Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905



Circular to all the District Commissioners, Heads of Zones and of Posts, with Regard to Barbarous Customs Prevailing among the Native Tribes. February 27, 1897 (pp.566-568)


...................................................................................... Brussels, February 27, 1897 Gentlemen,
As you are aware, the Government have constantly under their consideration the barbarous practices, such as cannibalism, ordeal by poison, and human sacrifices, which prevail among the native tribes, and the best means of bringing about their disappearance.
In this matter, as in all questions in which allowance must to some extent be made for long-established custom and social conditions which it would be impolitic to attack too directly, the Government have thought it advisable to act at first with prudence and circumspection, without, however, remaining inactive.
For this reason the first instruction issued to officers did not, in all cases, prescribe repression by force; they enjoined the exercise of their influence and authority with a view to deterring the natives by persuasion from indulging in these inhuman practices. A further advance has been made : the moment the authority of the State was sufficiently established in the neighbourhood of it's posts and stations, the toleration of such customs was formally prohibited within a certain distance round the State stations or European establishments, and the Penal Law made their repression in these places possible by it's provisions respecting acts of violence against this person. Outside this limit it lay with the officers of the Department of Criminal Justice (Ministere Public) to prosecute or not, according as the situation of the district and the forces at the disposal of the authorities permitted.
These measures have not been without result. Not only have cases of cannibalism become less frequent in the centres occupied by the officers of the State, but the native himself has learnt, and now knows, the horror felt by Europeans for cannibalism, and is no longer ignorant of the fact that by giving way to it he renders himself liable to punishment. As a general rule, indeed, it is only in secret, and out of sight of Europeans, that he still indulges in the odious custom, for he has become convinced that, save in exceptional cases in which the white man is powerless to do otherwise, he will not let him go unpunished.
The Government considers that an even more decisive step should be taken in the direction of repression. As the State's occupation of these districts becomes more and more complete, as it's posts are multiplied all along the Upper Congo, and as regular Courts are gaining a footing in the interior, the moment seems to have come to endeavour to reach the evil once for all, and to seek to extirpate it everywhere where our authority is sufficiently established to enable us to enforce absolute respect for the Penal Law.
It was with this view that the Decree of the 18th December, 1896, was drawn up, by which more particularly cases of cannibalism and ordeal by poison were made special offences. It is the Government's intention that these provisions shall be strictly enforced, and it is the aim of the present Circular to direct all our officers to bring to justice any offences of this kind which may come to their knowledge. It will be the duty of the officers of the Department of Criminal Justice (Ministere Public) to institute proceedings against the delinquents, and in these special cases they will not be at liberty to apply Article 84 of the Decree of the 27th April, 1889, and to hand them over to the jurisdiction of the local Chief to be dealt with by native custom. It is, indeed, evident that such a course is out of the question in dealing with a class of offences which are contrary to the principles of our civilisation, and which are the outcome of customs which we are seeking to abolish.
The Government count on general assistance, with a view to insuring the prompt and certain repression of these offences, and they believe that a few severe examples will have a powerful effect in inducing the native to put an end to these reprehensible practices. The District Commissioners and Heads of Stations are in this connection expected to police the territories under their administration, and to take the necessary measures to obtain exact information.
The Director of Justice will forward to the Government every quarter a Report on the practice of cannibalism, on the cases prosecuted, and, if necessary, on the new measures which should be taken in order to check and extirpate this custom.








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