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

Chapter XXXII : Testimony of Travellers and Thinkers (pp.397-410)


This eminent authority on the Congo has recorded his impressions of the social and economic conditions prevailing in that country, and of the false statements regarding them disseminated by interested parties, in the following letter, which appeared in the London Times of June 10, 1904 :

To the Editor of the "Times"

Sir, - Having just returned from a shooting trip across the Congo Free State from the Nile to Boma, on the West Coast, I naturally feel much interested in the correspondence now going on with regard to that country. As I came down the Comngo river a copy of Mr. Casement's report was lent me to read, and I was more than surprised at the contents of a letter written by Lord Cromer, which was inserted as a prelude to the more serious indictment following.
Now, Sir, had this letter been published alone it might not have seemed so serious, but taken in conjunction with what followed it formed a most damaging article.
As my experience of the Government of the Lado Enclave is so entirely opposite to the view taken of it by Lord Cromer, I feel compelled, in fairness to the Belgian officials, to give my views of the country and it's Government. That I am not alone in discovering so much that is good in the Belgian administration of the Lado Enclave is vouched for by other English officers who have hunted and travelled among the natives beyond the waters west of the Nile.
I assume from Lord Cromer's report, and from what I was told at Lado, that he only landed at the Kiro and Lado stations, so that the greater part of his report must have been founded on information supplied by others, which, besides being often incorrect, might possibly have reference to times gone by, when, I believe, a certain official was promptly dismissed for unfair treatment of the natives.
Lord Cromer compares the deserted appearance of the west banks of the Nile with the east bank between Kiro and Lado.
My experience of this part was that you could hardly see anything of the west bank, owing to the channel lying well over to the east, and endless sudd stretching to the west. The reasons for natives not living near the bank I give later on.
Again, Lord Cromer contrasts the peaceful, settled state and the confidence of the tribes under English rule on the Nile as compared with those on Belgian territory; yet within a few months of his visit a whole British force was annihilated on the Bahr el Ghazal, while in the Game Ordinance published last year it stated : "The whole left bank of the Nile is at present closed to sportsmen, owing to the unsettled state of the natives".
Since my return I see that yet another British force has been severely handled by the natives. Through the whole of my Congo trip, absolutely alone, I wandered about, visiting 50 different tribes and hundreds of villages, armed as a rule with a camera, umbrella, and, at times, a collecting gun. Yet I had no unpleasant experiences; on the contrary, I was never received with kindness far different to any I ever met with when hunting among British African natives.
As I went up the Nile I heard the same stories Lord Cromer did - as to how all the natives were flying across the river from the Belgian country owing, I was told, to ill-treatment. As I spent a month hunting all the district 40 miles inland from Lado and Kiro, looked after by the two big Bari chiefs, Kenion and Fariala, I took great interest in learning all I could, and, owing to my capitow talking Arabic, the chiefs' favourite language, I had excellent chances for finding out all I wanted.
To my question as to whether many of their tribes went over the river, and why, they replied : "A few boys ran away the other side, but mostly bad boys who won't work." Asked again, if a few good men went, and, if so, why, they answered : "English pay in money; some boys, if once had money, like it better than being paid in cloth or beads", but no mention of ill-treatment.
Lord Cromer considers because the native villages happen at these particular posts to be several hours' distant, that this is also owing to bad treatment. I wish to point out that the villages must be right on the Nile bank, or inland where they are, for the whole country between is waterless during four months. Another reason given for not living on the Nile was in the olden days the few who did so were all killed or taken prisoners by the Dervishes; hence the survivors kept clear of waterways.
Again, there are no sites for villages near the river, as nearly all the banks, lying low, are covered with marsh and sudd, harbouring millions of mosquitoes, whereas a few miles inland there is good water, not a single mosquito, plenty of game, with good grass and tillage land.
When I visited Gondokoro every one was complaining at having the station on the Nile, instead of a few miles inland, for similar reasons.
One of the wisest rules of the Congo is not to allow native villages adjoining the posts; and I hear we are copying the same on the West Coast; it means a reduction of 75 per cent. in sickness.
That no natives live near Lado arises from purely natural causes. Lord Cromer would find plenty of posts in the interior, with thousands of natives settled as near as they are allowed to.
Another statement, that "the soldiers are allowed full liberty to plunder the natives", is by no means correct. During my journey I saw hundreds of soldiers being sent off on different work - such as postal, Government despatches, fetching in porters, etc.; but not one ever left without having received cloth, beads, or wire sufficient to purchase all necessary food. I quite admit a few of these soldiers helped themselves now and again, and I found the worst sinners in this respect were our own Sierra Leone boys, a number of whom take service in the Congo. Should their acts be reported they are quickly dealt with.
During my trip I must have employed over 1200 porters. I can only say I never came across a more cheerful, well-disposed set of men. I never had the least trouble with them, though asking them to march 30 to 40 miles a day. How often I thought of my woes and worries in British Central Africa, never knowing how many porters would run away each night, though only marching ten miles a day ! Had all the accounts of ill-treatment and non-payment been true, would men have come in so readily and worked for me as these carriers did ? Many an hour at night I used to spend getting them to talk about the country, it's ways, and any grievances. I found, naturally, two or three officers who were evidently disliked (no doubt I will be added to that list after our long marches); but, on the other hand, they talked of many officers as their "white fathers". As for the way in which the Belgians have opened out the country, it is wonderful. The posts are now all well-built brick houses, and in a few months' time most of the barracks will be similar; excellent roads connect many of the posts, while all sorts of vegetables and fruit are being grown, cattle and sheep also being introduced in many parts. Though I was told in Khartoum by several of our officers who had been stationed on the frontier how well the Lado Enclave was run, I was quite astonished at such progress. I am glad to see my views are shared by Major Gibbons and Captain Bell, both of whom have had chances of seeing life inland from the Nile.
I met during my wanderings several English and American traders having concessions both in Uganda and the Congo. These men have to visit all the villages. They all said the same thing - that there was nothing wrong with the Government of the Enclave. I also had a long and interesting talk with Father Maguire, of the Roman Catholic mission station at Amadi. He spoke most warmly in praise of the work done by the Belgians in such a few years. He said : "Think of what this country was only a few years ago, overrun with Dervishes, decimated by the slave-dealers, the natives all cannibals - and now you walk here with only an umbrella as a protection".
I can only add that I admire the excellent work being done by such men as Commissioner General George Witerwulge, Commandants Ravello (Lado), Menwnaer (Redjaf), Wacquez (Buta), Holmes (Dungu), Graxione (Lodka), and all the many other officers, too numerous to mention, who are quietly working hard, day after day, opening out those vast regions to civilisation; and I shall never forget the kindness met with at the hands of all, from the Nile to Boma.
I must apologize for trespassing on your valuable space, but if I were to try and refute many of the statements I have seen in print I should have to trespass considerably more.
.................................. Yours truly, James J. Harrison
Bachelor's Club, London, June 6th.

P.S. - Since writing the above I see in today's Morning Post quotations from some English trader in Matadi. He says : "From all I hear, things up country are worse than ever. In the Mayumbe country, behind Boma even, the State has begun collecting rubber by force from the natives".
As I happened to travel home on the same boat as Mr. Ave, an American missionary, who has for some years been in charge of this Mayumbe district, his statements to me may be of interest. Mr. Ave said that all these reports were untrue; that the district was governed by an officer who was most kind and considerate in all his dealings with the natives; that he had carefully readjusted the taxation so as to fall as fairly as possible with regard to villages and population of same; and that the officer was universally respected by all the natives as a kind and just man. The same Morning Post article seems to be slightly inconsistent. It quotes one Equatorial missionary as saying that "the white man will be swept out of the Congo and a revolution will take place within two years", while farther on it quotes the Matadi trader "as deprecating the founding of a new post for 1,000 soldiers at Bomasundi".
Surely, if the first assumption is correct, the wisdom of the second is sound. I am glad to find since my return that few people take notice of or believe those wonderful statements, copied from a more wonderful paper - the West African Mail.

This is the way Major James Harrison a few day later demolishes a side issue raised by Mr. Morel. The letter is addressed to the Editor of the Morning Post (London), and appeared in that journal of June 25, 1904 :

Mr. Morel in your paper today himself answers the question asked him by others, viz., Why has the Congo Reform Association noticed my statements ? If they were incorrect surely this letter would have dealt with them, instead of which all he can say is that I am attacking a man of Mr. Casement's standing.
While quite ready to take full responsibility for any letter or interview alluded to by Mr. Morel, I absolutely deny having attacked the character of our Consul in any way, nor did I find in Boma officers "showering abuse" on him. Like myself they (and most people over here with whom I have discussed it) did not think it a wise appointment, and certainly it placed Mr. Casement in an awkward and unenviable position; but after all he would only carry out his orders. But as to the travelling about on a mission steamer I most strongly assert it was a most unfortunate error. It is well known to all natives on which side most of the Protestant and Baptist missionaries are, and to expect them to give contradictory evidence in such circumstances was attributing to them virtues unpossessed. I have noted Mr. Morel places much of the Belgian evidence (say, the Epondo case) out of court for the selfsame reasons. After the using of a mission steamer I hardly see that any work Mr. Casement might have been interested in originally could make any difference. Still, for his own sake it might be wise if Mr. Morel stated exactly what occupations or duties he was interested in, say, between 1885 and 1900. I trust Mr. Morel in his next letter will deal more fully with my "absurdities" put forward in my letter, and not have to simply try and find an imaginary attack on a gentlemen for whom, through mutual friends, I have every respect.
My object in entering this Congo controversy is to try and place before the English public a more broad-minded view of the question, and while making allowances for the well-nigh insuperable difficulties the Congo Government have had to contend with, at the same time try to help on improvements for the future, rather than dwell entirely on the past. I can assure Mr. Morel that I am by no means alone in my "absurd views", but will be supported by others who have lately crossed the whole Congo State, blessed with an open mind. "
.................................. Yours, etc., James J. Harrison
Bachelors' Club, London, June 24th

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