With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas




The Founding of Leopoldville

By the collapse of Ngalyema's opposition, all difficulties, except the material ones due to the nature of the country, were removed. Between Makoko's village and Kintamo sundry ridges, valleys, and streams intervened; but so many obstacles of this description had already been overcome, that these presented no terrors, especially as labour was now abundant. Apparently Ngalyema was not a favourite in the district, and no sooner was the little affair in which the "fetish" gong played so large a part noised abroad, than the Wambunda crowded to the camp to offer their services.

For carrying a load, weighing at least sixty pounds, to the neighbourhood of Kintamo—about sixteen miles distant—four red handkerchiefs were certainly not excessive payment. It was, however, considered satisfactory by the natives, and in one day seventy-eight porters were enlisted. The greater number of Stanley's own men were thus set free to devote their energies to road-making; and before the end of November the expedition, with all its appurtenances, was safely in camp on the level ground near Kintamo.

Before setting to work to build, it now only remained to select a site. A hill, then called Khonzo Ikulu, a name afterwards changed to Leopold Hill, offered a breezy and commanding situation, which certainly was tempting; but, then, it was some little distance from the landing-stage. Ngalyema's temper had been proved to be uncertain. He was now friendly; but were he to change his mind, his men might easily swoop down and cut loose or destroy any boats that might be lying at anchor. The hill-top, therefore, clearly would not do.

After inspecting various possible sites, a spot on the slope of Leopold Hill was finally chosen. It was about eighty feet above the river, three hundred yards from the landing-place, and, further, commanded an extensive view both of Stanley Pool and also of the surrounding country. Altogether a better place could scarcely have been desired, and well pleased with his discovery Stanley returned to camp. Here he received a message from Ngalyema, who now wished to have the new station in his village; but as arrangements had already been made with the Wambunda, Stanley could only politely decline the invitation.

Before building operations could begin it was necessary to level the ground, and this was accomplished by the excavation of a sort of terrace, around which a fence was constructed. There were also roads to be made; timber to be cut and clay to be fetched for the station walls; a garden to be cleared and planted; sheds, storehouses, and quarters for the men to be built; and a safe harbour to be constructed. All this work occupied about three months; and when at length it was completed, the Europeans transferred themselves to comparatively palatial quarters in the blockhouse, which contained five private rooms, a dining-hall, and magazine, not to mention a grand array of shelves, where stores of all kinds—guns, cutlery, tools, crockery, glassware, drapery, jewellery; everything, in fact, that an African native was likely to want—were displayed in tempting profusion.

While the work was in progress Ngalyema came out in his true colours. His original idea of the white man had evidently been of a being of unbounded wealth and liberality, of whom one had only to ask in order to have. On this point Susi had, it appeared, corrected him; and his revised opinion that, though the white man might be rich, it was highly improbable that he would be content to give everything for nothing, was the cause of the change in his demeanour, and his refusal to allow a station to be founded at Kintamo. Then, when he learned that the white man was, after all, advancing, and that the Wambunda refused to oppose his progress, he once more altered his tactics. Possibly, after all, he might turn Stanley's coming to his own advantage; and in this hope he once more assumed a friendly air, and sent a variety of gifts to the camp, in the assurance that the foolish white man would reciprocate with something of far greater value.

Half a dozen times at least this hope was fulfilled, and then Stanley came to the conclusion that this sort of thing would not pay. Ngalyema had sent in goats, palm wine, bread, and ivory to the value of about 12, and for these had received over 100 worth of goods. Clearly a change must be made.

Consequently, on December 3rd, when Ngalyema appeared with his usual request for "something nice," a variety of fine things were shown him, and he was allowed, as usual, to select what he fancied. But instead of permitting him to carry off the goods Stanley laid his hand on them, and told him that before he could have any more presents he must promise to keep his people in order, and must also agree to a mutual law forbidding both his own and Stanley's men to go armed to each other's villages, lest quarrels should arise and fighting begin. This was a necessary precaution, as Makoko's men had reported that in Kintamo "everybody's finger was on the trigger," a concise statement which pointed to a very disturbed state of feeling.

Ngalyema promised that the new law should be duly promulgated in his village, and then departed with the goods he had chosen; but on the very next day he appeared at Leopoldville, as the new station was named, with a strong following of armed men. Stanley refused to admit them, and one of his men, in guarding the gate, was cut in the face by a spear. The injury was purely accidental, and when it was pointed out to Ngalyema, he professed the greatest concern. His sorrow, however, was only skin-deep, for on the following day he reappeared with another armed force, larger than before. This time he proposed to return the various gifts he had received, and break the brotherhood between himself and Bula Matari. Stanley replied that he could do as he pleased, and gave him to understand that the very next time his men came armed to the station it would be regarded as a declaration of war.

To this Ngalyema paid no sort of attention—possibly he considered himself strong enough to conquer any force that Bula Matari could put in the field; for the next afternoon (December 7th) Dualla informed Stanley that the chief, with about forty armed men, was approaching the camp, while another detachment, a hundred strong, was drawn up on the farther side of a small stream which flowed between the station and Ngalyema's village. Stanley thereupon armed a corresponding number of his own men, and marching out to meet Ngalyema, arranged them in skirmishing order near the path leading to Kintamo. Then, gun in hand, he advanced alone, and asked sternly what Ngalyema meant. Was there to be peace or war? At this show of force Ngalyema instantly climbed down. Throwing away his gun he grovelled before his "brother," making such a humble appeal that Stanley, whose wrath was only assumed, at once pardoned him; at the same time improving the occasion by endeavouring to impress on the chief that the station was simply a market-place, to which guns must not be brought. Ngalyema once more professed penitence. But his protestations, as soon appeared, were empty words; for no sooner was he safely back in his own village than he sent messengers to his neighbours, asking them to join him in making war upon Stanley. One and all refused, and for some days Ngalyema continued to sulk, wishing to attack, but not daring to do so. Thus matters stood until two days before Christmas, when Kondo, a neighbouring chief, undertook to make peace, and on Christmas Eve a grand palaver was held.

All the principal chiefs of the neighbourhood were present, and when all had assembled Ngalyema was formally accused of endeavouring to sell land belonging to the Wambunda. Bula Matari was then called upon to relate his side of the story, which showed that, in his original dealings with Ngalyema, there had been no question of land transference, and that his gifts to the chief had been merely in recognition of a supply of food sent to him. Then at a sign from Stanley, Dualla gave Ngalyema the recognized token of acquittal by drawing a pipe-clay line from Ngalyema's wrists to his shoulders—a native custom which Koko, in his desire for peace, had secretly confided to Stanley. Finally, the meeting broke up in the greatest good-humour, and many pounds of powder were expended in firing guns to celebrate the event.

Towards the end of March 1882, a caravan from Manyanga brought news that Flamini, the Italian engineer of the Royal, had been invalided home on account of an accident which had befallen him. Further, a reinforcement of seventy-eight coloured men, who had left Isangila on February 19th, were still somewhere on the road, as the European in charge had deserted his post and left his men to look after themselves. There was nothing for it but to send a detachment to bring them in, and on the 8th of April they arrived in safety.

By way of consolidating the peaceful relations, Stanley and Ngalyema entered into renewed blood brotherhood. The two crossed arms, a slight cut was made in each arm, salt was sprinkled over the incisions, which then were rubbed together, while a fetish man on Ngalyema's side, and Susi on Stanley's, called down the dire vengeance of the gods on either of the two who should break the brotherhood thus established.

The prospects of the expedition now looked highly encouraging. Not only had stations been built and roads made, but a lively trade began to spring up. Every five days caravans passed backwards and forwards between Manyanga and Leopoldville, while from all the country round natives came in with produce for sale. Much more, indeed, was brought in than could be purchased; and as everything was now in smooth running order, Stanley, who was emphatically a pioneer, not a trader, became anxious to go forward. He was, indeed, only remaining at Leopoldville till the arrival of the officer who was to take charge of the station.