Author: Henry Phillips

Title: "An Account of the Congo Independent State"

Journal: Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Date: December 1889

Places: Ango-Ango; Banana (Congo); Boma (Congo); Boulambemba Point; Congo Basin; Congo Free State; Congo River; Fetish Rock; Fuka-Fuka; Heron Bank; Kissanga (Congo); Kouilou River; Leopoldville (Congo); Livingstone Falls; Manyanga; Matadi (Congo); Noki (Congo); Ponta da Lenha (Congo); Scotchman's Head; Stanley Pool; Tchiwangi (Congo)


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An Account of the Congo Independent State

By Henry Phillips, Jr.

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The philanthropic and scientific ends of the "Comité d'Etude" became interwoven with a political idea, that of founding in the very heart of Africa an immense independent State, and the Comité changed its name and became henceforth "L'Association Internationale du Congo." Under this title the Society redoubled its efforts, and by the end of the year 1883, it had concluded with the various independent chiefs of the Congo basin, and that of the "Niadi Kwilu," more than one thousand treaties, by which the native chieftains ceded to it all their territorial rights over the immense domains included within the before-mentioned boundaries.

It now remained only to obtain from the civilized nations some recognition of this new arrival among States; the very first successful negotiations to that effect were with the United States of America; on the 10th of April, 1884, the Senate of the United States authorized the President to recognize the standard of the International Association of the Congo as fully as that of any other friendly government. On November 8, 1884, the Emperor of Germany authorized a similar recognition. Subsequently the conference at Berlin was opened "to regulate, in an amicable spirit and with cordiality, the conditions that could assure the development of the commerce of the Congo, and arrange for the prevention of errors and mutual misunderstandings." Diplomatic relations were sought with all the powers that had sent agents to this conference, resulting in the ultimate recognition, by them, of the new State, and, on February 26, 1885, The Congo International Association itself gave in its adherence to the resolutions formulated by the conference. Prince Bismarck, in announcing the recognition at the end of the conference, said, "I think that I may express the sentiments of this assemblage in saluting, with satisfaction, this act of the Congo Association. To the new State is to be entrusted the work that we have outlined, and I breathe my most hearty wishes for its prosperous development and for the fulfillment of the grand ideas of its illustrious and noble founder."

[. . .]

The Journey Up The Congo River

Coming from the high sea, the first land sighted is a low sandy coast, fringed with verdure as a background, later a red clay; here is Point Pedraô. Further is Shark's point, oppositing which, on the right bank of the river, lies Banana.

This is the first of the settlements of the Congo Independent State passed on going up the Congo river, which, at its mouth, is eleven to twelve Kilom. wide. Here is a long range of white "factories," built on piles, and the port is accessible to vessels not drawing more than six metres of water; the rise of the tide is 1M.80. This harbor is claimed to be the best between the Congo river and the Cape of Good Hope. Although pilotage be free, an official service has been organized by the Independent Congo State. Every vessel of more than 500 tons, entering Banana, is to pay a fixed tax of 150 fr., which is intended to cover the State fro the expenses incurred by the placing of buoys, the building of lighthouses, etc. On paying this due, ships may receive a pilot of the State to take them in and out the harbor without any extra charge. Up to Boma and return pilotage tax is 300 fr. for four days. For each exceeding day an extra charge of 50 fr. is to be paid. Houses, both for dwelling and store-houses, have been built of brick and wood; a hotel has been erected by the Dutch Co. where travelers are boarded and lodged for seven shillings a day.

The chief commercial houses here are as follows:

1. The Dutch Co., having its home office at Rotterdamn; founded in 1869, covers a territory of 700 arpents; employs at Banana thirty whites and 800 blacks; has forty stations along the river.

2. The house of Daumas-Béraud et Cie., of Paris, founded in 1865; employs eight whites and 100 blacks.

3. The Compagnie Portugaise due Zaïre which possesses half a dozen stations on the river.

4. Valley Azevedo, Lisbon; four whites and thirty blacks.

All these houses own wharves and docks as well as sailing-vessels; the Dutch Co. owns four steamers; the French, and Hatton & Cookson Co. each one; the Congo Independent State, fifteen.

After leaving Banana, the stream narrows to five kilom., and is from 20 to 270 metres deep; the current is about five knots. After an hour Boulambemba point, locally known as the bottomless pit, is reached; twenty-two kilom. from Banana the "Scotchman's Head" is passed, and eleven kilom. further on, at Kissanga, are situated the Portuguese factories. A short distance further, one the opposite bank, are the factories of Ponta da Lenha, established on the island of Tchiwangi. Here are found the bamboos used in building in great abundance; they cost from 50 to 75 francs per thousand. Even the very largest vessels can come up to this point, where begin the difficulties of navigation to the "Heron Bank."

From Ponta da Lenha to m'Boma the river contracts and is obstructed by several large islands.

At "Fetish Rock" the Congo storms over reefs and expands to 1500 metres in width.

At m'Boma the river is fifty metres deep, and is 4700 metres in width; here it is divided by islands into two arms."

m'Boma may be considered as the interior port, or, as a Belgian writer has well expressed it, as "the Antwerp of the Congo;" the tide here is only six or seven centimetres. Here is stored all the merchandise sent from Banana to be distributed in the interior, and here come the native for traffic. It is at present the capital of the State of the centre of the commerce of the Lower Congo. The Dutch, English, French and Portuguese trading houses have large establishments here, employing about thirty whites and 600 blacks. A flourishing mission has been founded here by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1886 the Congo Independent State installed a postal service. It has also erected here an iron pier, well equipped with cranes for loading and unloading cargoes with the greatest facility. The government storehouses are connected with the wharves by a railroad. A Belgian commercial company, "les Magasins Généraux," is now building at m'Boma a huge hotel and spacious storehouses where all articles of consumption may be obtained at reasonable prices.

Passing up the stream, twenty kilom. after leaving m'Boma, the panorama changes, lofty and well-wooded mountains appearing on the right bank, while those on the left are barren and dry. Here terminates the alluvial basin. Above the large island, "Des Princes," the islets have disappeared, and the river shows only a vast expanse of tranquil water, from 500 to 2000 metres wide, whose banks reach sometimes to an elevation of 350 metres. The navigation becomes more difficult, owing to an augmentation in the strength of the current and the more frequent appearance of rock-reefs and rapids.

Seven hours' journey from m'Boma appears Noki, a Portuguese commercial centre and the last that belongs to that nation on the left bank of the Congo. Here is the frontier marked out by the Congress of Berlin; from this point both banks of the river belong to the Congo Independent State up to Manyanga, where the French possessions begin.

Along the river between m'Boma and Noki are about thirty factories, all substations of houses established at m'Boma.

Passing "Ango-Ango," "Fuka-Fuka" (where there are commercial houses), Underhill (where there is a Protestant mission), Matadi is reached. At this point begins land transportation for goods etc. From here will start the railway line which is to connect the Lower Congo with Leopoldville, on the Stanley Pool.

Large ocean steamers can come to Matadi without breaking cargo.

At Vivi, which is situated a little beyond Matadi on a plateau ninety-nine metres above the river, the navigation is stopped by the rapids. Further up the river begin the "Livingstone Falls."

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