With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas


On July 4th the reinforcement came up, and this time the news brought was good. All was going on well at Vivi; while at Isangila, Lieutenant Janssen, a new recruit from Belgium, was busily engaged in founding a station. Stanley's mind was thus set at rest; and having entrusted Lindner with the duty of bringing the goods and the main body of the expedition by water to Mpakambendi, he himself set out, with Messrs. Valcke and Braconnier and a few men, to travel overland to Stanley Pool.

For some time all went well. The country presented but few difficulties, the natives were friendly, and on July 26th the advance guard sighted Stanley Pool, without meeting with any special adventures. Another fourteen miles brought the party to the village of a chief named Bwabwa Njali, whose importance was mainly due to a ferry which at this point crossed a somewhat tumultuous tributary of the Congo. This chief was extremely friendly, though it was possible that his amiability partook of the nature of cupboard love; for while he refrained from asking outright for presents, he expressed his admiration of various objects in a manner which left no room to doubt his desire to possess them. From a native point of view he was a great dandy, and most unusually clean in person. He was also generous, and certainly set an example of liberality in his gifts.

At this village Stanley received a visit from Malameen, a Senegalese non-commissioned officer, whom the Comte de Brazza had left in charge of a strip of territory purchased by him on behalf of France, on the eastern bank of Bwabwa Njali's river. He remained at the camp until the following day, when Stanley went on to Mfwa, an ivory-trading village situated on the north bank of the Congo, near the spot where the river began to narrow below Stanley Pool.

Here a most friendly reception was accorded to the travellers, and a supply of food was promised; but in the morning the natives, instead of bringing in meat and palm wine, delicately hinted that no provisions were to be had. As there was no cultivated ground near the village, the statement seemed to be unpleasantly true, and there was no course open except to follow the advice of the chief and move on to Malima, a large village some miles distant, on the northern bank of Stanley Pool.

Two hours' marching brought the advance guard to this spot, where, in the chief Gamankono, Stanley recognized an old acquaintance, though he had evidently prospered since their last meeting. Each was pleased to see the other, and when Gamankono had seated himself on a huge crimson bolster, beneath which was spread a leopard skin, he proceeded to give a long account of everything that had happened since 1877. The pioneers were then conducted to a camping-place, and later in the day, when Gamankono and his sons paid another visit to Stanley, they expressed entire concurrence in his plan of founding a station at Malima.

But about sunset Malameen entered the village, and so poisoned the minds of the chief men against the newcomers, that during the night the crier proclaimed that no one was to have any dealings whatsoever with the strangers. That this was more than a mere threat soon became apparent, for in the morning a woman who had attempted disobediently to sell some fish was severely beaten by the other villagers, and some men made a threatening demonstration near the tents. Yet, on the other hand, Gamankono was apparently not ill-disposed, for three times he accepted Stanley's invitation to talk over matters, and three times offered an apology. He failed, however, to restore harmony; and seeing that, for the time being, at any rate, the case was hopeless, Stanley withdrew to Mfwa, where he proposed to open communication with Ngalyema, the chief of Kintamo, a village on the southern bank of the river.

Meanwhile, the evil reputation fastened on him by Malameen had preceded him to Mfwa. Before he reached that village the natives turned out in force to stop him, and a palaver ensued, in which he took occasion to point out their comparative weakness, and the very slight chance they would have should they attempt to try conclusions with him. This they clearly could not believe, and it seemed not impossible that the palaver would end in a fight; but before any actual breach of the peace had occurred, a number of strange natives raced up, shouting at the top of their voices for "Tanley." They came, it appeared, from Ngalyema, who had formerly made blood brotherhood with Stanley, and who now, being anxious to see him, had sent messengers across the river to guide the pioneers to a convenient camping-place near Mfwa.

This, so far as it went, was all very well; but now came the question of supplies. This was a serious matter, for the provisions brought from Bwabwa Njali's village were almost if not entirely consumed. No food was to be got in the neighbourhood, and while awaiting the promised interview with Ngalyema the column was face to face with famine. A whole day passed, however, and as no canoes appeared, three goats belonging to the expedition were killed, and, with a few small loaves, were distributed among the hungry men. Meanwhile, Stanley with his telescope eagerly watched the landing-place on the farther bank; but though plenty of canoes came and went, none made any attempt to cross the river.

On the morrow some messengers sent to purchase food from Bwabwa Njali were successful in obtaining one day's rations. Bwabwa Njali came back with the men, and on promising a further supply on the following day, received payment in advance in the shape of a roll of red cloth, much favoured in the neighbourhood. Later in the afternoon Ngalyema's nephew, a fine-looking young fellow, named Ganchu, appeared with a message from his uncle, who, it seemed, coveted a black Newfoundland dog named Flora, the property of one of the party. To offend the chief would have been impolitic, so Flora was given up and led off to her new master, who, however, had omitted to send any provisions.

In the morning men were sent to fetch up the supplies which Bwabwa Njali had promised; but to Stanley's dismay they returned empty-handed, with the news that Bwabwa Njali, instead of allowing them to cross the ferry, had threatened to shoot them, and had hinted that a general massacre might take place if the expedition did not at once leave the locality. Doubtless the unprincipled chief wished to retain the cloth he had received without performing his part of the bargain, and took this means of accomplishing his object.

Fortunately, Ngalyema came to the rescue, and was at once recognized by Stanley as his old acquaintance Itsi, who had prospered exceedingly, and now posed as the most important man in the district. He was accompanied by several minor chiefs, all of whom, possibly in imitation of their overlord, promptly clamoured to be admitted to blood brotherhood with various members of the expedition. To this desire willing assent was given. Did not present food and a future grant of land for a station depend on Ngalyema's good will? His opposition, as Stanley believed, would be little short of fatal to the success of the expedition; and consequently this expression of good will was cordially welcomed, and reciprocated with lavish gifts, including two donkeys, a looking-glass, a coat richly decked with gold lace, and a miscellaneous assortment of cloth, jewellery, and other articles of more or less value. In return for this liberality Ngalyema handed over to his "brother" his sceptre—a long brass-bound staff, which would convey assurance to all neighbouring chiefs that the bearer was the brother of Ngalyema, and must be treated with due respect. Scarcely was the ceremony completed, when Ingya, chief of Mfwa, appeared on the scene, and, ignoring all past unpleasantness, demanded to be admitted into Stanley's already large circle of brothers.

In the meantime Ngalyema had departed, taking with him Stanley's servant Dualla, for whose company he had made an urgent request. Four days later he returned, bringing Dualla with him, and demanded more cloth, and a large tin box which took his fancy. These were given to him, and he once more retired, promising to consult with the other chiefs on the matter of the land desired by Stanley.

Nearly a week passed, during which Stanley received an invitation to form a station at Kinshassa. In the circumstances no definite answer could be returned, and the pioneers waited until August 11th, when Ngalyema and five subordinate chiefs made their appearance. A long palaver followed; but still no definite answer could be obtained, as the natives, though perfectly friendly, were doubtful whether, from a commercial point of view, they would gain or lose by the presence of white men in their country. Finally the chiefs asked Stanley to allow ten of his best men to accompany them, while he, with the rest of his party, crossed the river and came up the south bank to Kintamo. As this was the greatest concession obtainable, Stanley supplied Susi—Dr. Livingstone's former companion—with a stock of goods and tools, and placed him in charge of the men who were to accompany Ngalyema. Lieutenant Valcke was then sent off to St. Paul de Loanda to purchase a fresh supply of trade goods, while the rest of the party returned to Mpakambendi, where Mr. Lindner had safely stored the goods left under his charge.

It was now considered desirable that a station should be founded on the south bank of the Congo, opposite Manyanga; and so well had Lindner acquitted himself at Mpakambendi, that this duty was assigned to him. He therefore departed on his errand; and Stanley, while awaiting a reply from the chiefs at Stanley Pool, occupied his men in making roads and bridging some of the streams in the neighbourhood of Mpakambendi. They were thus employed until September 18th, when again taking to the boats, they worked their way up the Congo, and on October 11th landed on the south bank near the confluence of the Lubamba River. Thence for four days they travelled slowly and with much trouble in the direction of Mtamo, until, at the Ufuvu River, they were met by Susi and his party.

Stanley then learned that Ngalyema's power was not so great as he had been led to suppose. Instead of being overlord of the whole district, he was neither more nor less than an ivory trader who owned a village and a good many armed slaves; and when the neighbouring chiefs objected to the suggested coming of the white men, he was powerless to enforce his wishes. Evidently he had done his best, but circumstances were against him, and he was compelled to send Susi and his comrades back to their master. With them also he returned the two donkeys which had been given to him, and directed the men to tell Stanley to found his station in Bwabwa Njali's country.

Amid all this disappointing news there was one spark of encouragement. This lay in Susi's discovery as to Ngalyema's real standing. If he would not receive the white men at his own village, it was now abundantly clear that he could not prevent them obtaining land in the neighbourhood, supposing that the Wambunda tribe, the real owners of the soil, made no objection. True, they did not seem very much disposed to welcome the expedition; but as their prejudice was formed wholly on false reports of the evil disposition of the strangers, Stanley had little doubt that personal acquaintance would dispel their mistrust. Accordingly he gave orders for an advance, and the party travelled slowly through a well-populated district to the Iyumbi Mountain, on a spur of which a halt was made.

It now appeared that the most influential chief of the district was Makoko, whose territory lay on the Kintamo side of the mountain. Farther on a host of smaller villages were ruled by minor chiefs, all belonging to the Wambunda tribe. Makoko, at first misled by the unfavourable rumours, had been entirely averse to the coming of the whites, and had forbidden his people to trade with them. This had caused some inconvenience, as it became necessary to send men far and wide to obtain provisions; though, on the other hand, the good conduct of the foragers became known over a wide area, and did much to remove unjust suspicions. The result was the removal of the ban. Free trading was sanctioned, and on November 7th, Makoko himself visited the camp with an imposing array of followers, many of whom were ivory traders who had been impelled by curiosity to join him.

Makoko was a pleasant-looking, little, old man, not over five feet in height, but boasting a wonderful beard, which he was compelled to curl, because when unrolled it measured six feet in length. He seated himself in state on a leopard skin, and when places for his followers had also been found, Stanley introduced himself as Bula Matari, formerly known in that region as Stanley, the first mundele  who had been so far up the river. As a proof of the truth of his statement he produced Ngalyema's staff.

Makoko listened quietly, and when Stanley ceased speaking he replied that many stories of the wonderful doings of Bula Matari had reached his people. They had heard how he broke down rocks, cut roads through forests, and finally how he had made a treaty with Ngalyema. This angered them, for Ngalyema, being a stranger, whose village was a mere trading settlement, had no land to sell or give away, and so Makoko and his fellow-chiefs had stepped in to compel the white men to leave Kintamo. When, however, the expedition journeyed through Wambunda country, and nothing but good reports reached him, he knew that all was well. At the same time he would have the white men remember that the country south of the river belonged to him and his people, and that Ngalyema and the other traders had neither part nor lot in the matter. Stanley apologized for the mistakes he had made, by reason of his inability to distinguish men of one tribe from men of another, and then asked Makoko to grant him land near Kintamo on which to found a station. Makoko replied kindly granting the request. He was glad, he said, that white men should settle in his country, for he had often wished to see the wonderful people, who, as he was informed, made the cloth, guns, powder, glasses, and other goods brought up by the traders.

It was but natural that gratitude for the sudden removal of so many difficulties should open Stanley's heart, and inspire him to give large presents to Makoko, his wives, his children, and his followers. The chief was evidently gratified, and later that evening he came again to Stanley, and presented him with a sword as a sign to all men that they two were as brothers. All seemed well, and, full of hope and contentment, Stanley was about to go to bed when a messenger from Makoko came hurriedly to inform Bula Matari that Ngalyema with an armed force had arrived at Makoko's village, and was endeavouring to persuade the chief to join him in making war on the expedition. Makoko, however, had refused to go back on his word, and the messenger was to bid Stanley sleep in peace, as, if Ngalyema attacked him, Makoko and his men would assist Stanley.

For that night, at any rate, there was nothing to fear. Stanley, therefore, had time to think over matters, and evolve a plan which he had every hope would prove a success. Morning broke cloudy and wet, but about ten o'clock the sun came out. Calling his men together, Stanley instructed them to see that their pouches and cartridge belts were well filled, and then to take their guns and distribute themselves in their huts, in the boat or the wagon, in the tents and bushes—in fact, anywhere out of sight. Susi and his detachment, some of whom were known to Ngalyema, were to lounge idly about the camp; but no one, whether concealed or in the open, was to take any notice of whatever he might see or hear until the gong sounded. Then every man was to spring out, gun in hand, and rush about, shouting, waving his weapon—altogether conducting himself as much like a lunatic as possible.

"Do you understand?" asked Stanley, when he had given his orders.

The men thoroughly appreciated the situation.

"Inshallah,"  they shouted, and dispersed to fetch their rifles and bestow themselves as their leader had directed. So quickly was everything done that a few minutes afterwards, when Ngalyema's force was seen approaching, not a creature, except a few lazy-looking Zanzibaris, was visible. Stanley himself sat down to read, though his attention was so far detached from his book that he was able to note the look of surprise with which the natives entered the apparently deserted camp. Rising leisurely, he went forward to meet Ngalyema, who made scant response to his "brother's" effusive greetings, while Ganchu and the other young chiefs wore a defiant, not to say truculent aspect.

Ngalyema's first words were an inquiry as to why his "brother" had come. To this question Stanley replied by exhibiting the brass-bound staff, and pointing out that he had acted in exact accordance with Ngalyema's request that he would cross the Congo, and approach Kintamo by land on the south side of the river. At this point the sudden appearance of a party of Makoko's men caused Ngalyema to change his tone, and confess that he was a stranger living in the country for trading purposes only. He had no objection, he added loftily, to trade with white men; but these particular members of the race, in his opinion, had not come to trade, and must not go to Kintamo. Stanley retorted that the land was not Ngalyema's to give or withhold. Makoko was going to give him land at Kintamo, on which he intended building a fine town, and Ngalyema could come there and see him, or stay away, as pleased him best.

Finding that he was getting the worst of the argument, Ngalyema took refuge in hinted threats, to which Stanley calmly replied that he could reach Kintamo that very day if he wished to do so. He intended, however, to take his time, and advised Ngalyema not to worry himself. Again Ngalyema had got the worst of the argument, and unable, apparently, to think of anything further to say, he began a whispered consultation with some of his attendant chiefs. Then changing his tone with startling suddenness, he inquired what nice things his "brother" had brought him from the coast. Stanley's response was an invitation to his tent to see for himself, and when piles of goods had been brought out for inspection, the chief selected an assortment which totalled up to something like 140 in value. These he graciously expressed his willingness to accept, on condition that the expedition advanced no farther. To this proposition Stanley, of course, could not consent, and finally Ngalyema strode out of the tent in a rage; but standing for a moment at the door he caught sight of the gong. It at once aroused his curiosity, and forgetting his displeasure he asked what it was.

"It is fetish," replied Stanley; but Enjeli, Ngalyema's son, ventured an assertion that it was some kind of bell, whereupon the chief became possessed with a desire to hear it. Stanley continued to assure him that it was indeed fetish, which, if sounded, would call up an armed force; it would be unwise to strike it. Ngalyema insisted, and at last, with well-feigned reluctance, Stanley hit the gong. Its ringing tones resounded through the camp, and instantly, from tents, wagon, boat, and bushes, armed men appeared shouting and yelling and waving their guns. Faster and faster they streamed out, and Ngalyema's men, almost beside themselves with fear, dropped their weapons and fled incontinently. Ngalyema himself, too frightened to move, alone stood still, and Stanley, with becoming gravity, reminded him of their brotherhood. "Stand behind me, I will protect you," he said encouragingly.

Like a drowning man clinging to a straw the valiant Ngalyema jumped at the offer. While he clung to Stanley, Enjeli held tight to him, and the two dodged about in mortal fear, until, when their followers had all disappeared, Stanley thought the lesson had lasted long enough, and ordered his own men to fall into line. They obeyed instantly, and Stanley then suggested that he should strike the fetish again. But Ngalyema had had enough. He implored him not to touch the gong again, and it was not until the men had withdrawn that he at all recovered confidence. Enjeli and Ganchu then shouted to their men to come back, and the upshot of the well-acted scene was that over a loving cup of palm wine, hastily fetched for the purpose, Ngalyema once more swore eternal friendship with his maltreated "brother."