Congo Free State

The First Batetela Rebellion, 1895

A.) The Situation Preceding the Rebellion

The CONGO FREE STATE, which had received international recognition at the BERLIN CONFERENCE of 1884/1885, extended its control over the Congo Basin in 1892-1894, defeating the Arabs who had organized the slave trade in the Area. In that struggle, GONGO LUTETE and a band of BATETELA warriors, allied to the Arabs, had been defeated by the State Forces. They were pardoned and then fought alongside the State forces. In June 1893 Gongo Lutete was accused of being a traitor, court-martialled and executed. This was one of the reasons for the rebellion to break out in 1895.
The Batetela involved in the rising were only the followers of Gongo Lutete; the tribe of the Batetela, at home in the Manyema region between the Lualaba (Upper Congo) and Lake Tanganyika, did not rebel in its entirety.

B.) The Cource of Events

The Batetela men who used to follow Gongo Lutete joined the PUBLIC FORCE, but continued to be suspicious of their Belgian officers. On July 4th 1895 the Batetela stationed near Luluabourg (in the Kassai region) revolted, murdering some of their officers and attacking a number of stations. The rebels, although only c. 400 in number, were dangerous as they had been armed and trained by white officers and were experienced warriors.
They moved northeast, in the direction of the Lomami River and then toward Manyema. On Oct. 18th they were defeated near GANDU. The Batetela, who had been broken up in a number of bands, gained strengtyh as they were joined by others. At Gongo Machoffe a band of Batetela warriors was defeated by a Belgian column. The Batelela suffered heavy losses in dead and wounded; the remainder dispersed; the last remnants of rebellious soldiers were cleared out of the Lualaba-Kassai region on November 11th 1896, expelled in a southerly direction.

C.) Legacy

Batetelas continued to serve in the Public Force, an indication that the State administration did not hold the Batetela tribe in general responsible for the rebellion of 1895. In 1897 a second Batetela rebellion broke out.

D.) Character of the Fight

The Batetela, during their rebellion, did not pursue a defensive strategy of entrenching themselves in fortified Bomas. They were constantly on the move and, partially with success, attacked stations. Acquainted with arms and fighting style of the Public Force and their white officers, they proved a more dangerous enemy than the much more numerous Arab-lead armies before.

Batetelan Uprising in the Congo 1895, from Armed Conflict Events Data
REFERENCE Henry Wellington Wack, Mutinies of the Batetela Tribe, in : H.Q. Wack, The Story of the Congo Free State, N.Y. 1905 pp. 216-222
La Revolte des Batetela et "Arabises" de Loulouabourg, in : Robert Cornevin, Histoire du Congo, Paris 1970 p.156

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 17th 2004

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