Today’s installment concludes Reform of the Congo Horror,
the name of our combined selection from John Daniels and M. Van Housen. The concluding installment, by M. Van Housen from Address to the American People, was published in . For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed four thousand words from great works of history. Congratulations!
Previously in Reform of the Congo Horror.
First a word about the sovereign position of the Congo Free State. According to the anti-Congolese party the state is the creation of the Berlin Conference. This is a mistake. The Congo State is not the creation of the Berlin Conference, because it existed before the conference was even thought of. What is the proof of this? The Berlin Conference opened on November 15, 1884. But on April 22 in that year the United States had recognized the International Association of the Congo as “a properly constituted state.” The next day France did the same. On November 8th — that is, one week before the conference met — Germany recognized the Association as “an independent and friendly state.” The conference then met, but long before it had come to any agreement, Great Britain on December 16th, and Italy on December 19th, recognized the new state as independent and sovereign. On February 23, 1885, three days before the signing of the Berlin Act, Colonel Strauch, president of the International Association, informed the conference that almost all the Powers (thirteen out of fourteen) had recognized “its flag and status as a friendly and sovereign state.” Therefore, what “existed before” could not be “the creation of” the Berlin Conference.
Our critics say that the Congo State owes its existence to the Powers, but this is not so either. The Congo State does not owe its existence to the Powers, because it had come into existence before any of them recognized it. In April, 1884, the United States and France did not recognize a shadow, but a fact. When they said that the flag of the association was entitled to recognition as that of a “friendly and sovereign state” they had in their eye the work done and actually accomplished. What was that work? It was represented by the efforts from 1876 to 1884. The evidence of the leading states men at the Berlin Conference on this point is conclusive.
Prince Bismarck said: “All of us here render justice to the lofty object of the work to which his Majesty the King of the Belgians has attached his name; we all know the efforts and the sacrifices by means of which he has brought it to the point where it is to-day.” Baron de Courcel (France) said: “The new state owes its origin to the generous aspirations and the enlightened initiation of a Prince surrounded by the respect of Europe.”
Count di Launay (Italy) spoke in the same sense. Sir Edward Malet (Great Britain): “The part which the Queen’s Government has taken in the recognition of the flag of the association as that of a friendly Government warrants me in expressing the satisfaction with which we regard the constitution of this new state due to the initiative of his Majesty the King of the Belgians.”
From the four leading participants in the conference came, therefore, the unanimous avowal that the Congo State was created by the efforts, sacrifices, and initiative of King Leopold.
I come now to the question of “atrocities.” Our enemies say that “mutilations, and especially hand-cutting, began with the collection of rubber.” But this allegation is refuted by the evidence anterior to the appearance of Belgians in Central Africa showing that mutilations, and especially the cutting off of a limb (hand, foot, ear, woman’s breast, etc.), were common forms of punishment among the blacks. The following reference will suffice: “For the least offense they cut off a finger, a lip, etc.; for more serious they cut off the hands” — Lovett Cameron, “Across Africa,” published in 1876.
The conclusions of the “Commission” on the subject of mutilations, expressed in grave and weighty language becoming the seriousness of the matter, are entitled to consideration. They furnish the real refutation of the sensational accounts of cruelties and atrocities:
“The observations made by the Commission, the evidence taken, and the information obtained combine to prove that the mutilation of dead bodies is an ancient custom among the natives, and one which, to their eyes, does not appear as profane as it does to ours. The fact of cutting off certain parts of a dead body simply satisfies the natives’ desire of possessing a trophy or some proof of prowess. It was common practice to mutilate fallen enemies in the wars between the tribes of certain regions. Even now, if natives wish to prove that one of their family is dead and either cannot or will not produce the body, they simply show the official in authority his hands or feet. One point, however, is indisputable: no European ever inflicted or ordered such mutilations to be inflicted on living natives as punishment for shortage of labor tax or any other offense. Not a single witness testified to occurrences of this nature, and we failed to come across a single case during the whole course of our investigations.”
The law of the Congo State is as clear on the points of murder, cruelty, cannibalism, and mutilation as the law of any civilized government, whether British or Continental. The penal code is as stringently enforced against white offender as it is against black. The fact that there is crime on the Congo only shows that it resembles England, Belgium, France, and other countries in being inhabited by peccant human beings and not by saints. If there is unpunished or even undetected crime on the Congo, it only completes the analogy between it and, for the sake of comparison let us say, England. But the Government is to be judged by its code and the honesty of its judges, whom the bitterest enemy of the Congo has never attacked, and not by the failure of its officers to discover the authors of every crime or illegal offense.
And now a final word in order to dispose of the charge that we are ” rubber-” or “nigger-killers.” Our opponents say on this point: “It is the system of making the natives collect rubber that we attack. The profits of the Congo State are derived from rubber, ‘red rubber,’ because all the atrocities are committed in collecting it. Sir T. Fowell Buxton, at the anti-slavery meeting on March 29th, threw some light on the motives of those who desire to see the natives free to collect the rubber and sell it to outsiders. ‘ Rubber has become most valuable. It is an article of necessity for many increasing manufactures, such as the tires for motor-cars and cycles.'”
Our reply is that all Governments have to derive the support necessary for their existence from taxation. In the Congo State the chief resource up to the present has been rubber. In British Colonies in Africa it is alcohol, more definitely the coarse raw spirit known as “nigger-killer.”
Which is the more open to objection — rubber, that does no harm to any one, or alcohol, which debases and kills the negro? Moreover, rubber was unknown to the native. In the Lower Congo his improvidence resulted in the destruction of the trees. In exploiting rubber it is clear that the government is not robbing the native of what he possessed. It is an entirely fresh source of revenue, which only became very valuable about 1892. It is one of the most innocent and inoffensive sources of revenue to be found in the world.
In this respect the contrast with opium in India and alcohol in Nigeria is very striking. To keep to Africa, the import of alcohol into Nigeria and Lagos represented about 80 per cent, of the revenue of those colonies. In reply to several questions asking for the stopping of this traffic, the British Government has replied that it is impossible to stop it because the revenue from this traffic alone enables the administration to be carried on. Still no one denies that in this part of West Africa raw spirit is debasing the native and proving a veritable “nigger-killer.”
There is a passage in the Inquiry Commission that deals effectively with this very point: “We consider that the prohibition of the spirit trade and the suppression of slavery are the two chief claims of the Congo State to glory. Humanity in general must always be grateful to the Congo Government for having refused to make use of the powerful factor so many others used, as thereby a scourge even more terrible and disastrous than the slave trade was averted from the Congo.” The Congo Government not merely declines to derive any revenue or profit from a traffic in alcohol, but it absolutely prohibits the import of spirit in any form into any part of the Upper Congo, that is to say, above the river Mpozo, which enters the Congo a mile or so above Matadi.
But it may be said that if these two systems are both bad, there is still another which is a good one. What is it? Will someone point it out? Is it the hut tax? Remember what happened in Sierra Leone in 1898. Is it the poll tax? Look at the occurrences in Natal at the present time. What is beyond dispute is that all taxation in savage countries is difficult — then let us have fair play.
This ends our selections on Reform of the Congo Horror by two of the most important authorities of this topic:
- North American Review by John Daniels published in .
- Address to the American People by M. Van Housen published in .
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