Author: James Gustavus Whiteley

Title: "The Congo Free State"

Journal: New York Times

Place of Publication: New York

Date: March 4, 1905

Places: Boma (Congo); Congo Free State


There is no analysis for this document yet.

Read More

The Congo Free State.

Mr. Henry Wellington Wack's Study of the Social, Political, and Economic Aspects of Belgian Rule in Central Africa.

Written for The New York Times Book Review by James Gustavus Whiteley, F. R. H. S., Associate of the Institute of International Law, &c.

If anybody thirsts after knowledge about the Congo in these days it's his own fault if he doesn't get it. He can get true stories or false ones, just as he pleases, the latter, like false diamonds, being much cheaper and more numerous. Mr. Wack's book, however, seems to be "the real thing," and is the most complete work on the subject that has yet appeared. Indeed, to the casual reader, it may seem to complete, for it goes into the subject in great detail, and gives many documents and much evidence. Fortunately he has placed the diplomatic correspondence and texts of treaties in an appendix where they will not be in the way of the ordinary reader. Most people look upon such dry documents as a weariness to the flesh, and, like King Ahasuerus, only read them when they have a fit of insomnia. They will, probably, be satisfied with Mr. Wack's deductions from the documents, but if they have any doubts they may in the words of a recent popular song, "look in the book and see."

Up to a few years ago Americans got along very well without knowing anything at all about the Congo. They were ignorant, but they were blissful, and although the United States is the greatest rubber-using country in the world, and buys the larger part of the Congo rubber crop, the American public left all that business to the Rubber Trust and did not trouble its head about what was going on in Central Africa. But some people have knowledge thrust upon them. Two or three American missionaries and some of our British cousins have insisted upon the United States taking an interest in their campaign for the overthrow of King Leopold's Government in Africa. Uncle Sam is generally looked upon as a kind-hearted chap who is ever ready to help the oppressed, who will always prick up his ears at the cry of "atrocities," and who is "an easy proposition" when it comes to inducing him, on humanitarian grounds, to pull political chestnuts out of the fire. Consequently, about two years ago a combined force of missionaries and British merchants began a siege of American public opinion. According to Sir Robert Peel, "public opinion is a great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong-feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs." An appeal was made to all these elements, and newspaper paragraphs were liberally used. An attack was also made on Washington. A representative of the Aborigines' Protection Society of England tried to persuade President Roosevelt and Mr. Hay to join "hands across the sea" with the English agitators who were at the same time trying to induce King Edward's Minister to take part in the game of "Beggar my neighbor" -- the neighbor in this instance being King Leopold. Deputations waited on Congressmen, and Senators narrowly escaped that fate which Sydney Smith would have described as being "talked to death by wild missionaries."

"Deputation," according to Disraeli, "is a noun of multitude, signifying many, but not much." However that may be, the deputations at Washington did not succeed in "stampeding" the Government. Mr. Wack gives an account of the anti-Congo campaign as carried on here in England. He seems to have formed a very uncomplimentary opinion of some of the missionaries engaged in it; but it must be remembered that these men are not representative of the missionary body. The great majority of missionaries on the Congo praise the rule of King Leopold in Africa, and out of 600 missionaries, only about a score have complained of his administration.

The American people find that, for the sake of peace and quietness, they have got to understand the Congo question, but they want facts. Theories and railing accusations won't do. They want to come "right down to brass tacks," and find out what is doing in the Congo -- and there is where Mr. Wack's book can help them.

The adversaries of the Congo accuse King Leopold's Government of maladministration. A Government is to be judged not by theories but by actual results, as a tree is judged by its fruit, and Mr. Wack gives the present conditions in the Congo -- the results obtained -- as well as the steps by which those results were reached. He traces the history of the State from the period thirty years ago, when Stanley first explored the "Darkest Africa," down to the present time, and shows what vast changes have taken place in that short space under the guidance of King Leopold. He tells what the country was then and what it is now. Then this great territory of nearly a million square miles was a scene of barbarism, cannibalism, and inter-tribal wars -- but the chief curse of the country consisted in the Arab slave raids, wherein it is estimated a hundred thousand natives were killed or carried off every year. Mr. Wack gives in some detail an account of the brave campaigns of the Belgians which resulted in the absolute suppression of these raids. It was a great and noble work, which cleared the way for Christianity and civilization. But that part of King Leopold's task is now done -- and, by some ungrateful souls, almost forgotten.

What chiefly interests the world now is to ascertain whether there are any outward and visible signs of moral and social advancement at the present time. Mr. Wack's book indicates many such signs. There are not only railways, telegraphs, telephones, and roads for automobile traffic, but there are also churches, courts of justice, Christian missions, schools, and hospitals. Fortunately the author has been able to get a great number of photographs, which make a deeper impression than verbal description. For example there is a picture of the Government Training School for Tailors. The sewing machines appear to be of a well-known American make, and a number of natives are busily engaged in the eminently peaceful art of tailoring. Yet this school is situated within a few hundred yards of the spot where the Bangala cannibals gave Stanley one of the stiffest fights he ever got up against in the Congo. This same Bangala tribe, which twenty-eight years ago was foremost in warfare, is now foremost in industry. The book contains many interesting photographs of substantial bridges, or railways, of the schools of carpentry and weaving, of the Government orphan asylums, of the Public Printing Office with natives at the press, of well-built brick churches, or mission stations, and of hospitals. According to recent statistics there are over 500 schools, and more than 1,200 pieces of land are in use for religious purposes.

Many converts have been made, but your old native is generally a tough subject. There is much more promise of amendment in boys and girls under eighteen years of age. These children are placed in mission schools, (to which a farm is often attached,) and there they are taught some elementary studies, and are made to work a few hours every day on the farm. Above all, they are given religious instruction and are taught a trade. The Government Orphan School at Boma is quite a model institution, where everything is well managed and up to date. The boys have a band which plays them in to meals, and when it strikes up "The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" it is rather hard to realize that one is in Darkest Africa. The prison at Boma is one of the finest buildings in the town; Lord Mountmorres, who went out there with a rather anti-Congo prejudice, said that it compared favorably with the English prison at Wormwood Scrubbs or Pentonville. Lord Mountmorres, by the way, seems to have been convinced on close inspection that there is much to praise in the Congo and very little to blame. This must be the verdict of every fair-minded man who goes out t here and sees in this new country so many evidences of civilization, of good government, and of progress. If you want proof that the Congo Government is fulfilling its mission of Christianity and civilization you have but to go to the Congo and look around you. You will see it then unless, like Lord Nelson, you put the blind eye to the telescope. But it's a long voyage, and if you haven't the price you can at any rate buy or borrow "The Story of the Congo" and look at the pictures.

To plant the standard of civilization on the soil of Central Africa has for years been the steadfast purpose of the King. The development of the Congo was his idea, and he has spared neither time nor thought nor money to realize his idea. In view of the recent criticism of his administration by a few persons who have been hard for their much speaking rather than on account of their worth, his Majesty has sent a royal commission to examine conditions out there and to suggest any improvements that may be made. The commissioners are three well-known jurists, one a Swiss, another an Italian serving as a Judge in the Congo, and the third the Advocate General of the Belgian Cour de Cassation. They have full powers to investigate everything, and the investigation is to be public so that foreign powers may, if they wish, watch the proceedings. This thing will not be done in a corner, and the character of the men employed insures a fair and full investigation. The commission is now at work in Africa. No one knows when its report will be ready, nor what the nature of the report will be, but people familiar with the conditions of the Congo think it a fair gamble that on the day the report is issued it will be hard to see the leaders of the present anti-Congo campaign, even with the aid of a microscope.

James Gustavus Whiteley. Baltimore, March, 1905.