Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 5, 1905
Minister Wilson to the Secretary of State.
Brussels, December 2, 1905.
Sir: I have the honor to inclose a copy of La Vérité sur le Congo, containing a résumé in the English language of the report of the special commission to investigate the administration of King Leopold in the Kongo.
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The report sems to be made in a spirit of perfect fairness, and the findings of the ommission will doubtless be accepted as unprejudiced and just concluions.
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I have, ec.,
Report of the Commission of Inquiry.b
A careful look through he report can leave but one impression on any unbiased reader, viz, that the comissioners spied no efforts whatever in their endeavors to ascertain the truth and also that they conceded nothing of what they did find out. Objections were made [Page 88] (wrongfully, we may say,) on the ground of the small area of territory over which the commission’s investigations extended. The commissioners say, however:
“We only visited a small portion of the vast territory belonging to the State, but it can not on that account be said that our investigations were limited to the districts we traveled through. The information gathered by the commission concerning those districts it did not visit was nevertheless sufficient to enable it to form a very accurate idea as to the conditions of life of the natives throughout the whole extent of the state territory.” * * *
“Although our mission was to try and find out what ill treatments or abuses the natives were suffering under,” say the commissioners, “in short, to find fault, we feel sure that we will also be allowed to, point out the improvements we noticed as well. We will say at once that a traveler in the Kongo nowadays, should he think of the coutry as it was but a few years ago, according to descriptions given by explorers, and then compare it to its present state, can not but marvel at the truly wonderful progress achieved.
“Twenty-five years ago this territory was still in the clutches of absolute barbarism, and one or two Europeans only had succeeded in crossing it, at the cost of superhuman efforts and meeting none but hostile tribes at every step, the people of the region, decimated by the raids of the Arab slave dealers, nevertheless were continually and mercilessly indulging in intertribal feuds; at any moment a traveler was liable to come across a human meat market and to see buyers approach and mark the part of the victim they particularly desired to obtain; the funerals of chiefs invariably meant that hundreds of slaves were to be slain and all their wives buried alive. And yet now, a new state, fully constituted and organized, has rapidly sprung up in this dark and mysterious continent and has brought the blessings of civilzation into the heart of Africa.
“At the present time safety reigns supreme throughout the vast territory. A white man unless animated with hostile intentions, can travel almost everywhere, alone and unarmed. The slave trade has been eradicated, cannibalism is severely put down and is gradually disappearing, and human sacrifices are becoming more and more rare. Towns, much, resembling our own favorite watering places, have been built to animate the banks of the huge river, and the two chief towns on the Lower Kongo Railway, Matadi, the seaport, and Leopoldville, the big river port, with the bustle of its quays and docks, very much remind one of our European industrial centers, the Mayumbe steam train; the Cataracts Railway, running through the most hilly part of the country; the Grands-Lacs line, laid through the heart of the equatorial forest; 80 steamers running up and down the Kongo River and its tributaries; a complete postal organization; a telegraph service with about 800 miles of lines; hospitals in all the chief towns; in fact, all the latest advantages of civilization have been introduced in the Kongo and give travelers the impression that they are in a country which has long enjoyed all the blessings of European education and not in one which but a quarter of a century ago was totally unknown and savage. It makes one wonder what magic power or firm will, aided by heroic efforts, was able to so change a country in such a short time.
“This impression is further strengthened by watching the practically perfect organization of the young state. There are but a small number of agents, and yet the state has succeeded in effectively taking possession of and ruling the vast territory. A judicious distribution of posts has brought officials into contact with the natives throughout almost the whole country, and there are at the present time but very few villages unacquainted with the power of ‘Boula Matari.’ The government at Boma keeps up a regular course of communications with every one of these posts, be they near or far. All details or news from any part of the country must pass through the Bohma government office. Reports sent in at fixed dates enable the governor-general to keep in touch with the experience gained by every one of his 2,000 agents. The central government, however, has superintending work to do and often sends out instructions to the various territorial chiefs. Thus the programme and method of going to work adopted by the officials of every degree is always the same. The unit of command is plainly visible everywhere, and the central organization of the Kongolese system works accurately and rapidly without stops or friction.
“The judicial organization also deserves praise, the chief claim for which is the popularity of all the judges among the native population.
“Nor must we forget the splendid work accomplished, simultaneously with the state, by the missionaries of every religion. Their comfortable homes, chapels, schools, pretty plantations and workshops in many places very much helped on the work of civilization.”
The commissioners refer to this subject once again in the conclusion of their report and say:
“Had the state wished to do so, it might have prevented almost every one of the abuses mentioned. These almost invariably were caused by the same difficulty viz, that of making natives work. The state need only have done what many other colonial governments have done, i. e., allowed alcohol free entry into its territories. Alcohol—facts are there to prove it—would soon have become an absolute necessity for the natives and they would have overcome their innate laziness in order to procure it. Had the wages allowed the taxpayers consisted of trade alcohol instead of cloth or other such useful articles, the chiefs and leaders [Page 89] of the different villages would soon have been found to energetically incite to work all those over whom they had any authority.
“We by no means advise the adoption of this step, as we are sure that it would end by stupefying the whole race in a few years. On the other hand, we consider that the prohibition of the spirit trade and the suppression of slavery are the Kongo State’s two chief claims for glory. Humanity in general must always be grateful to the Kongo Government for having refused to make use of the powerful factor so many others used before it, as thereby a scourge even more terrible and disastrous than the slave trade was averted from the Kongo.” * * *
With reference to the land policy, it says:
“The commission has no intention of discussing the question as to whether the appropriation of vacant territories by the state is legal or on. The principle here applied is admitted by all legislations, however, and in the conventional basin of the Kongo, for instance, is acted upon by other governments besides that of the Free State.” * * *
The following remarks were made concerning taxes in labor: ‘And so the only way in which the natives can be made to work regularly is to oblige them to supply a certain amount of labor wherewith to exploit the country, cultivate its natural riches; in a word, make the most of its wealth. That is the only way to join the Kongo to the general movement of civilization and to bring its population out of the state of wildness and barbarism in which they have struggled up to the present day. The natives are perhaps perfectly happy in that state, but it must be allowed that it would not be fitting for civilized races, nor is such a future desirable for humanity in general.
“Now the only legal means at the disposition of the state to make the natives work is to institute taxes in labor; and these taxes are justified in the Kongo by the necessity felt by the state of obtaining labor from the natives. In addition to this, the tax imposed on the populations in this country takes the place of duties laid on civilized nations by the everyday necessities of life.
“The principle that the state should impose taxes, not only in money and kind, but also in labor on its citizens, for the public weal, is admitted by all European legislations. Obligatory military service weighs heavily on the male population of almost the whole of continental Europe and very many governments recognize the right exercised by the state or even by townships, in many cases, of imposing personal labor upon citizens in cases of works interesting the general welfare. Therefore all the more reason why a young state should be allowed to do the same thing, seeing that everything is to be done in a new country and that there are no other resources than those the natives can provide.
“The tax in labor is also the only one that can be imposed in the Kongo, because the natives, as a general rule, possess nothing besides their huts, weapons, and sometimes a small plantation, absolutely necessary to their maintenance. Taxes in money would consequently be impossible. Therefore if it be allowed that the Kongo State has the right to tax its populations at all on behalf of its own existence and development, it must evidently be granted that it is perfectly justified in imposing the only tax these populations are able to pay, viz, the tax in labor.
“Of course, this tax, like all taxes, is only to take up a small portion of the natives’ activity; it is only to serve government needs and to be used for works likely to benefit the taxpayers themselves. It is not to interfere in any way, as our proposals will show, with the liberty of individuals, and as long as it remains within these limits we do not consider it open to criticism.
“On the other hand, as long as the tax is not excessive and is justly and kindly imposed, so as not to oblige recourse to be had to force, as we indicate hereafter, it can but be one of the most efficacious steps toward the civilization and transformation of the native population.”
In the matter of concessions, the commission says:
“Far be it from us to dispute the right possessed by the state of granting concessions of trade over certain parts of its territory. We will even go so far as to say that, at one time, that was the only form of exploitation possible, for the state had not then enough agents and officials to properly exploit the vast territory at its disposal; it was therefore obliged to resort to private enterprise, and it thankfully accepted the aid of bold financial men who did not hesitate to engage their wealth in undertakings which might appear to be risky.” * * * The Report (p. 235 of the Bulletin Officiel) quotes the opinion of Messers. Stapleton and Millman, two missionaries settled in the Falls district. These gentlemen declared that “they were perfectly satisfied with the moral and material condition of the country.” “The most serious abuses occurred in those parts of the country occupied by concession-holding companies” (p. 220) and not on the state territory, and “the cause of most of the abuses discovered is the system of forced labor instituted by these companies” (p. 228). “All the the witnesses state that many improvements have been made of late” (p. 196). The commission here again refers to the favorable evidence of two evangelical missionaries. Most of the excesses committed during military expeditions “of frequent occurrence in African colonies” (p. 217) are due to mistakes made by agents in the Upper Kongo, who treated [Page 90] natives in times of peace as though they were enemies of war. The government is not held responsible in any way, as the commission, speaking of the excesses occasioned by the recourse to strength in the matter of forced labor, says that most of these facts “had remained unknown to the judicial authorities until an investigation recently made by an acting magistrate” (p. 197). Most of the abuses were the doings of black capitas or sentinels. On the other hand, many of the libels directed against the state are flatly contradicted by the report, such as mutilations (p. 226), the collection of copal (p. 190), depopulation, due to many causes, but chiefly to “the ravages created by small-pox and sleeping sickness during the last few years” (p. 238), and also the charges of inflicting the “chicotte” to women. “It was found that this regulation had been disobeyed, but such infractions do not often occur and lately have become more and more rare. The government, at all events, severely punishes offenses of this description” (p. 264). Military recruiting, far from being an oppression to the natives, is “the contribution to the public good to which the natives adapted themselves most easily” (p. 251), and “the commission is convinced that military education has up to the present been the most potent factor of civilization among the grown-up Kongolese” (p. 252). The commission also loudly praises all the Kongolese magistrates, who “display great zeal” and “perform their duties with an impartiality worthy of all praise” (p. 268).
“The judicial organization also deserves praise, the chief claim for which is the popularity of all the judges among the native population” (p. 145).
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“The short sketch we have just made shows that the Free State took great trouble over its judicial organization. We do not consider the latter to be perfect or to supply all the needs which actually exist, but we feel convinced that it would compare favorably with that of many colonies of more than twenty years’ existence.
“In the entire course of its investigations the commission received no complaint and has no criticism to make on the way in which the professional magistrates at work in the law courts fulfill the arduous and delicate missions intrusted to them.
“The commission also was able to see that the magistrates, as a general rule, work extremely zealously and with praiseworthy impartiality” (p. 268).
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“The courts and, as a rule, the judges are perfectly independent as regards their decisions. The proof of this may be found in several of the verdicts recently given in the Boma courts” (p. 275).
the public force.
“These criticisms are unfounded and can not be applied to the present situation.
“Recruiting for the regular army is effected by voluntary enlistment and by yearly levies (decree of July 30, 1891, Article 1). The governor-general decides every year on the districts to supply the recruits and on the number of the latter to be supplied (Article 2). The system of recruiting is settled by the district commissioner, who comes to an understanding with the native chiefs. It is done, as often as possible, by drawing lots.
“This decree is strictly obeyed, except that the drawing of lots does not take place, because no census of the population has been taken lately. As a rule, the district commissioners ask the chiefs to nominate the men who are to serve.
“This system can only be vetoed by denying the state the right of making its citizens serve. And yet, the Kongo State here only applies a principle recognized by almost all the European legislations.
“The commission ascertained, however, that some abuses have occurred in these questions of recruitment. Some chiefs of expeditions have considered themselves authorized to demand a certain number of recruits, as punishment for offenses or as a war indemnity. This practice, however, was strictly prohibited by the government and we fancy has completely disappeared.”
“Military life presents many attractions to the natives; it appeals to their nature, tastes, and likings. We feel safe in asserting that obligatory service, so much objected to at first among the nations of western Europe, is the form of public contribution the natives found easiest to submit to.
“In addition to this, voluntary enlistments are frequent and many of the men reenlist after completing their first term of service.
“The men of the public force are, as a rule, well treated and well looked after by the state. They are paid 21 centimes (1½ d.) per day. Each man is allowed to live with his wife and to take her about with him. Further, even, a recent circular from the governor-general lays down that all new recruits should be advised to marry a woman of their country before joining.[Page 91]
“The commission visited the hut villages formed by the soldiers’ families in several of the posts and in two camps of instruction. Its members were struck by their clean aspect and excellent condition. The splendid appearance and military aspect of the troops is also Worthy of all praise. Very few complaints were received from men of the public force and these only referred to questions of secondary importance.
“The commission is convinced that military education has so far been the most potent factor of civilization among the adults of the Kongo. Military service, somewhat lengthened in view of the necessity of changing savages into civilized soldiers, goes far toward bettering those natives who are obliged to enlist, and this good influence retains its hold on time-expired men. These are easy to recognize by their carriage, their smart appearance, and saluting, the care with which they dress, and the comfortable homes they build for themselves. These men try to obtain business relations with Europeans, and hold the authorities in great respect.”
“The observations made by the commission, the evidence taken and 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 can not or will not produce the body, they simply show the official in authority his hands or feet. One point, however, is undisputable, 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.
“Epondo repeated the story he had previously told and stated that he lost his left hand as the result of a bite from a wild boar received out hunting one day with his master.
“The commission attaches no importance to Epondo’s assertions, considering the fact that he has contradicted himself so frequently during the last two years. The commissioners rely on their own observations and on a thorough medical examination made at Coquilhatville by Doctor Védy and come to the conclusion that Epondo really did lose his hand as the result of a bite from a wild beast. In addition to this, the Reverend Weeks told us that during a recent visit to Malele, Epondo’s native village, he saw that this was the general opinion throughout the village” (p. 224).
taxes in copal.
“The collection of copal is by no means difficult, even children can take part in it, either by collecting the copal ‘fossil’ thrown up on the banks of lakes and rivers or by gathering the sap on the trees or that which has amassed itself at the foot of the trees a few feet under ground. In certain districts copal gum is very abundant.
“The commission received no complaints whatever with reference to this tax.
“The pay, 1 mitako per kilogram, is sufficient for the natives who care to work at all to earn their livelihood easily. The small rate of pay has been much criticized on account of high prices charged on European markets. These criticisms, however, are altogether unreasonable. As far as the collection of the natural produce of a country is concerned the price of labor alone should be taken into consideration and not the value of the produce on the market where it is sold. In Europe there is no doubt but that the rate of the workmen who extract precious metals underground is very much inferior to the real value of the metals.”
repression of slavery and of barbarous customs.
“Twenty-five years ago this territory was still in the clutches of absolute barbarism and one or two Europeans only had succeeded in crossing it at the cost of superhuman efforts and meeting none but hostile tribes at every step. The people of the region, decimated by the raids of the Arab slave dealers, nevertheless were continually and mercilessly indulging in intertribal feuds. At any moment a traveler was liable to come across a human meat market and to see buyers approach and mark the part of the victim they particularly desired to obtain. The funerals of chiefs invariably meant that hundreds of slaves were to be slain and all their wives buried alive. And yet now a new state, fully constituted and organized, has rapidly sprung up in this dark and mysterious continent and has brought the blessings of civilization into the heart of Africa.
“At the present time safety reigns supreme throughout the vast territory. A white man, unless animated with hostile intentions, can travel almost everywhere alone and unarmed. The slave trade has been eradicated, cannibalism is severely put down and is gradually disappearing, and human sacrifices are becoming more and more rare.”
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“The slave trade was very flourishing all along the Kongo River and its chief center was at the junction of the Kongo and Lulonga rivers. It is now prohibited. The state by so doing dealt a death blow to the prosperity of the slave-dealing tribes, most of whom have now left the banks of the river, together with the commerce whereon they lived.”
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“On the other hand, we consider that the prohibition of the spirit trade and the suppression of slavery are the Kongo State’s two chief claims for glory. Humanity in general must always be grateful to the Kongo Government for having refused to make use of the powerful factor so many others used before it, as thereby a scourge even more terrible and disastrous than the slave trade was averted from the Kongo.”
“We do not consider it possible at present, unless perhaps in the Kasaï district and in certain parts of the Eastern Province, to make the natives collect rubber willingly, or at any rate so as to insure a regular supply by the ordinary methods of demand and supply.”
the aptitude of the natives for work.
Defense of the tax in labor.—“All production, commerce, and life in the Kongo are impossible at present and will be so for many years to come without native labor. Europeans may get accustomed to the climate, but will find it extremely difficult except in the most favorable regions to inure themselves to the hard work of tilling the soil. The natives, on the other hand, on account of the general conditions of the country, inherit a natural dislike of work. They only do just as much as is strictly necessary for their maintenance. The land is so rich, the territories so vast, cultivation so easy, and the climate so favorable that very little work supplies all their wants. A few branches and leaves make a native’s house; he has hardly any clothes; fishing, hunting, and a few elementary plantations give him the little food he requires. His activity sometimes wakes up prompted by the desire of procuring weapons, a few ornaments, or a wife. Once this object is achieved, however, he lets himself live and is happy in his laziness. There are a few exceptions among the more civilized tribes, such as the Kasaï. These have larger needs to satisfy. The tribes formerly under subjection to the Arabs are also different, as they were obliged to work for many generations, and have thus become accustomed to it. As a general rule, however, the natives prefer to be left to their old life, and no bribe is sufficient to entice them to any long or hard task.
“And so from the first the European settlers in the Kongo found themselves obliged to ask the natives for help, which the latter refused to give, at any rate regularly or for any length of time, according to the law of demand and supply. The only way Stanley was able to fray his first passage from Vivi to the Pool and launch the first boats on the Upper Kongo was by the efforts of his teams of Zanzibar natives, whom he continually changed. All his efforts to obtain native labor were fruitless. The Cataracts Railway was only constructed by the work of Senegal and Sierra Leone natives, who were paid very high wages. This system of having continual recourse to foreign labor evidently can not continually be used, the country itself must supply the labor necessary to its own life and development.
“And so the only way in which the natives can be made to work regularly is to oblige them to supply a certain amount of labor wherewith to exploit the country, cultivate its natural riches—in a word, make the most of its wealth. That is the only way to join the Kongo to the general movement of civilization and to bring its population out of the state of wildness and barbarism in which they have struggled up to the present day. The natives are perhaps perfectly happy in that state, but it must be allowed that it would not be fitting for civilized races nor is such a future desirable for humanity in general.
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“On the other hand, the obligation to work, if not excessive and if applied in a paternal and equitable way, violence being always omitted, will be an efficient manner to civilize and transform the native population.
“The natives if left to themselves must continue to live in that primitive condition they have continued to exist in for so many centuries and which they do not want to leave, in spite of all the efforts made to educate and enlighten them. A clear proof of this is the condition of the natives even in the spheres of action of the Protestant and Roman Catholic missions. What efforts and sacrifices have not been made in vain? Instruction and example are not sufficient. The native at the first must be forced to shake off his natural laziness and to try to better himself. Consequently a law which imposes a slight but regular tax in labor on the natives is the only way to accustom them to work. Such a law would be good from a financial point of view and at the same time would be helpful to humanity, and this in spite of the fact that it takes away some of the liberty of the natives. To civilize a race is to change its economical and social status, to change ideas, habits, and [Page 93] customs we disapprove of and bring in our own or very nearly so—in a word, it amounts to educating a nation. Now education, be it that of a child or of an inferior race, must somewhat interfere with total freedom.”
“We will not add that the Kongo native is a liar as that would perhaps be going somewhat too far. He has not the same conception of the truth as we have, however. The truth for him is not what is or has been, but what should be, what he wants or what he thinks his questioner would like. In addition to this they have but a very vague notion as to time and are altogether unable to localize past events. Their recollections concerning numbers are also very vague and they find it impossible ever to quote figures accurately. After a certain lapse of time they quite unconsciously mix up occurrences they have seen with others they have been told about. Great care and untiring patience must be used in order to obtain the real truth from such evidence” (pp. 164 and 147).
the industrial education of the natives.
“The state as well as private individuals takes natives into its service and employs them in various ways.
“These working classes, which are now very numerous, are extremely interesting to follow. Very much good is done to the natives by a sojourn in one of the posts. They there come into contact with European civilization for the first time, and this causes an evident change in their habits and tastes. The native workmen form a semicivilized class just a little below that of the soldiers” (pp. 254 and 255).
- Bulletin officiel de l’étaindépendant du Congo, Nos. 9 and 10 deposited in the library of the Department of State.↩