities in order to explain certain new factors in the situation.

It has already been shown that the Congo State, unable to handle the whole of its vast domain, had sublet large tracts of it to monopolist companies, in absolute contradiction to Article V. of the Berlin Treaty. Up to the year 1897, these companies were registered in Belgium, and had some pretence to being international in scope. The State had no open or direct control over them. This was now altered. The State drew closer the bonds which united it to these commercial undertakings. They were, for the most part, dissolved, and then reconstructed under Congo law. In most cases, in return for the monopoly, the State was given control, sometimes to the extent of appointing all managers and agents. Half the shares of the company or half the profits were usually made over to the State. Thus one must bear in mind in future that whether one talks of the Abir Company, of the Kasai, the Katanga, the Anversoise, or any other, it is really with the State that is, with King Leopold that one has to do. He owned the companies, but paid them fifty per cent. commission for doing all the work. As their profits were such as might be expected where nothing was paid either for produce or for labour (varying from fifty to seven hundred per cent. per annum), all parties to the bargain were the gainers.

Another new factor in the situation was the completion, in 1898, of the Lower Congo Railway, which connects Boma with Stanley Pool, and so outflanks the cataracts. The enterprise itself was beneficent and splendid. The means by which it was carried out were unscrupulous and inhuman. Had civilization no complaint against the Congo State save the history of its railway construction with its forced labour, so different to the tradition of the tropical procedure of other European colonies, it would be a heavy indictment. Now it sinks to insignificance when compared with the enslavement of a whole people and the twenty years of uninterrupted massacre. As a sketch of the condition of the railway district here is a little pen picture by M. Edouard Picard, of the Belgian Senate, who saw it in the building:

The cruel impression conveyed by the mutilated forests, he wrote, is heightened in the places where, till lately, native villages nestled, hidden and protected by thick and lofty foliage. The inhabitants have fled. They have fled in spite of encouraging palavers and promises of peace and kind treatment. They have burnt their huts, and great heaps of cinders mark the sites, amid deserted palm-groves and trampled-down banana fields. The terrors caused by the memory of inhuman floggings, of massacres, of rapes and abductions, haunt their poor brains, and they go as fugitives to seek shelter in the recesses of the hospitable bush, or, across the frontiers, to find it in French or Portuguese Congo, not yet afflicted with so many labours and alarms, far from the roads traversed by white men, those baneful intruders, and their train of strange and disquieting habits. The outlook was as gloomy when he wandered along the path trodden by the caravans to the Pool and back again. We are constantly meeting these carriers, either isolated or in Indian file; blacks, blacks, miserable blacks, with horribly filthy loin-clothes for their only garments; their bare and frizzled heads supporting their loads chest, bale, ivory-tusk, hamper of rubber, or barrel; for the most part broken down, sinking under the burdens made heavier by their weariness and insufficiency of food, consisting of a handful of rice and tainted dried fish; pitiful walking caryatids; beasts of burden with the lank limbs of monkeys, pinched-up features, eyes fixed and round with the strain of keeping their balance and the dulness of exhaustion. Thus they come and go by thousands, organized in a system of human transport, requisitioned by the State armed with its irresistible force publique, supplied by the chiefs whose slaves they are and who pounce on their wages; jogging on, with knees bent and stomach protruding, one arm raised up and the other resting on a long stick, dusty and malodorous; covered with insects as their huge procession passes over mountains and through valleys; dying on the tramp, or, when the tramp is over, going to their villages to die of exhaustion.

It will be remembered that Captain Lothaire, having been acquitted of the murder of Mr. Stokes, was sent out by King Leopold to act as managing-director of the Anversoise Trust. In 1898, he arrived in the Mongalla District, and from then onward there came to Europe vague rumours of native attacks and bloody reprisals, with those other symptoms of violence and unrest which might be expected where a large population accustomed to freedom is suddenly reduced to slavery. How huge were the rubber operations which were carried through under the ferocious rule of Captain Lothaire, may be guessed from the fact that the profits of the company, which had been 120,000 francs in 1897, rose to 3,968,000 in 1899 a sum which is considerably more than twice the total capital. M. Mille tells of a Belgian agent who showed 25,000 cartridges and remarked, I can turn those into 25,000 pounds of rubber. Captain Lothaire believed in the same trade methods, for his fighting and his output increased together. It is worth while to slaughter one-fourth of the population if the effect is to drive the others to frenzied and unceasing work.

No definite details might ever have reached Europe of those doings had not Lothaire made the capital mistake of quarrelling with his subordinates. One of these, named Lacroix, sent a communication to the Nieuw Gazet, of Antwerp, which, with the Petit Bleu, acted an honourable and independent part at this epoch. The Congo Press Bureau, which has stifled the voice of the more venal portion of the Belgian and Parisian Press, had not at that time attained the efficiency which it afterward reached. This letter from Lacroix was published on April 10th, 1900, and shed a lurid light upon what had been going on in the Mongalla District. It was a confession, but a confession which involved his superiors as well as himself. He told how he had been instructed by his chief to massacre all the natives of a certain village which had been slow in bringing its rubber. He had carried out the order. Later, his chief had put sixty women in irons, and allowed nearly all of them to die of hunger because the village Mummumbula had not brought enough rubber. I am going to be tried, he wrote, for having murdered one hundred and fifty men, for having crucified women and children, and for having mutilated many men and hung the remains on the village fence. At the same moment as this confession of Lacroix, Le Petit Bleu published sworn affidavits of soldiers employed by the Trust, telling how they had put to death whole villages for being short with their rubber. Moray, another agent, published a confession in Le Petit Bleu, from which this is an extract:

At Ambas we were a party of thirty, under Van Eycken, who sent us into a village to ascertain if the natives were collecting rubber, and in the contrary case to murder all, including men, women and children. We found the natives sitting peaceably. We asked them what they were doing. They were unable to reply, thereupon we fell upon them all, and killed them without mercy. An hour later we were joined by Van Eycken, and told him what had been done. He answered: It is well, but you have not done enough! Thereupon he ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and children on the palisades in the form of a cross.

In the face of these fresh revelations there was an outburst of feeling in Belgium, showing that it is only their ignorance of the true facts which prevents the inhabitants of that country from showing the same humanity as any other civilized nation would do. They have not yet realized the foul things which have been done in their name. Surely when they do realize it there will be a terrible reckoning! Some were already very alive to the question. MM. Vandervelde and Lorand fought bravely in the Chamber. The officials, with MM. Liebrichts and De Cuvelier at their head, made the usual vague professions and general denials. Ah, you can rest assured light will be forthcoming, complete, striking! cried the former. Light was indeed forthcoming, though not so complete as might be wished, for some, at least, of the scoundrels implicated were tried and condemned. In any other European colony they would have been hanged offhand, as the villainous murderers that they were. But they do not hang white men in the Congoland, even with the blood of a hundred murders on their hands. The only white man ever hanged there was the Englishman Stokes for competing in trade.

What is to be remarked, however, is that only subordinates were punished. Van Eycken was acquitted; Lacroix had imprisonment; Mattheys, another agent accused of horrible practices, got twelve years which sounded well at the time, but he was liberated at the end of three. In the sentence upon this man the Judge used the words, Seeing that it is just to take into account the example which his superiors gave him in showing no respect for the lives or rights of the natives. Brave words, but how helpless is justice when such words can be said, and no result follow! They referred, of course, to Captain Lothaire, who had, in the meanwhile, fled aboard a steamer at Matadi, and made his escape to Europe. His flight was common knowledge, but who would dare to lay his hand upon the favourite of the King. Lothaire has had occasion several times since to visit the Congo, but Justice has indeed sat with bandaged eyes where that man was concerned!

There is one incident which should be marked in the story of this trial. Moray, whose testimony would have been of great importance, was found dead in his bed just before the proceedings. There have been several such happenings in Congo history. Commandant Dooms, having threatened to expose the misdeeds of Lieutenant Massard before Europe, was shortly afterward declared to have been mysteriously drowned by a hippopotamus. Dr. Barotti, returning hot with anger after an inspection of the State, declares vehemently that he was poisoned. There is much that is of the sixteenth century in this State, besides its views of its duties to the natives.

Before passing these revelations with the attendant burst of candour in the Belgian Press, it may be well to transcribe the following remark in an interview from a returned Congo official which appeared in the Antwerp Nieuw Gazet (April 10th, 1900). He says:

When first commissioned to establish a fort, I was given some native soldiers and a prodigious stock of ammunition. My chief gave me the following instructions: Crush every obstacle! I obeyed, and cut through my district by fire and sword. I had left Antwerp thinking I was simply to gather rubber. Great was my stupefaction when the truth dawned on me.

This, with the letter of Lieutenant Tilken, as quoted before, gives some insight into the position of the agent.

Indeed, there is something to be said for these unfortunate men, for it is a more awful thing to be driven to crime than to endure it. Consider the sequence of events! The man sees an advertisement offering a commercial situation in the tropics. He applies to a bureau. He is told that the salary is some seventy-five pounds a year, with a bonus on results. He knows nothing of the country or conditions. He accepts. He is then asked if he has any money. He has not. One hundred pounds is advanced to him for expenses and outfit, and he is pledged to work it off. He goes out and finds the terrible nature of the task before him. He must condone crime to get his results. Suppose he resigns? Certainly, say the authorities; but you must remain there until you have worked off your debt! He cannot possibly get down the river, for the steamers are all under Government control. What can he do then? There is one thing which he very frequently does, and that is to blow out his brains. The statistics of suicide are higher than in any service in the world. But suppose he takes the line: Very well, I will stay if you make me do so, but I will expose these misdeeds to Europe. What then? The routine is a simple one. An official charge is preferred against him of ill-treating the natives. Ill-treating of some sort is always going forward, and there is no difficulty with the help of the sentries in proving that something for which the agent is responsible does not tally with the written law, however much it might be the recognized custom. He is taken to Boma, tried and condemned. Thus it comes about that the prison of Boma may at the same time contain the best men and the worst the men whose ideas were too humane for the authorities as well as those whose crimes could not be overlooked even by a Congolese administration. Take warning, you who seek service in this dark country, for suicide, the Boma prison, or such deeds as will poison your memory forever are the only choice which will lie before you.

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