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

Chapter XXII c : Native Chieftaincies (pp.239-242 )

The institution of native chieftaincies, due to the decree of 6th October, 1891, realises an idea too just and too politic for it not to receive all the extension possible. If during the first days that followed the promulgation of that decree the district commissioners displayed praiseworthy emulation in recognising native chieftaincies, it is not less certain that these have not rendered, up to the present, all the services which we could expect, so far as they were called upon to create between the European authority and the natives a natural intermediary, having it's duties and responsibilities, and calculated to facilitate the action of the Government.
The cases in which it has been applied still show the advantages of the system and testify to the greater facility with which the natives rally to the new order of things when it is personified in their eyes by the chief whom they have always recognised. It is proved that respect for the orders of authority, obedience to the laws, the execution of legal obligations, such as military recruiting and the payment of taxes, - in a word the principles of an organized social state, are more easily accepted by the natives forming part of a chieftaincy than by those who are quite independent. The chiefs, besides, have generally a real influence over the population, and thus, as has several times been said, if they feel themselves supported they will succeed in making our ideas prevail and in imposing them on the natives through our support.
Another appeal has just been quite recently made by the local government to all the chiefs of districts and zones in order to inspire them with these views, and so that they may increase the official chieftaincies to a great extent.
The instructions issued are inspired by a double object : to maintain and even to extend the authority of the chiefs over their subjects, to avoid all intervention in the internal affairs of the tribes which would be of a nature to compromise the prestige of that authority.
"It is the right of the chief", these instructions declare, "to assure the execution of his orders according to the native rules and particularly to bring to his decision the sanction demanded by native custom".
The only restriction on the authority of the recognised native chiefs lies in the necessity for them not to run counter, in the decisions taken, to public order, that is to say, principles which are at the base of the organisation of society, as it is comprehended and wished to be by the legislator.
The chief's authority ceases as soon as the measures taken are contrary to that public order.
Thus, in matters of private right, the native chief could not legitimately take any course which would assail the organisation of families constituted under the regime of the civil code, and accounting to it's prescribed form, - in other words, entered on the European statute.
On the other hand, he could not establish slavery, oppose religious liberties or commercial liberty, or order acts contrary to the penal law.
Still it is necessary to remark that he may employ coercive and repressive measures to ensure, as chief, and within the limits of his power according to custom, the execution of his orders.
But this sanction itself would be contrary to public order if it's character differed from our ideas of what repression should be, more especially if it were accompanied by torture, mutilation, or other acts of cruelty, or if it were surrounded with superstitious practices, such as the proof by poison; in a word, if it were really to run counter to our ideas of humanity and the civilising object of the State.
Corporal punishments, similar to those employed by the State and in a similar measure to what is employed by it, inflicted by the native chief according to custom, would evidently not be contrary to public order.
Such are the regulations set forth in a general way which govern the 258 recognised native chiefs in their participation with the political life of the State.
These instructions recommend to the territorial authorities "continual relations with the native chiefs, incessant instructions and recommendations, a direction and control without interruption, and a moral and material support in order to maintain and increase the chief's authority with a similar object", and to the judicial authorities "an intervention marked by prudence in order not to diminish uselessly the chief's authority, and not to destroy, or even wweaken, the influence that he should have, and of which the Government means to make use for the spread of civilisation". The care of maintaining intact and of developing the principle of the chief's authority might perhaps one day be carried farther. It would indeed be permissible to wish that, in the future, all the decisions of an administrative and judicial character, passed by the European authorities themselves, should be executed by the intermediary of the recognised chief; in other words, the native would receive orders only from the natural chief.
This measure, when it becomes possible, will produce the best results with regard to order and discipline, the natives being less inclined to rebel against the orders of the chief whom they have freely chosen.
In order to avoid the abuse which might result from ignorance of our laws, and to make the native chief acquainted with his rights, there should be attached to the proces verbaux of investitute of the chief a protocol setting firth the penalties that it will be permissible for the local authorities to continue to apply, as in the past, with a specific mention of the offences subject to their jurisdiction.
They will be made acquainted with this act on their investiture, at the same time as they are instructed as to the general obligations imposed on them by the State, and which should also figure in the document in question.
All that precedes evidently relates only to native chiefs properly so-called, and not to the present sultans who, as prescribed by the Government's instructions, must not have the authority which they at present possess increased.

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Last revised on February 14th 2002

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