Part Two Of
"THE SLAVE TRADE IN THE CONGO BASIN"
All tribes I have known have an idea of immortality. They believe that death leads but to another life, to be continued under the same conditions as the life they are now leading; and a chief thinks that if when he enters into this new existence that if he is accompanied by a sufficient following of slaves he will be entitled to the same rank in the next world as he holds in this. From this belief emanates one of their most barbarous customs--the ceremony of human sacrifices upon the death of any one of importance. Upon the decease of a chief, a certain number of his slaves are selected to be sacrificed, that their spirits may accompany him to the next world. Should this chief possess thirty men and twenty women, seven or eight of the former and six or seven of the latter will suffer death. The men are decapitated, and the women are strangled. When a woman is to be sacrificed she is adorned with bright metal bangles, her toilet is carefully attended to, her hair is neatly plaited, and bright-colored cloths are wrapped around her. Her hands are then pinioned behind, and her neck is passed through a noose of cord; the long end of the cord is led over the branch of the nearest tree, and is drawn taut at a given signal; and while the body is swinging in mid-air its convulsive movements are imitated with savage gusto by the spectators. It often happens that a little child also becomes a victim to this horrible ceremony, by being placed in the grave alive, as a pillow for the dead chief. These executions are still perpetrated in all the villages of the Upper Congo.
But the life of the slave is not only forfeited at the death of the chief of the tribe in which fate has cast his lot. Let us suppose that the tribe he is owned by has been maintaining an internecine warfare with another tribe in the same district. For some reason it is deemed politic by the chief to bring the feud to an end, and a meeting is arranged with his rival. At the conclusion of the interview, in order that the treaty of peace may be solemnly ratified, blood must be spilled.
A slave is therefore selected, and the mode of torture preceding his death will vary in different districts. In the Ubangi River district the slave is suspended head downwards from the branch of a tree, and there left to die. But even more horrible is the fate of such a one at Chumbiri, Bolobo, or the large villages around Irebu, where the expiatory victim is actually buried alive with only the head left above the ground. All his bones have first been crushed or broken, and in speechless agony he waits for death. He is usually thus buried at the junction of two highways, or by the side of some well-trodden pathway leading from the village; and of all the numerous villagers who pass to and fro, not one, even if he felt a momentary pang of pity, would dare either to alleviate or to end his misery, for this is forbidden under the severest penalties.
HOW THE NATIVES ARE ENSLAVED
The varying fortunes of tribal warfare furnish the markets with slaves whose cicatrization marks show them to be members of widely differing families and distant villages. But there are some tribes, and these the most inoffensive and the most peaceful, whose weakness places them at all times at the mercy of their more powerful neighbors. Without exception the most persecuted race in the dominions of the Congo Free State are the Balolo tribes, inhabiting the country through which the Malinga, Lupuri, Lulungu, and Ikelemba rivers flow. I may here mention the the prefix "Ba" in the language of these people implies the plural; for instance, Lolo would mean one Lolo--Ba-lolo signifying Lolo people. These people are naturally mild and inoffensive. Their small, unprotected villages are constantly attacked by the powerful roving tribes of the Lufembé and Ngombé. These two tribes are voracious cannibals. They surround the Lolo villages at night, and at the first signs of dawn pounce down upon the unsuspecting Balolo, killing all the men who resist and catching all the rest. They then select the stronger portion of their captives, and shackle them hand and foot to prevent their escape. The remainder they kill, distributing the flesh among themselves.
As a rule, after such a raid they form a small encampment; they light their fires, seize all the bananas in the village, and gorge upon the human flesh. They then march over to one of the numerous slave-markets on the river, where they exchange the captives with the slave-traders of the Lulungu River for beads, cloth, brass wire, and other trinkets. The slave-traders pack the slaves into their canoes and take them down to the villages on the Lulungu River where the more important markets are held. Masankusu, situated at the junction of the Lupuri and Malinga tributaries, is by far the most important slave-trading center. The people of Masankusu buy their slaves from the Lufembé and Ngombé raiders, and sell them to the Lulungu natives and traders from down river. The slaves are exhibited for sale at Masankusu in long sheds, or rather under simple grass roofs supported on bare poles. It is heartrending to see the inmates of one of these slave-sheds. They are huddled together like so many animals.
IN THE SLAVE SHED
The accompanying pictures, from sketches which I took at Masankusu, will give some idea of the suffering which is endured by captives in numberless slave-markets. (Note: These illustrations are reproduced in Kurt Saxon's book ROOT ROT. See details at the end of this article.) They are hobbled with roughly hewn logs which chafe their limbs to open sores; sometimes a whole tree presses its weight on their bodies while their necks are penned into the natural prong formed by its branching limbs. Others sit from day to day with their legs and arms maintained in a fixed position by rudely constructed stocks, and each slave is secured to the roof-posts by a cord knotted to a cane ring which either encircles his neck or is intertwined with his woolly hair. Many die of pure starvation, as the owners give them barely enough food to exist upon, and even that they grudge them. These hungry creatures form indeed a truly pitiable sight. After suffering this captivity for a short time they become mere skeletons. All ages, of both sexes, are to be seen: mothers with their babes; young men and women; boys and girls; and even babies who cannot yet walk, and whose mothers have died of starvation, or perhaps been killed by the Lufembé. One seldom sees either old men or old women; they are all killed in the raids: their marketable value being very small, no trouble is taken with them.
Witnessing groups of these poor, helpless wretches, with their emaciated forms and sunken eyes, their faces a very picture of sadness, it is not difficult to perceive the intense grief that they are inwardly suffering; but they know too well it is of no use to appeal for sympathy to their merciless masters, who have been accustomed from childhood to witness acts of cruelty and brutality, so that to satisfy their insatiable greed they will commit themselves, or permit to be committed, any atrocity, however great. Even the pitiable sight of one of these slave-sheds does not half represent the misery caused by this traffic--homes broken up, mothers separated from their babies, husbands from wives, and brothers from sisters. When last at Masankusu I saw a slave woman who had with her one child, whose starved little body she was clutching to her shrunken breast. I was attracted by her sad face, which betokened great suffering. I asked her the cause of it, and she told me in a low, sobbing voice the following tale:
"I was living with my husband and three children in an inland village, a few miles from here. My husband was a hunter. Ten days ago the Lufembé attacked our settlement; my husband defended himself, but was overpowered and speared to death with several of the other villagers. I was brought here with my three children, two of whom have already been purchased by the traders. I shall never see them any more. Perhaps they will kill them on the death of some chief, or perhaps kill them for food. My remaining child, you see, is ill, dying from starvation; they give us nothing to eat. I expect even this one will be taken from me today, as the chief, fearing lest it should die and become a total loss, has offered it for a very small price. As for myself," said she, "they will sell me to one of the neighboring tribes, to toil in the plantations, and when I become old and unfit for work I shall be killed."
There were certainly five hundred slaves exposed for sale in this one village alone. Large canoes were constantly arriving from down river, with merchandise of all kinds with which they purchased these slaves. A large trade is carried on between the Ubangi and Lulungu rivers. The people inhabiting the mouth of the Ubangi buy the Balolo slaves at Masankusu and the other markets. They then take them up the Ubangi River and exchange them with the natives there for ivory. These natives buy their slaves solely for food. Having purchased slaves they feed them on ripe bananas, fish, and oil, and when they get them into good condition, they kill them. Hundreds of the Balolo slaves are taken into the river and disposed of in this way each month. A great many other slaves are sold to the large villages on the Congo, to supply victims for the execution ceremonies.
Much life is lost in the capturing of slaves, and during their captivity many succumb to starvation. Of the remainder, numbers are sold to become victims to cannibalism and human sacrifice ceremonies. There are few indeed who are allowed to live and prosper.
Cannibalism exists among all the peoples on the Upper Congo east of 16 E. longitude, and is prevalent to an even greater extent among the people inhabiting the banks of the numerous affluents. During a two months' voyage on the Ubangi River I was constantly brought into contact with cannibalism. The natives there pride themselves upon the number of skulls they possess, denoting the number of victims they have been able to obtain. I saw one native hut, around which was built a raised platform of clay a foot wide, on which were placed rows of human skulls , forming a ghastly picture, but one of which the chief was very proud, as he signified by the admiring way he drew my attention to the sight. Bunches of twenty and thirty skulls were hung about in prominent positions in the village. I asked one young chief, who was certainly not more than twenty-five years old, how many men he had eaten in his village, and he answered me thirty. He was greatly astonished at the horror I expressed at his answer. In one village again, as I had bought a tusk of ivory, the natives thought perhaps I might buy skulls, and several armfuls were brought down to my boat within a few minutes.
I found trading somewhat difficult on this river, as the standard of value on the Ubangi was human life--human flesh. I have been asked on several occasions to barter a man for a tusk of ivory, and I remember that at one village the natives urged me to leave one of my boat's crew in exchange for a goat. "Meat for meat," they said. I was repeatedly invited, too, to help them fight some of the neighboring tribes. They said, "You can take the ivory, and we will take the meat"--meaning, of course, the human beings who might be killed in the fight. The more unfriendly of them would frequently threaten that they would eat us, and I have no doubt they would have done so had we not been strong enough to take care of ourselves.
During my first visit to the upper waters of the Malinga River cannibalism was brought to my notice in a ghastly manner. One night I heard a woman's piercing shriek, followed by a stifled, gurgling moan; then boisterous laughter, when all again became silent. In the morning I was horrified to see a native offering for sale to my men a piece of human flesh, the skin of which bore the tribal tattoo mark of the Balolo. I afterwards learned that the cry we had heard at night was from a female slave whose throat had been cut. I was absent from this village of Malinga for ten days. On my return I inquired if any further bloodshed had taken place, and was informed that five other women had been killed.
While in the Ruki River at the beginning of this year, I was furnished with another proof of the horrible fate of the slaves. At Esengé, a village near which I stopped to cut wood for my steamer, I heard ominous beating of drums and outbreaks of excited mirth. I was informed by one of the natives from the village that an execution was taking place. To my inquiry whether they were in the habit of eating human flesh, he replied, "We eat the body entirely." I further asked what they did with the head. "Eat it," he replied; "but first we put it in the fire to singe the hair off."
There is a small river situated between the Ruki and the Lulungu, called the Ikelemba. At its mouth it is not more than 140 yards wide. Its waters are navigable for 140 miles, and it flows through the land of the Balolo. In proportion to its size it supplies more slaves than any other river. By looking on the map it will be seen that the Ikelemba, Ruki, and Lulungu run parallel to one another. The large slave-raiding tribes inhabit the land between these rivers, and bring their slaves to the nearest market, whether on the Ikelemba, Ruki, or Lulungu.
There are clearings at intervals all along the banks of the Ikelemba, where on certain days are held small local markets for the exchange of slaves. As one travels up stream small settlements are passed more and more frequently, and fifty miles from the mouth all the country on the left side of the river is thickly populated. It is noticeable that the villages are all on the left side of the river, the opposite side being infested by marauding and roving tribes who would raid any settlement made on their banks. All the slaves from this river are Balolo, a tribe which is easily recognizable by the exaggerated tattoo marked on the forehead, side of the temples, and chin.
During my ten-days' visit to this river I met dozens of canoes belonging to the country at the mouth of the Ruki River and the Bakuté district, whose owners had come up and bought slaves, and were returning with their purchases. When traveling from place to place on the river the slaves are, for convenience, relieved of the weight of the heavy shackles. The traders always carry, hanging from the sheaths of their knives, light handcuffs, formed of cord and cane.
The slave when purchased is packed on the floor of the canoe in a crouching posture with his hands bound in front of him by means of these handcuffs. During the voyage he is carefully guarded by the crew of standing paddlers; and when the canoe is tied to the bank at night the further precaution is taken of changing the position in which the hands are bound and pinioning them behind his back, to prevent him from endeavoring to free himself by gnawing through the strands. To make any attempt at escape quite impossible, his wrist is bound to that of one of his sleeping masters, who would be aroused at his slightest movement.
In one canoe which I noticed particularly there were five traders, and their freight of miserable humanity consisted of thirteen emaciated Balolo slaves, men, women, and little children, all showing unmistakably by their sunken eyes and meager bodies the starvation and the cruelty to which they had been subjected. These slaves are taken down to the large villages at the mouth of the Ruki, where they are sold in exchange for ivory to the people in the Ruki or the Ubangi district, the men to be used as warriors, and the women as wives; but compared with the numbers who suffer from the persecution of the slave-raiders, few indeed ever live to attain a secure position of even the humblest kind in a village.
The wretched state of these Balolo has always saddened me, as intellectually they are a grade higher than the tribes surrounding them; and it is really owing to the gentler fiber of their natures, and their peaceful, trusting disposition, that they easily fall a prey to the degraded and savage hordes in their district. They have artistic taste and mechanical ingenuity, and make exquisitely woven shields and curiously shaped and decorated spears and knives. They are exceedingly intelligent, faithful, and, when properly officered, brave.
IN THE FAR INTERIOR
For many months I traveled on the Upper Congo and its affluents and had on several occasions to defend myself against the hostility of the natives. My crew consisted of fifteen men, the greater part of whom were Balolo, and I was never deceived by them. When first I engaged them they came into my hands in the rough. They were savages, some of them cannibals; but they are of a very malleable nature, and with a policy of firmness and fair play I was able to convert them into devoted and faithful servants.
As evidence of what can be done by gaining the confidence of the natives, through a policy of firmness and fairness, I think I may safely quote my experience at the Equator Station. I remained there for nearly a year, with only one Zanzibari soldier; all the rest of my people were natives I had engaged from the neighboring villages. I was surrounded on all sides by powerful people, who, had they wished, could easily have overcome me and pillaged my post. But not the slightest act of hostility or of an unfriendly nature was ever attempted, and I felt just as secure among them as I do in the city of London or New York. It is true the natives had nothing to gain by molesting me, and they were intelligent enough to perceive that fact. In reality, my presence was, to a great extent, beneficial to their interests. I had cloth, beads, looking-glasses, spoons, cups, and trinkets, and these I exchanged with them; every now and then I would organize a little hunt after elephants or hippopotami; and as my part in the consumption of either of these animals was a very small one, most of the meat I gave away to the natives.
My life during my stay at the Equator Station was a pleasant one. The people were of a happy and gay disposition; all were friendly and talkative. They would sit for hours and listen most attentively to my tales of Europe, and their intelligent questions proved them to be possessed of keen understanding. There is no more attentive audience in the whole world than a group of African savages, if you can speak their language and make yourself understood. When I was tired of talking to them, I would ask them questions concerning their manners, customs, and traditions. As I was much impressed by their cruelty, I always made a point of expressing my abhorrence of it, and have even told them that one day I should strike a blow for the slave. My audience on such occasions consisted principally of slaves, and these poor wretches were always much gratified to hear my friendly opinions towards themselves. My arguments, I could see, often appealed strongly to the chiefs themselves, as I asked them: "Why do you kill these people? Do you think they have no feeling because they are slaves? How would you like to see your own child torn away from you and sold into slavery, to satisfy the cravings of cannibalism, or to be executed?" They even said, some of them, at the time, that they would not hold any more executions. These executions did take place, but in a secret manner, and all news of them was kept from my ears until some time afterwards, when I learned of them from my own men. But I would have been unable to prevent the carrying out of such a ceremony with the force I had at my disposal in a single Zanzibari soldier!
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