Arthur Doyle.

The Crime of the Congo

The same damning White Book contained a brief account of Lord Cromers experience upon the Upper Nile in the Lado district. He notes that for eighty miles the side of the river which is British territory was crowded with native villages, the inhabitants of which ran along the bank calling to the steamer. The other bank (Congolese territory), was a deserted wilderness. The Tuquoque argument which King Leopolds henchmen are so fond of advancing will find it hard to reconcile the difference. Lord Cromer ends his report:

It appears to me that the facts which I have stated above afford amply sufficient evidence of the spirit which animates the Belgian Administration, if, indeed, Administration it can be called. The Government, so far as I could judge, is conducted almost exclusively on commercial principles, and, even judged by that standard, it would appear that those principles are somewhat short-sighted.

In the same White Book which contains these documents there is printed the Congolese defence drawn up by M. de Cuvelier. The defence consists in simply ignoring all the definite facts laid before the public, and in making such statements as that the British have themselves made war upon natives, as if there were no distinction between war and massacre, and that the British have put a poll-tax upon natives, which, if it be reasonable in amount, is a perfectly just proceeding adopted by all Colonial nations. Let the possessors of the Free State use this system, and at the same time restore the freedom of trade by throwing open the country to all, and returning to the natives that land and produce which has been taken from them. When they have done this and punished the guilty there will be an end of anti-Congo agitation. Beyond this, a large part (nearly half) of the Congo Reply (notes sur le rapport de Mr. Casement, de Dec. 11, 1903), is taken up by trying to show that in one case of mutilation the injuries were, in truth, inflicted by a wild boar. There must be many wild boars in Congo land, and their habits are of a singular nature. It is not in the Congo that these boars are bred.


The immediate effect of the publication as a State paper of the general comment of Lord Cromer, and of the definite accusations of Consul Casement, was a demand both in Belgium and in England for an official inquiry. Lord Landsdowne stipulated that this inquiry should be impartial and thorough. It was also suggested by the British Government that it should be international in character, and separated from the local administration. Very grudgingly and under constant pressure the King appointed a Commission, but whittled down its powers to such a point that its proceedings must lose all utility. Such were the terms that they provoked remonstrance from men like M. A. J. Wauters, the Belgian historian of the Congo Free State, who protested in the Mouvement G?ographique (August 7th, 1904) that such a body could serve no useful end.

Finally, their functions were slightly increased, but they possessed no punitive powers and were hampered in every direction by the terms of their reference.

The personnel of the Commission was worthy of the importance of the inquiry. M. Janssens, a well-known jurist of Belgium, was the president. He impressed all who came in contact with him as a man of upright and sympathetic character. Baron Niscos appointment was open to criticism, as he was himself a Congo functionary, but save for that fact there was no complaint to make against him. Dr. Schumacher, a distinguished Swiss lawyer, was the third Commissioner. The English Government applied to have a representative upon the tribunal, and with true Congo subtlety the request was granted after the three judges had reached the Congo. The Englishman, Mr. Mackie, hurried out, but was only in time to attend the last three sittings, which were held in the lower part of the river, far from the notorious rubber agents. It is worth noting that on his arrival he applied for the minutes of the previous meetings and that his application was refused. In Belgium the evidence of the Commission has never been published, and it is safe to say that it never will be. Fortunately the Congo missionaries took copious notes of the proceedings and of the testimony which came immediately under their own notice. It is from their evidence that I draw these accounts. If the Congo authorities contest the accuracy of those accounts, then let them confute them forever and put their accusers to confusion by producing the actual minutes which they hold.

The first sitting of any length of which there are records is that at Bolobo, and extended from November 5th to 12th, 1904. The veteran, Mr. Grenfell, gave evidence at this sitting, and it is useful to summarize his views as he was one of the men who held out longest against the condemnation of King Leopold, and because his early utterances have been quoted as if he were a supporter of the system. He expressed to the Commissioners his disappointment at the failure of the Congo Government to realize the promises with which it inaugurated its career. He declared he could no longer wear the decorations which he had received from the Sovereign of the Congo State. He gave it as his opinion that the ills the country was suffering from were due to the haste of a few men to get rich, and to the absence of anything like a serious attempt to properly police the country in the interests of the people. He instanced the few judicial officers, and the virtual impossibility of a native obtaining justice, owing to witnesses being compelled to travel long distances, either to Leopoldville or Boma. Mr. Grenfell spoke out emphatically against the administrative r?gime on the Upper River, so far as it had been brought under his notice.

Mr. Scrivener, a gentleman who had been twenty-three years on the Congo, was the next witness. His evidence was largely the same as the Diary from which I have already quoted, concerning the condition of the Crown Domain. Many witnesses were examined. How do you know the names of the men murdered? a lad was asked. One of them was my father, was the dramatic reply. Men of stone, wrote Mr. Scrivener, would be moved by the stories that are unfolded as the Commission probes this awful history of rubber collection.

Mr. Gilchrist, another missionary, was a new witness. His testimony was concerned with the State Domain and the Concessionnaire area, principally on the Lulanga River. He said:

I also told them what we had seen on the Ikelemba, of the signs of desolation in all the districts, of the heartrending stories the people told us, of the butcheries wrought by the various white men of the State and companies who had, from time to time, been stationed there among whom a few names were notorious. I pointed out to them the fact that the basin of the Ikelemba was supposed to be free-trade territory also, but that everywhere the people of the various districts were compelled to serve the companies of these respective districts, in rubber, gum copal or food. At one out-of-the-way place where we were on the south bank, two men arrived just as we were leaving, with their bodies covered with marks of the chicotte, which they had just received from the trader of Bosci because their quantity had been short. I said to the Commissaire, given favourable conditions, particularly freedom, there would soon be a large population in these interior towns, the Ngombe and Mongo.

In answer to questions the following facts were solicited:

Unsettled condition of the people. The older people never seem to have confidence to build their houses substantially. If they have any suspicion of the approach of a canoe or steamer with soldiers they flee.

Chest disease, pneumonia, etc. These carry off very many. The people flee to the islands, live in the open air, expose themselves to all kinds of weather, contract chills, which are followed by serious lung troubles, and die. For years we never saw a new house because of the drifting population. They have a great fear of soldiers. In the case of many the absence from the villages is temporary; in the case of a few they permanently settle on the north bank of the river.

Want of proper nourishment. I have witnessed the collecting of the State imposition, and after this was set aside the natives had nothing but leaves to eat.

Also, that fines, which the Commission at once declared to be illegal, were constantly levied on the people, and that these fines had continued after the matter had been reported to the Governor-General. In spite of this declaration of illegality, no steps were taken in the matter, and M. de Bauw, the chief offender, was by last accounts the supreme executive official of the district. At every turn one finds that there is no relation at all between law and practice in the Congo. Law is habitually broken by every official from the Governor-General downward if the profits of the State can be increased thereby. The only stern enforcement of the laws is toward the foreigner, the Austrian Rubinck, or the Englishman Stokes, who is foolish enough to think that an international agreement is of more weight than the edicts of Boma. These men believed it, and met their death through their belief without redress, and even, in the case of the Austrian, without public remonstrance.

The next considerable session of the Commission was at Baringa. Mr. Harris and Mr. Stannard, the missionaries at this station, had played a noble part throughout in endeavouring within their very limited powers to shield the natives from their tormentors. In both cases, and also in that of Mrs. Harris, this had been done at the repeated risk of their lives. Their white neighbours of the rubber factories made their lives miserable also by preventing their receipt of food from the natives, and harassing them in various ways. On one occasion a chief and his son were both murdered by the order of the white agent because they had supplied the Harris household with the fore-quarter of an antelope. Before giving the terrible testimony of the missionaries a testimony which was admitted to be true by the chief agent of the A.B.I.R. Company on the spot, it would be well to show the exact standing of this Corporation and its relation to the State. These relations are so close that they become to all intents and purposes the same. The State holds fifty per cent. of the shares; it places the Government soldiers at the companys disposal; it carries up in the Government steamers and supplies licenses for the great number of rifles and the quantity of cartridges which the company needs for its murderous work. Whatever crimes are done by the company, the State is a close accomplice. Finally, the European directors of this bloodstained company are, or were at the time, the Senator Van der Nest, who acted as President; and as Council: Count John dOultremont, Grand Marshal of the Belgian Court; Baron Dhanis, of Congo fame, and M. van Eetevelde, the creature of the King, and the writer of so many smug despatches to the British Government about the mission of civilization and the high purpose of the Congo State. Now listen to some of the testimony as condensed by Mr. Harris:

First, the specific atrocities during 1904 were dealt with, including men, women, and children; then murders and outrages, including cannibalism. From this I passed on to the imprisonment of men, women and children. Following this I called attention to the destruction of the Baringa towns and the partial famine among the people in consequence. Also the large gangs of prisoners men, women and children imprisoned to carry out this work; the murder of two men whilst it was being done. Next followed the irregularities during 1903. The expedition conducted by an A.B.I.R. agent against Sambekota, and the arming continually of A.B.I.R. sentries with Albini rifles. Following this I drew attention to the administration of Mons. Forcie, whose r?gime was a terrible one, including the murder of Isekifasu, the principal Chief of Bolima; the killing, cutting up and eating of his wives, son and children; the decorating of the chief houses with the intestines, liver and heart of some of the killed, as stated by Veritas in the West African Mail.

I confirmed in general the letter published in the West African Mail by Veritas.

Following this I came to Mons. Tagners time, and stated that no village in this district had escaped murders under this mans r?gime.

Next we dealt with irregularities common to all agents, calling attention to and proving by specific instances the public floggings of practically any and every one; quoting, for instance, seeing with my own eyes six Ngombe men receive one hundred strokes each, delivered simultaneously by two sentries.

Next, the normal condition has always been the imprisoning of men, women and children, all herded together in one shed, with no arrangement for the demands of nature. Further, that very many, including even chiefs, had died either in prison or immediately on their release.

Next, the mutilation of the woman Boaji, because she wished to remain faithful to her husband, and refused to subject herself to the passions of the sentries. The womans footless leg and hernia testify to the truth of her statement. She appeared before the Commission and doctor.

Next, the fact that natives are imprisoned for visiting friends and relatives in other villages, and the refusal to allow native canoes to pass up and down river without carrying a permit signed by the rubber agent; pointing out that even missionaries are subject to these restrictions, and publicly insulted, in an unprintable manner, when they do so.

Next point dealt with was responsibility maintaining that responsibility lay not so much in the individual as in the system. The sentry blames the agent, he in turn the director, and so on.

I next called attention to the difficulties to be faced by natives in reporting irregularities. The number of civil officials is too small; the practical impossibility of reaching those that do exist the native having first to ask permission of the rubber agent.

The relations that are at present necessary between the A.B.I.R. and the State render it highly improbable that the natives will ever report irregularities. I then pointed out that we firmly believe that but for us these irregularities would never have come to light.

Following on this the difficulties to be faced by missionaries were dealt with, pointing out that the A.B.I.R. can and do impose on us all sorts of restrictions if we dare to speak a word about their irregularities. I then quoted a few of the many instances which found their climax in Mrs. Harris and I almost losing our lives for daring to oppose the massacres by Van Caelcken. It was also stated that we could not disconnect the attitude of the State in refusing us fresh sites with our action in condemning the administration. I then mentioned that the forests are exhausted of rubber, pointing out that during a five days tour through the forests I did not see a single vine of any size. This is solely because the vines have been worked in such a manner that all the rubber roots need many years rest, whereas the natives now are actually reduced to digging up those roots in order to get rubber.

The next subject dealt with was the clear violation both of the spirit and letter of the Berlin Act. In the first place we are not allowed to extend the Mission, and, further, we are forbidden to trade even for food.

Next the statement was made that, so far as we are aware, no single sentry had ever been punished by the State till 1904 for the many murders committed in this district.

I next pointed out that one reason why the natives object to paddle for the A.B.I.R. is because of the sentries who travel in the A.B.I.R. canoes, and whose only business is to flog the paddlers in order to keep them going.

After Mr. Stannard had been heard, sixteen Esanga witnesses were questioned one by one. They gave clearly the details of how father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter were killed in cold blood for rubber. These sixteen represented over twenty murders in Esanga alone. Then followed the big chief of all Bolima, who succeeded Isekifasu (murdered by the A.B.I.R.). What a sight for those who prate about lying missionaries! He stood boldly before all, pointed to his twenty witnesses, placed on the table his one hundred and ten twigs, each twig representing a life for rubber. These are chiefs twigs, these are mens, these shorter are womens, these smaller still are childrens. He gives the names of scores, but begs for permission to call his son as a reminder. The Commission, though, is satisfied with him, that he is telling the truth, and therefore say that it is unnecessary. He tells how his beard of many years growth, and which nearly reached his feet, was cut off by a rubber agent, merely because he visited a friend in another town. Asked if he had not killed A.B.I.R. sentries, he denied it, but owned to his people spearing three of the sentrys boys. He tells how the white man fought him, and when the fight was over handed him his corpses, and said: Now you will bring rubber, wont you? To which he replied: Yes. The corpses were cut up and eaten by Mons. Forcies fighters. He also told how he had been chicotted and imprisoned by the A.B.I.R. agent, and further put to the most menial labour by the agent.

Here Bonkoko came forward and told how he accompanied the A.B.I.R. sentries when they went to murder Isekifasu and his wives and little ones; of finding them peacefully sitting at their evening meal; of the killing as many as they could, also the cutting up and eating of the bodies of Isekifasus son and his fathers wives; of how they dashed the babys brains out, cut the body in half, and impaled the halves.

Again he tells how, on their return, Mons. Forcie had the sentries chicotted because they had not killed enough of the Bolima people.

Next came Bongwalanga, and confirmed Bonkokos story; this youth went to look on. After this the mutilated wife of Lomboto, of Ekerongo, was carried by a chief, who showed her footless leg and hernia. This was the price she had to pay for remaining faithful to her husband. The husband told how he was chicotted because he was angry about his wifes mutilation.

Then Longoi, of Lotoko, placed eighteen twigs on the table, representing eighteen men, women and children murdered for rubber. Next, Inunga laid thirty-four twigs on the table and told how thirty-four of his men, women and children had been murdered at Ekerongo. He admits that they had speared one sentry, Iloko, but that, as in every other such instance, was because Iloko had first killed their people. Lomboto shows his mutilated wrist and useless hand, done by the sentry. Isekansu shows his stump of a forearm, telling the same pitiful story. Every witness tells of floggings, rape, mutilations, murders, and of imprisonments of men, women and children, and of illegal fines and irregular taxes, etc., etc. The Commission endeavours to get through this slough of iniquity and river of blood, but finding it hopeless, asks how much longer I can go on. I tell them I can go on until they are satisfied that hundreds of murders have been committed by the A.B.I.R. in this district alone; murders of chiefs, men, women and little children, and that multitudes of witnesses only await my signal to appear by the thousand.

I further point out that we have only considered about two hundred murders from the villages of Bolima, Esanga, Ekerongo, Lotoko; that by far the greater majority still remain. The following districts are as yet untouched: Bokri, Nson-go, Boru-ga, Ekala, Baringa, Linza, Lifindu, Nsongo-Mboyo, Livoku, Boendo, the Lomako river, the Ngombe country, and many others, all of whom have the same tale to tell. Every one saw the hopelessness of trying to investigate things fully. To do so, the Commission would have to stay here for months.

What comment can be added to such evidence as this! It stands in its naked horror, and it is futile to try to make it more vivid. What can any of those English apologists of the Congo who have thrown a doubt upon the accounts of outrages because in passing through a section of this huge country upon a flying visit they had not happened to see them what can Lord Mountmorris, Captain Boyd Alexander, or Mrs. French Sheldon say in the face of a mass of evidence with the actual mutilated limbs and excoriated backs to enforce it? Can they say more than the man actually incriminated, M. Le Jeune, the chief agent at the spot? What have you to say? asked the President. M. Le Jeune shrugged his shoulders. He had nothing to say. The President, who had listened, to his honour be it spoken, with tears running down his cheeks to some of the evidence, cried out in amazement and disgust. There is one document I would put in, said the agent. It is to show that 142 of my sentinels were slain by the villagers in the course of seven months. Surely that makes the matter worse! cried the sagacious judge. If these well-armed men were slain by the defenceless villagers, how terrible must the wrongs have been which called for such desperate reprisals!

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