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Consul Roger Casement's Report

Up to this time the published reports as to the black doings of King Leopold and his men were, with the exception of a guarded document from Consul Pickersgill, in 1898, entirely from private individuals. No doubt there were official reports but the Government withheld them. In 1904, this policy of reticence was abandoned, and the historic report of Consul Roger Casement confirmed, and in some ways amplified, all that had reached Europe from other sources.

A word or two as to Mr. Casement’s own personality and qualifications may not be amiss, since both were attacked by his Belgian detractors. He is a tried and experienced public servant, who has had exceptional opportunities of knowing Africa and the natives. He entered the Consular Service in 1892, served on the Niger till 1895, was Consul at Delagoa Bay to 1898, and was finally transferred to the Congo. Personally, he is a man of the highest character, truthful, unselfish—one who is deeply respected by all who know him. His experience, which deals with the Crown Domain districts in the year 1903, covers some sixty-two pages, to be read in full in “White Book, Africa, No. 1, 1904.” I will not apologize for the length of the extracts, as this, the first official exposure, was an historical document and from its publication we mark the first step in that train of events which is surely destined to remove the Congo State from hands which have proved so unworthy, and to place it in conditions which shall no longer be a disgrace to European civilization. It may be remarked before beginning that at some of these conversations with the natives Mr. Scrivener was present, and that he corroborates the account given by the Consul.

The beginning of Mr. Casement’s report shows how willing he was to give praise where praise was possible, and to say all that could be said for the Administration. He talks of “energetic European intervention,” and adds, “that very much of this intervention has been called for no one who formerly knew the Upper Congo could doubt.” “Admirably built and admirably kept stations greet the traveller at many points.” “To-day the railway works most efficiently.” He attributes sleeping sickness as “one cause of the seemingly wholesale diminution of human life which I everywhere observed in the regions re-visited; a prominent place must be assigned to this malady. The natives certainly attribute their alarming death-rate to this as one of the inducing causes, although they attribute, and I think principally, their rapid decrease in numbers to other causes as well.”

The Government work shop “was brightness, care, order, and activity, and it was impossible not to admire and commend the industry which had created and maintained in constant working order this useful establishment.”

These are not the words of a critic who has started with a prejudiced mind or the desire to make out a case.

In the lower reaches of the river above Stanley Pool Casement found no gross ill-usage. The natives were hopeless and listless, being debarred from trade and heavily taxed in food, fish and other produce. It was not until he began to approach the cursed rubber zones that terrible things began to dawn upon him. Casement had travelled in 1887 in the Congo, and was surprised to note the timidity of the natives. Soon he had his explanation:

“At one of these village, S——, after confidence had been restored and the fugitives had been induced to come in from the surrounding forest, where they had hidden themselves, I saw women coming back, carrying their babies, their household utensils, and even the food they had hastily snatched up, up to a late hour of the evening. Meeting some of these returning women in one of the fields I asked them why they had run away at my approach, and they said, smiling, ‘We thought you were Bula Matadi’ (i. e., ‘men of the Government’). Fear of this kind was formerly unknown on the Upper Congo; and in much more out-of-the-way places visited many years ago the people flocked from all sides to greet a white stranger. But to-day the apparition of a white man’s steamer evidently gave the signal for instant flight.”

“... Men, he said, still came to him whose hands had been cut off by the Government soldiers during those evil days, and he said there were still many victims of this species of mutilation in the surrounding country. Two cases of the kind came to my actual notice while I was in the lake. One, a young man, both of whose hands had been beaten off with the butt-ends of rifles against a tree, the other a young lad of eleven or twelve years of age, whose right hand was cut off at the wrist. This boy described the circumstances of his mutilation, and, in answer to my inquiry, said that although wounded at the time he was perfectly sensible of the severing of his wrist, but lay still fearing that if he moved he would be killed. In both these cases the Government soldiers had been accompanied by white officers whose names were given to me. Of six natives (one a girl, three little boys, one youth, and one old woman) who had been mutilated in this way during the rubber régime, all except one were dead at the date of my visit. The old woman had died at the beginning of this year, and her niece described to me how the act of mutilation in her case had been accomplished.”

The fines inflicted upon villages for trifling offences were such as to produce the results here described:

“The officer had then imposed as further punishment a fine of 55,000 brass rods (2,750 fr.)—£110. This sum they had been forced to pay, and as they had no other means of raising so large a sum they had, many of them, been compelled to sell their children and their wives. I saw no live-stock of any kind in W—— save a very few fowls—possibly under a dozen—and it seemed, indeed, not unlikely that, as these people asserted, they had great difficulty in always getting their supplies ready. A father and mother stepped out and said that they had been forced to sell their son, a little boy called F, for 1,000 rods to meet their share of the fine. A widow came and declared that she had been forced, in order to meet her share of the fine, to sell her daughter G, a little girl whom I judged from her description to be about ten years of age. She had been sold to a man in Y——, who was named, for 1,000 rods, which had then gone to make up the fine.”

The natives were broken in spirit by the treatment:

“One of them—a strong, indeed, a splendid-looking man—broke down and wept, saying that their lives were useless to them, and that they knew of no means of escape from the troubles which were gathering around them. I could only assure these people that their obvious course to obtain relief was by appeal to their own constituted authorities, and that if their circumstances were clearly understood by those responsible for these fines I trusted and believed some satisfaction would be forthcoming.”

These fines, it may be added, were absolutely illegal. It was the officer, not the poor, harried natives, who had broken the law.

“These fines, it should be borne in mind, are illegally imposed; they are not ‘fines of Court’; are not pronounced after any judicial hearing, or for any proved offence against the law, but are quite arbitrarily levied according to the whim or ill-will of the executive officers of the district, and their collection, as well as their imposition, involves continuous breaches of the Congolese laws. They do not, moreover, figure in the account of public revenues in the Congo ‘Budgets’; they are not paid into the public purse of the country, but are spent on the needs of the station or military camp of the officer imposing them, just as seems good to this official.”

Here is an illustrative anecdote:

“One of the largest Congo Concession Companies had, when I was on the Upper River, addressed a request to its Directors in Europe for a further supply of ball-cartridge. The Directors had met this demand by asking what had become of the 72,000 cartridges shipped some three years ago, to which a reply was sent to the effect that these had all been used in the production of india-rubber. I did not see this correspondence, and cannot vouch for the truth of the statement; but the officer who informed me that it had passed before his own eyes was one of the highest standing in the interior.”

Another witness showed the exact ratio between cartridges and rubber:

“‘The S. A. B. on the Bussira, with 150 guns, get only ten tons (rubber) a month; we, the State, at Momboyo, with 130 guns, get thirteen tons per month.’ ‘So you count by guns?’ I asked him. ‘Partout,’ M. P. said. ‘Each time the corporal goes out to get rubber cartridges are given to him. He must bring back all not used; and for every one used, he must bring back a right hand.’ M. P. told me that sometimes they shot a cartridge at an animal in hunting; they then cut off a hand from a living man. As to the extent to which this is carried on, he informed me that in six months they, the State, on the Momboyo River, had used 6,000 cartridges, which means that 6,000 people are killed or mutilated. It means more than 6,000 for the people have told me repeatedly that the soldiers kill children with the butt of their guns.”

That the statement about the cutting off of living hands is correct is amply proved by the Kodak. I have photographs of at least twenty such mutilated Negroes in my own possession.

Here is a copy of a dispatch from an official quoted in its naked frankness:

“Le Chef Ngulu de Wangata est envoyé dans la Maringa, pour m’y acheter des esclaves. Prière a MM. les agents de l’A.B.I.R. de bien vouloir me signaler les méfaits que celui-ci pourrait commettre en route.

“Le Capitaine-Commandant,
(Signé) “Sarrazzyn.”

Colquilhatville, le 1er Mai, 1896.

Pretty good for the State which boasts that it has put down the slave trade.

There is a passage showing the working of the rubber system which is so clear and authoritative that I transcribe it in full:

“I went to the homes of these men some miles away and found out their circumstances. To get the rubber they had first to go fully a two days’ journey from their homes, leaving their wives, and being absent for from five to six days. They were seen to the forest limits under guard, and if not back by the sixth day trouble was likely to ensue. To get the rubber in the forests—which, generally speaking, are very swampy—involves much fatigue and often fruitless searching for a well-flowing vine. As the area of supply diminishes, moreover, the demand for rubber constantly increases. Some little time back I learned the Bongandanga district supplied seven tons of rubber a month, a quantity which it was hoped would shortly be increased to ten tons. The quantity of rubber brought by the three men in question would have represented, probably, for the three of them certainly not less than seven kilog. of pure rubber. That would be a very safe estimate, and at an average of 7fr. per kilog. they might be said to have brought in £2 worth of rubber. In return for this labour, or imposition, they had received goods which cost certainly under 1s., and whose local valuation came to 45 rods (1s. 10d.). As this process repeats itself twenty-six times a year, it will be seen that they would have yielded £52 in kind at the end of the year to the local factory, and would have received in return some 24s. or 25s. worth of goods, which had a market value on the spot of £2 7s. 8d. In addition to these formal payments they were liable at times to be dealt with in another manner, for should their work, which might have been just as hard, have proved less profitable in its yield of rubber, the local prison would have seen them. The people everywhere assured me that they were not happy under this system, and it was apparent to a callous eye that in this they spoke the strict truth.”

Again I insert a passage to show that Casement was by no means an ill-natured critic:

“It is only right to say that the present agent of the A.B.I.R. Society I met at Bongandanga seemed to me to try, in very difficult and embarrassing circumstances, to minimize as far as possible, and within the limits of his duties, the evils of the system I there observed at work.”

Speaking of the Mongalla massacres—those in which Lothaire was implicated—he quotes from the judgment of the Court of Appeal:

“That it is just to take into account that, by the correspondence produced in the case, the chiefs of the Concession Company have, if not by formal orders, at least by their example and their tolerance, induced their agents to take no account whatever of the rights, property, and lives of the natives; to use the arms and the soldiers which should have served for their defence and the maintenance of order to force the natives to furnish them with produce and to work for the Company, as also to pursue as rebels and outlaws those who sought to escape from the requisitions imposed upon them.... That, above all, the fact that the arrest of women and their detention, to compel the villages to furnish both produce and workmen, was tolerated and admitted even by certain of the administrative authorities of the region.”

Yet another example of the workings of the system:

“In the morning, when about to start for K——, many people from the surrounding country came in to see me. They brought with them three individuals who had been shockingly wounded by gun fire, two men and a very small boy, not more than six years of age, and a fourth—a boy child of six or seven—whose right hand was cut off at the wrist. One of the men, who had been shot through the arm, declared that he was Y of L——, a village situated some miles away. He declared that he had been shot as I saw under the following circumstances: the soldiers had entered his town, he alleged, to enforce the due fulfilment of the rubber tax due by the community. These men had tied him up and said that unless he paid 1,000 brass rods to them they would shoot him. Having no rods to give them they had shot him through the arm and had left him.”

I may say that among my photographs are several with shattered arms who have been treated in this fashion.

This is how the natives were treated when they complained to the white man:

“In addition, fifty women are required each morning to go to the factory and work there all day. They complained that the remuneration given for these services was most inadequate, and that they were continually beaten. When I asked the Chief W why he had not gone to D F to complain if the sentries beat him or his people, opening his mouth he pointed to one of the teeth which was just dropping out, and said: ‘That is what I got from the D F four days ago when I went to tell him what I now say to you.’ He added that he was frequently beaten, along with others of his people, by the white man.”

One sentry was taken almost red-handed by Mr. Casement:

“After some little delay a boy of about fifteen years of age appeared, whose left arm was wrapped up in a dirty rag. Removing this, I found the left hand had been hacked off by the wrist, and that a shot hole appeared in the fleshy part of the forearm. The boy, who gave his name as I I, in answer to my inquiry, said that a sentry of the La Lulanga Company now in the town had cut off his hand. I proceeded to look for this man, who at first could not be found, the natives to a considerable number gathering behind me as I walked through the town. After some delay the sentry appeared, carrying a cap-gun. The boy, whom I placed before him, then accused him to his face of having mutilated him. The men of the town, who were questioned in succession, corroborated the boy’s statement. The sentry, who gave his name as K K, could make no answer to the charge. He met it by vaguely saying some other sentry of the Company had mutilated I I; his predecessor, he said, had cut off several hands, and probably this was one of the victims. The natives around said that there were two other sentries at present in the town, who were not so bad as K K, but that he was a villain. As the evidence against him was perfectly clear, man after man standing out and declaring he had seen the act committed, I informed him and the people present that I should appeal to the local authorities for his immediate arrest and trial.”

The following extract must be my final quotation from Consul Casement’s report:

“I asked then how this tax was imposed. One of them, who had been hammering out an iron neck-collar on my arrival, spoke first. He said:

“‘I am N N. These other two beside me are O O and P P, all of us Y——. From our country each village had to take twenty loads of rubber. These loads were big: they were as big as this....’ (Producing an empty basket which came nearly up to the handle of my walking-stick.) ‘That was the first size. We had to fill that up, but as rubber got scarcer the white man reduced the amount. We had to take these loads in four times a month.’

Q. ‘How much pay did you get for this?’

A. (Entire audience.) ‘We got no pay! We got nothing!’

“And then N N, whom I asked again, said:

“‘Our village got cloth and a little salt, but not the people who did the work. Our chiefs eat up the cloth; the workers got nothing. The pay was a fathom of cloth and a little salt for every big basketful, but it was given to the chief, never to the men. It used to take ten days to get the twenty baskets of rubber—we were always in the forest and then when we were late we were killed. We had to go further and further into the forest to find the rubber vines, to go without food, and our women had to give up cultivating the fields and gardens. Then we starved. Wild beasts—the leopards—killed some of us when we were working away in the forest, and others got lost or died from exposure and starvation, and we begged the white man to leave us alone, saying we could get no more rubber, but the white men and their soldiers said: “Go! You are only beasts yourselves; you are nyama (meat).” We tried, always going further into the forest, and when we failed and our rubber was short, the soldiers came to our towns and killed us. Many were shot, some had their ears cut off: others were tied up with ropes around their necks and bodies and taken away. The white men sometimes at the posts did not know of the bad things the soldiers did to us, but it was the white men who sent the soldiers to punish us for not bringing in enough rubber.’

“Here P P took up the tale from N N:

“‘We said to the white men, “We are not enough people now to do what you want us. Our country has not many people in it and we are dying fast. We are killed by the work you make us do, by the stoppage of our plantations, and the breaking up of our homes.” The white man looked at us and said: “There are lots of people in Mputu”’ (Europe, the white man’s country). ‘“If there are lots of people in the white man’s country there must be many people in the black man’s country.” The white man who said this was the chief white man at F F——; his name was A B; he was a very bad man. Other white men of Bula Matadi who had been bad and wicked were B C, C D, and D E.’ ‘These had killed us often, and killed us by their own hands as well as by their soldiers. Some white men were good. These were E F, F G, G H, H I, I K, K L.’

“These ones told them to stay in their homes and did not hunt and chase them as the others had done, but after what they had suffered they did not trust more any one’s word, and they had fled from their country and were now going to stay here, far from their homes, in this country where there was no rubber.

Q. ‘How long is it since you left your homes, since the big trouble you speak of?’

A. ‘It lasted for three full seasons, and it is now four seasons since we fled and came into the K—— country.’

Q. ‘How many days is it from N—— to your own country?’

A. ‘Six days of quick marching. We fled because we could not endure the things done to us. Our chiefs were hanged, and we were killed and starved and worked beyond endurance to get rubber.’

Q. ‘How do you know it was the white men themselves who ordered these cruel things to be done to you? These things must have been done without the white man’s knowledge by the black soldiers.’

A. (P P): ‘The white men told their soldiers: “You kill only women; you cannot kill men. You must prove that you kill men.” So then the soldiers when they killed us’ (here he stopped and hesitated, and then pointing to the private parts of my bulldog—it was lying asleep at my feet), he said: ‘then they cut off those things and took them to the white men, who said: “It is true, you have killed men.”’

Q. ‘You mean to tell me that any white man ordered your bodies to be mutilated like that, and those parts of you carried to him?’

“P P, O O, and all (shouting): ‘Yes! many white men. D E did it.’

Q. ‘You say this is true? Were many of you so treated after being shot?’

“All (shouting out): ‘Nkoto! Nkoto!’ (Very many! Very many!)

“There was no doubt that these people were not inventing. Their vehemence, their flashing eyes, their excitement, was not simulated. Doubtless they exaggerated the numbers, but they were clearly telling what they knew and loathed. I was told that they often became so furious at the recollection of what had been done to them that they lost control over themselves. One of the men before me was getting into this state now.”

Such is the story—or a very small portion of it—which His Majesty’s Consul conveyed to His Majesty’s Government as to the condition of those natives, who, “in the name of Almighty God,” we had pledged ourselves to defend!

The same damning White Book contained a brief account of Lord Cromer’s experience upon the Upper Nile in the Lado district. He notes that for eighty miles the side of the river which is British territory was crowded with native villages, the inhabitants of which ran along the bank calling to the steamer. The other bank (Congolese territory), was a deserted wilderness. The “Tuquoque” argument which King Leopold’s henchmen are so fond of advancing will find it hard to reconcile the difference. Lord Cromer ends his report:

“It appears to me that the facts which I have stated above afford amply sufficient evidence of the spirit which animates the Belgian Administration, if, indeed, Administration it can be called. The Government, so far as I could judge, is conducted almost exclusively on commercial principles, and, even judged by that standard, it would appear that those principles are somewhat short-sighted.”

In the same White Book which contains these documents there is printed the Congolese defence drawn up by M. de Cuvelier. The defence consists in simply ignoring all the definite facts laid before the public, and in making such statements as that the British have themselves made war upon natives, as if there were no distinction between war and massacre, and that the British have put a poll-tax upon natives, which, if it be reasonable in amount, is a perfectly just proceeding adopted by all Colonial nations. Let the possessors of the Free State use this system, and at the same time restore the freedom of trade by throwing open the country to all, and returning to the natives that land and produce which has been taken from them. When they have done this—and punished the guilty—there will be an end of anti-Congo agitation. Beyond this, a large part (nearly half) of the Congo Reply (notes sur le rapport de Mr. Casement, de Dec. 11, 1903), is taken up by trying to show that in one case of mutilation the injuries were, in truth, inflicted by a wild boar. There must be many wild boars in Congo land, and their habits are of a singular nature. It is not in the Congo that these boars are bred.

Arthur Conan Doyle