With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

In Harness Again

By the middle of December 1882, Stanley, refreshed and strengthened by his run to Europe, was once more at Vivi. But while he was gaining vigour everything on the Congo seemed to have gone wrong. Dr. Peschuel Loeche, of whom so much had been expected, had suddenly forsaken his charge and gone home. The chief officers of Vivi and Isangila, and the second in command at Leopoldville, had likewise taken their departure. The chief of Leopoldville had given himself a holiday and gone to the coast, and the En Avant  had had her steam valve stolen.

Stanley's first care was to restore order at Vivi, the station on which all the others depended for their supplies. The captains of the steamers—by way, probably, of saving themselves trouble—had taken to discharging their cargoes anywhere but at the proper place, and leaving to the station staff the work of conveying the goods to their destination. Much unnecessary labour was thus entailed, for the cargoes were frequently put ashore more than a mile below the landing-place. At first sight the matter seemed one that might easily be rectified; but sundry complications had arisen, which induced the captains to resent interference from Stanley, and it was not without trouble that he carried his point.

Having settled this matter, he turned his attention to the equipment of an expedition under the command of Captain Elliot, who was commissioned to found a line of stations to connect Isangila with the Kuilo River, a stream entering the sea some distance north of the Congo mouth. The intervening country was somewhat difficult; but as the formation of the stations would open up a rich trading district hitherto unexplored, it was most desirable that the work should be accomplished. A few days later, therefore, as the difficulties promised to be even greater than was expected, Stanley detached a young lieutenant named Van de Velde from his post at Vivi, and sent him round by sea with an auxiliary force to the Kuilo mouth. A better man for the work could not have been found, for in a surprisingly short time Van de Velde took over the establishment of a trader named Saboga, and converted it into a new station, which he named Rudolfstadt. Not content with this, he proceeded upstream, making treaties as he went with the chiefs, and establishing friendly relations with all the natives from the Kuilo mouth to the rapids, twenty-eight miles from the coast. He was a most valuable officer; but his health would not stand the climate, and after a few months at Vivi, whither he returned on the arrival of Captain Elliot at Rudolfstadt, he was compelled to resign his commission.

Stanley, in the meantime, had settled a dispute with the Vivi natives, whose righteous indignation had been aroused by a French employee of the association. This man, in a moment of anger at some trifling annoyance, had whipped out his revolver and fired at Massala, the native linguist who had done such good service at the time when the station was founded. The wound, fortunately, was not mortal, but the natives were extremely angry; they swarmed down on the station to demand vengeance, and were only appeased when, the offender having been duly tried, Stanley requested the chiefs to pronounce sentence. They retired to consider the penalty, and on their return said they would be satisfied with the payment of a fine amounting in value to over 400. The amount seemed excessive, but by Stanley's intervention a compromise was effected, and the fine reduced to the more reasonable value of 24, 4s. To this was to be added the offending revolver, which was condemned to be smashed, while its owner further was banished forever from Vivi territory.

Again journeying up the river, Stanley arrived on February 4th at Manyanga, whence he dispatched Captain Hanssens to open up another section of country between that station and the Upper Kuilo district. At the same time, Lieutenant Valcke was requested to travel along the south bank of the Congo, and make treaties with the chiefs through whose territories he passed. Various other officers were detailed to perform sundry services, ranging from treaty-making to boat-building—one and all, whatever their apparent importance, stones in the edifice which Stanley had undertaken to construct.

On nearing Leopoldville a letter from the commandant, who had been summarily ordered back to his duties, informed Stanley that the station staff was almost at starvation point, and totally unable to feed a large influx of visitors. Such a state of affairs seemed utterly incomprehensible, and Stanley, having sent forward what provisions he could spare, made the best of his way onward. Progress, however, was slow; for the rains had damaged the road, and the wagon, heavily laden with the steam launch Royal, frequently broke down. But perseverance conquered difficulties, and mile after mile was left behind. As the travelers neared the Pool, the natives crowded round with friendly greetings and gifts of provisions. Their evident pleasure at Stanley's return made the reports from Leopoldville the more puzzling, for, according to them, not a native would go near the station. How was such conflicting evidence to be reconciled?

The first sight of the station was another disappointment. Stanley had been picturing it to himself as improved in every respect; but instead of the flourishing gardens and fruit trees he had expected, he beheld a grass-grown wilderness, in which the roofs of the men's huts were barely visible. The blockhouse had an almost equally uncared-for appearance; the treasury was almost empty; the trees were conspicuously absent; and the steamer and whaleboat lay neglected and weather-worn at the little wharf.

After mastering as many details as possible, and accepting the resignation of the obviously incapable chief officer, who was forthwith sent down to the coast, Stanley summoned the neighbouring chiefs to a palaver, in the hope of coming to a more satisfactory state of affairs. First, Ngalyema stated his grievances: he had been improperly treated, he considered, by some of the officers, who had spoken rudely to him and threatened him; while as for the chief of the station, just departed, it was impossible to get on with him. Consequently, Ngalyema had thought it best to give the station a wide berth.

One of the offending officers then told his side of the story. According to his account, Ngalyema had exaggerated everything, and had acted in a quarrelsome and aggravating manner. He himself had possibly been unduly rough; but if so, that was the worst fault he had committed, and if blamed he was quite ready to resign.



Thus each party accused the other of causing the trouble, and Stanley had to judge as best he could between them. Both, he remarked, seemed to have been in the wrong, but Ngalyema should have known better than to take offence as he had done. Most of the officers with whom he had quarrelled should be transferred to other stations; but with one, named by the natives Tembo, or the Elephant, whom he had previously misjudged, he must make peace.

Tranquillity was thus restored, and the station began to assume a more prosperous air. The grass was cut; the men's dwellings were removed to a better situation, while their original site was converted into a plantation of bananas, mangoes, and papaws. The terrace was enlarged, its slopes faced, and a variety of other improvements were made, Best of all in Stanley's eyes was the triumph over native prejudice, which he felt was assured when the terrace became accepted as a regular market-place, to which day after day women and children from all the country round brought goods for sale.

The boat-builders were also busy at this time. The Royal  and En Avant  had been thoroughly over-hauled, and a new steam launch, named the A. I. A. (Association Internationale Africaine), had been built and launched. With these three, the whaleboat, a canoe, and eighty men, Stanley proposed to explore the Upper Congo, and on May 9th the flotilla set sail. That night the party halted at Kimpoko, a new station in process of construction near the head of Stanley Pool, and two days later dropped anchor at Mswata, where a few days were passed pleasantly, while fresh stores of provisions for the journey were procured. On the 15th the expedition was once more afloat; and late that day, on nearing Bolobo, where Captain Hanssens had established a station, Stanley was met by messengers bearing a letter from the officer in charge, who, unfortunately, had no good news to tell. Troublous times, it seemed, had begun, and two of the men attached to the station had been murdered.

Further details were forthcoming on the following day, when the expedition reached Bolobo. For some months all had gone well. Lieutenant Orban, the first commandant, had the knack of getting on with the natives, and during his reign peace and harmony prevailed. But the loneliness of the life was unendurable. He applied for leave, and his successor failed to agree with his black neighbours. He, in his turn, was relieved by another officer, who likewise was unable to preserve friendly relations.

The position was no doubt a difficult one, inasmuch as there was jealousy of long standing between Ibaka, the chief of Bolobo, and his neighbours. The affair had been patched up and peace restored; but when the white men formed a station at Bolobo, the other chiefs were pleased to regard their coming as an undue accession of strength for Ibaka. Their jealousy flamed up afresh, and their hatred was extended to the unoffending whites, whose people only passed their own boundaries at the risk of severe maltreatment if caught by their truculent neighbours. This state of affairs went on for some time, and culminated in the murder of the two men, who, having ventured to cut wood near the hut of a chief named Gatula, had been foully slain. On the following morning one of Gatula's men. climbed a tree close to the station boundary, and from this vantage ground challenged one, Sergeant Khamis, to fight. Khamis accepted the challenge, and going out with his rifle shot the aggressor dead.

Matters had reached this stage when Stanley appeared on the scene. News of his arrival quickly reached Ibaka, who, with his headman Lugumbila, came down to the station to consult with Bula Matari as to the measures to be taken. Was it to be war or peace? There could be no question but that Gatula deserved punishment, and, still less, that Stanley was in a position to inflict it, should he see fit to do so. But if he fought here at Bolobo, who could tell what adverse rumours might precede him up the river? Ill-advised action at this stage might imperil the whole future of the expedition; yet to leave the murder unavenged would be considered tantamount to a confession of weakness. On these grounds Stanley decided to demand a fine. He would wait, he said, two days, and then, if payment was not forthcoming, he would force Gatula to submit.

On the second day a palaver was held by the chiefs; but a thunderstorm broke up the meeting before anything was settled, and the next day Stanley was informed that Gatula had fortified his village. This looked like a preparation for hostilities; but a renewal of the conference brought the recalcitrant chief to a better frame of mind, and he consented to pay the fees for the administration of justice which native law allowed to the two chief judges, Bula Matari and Ibaka. This fee, in Stanley's case, consisted of a goat, five fowls, a quantity of camwood powder, some palm oil, two bunches of bananas, in addition to which the restoration of a rifle belonging to one of the murdered men was demanded.

Payment of the legal fees having been duly made, the fine or blood-money was fixed at three thousand brass rods, the cash value of which was 50. Evidently this was more than Gatula had bargained for. He offered a tusk of ivory weighing fifty-eight pounds. This, at the price at which ivory had been sold to the expedition by the Bateke traders at Stanley Pool, was worth less than 10, and was consequently at once refused. Gatula was informed that he must pay the sum demanded, and the matter was finally compromised by the handing over of brass rods to the value of 42, 4s., which Stanley consented to accept in full settlement.

Matters being thus satisfactorily arranged, Stanley was at liberty to continue his journey up the Congo, whose banks were now in many places clothed with dense forest. The character of the river itself had also changed, and from a roaring torrent closely shut in by rocky cliffs it had become a broad, tranquil river, thickly studded with islands, some of them several miles in length. Still, however, the current was strong enough to retard the progress of the steamers; and, heavily burdened as they were, they seldom made more than two and a half knots per hour, and from twenty to thirty miles a day was the average distance covered.

About five o'clock in the evening the boats were generally moored for the night, and the crews went ashore to cut wood for the next day's consumption, while the cooks prepared supper. For an hour and a half all hands were engaged in hunting up the driest wood to be found in the neighbourhood, and hauling it to the camp before daylight failed. Then by the light of a huge fire the wood-cutters fell to, and chopped and sawed the logs into suitable lengths; while the white men, absolved from further labour, sat down to their evening meal. Thus every day was very much like the day that went before it; while, to add to the monotony of life, the bill of fare admitted of few variations. Some sort of vegetable soup, cassava bread, fowls, goat meat, desiccated potatoes, and rice were the bulk of the eatables commonly available, though occasionally sweet potatoes, yams, or bananas made an agreeable variety. "Early to bed," with a view to "early to rise," was the rule; and thus, as day followed day in monotonous sameness, it was perhaps excusable if, as time went on, every member of the party craved for some little variety in the daily round.

After several days, with little or no intercourse with the natives, provisions began to run short. A break in the forest, with what appeared to be a considerable settlement, was therefore a welcome sight. Speed was slackened, and as the steamers slowly passed in front of the huts, whose inmates had flocked to the river bank to behold the wondrous sight, all sorts of tempting goods—coloured cloths, bright handkerchiefs, brass rods, gaudy beads—were displayed in tempting profusion. Meanwhile one of the men who hailed from Mswata shouted out the praises of Pula Matari in a stentorian voice; but still no halt was made. Thus one village was passed, then a second, and at the third a reply was shouted back to the effect that the chief was dead, and that those of the inhabitants who had not died of smallpox were in course of dying from starvation. Proper sympathy was expressed; but as the "famishing people" looked remarkably fat and well, the statement of their evil case was taken for what it was worth, and passing on a little farther the expedition halted as usual for the night.

The ruse succeeded admirably. Very soon up came the natives laden with bananas, fowls, goats, plantains, and a variety of other edibles, for sale. So plentiful was the supply that in an hour or two several days' provisions for the whole expedition had been purchased, and at sunrise on the following morning a further assortment was forthcoming. These too were gladly bought up, and the natives were gently rallied on their remarkable statements of the previous day with regard to the famine and smallpox which they had declared were raging in the village. Then, with a promise to return later on, since the locality seemed a favourable one for the foundation of a station, the pioneers bade their new acquaintances good-bye, and the wearisome voyage was resumed.

Ngombe, a rich and populous district, where the rearing of crocodiles for sale was found to be a profitable industry, was passed on June 4th. Here the river occupied a comparatively narrow channel not more than two miles wide, where the current was proportionately strong, inasmuch as here was gathered together all the water which, both above and below the narrows, spread itself over a bed from four to six miles wide. The steamers, however, safely negotiated the passage, and later in the day arrived off Usindi, where the inhabitants were so anxious to trade that they fairly took the expedition by storm in their eagerness to welcome the strangers. Nothing was too good for them. It was a case of "ask and have," if only they would stay and build. So anxious, indeed, were the natives to avoid giving offence and causing alarm, that every warlike weapon was scrupulously kept out of sight. There was nothing but friendliness and good will.

Irebu, some miles higher up the stream, was another important trading district, whose powerful tribes had overawed the whole region. At the time of Stanley's visit they were at war among themselves, and Stanley, having made blood brotherhood with one of the chiefs named Mangombo, was called upon to make peace. The cause of the dispute was rather complicated. Some time previously, while on a trading excursion, the Irebu men—some of whom belonged to Mangombo's village of Upper Irebu, and some to that of Magwala, chief of Lower Irebu—fell out with the Bangala tribes. Though the Irebu men managed to save their ivory, they fared badly in the fight, for thirty-three of their number were killed, of whom twenty-eight belonged to Mangombo's village. Trade, of course, came to a standstill; but after a while Mpika, chief of Central Irebu, made a descent on some Bangala trading canoes, and captured eight men. As Mangombo's men had suffered so severely in the original fight, he considered that the larger number of Mpika's captives should have been handed over to him. Mpika could not see the force of the argument. He refused to hand over any of his captives; and as Magwala backed him up in his decision, Mangombo appealed to arms. So far the result had been unsatisfactory in the extreme: trade was stopped; more lives had been lost; except at night, no one dared to go out; and in all the villages of Irebu there were lamentation, mourning, and woe. Could not Bula Matari, of whom so much had been heard, do anything to restore peace and good will?

Stanley replied that he would gladly act as peace-maker, but that just then his time was precious. Let them stop fighting until his return down-stream, and then he would see what he could do. The idea of a truce, with the prospect of future peace, pleased Mangombo well; but would the other chiefs agree? This was his only doubt; and when Stanley went in his boat to make overtures to them, he found Magwala by no means easy to deal with. Mpika, however, having made blood brotherhood with Lieutenant Janssen, was pleased to oblige Bula Matari, and with his persuasions added, Magwala was induced to consent to the truce.

Irebu was situated on the south bank of the Congo, at the mouth of a creek called the Lukanga, in which little or no current was perceptible. Inquiry as to the cause elicited the information that there was "big water "higher up the creek; and it was further stated that from Irebu it was possible to reach Gankabi's village by ascending the Lukanga and crossing a lake called Mantumba, which at its farther extremity had water communication with Lake Leopold II. The news was interesting and exciting, but its verification had of necessity to be postponed to a more convenient season.

On June 8th the steamers reached the village of Inganda, situated near the mouth of a large tributary variously known as the Ikelemba, Baruki, and Molundu or Black River. This stream Stanley on his previous journey had supposed to be the principal tributary of the Congo: if so, a station at its mouth was manifestly desirable; at any rate he proposed now to devote a day or two to exploring it.

The Black River, so called from the strong, tea-like colour of its water, proved much narrower than he had expected. Its banks were very low—so low, indeed, that in some places the water spread itself unchecked over considerable tracts of country. Then islands were seen; but it was evident that the river was in flood, as for some miles the banks were invisible, and all that could be seen were stretches of black water, backed by stretches of yet blacker forest. Villages seemed not to exist. On the second day the banks were higher, and here and there were settlements; but though the inhabitants turned out in force to view the strangers, nowhere was any friendliness displayed. At one particularly pleasant-looking place an endeavour to open communication was made; but the attempt was nipped in the bud by one of the chiefs, who sternly announced his intention to fight should the strangers so much as approach the shore. In the face of such determined hostility, it was clearly useless to go on, so the En Avant's  head was turned down-stream, the natives favouring the explorers with a parting salute of sticks and stones.

Making the best of his way back to the Congo, Stanley advanced as far as Wangata, seven miles above the junction of the Black River, and in the territory of the Bakuti tribe. These people gave the travellers a friendly welcome, and when blood brotherhood had been made with the customary ceremonies, land for building purposes was promised. But before a station could be commenced, it was necessary that the rest of the expedition, which had been left at Inganda, should be fetched up. A few men were therefore left at Wangata as pledges for the return of the others, and Stanley hurried off with the steamer to bring up the party from the camp.

At the site of the new station—to which, from its position, the name of Equator Station was given—the whole force remained several days, the men engaged in clearing the ground, and the officers in settling all necessary preliminaries. The command was then handed over to Lieutenant Vangele, to whom twenty-six men were assigned; while Lieutenant Coquilhat, with a smaller detachment, was detailed to assist him temporarily. Stanley then returned to Inganda, where a delicate task awaited him.

So favourable was the impression of the white men formed by the natives while the expedition was in camp at Inganda, that they were extremely anxious to have a station in their locality. But the place was too unhealthy from a European point of view for Stanley to venture on anything of the sort. Yet if he refused how was he to avoid giving dire offence, as his reason for doing so would certainly not be understood? Mswenne, the Mswata man, undertook to find a way out of the difficulty; and this he most ingeniously did by attiring himself in the garb of woe, and then, in broken tones, telling of a wholly imaginary attack on the expedition, in which a Zanzibari was killed, and a lad from Irebu captured. They must go at once, he insisted, to avenge the dead and captured men; and at this point in his story the wily fellow became so overcome that he howled aloud. The tale, which bore every appearance of truth, was so well told that the desired station was forgotten, and the simple folk of Inganda offered their assistance in the threatened war of vengeance. Their offer, of course, was gratefully declined, and under cover of their sympathy the expedition got away and returned to Irebu.

While the boats were being made fast the sound of firing was heard, and Stanley was informed that the chiefs, having tired of waiting, had resumed the war. He promptly visited Mangombo, who said he had no desire to fight; and then sent Dualla to learn Mpika's views on the subject. He also, it seemed, was willing to make peace; so Dualla was sent out, with the Association flag as a safe conduct, to make known to the hostile forces in the field that Bula Matari had come, and was ready to hold the peace palaver.

The conference took place on the following day, when each chief stated his grievances. No one apparently expected to gain any good by continuing the war, and Stanley pointed out that the only possible result of a continuance of the strife would be the weakening of all the Irebu villages to such an extent that some other tribe would be able to swoop down on them and seize their country. This was a view of the case which had not previously presented itself to the chiefs, but they saw its truth, and after some further discussion, agreed to abide by Bula Matari's decision, and to pay him a fee of a hundred and twenty brass rods for acting as judge. Stanley thereupon gave judgment that the war must cease, and forthwith all the villages sent in pledges of peace, in the shape of calico, palm wine, damp gunpowder, and broken guns. The latter, with much firing of muskets, were solemnly buried on the battle-ground, in token that the war was dead, and that peace had come to life.