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

Chapter XX : Mutinies of the Batetela Tribe (pp.216-222 )

The hasty and ill-advised trial and execution of the chief, Gongo Lutete, described in another chapter, proved a source of much danger and tribulation to the Congo Free State. It was the act of a misguided and over-zealous officer, without doubt undertaken in good faith, but none the less disastrous upon that account. The incident has never been defended, but always deplored, by the Congo Government, to which it occasioned grievous loss in men, money, and reputation.
Lutete's men were loyal to their chief and bitterly resented his execution. So threatening did their attitude become that it was decided to remove them to some considerable distance from the scene of the tragedy. At the moment of their departure, they fired upon the people and vowed complete vengeance whenever opportunity for it should occur. Later, at Luluabourg, when they accepted an invitation to enter the Force Publique, all danger from them was thought to have been averted. But the apparent content of the fierce Batetela was simulated; they were merely biding their time.
It was during the summer of 1895, at Luluabourg, that the Batetelas openly revolted. After murdering some of their officers, they attacked the post at Kabinda. Next, they struck out to the north, with intent to surprise Lusambo. At Gandu, and on the Lomami, they murdered more Belgian officers, and for a time it was impossible to foresee a limit to their depradations.
Though the mutineers were less than four hundred in number, in the circumstances they were potent for a vast amount of mischief. They were well armed with modern weapons of precision, were abundantly furnished with ammunition, and had, nesides, some military knowledge, acquired from their Belgian officers, which rendered them almost the equal to European troops. To these advantages must ne added the natural valour of the Batetela, and the desperation with which men, knowing that their treason will be punished by death in the event of their capture, may be expected to fight.
Commandant Lothaire, on hearing of the misfortune that had befallen the State, hastened with a small force to intercept the Batetelas, then marching on Nyangwe. He met the mutineers on the 18th of October, near Gandu, and, notwithstanding that the force he commanded was much inferior, at once assumed the offensive. A fierce fight ensued, in which the mutineers were badly defeated, losing many killed and prisoners, and having finally to fly. Previous to this engagement another Belgian officer, Lieutenant Gillain, had been active to retrieve the fortunes of the State. Having gathered together such remnants of the State's forces as remained loyal, and were to be found scattered about the Lomami district, he boldly attacked the mutineers. The battle opened greatly to his disadvantage, but ended in his victory. Lieutenant Gillain then added his forces to those of Commandant Lothaire, and the combination, as we have seen, was far less in number than that of the mutineers, though it proved superior to them.
After their defeat on the 18th of October, in which they lost the greater part of the spoil taken at Luluabourg, Kabinda, and Gandu, the Batetelas broke up into small bands, and sought refuge in the forest, into which it was impracticable for the State's forces to pursue them. The latter had now become nearly a thousand strong, and numbered among it's officers the brave Michaux, Svensson, de Besche, Juergens, Konings and Droeven - a force sufficient, it was believed, to deal with any recrudescence of the trouble.
A few days later an incident occurred which rudely dispelled this notion. The scattered bands of mutineers again united, to make safe their retreat, and were probably about to march to the Manyema country, when they accidentally met a Belgian column. Both were surprised. The Batetelas, by far the more numerous, at once attacked the Belgians. At the very opening of the fight, the four Belgian officers who were leading the force were shot dead. The bands which had to the present refrained from joining the main body of the Batetelas now hastened to do so.
Perceiving that their power would continue to grow so long as they were left unmolested, Commandant Lothaire determined to attack the Batetelas again with all the force at his command. The battle took place November 6th, at Gongo Machoffe, and resulted in a complete victory for the State forces. The Batetelas lost heavily in killed and prisoners, while such of them as survived fled for protection to various local chiefs, who soon, however, handed them over to Commandant Lothaire.
Again, notwithstanding their bitter experience, the Congo State and it's advisers, military and civil, permitted themselves to be lulled into the confidence of security. Nearly two years of quietude on the part of the Batetelas led the Belgians to believe that that fierce race had forgiven, if they had not forgotten, the injury unwittingly inflicted upon them - that the trouble had been fought out, and the incident from which it originated relegated to it's proper place among the unfortunate happenings of a bygone period.
The awakening from this dream came in 1897. Commandant Chaltin had driven the Dervishes as far as the Nile, and Baron Dhanis, with a larger force than Chaltin, had been sent to take possession of the Lado territory to found posts there, and to fortify it against possible Dervish inroads. With a column of more than three thousand men, a third of whom were Batetelas, Dhanis set out from Avakubi towards the Nile.
In the second week of February, 1897, Captain Leroi, with two thousand men, had just reached Dirfi, when the Batetelas, of which the force was mainly composed, suddenly mutinied. The mutiny began with the murder of Captain Leroi and his fellow officers, after which the mutineers retreated upon the Obi. As soon as news of this event was brought to Dhanis, he threw his force right across the path of the mutineers, and a desparate battle ensued (March 18, 1897). The pages of history afford few parallels to this singular conflict. No sooner had the fight begun, than about five hundred of the Batetelas commanded by Dhanis deserted, and went over to the enemy, their kinsmen. The result, as may be imagined, was chaos. With great difficulty Baron Dhanis effected his retreat. His losses were grievous. Ten Belgian officers fell, among them a brother of Baron Dhanis. Among those who specially distinguished themselves by their gallantry upon this occasion was Lieutenant Delecourt, who, with a miserably small following, covered the retreat, at the cost of his own life and the lives of every member of his faithful company. Having at last succeeded in reaching Avakubi, Dhanis entrenched the handful of men left to him in the little station there, and leaving Commandant Henry in command, hurried to Stanley Falls, to report the disaster and concert measures for regaining what had been lost.
Meanwhile the Batetelas were not inactive. Making straight for Stanley Falls, they destroyed all the stations on their way; but just before they reached what was thought to be their objective they struck out eastward. Baron Dhanis at once concluded that they were bound for their native country, Manyema. The assurance that they contemplated no invasion of State property was a relief, but the possibility that so considerable a number of well-armed men, flushed with victory, reaching their tribe and reporting to it how they had defeated the redoubtable Baron Dhanis was very disquieting, for such an event would infallibly have led to the uprising of all the Batetelas. Baron Dhanis, having returned from Stanley Falls, placed a body of picked men at Nyangwe and Kassongo, to intercept the mutineers if they chanced to pass that way, while troops with European officers, were sent from Stanley Pool to pursue them.
At this juncture, the Belgian cause was aided by an outbreak of smallpox among the mutineers, which compelled them to encamp near Lindi, not far from the British frontier. At that place Commandant Henry, fresh from Avakubi (which he had found deserted), with seven hundred men, came upon them and almost succeeded in driving them into British territory. Meanwhile Lieutenant Sannaes had successfully repelled an attack upon his post at Katue (Semliki), which so enraged the mutineers that the leader of the attacking party, a man named Malumba, was murdered by one of his own men who held him responsible for it's failure.
June had arrived before Commandant Henry and Lieutenant Sannaes could join their forces, and then the regular pursuit of the mutineers began; but another month elapsed before they could be brought to battle. The result was a great victory for the Congo State forces. Over four hundred Batetelas were killed, and they lost, besides, five hundred rifles and ten thousand cartridges. And then ensued what had happened in like circumstances before - the surviving mutineers broke up into small bands and dispersed in various directions. Though victorious, Commandant Henry was exhausted, and fell back upon his base. Baron Dhanis, who had been guarding the Lualaba to prevent the mutineers crossing it, now found it safe to pursue their scattered bands.
At last the Batetela revolt was broken. Thereafter some minor skirmishes occurred here and there; but they were as the feeble flickerings of an expiring flame - a flame that had seared the growing Congo State only to enable it to show to the world an admirable example of discipline and resisting power in circumstances of extraordinary difficulty.

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Last revised on February 14th 2002

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