With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

Farther Afield

Two days after the peace celebrations Stanley explored the Lukanga River. It was a sluggish stream, and, properly speaking, scarcely to be called a river, but was rather a channel connecting the shallow Mantumba Lake with the Congo. The channel itself varied in width from about three hundred yards in its narrowest part to a lakelike expansion, which again contracted to a winding, sedge-grown waterway, and this, in turn, opened out into the Mantumba Lake. This, though the deepest sounding obtained was only thirty-two feet, was a fairly large sheet of water, containing numerous picturesque bays and inlets, and occupying a hollow formed apparently by the subsidence of a tract of ironstone rock. The scenery on the shores presented great variety. Here were rugged edges of rock, presenting signs of fracture as clear and sharp as though the subsidence had just taken place; there pebbly beaches; and yet again, forest-clad hills and slopes rising gradually from the dark, inky looking waters of the lake. No connection with Lake Leopold was apparent; but seeing that the southern shore was low and sedgy, it was quite conceivable that in the wet season, when rivers and lakes were in flood, it might be, as the natives had said, quite possible for canoes to travel from the one lake to the other.

Two days were devoted to the exploration of the lake, and then returning to the Congo, Stanley proceeded down-stream to Lukolela, where he halted for a few hours, to secure a plot of land for a station and make brotherhood with the two chiefs Iuka and Mungawa.

At Mswata, where the next halt was made, all was well. During Stanley's absence Abbe Guyot, a Roman Catholic missionary, had arrived on the scene, and it now transpired that, finding the ground at Leopoldville already occupied by two missions—one Baptist, the other undenominational—he had decided to go on to Mswata. Stanley suggested the mouth of the Kwa as a suitable field for his labours, and as the abbe professed himself pleased with the suggestion, he requested Lieutenant Janssen to form a new station on the near bank of the Kwa, and help the abbe to establish his mission on the farther bank.

After four days' halt steam was got up, and the journey towards Leopoldville was continued. A call at Kimpoko, near the head of Stanley Pool, was less satisfactory than the visit to Mswata had been. Nothing was completed, and in the few months that had elapsed since the station was founded four officers had had charge. The place seemed doomed to ill-luck, especially when contrasted with Leopoldville, where now all was going well. Had this not been so the outlook would have seemed black indeed. Kimpoko could hardly be considered anything but a failure; and now bad news arrived from Bwabwa Njali's village, where a new station was in course of construction. A young officer full of hope and courage had been put in charge; but the poor fellow had not been many days at work when he went out of his mind, and believing that his men had conspired to murder him, fired at Bwabwa Njali, and also at his own sergeant, whom he wounded in the head. On this the men disarmed and bound him; but during the night he managed to free himself and escape to the forest, where next day he was recaptured. News of the disturbance reached Leopoldville, and a party sent to make inquiries arrived just in time to convey the unfortunate madman back to the principal station, whence he was sent down to Vivi.

Scarcely was this affair settled when from Mswata came the sad news that Lieutenant Janssen and Abbe Guyot had both been drowned. The natives had warned them that a storm was brewing; but confident, probably, in their own powers of navigation, they persisted in making the attempt to travel by boat from Kwamouth to Mswata. As predicted, the storm came on long before they reached their destination; the boat upset, and both perished in the raging stream.

Kimpoko next fell into trouble, for the officer in charge came into collision with the natives, several of whom were shot. Stanley, of course, hurried up to see what was wrong, and found on his arrival that the natives, scared by their defeat, had fled from the neighbourhood. He could not induce them to return, and as a station in an uninhabited region would be useless, he destroyed the building, and took the garrison back to Leopoldville. Thus within a few days two unfinished stations came to grief—a bitter disappointment.

About three weeks later came the news that Bolobo station had been completely destroyed by fire, and Stanley once more started upstream, taking with him a miscellaneous cargo of goods. On arriving at Bolobo he found things in even worse plight than he had been led to expect. There, staring him in the face, were the blackened ruins; and while he was listening to an account of the fire, a messenger from Ibaka, the senior chief, informed him that two of the minor chiefs had opened fire on the steamers, although, as the boats came up, every kind of friendly demonstration had been made. Steam was hastily got up, and the En Avant, with Stanley and Mr. Glave, a young Englishman who was to take charge of the new station at Lukolela, hurried off to the scene of conflict. In a few moments the En Avant  also was under fire, and rifles were fetched up and a few volleys discharged into the bushes whence the native fire proceeded. As quickly as might be, the boats were convoyed to the landing-place, the goods were unloaded, and then the Royal  was sent off to Leopoldville to fetch up a Krupp gun, with an artillery officer to take charge of it.

Meanwhile the war continued—harmlessly so far as results to the expedition were concerned, and without serious injury to the hostile natives, only two of whom were killed, though several others were injured. The fact that a chief was among the wounded seemed, however, to depress them. They came to ask for peace, and offered a war indemnity, which, however, was so trifling that they were told they must pay more heavily for the luxury of shooting at unoffending people. Unless they chose to pay an adequate fine, the rifle fire would continue until the big gun, should come up and blow them and their village up to the sky. At this terrible prospect the minor chiefs immediately put themselves into Ibaka's hands; but even then it took him nine days to induce them to pay the fine demanded—namely, six hundred brass rods, valued at 15.

On the day following the proclamation of peace the Krupp arrived, and at once became the centre of attraction, though no one would believe it was really a gun, inasmuch as it lacked the stock, ram-rod, and trigger, with which all the old-fashioned muskets known at Bolobo were provided. By way of enlightening the unbelievers, the gun was loaded, sighted to two thousand yards, and discharged into the Congo, raising such a column of water that the death-dealing power of the Krupp remained no longer a matter for doubt. A second shot at three thousand yards' range produced a similar effect; and then the power of the gun being fully vindicated, Stanley celebrated the occasion by presenting each of the chiefs and headmen with a piece of cloth and ten brass rods. The gift produced a palaver, followed by a demand for more cloth and rods; but these Stanley declined to give, and turning to Dualla, ordered him to gather up the original presents. He had had enough, he said, and would leave Bolobo for ever. This decided reply at once brought the chiefs to their bearings. They explained that their demand had only been made in accord with native custom: would not Bula Matari put away his anger? The trouble was ended: they loved money, and had already lost too much by fighting; hence-forward they wished to live at peace with the white men.

Tranquillity was thus restored, and there being no further need for delay, on September 16th the pioneers re-embarked, and six days later arrived at Lukolela, Glave's future station. At that stage it could not be said to look very promising, for the land assigned to the expedition was densely wooded with tall trees, beneath which the ground was covered with brush and small bushes. The timber was particularly fine. Many of the trees were a hundred and fifty feet in height, and among the varieties in the immediate neighbourhood of the station were teak, plane, mahogany, redwood, and guaiacum, all of first-rate quality, and fit for every sort of work, from cabinetmaking to shipbuilding. Yet, to Stanley's surprise, the ground was by no means as rich as the quality of the timber led him to expect. The bulk of it was hard ironstone conglomerate, on which picks made little or no impression.

As soon as Glave and his men had made a good start at Lukolela, the bulk of the expedition started off again upstream to Equator Station, where, during Stanley's absence of just over three months, the two lieutenants in charge had indeed worked wonders. They had constructed a commodious house, well supplied with furniture—also their own handiwork—and had even gone in for decorative effects ingeniously produced with the aid of a few yards of baize, print, and sheeting of various colours. The men, inspired by the example of their officers, had followed suit to the best of their ability in the erection of their own houses, while the gardens also presented a most thriving appearance.

Even at that pleasant spot no long stay could be made, and in a few days the expedition was once more afloat, on its way to its ultimate destination at Stanley Falls, some six hundred miles ahead. Here and there, at likely-looking villages, a call was made, and if the negotiations were satisfactory Stanley seldom left the place without having entered into brotherhood with its chief. Thus, after some days' steaming, he . came to Iboko, the territory of the warlike Bangala tribe, who had given him an unpleasantly warm reception when he passed down the Congo in 1877. What now to expect at their hands he knew not; for while some of the natives averred that they were ready to dispute every inch of the way, others stated that they had no wish again to try conclusions with Stanley.

As the steamers passed their villages they gathered quietly on the banks, and though no warlike preparations were visible, neither was any sign of friendliness to be seen. At last three canoes shot out, and as the En Avant  steamed forward alone to meet them, the Bangala shouted an inquiry as to what the strangers wanted. Yumbila, a Usindi man, who had accompanied the expedition as guide and interpreter, bawled in return the news that Bula Matari had come to see the chief, Mata Bwyki (the Master of Many Guns). He, it seemed, was not at home, but Boliko, another chief, was in his village. Having vouchsafed this scanty information, the canoemen darted back, and the steamers puffed steadily onward along the front of this immense settlement, where for many miles village succeeded village in rapid succession.

The tidings that Bula Matari had come in peace were rapidly noised abroad, and in a wonderfully short time canoes of every size and description crowded round the steamers. Evidently the Bangala had decided not to fight, but as a matter of prudence Stanley decided not to land at any of the villages, but to take up his quarters for the night on a dreary islet opposite Boliko's village. Thence Yumbila departed in a canoe to visit Boliko, whom, about sunset, he brought back with him to the camp. The chief was a well-built young fellow, with a somewhat furtive expression, but in manner he was cordial enough, and offered to introduce Stanley to Mata Bwyki. Then he went back to his village, and the pioneers got through the night as best they could in a damp and comfortless camp.

In the morning Boliko came with forty canoes to escort them to his village, where a lively trade began. Provisions were very cheap, and a good store had been laid in by the time that messengers from Mata Bwyki brought word that the senior chief felt himself somewhat aggrieved that such important visitors should be the guests of a young chief like Boliko. Another chief named Ndingda, however, managed to soothe the ruffled feelings of the senior, and he ended by inviting the strangers to call on him the next day.

During the night another trait of Bangala character was manifested. Honesty was evidently not their strong point, and under cover of the darkness expert thieves visited the camp. Again and again were the sleepers disturbed by shouts from one or another who awakened to find his property gone, and the return of daylight revealed many thefts which during the darkness had been undetected. It was the first time anything of the sort had occurred, and the men were not a little disgusted at their manifold losses. But as crying over spilt milk is always useless, the thefts were allowed to pass unnoticed, and the defrauded travellers steamed a couple of miles down-stream to Mata Bwyki's village, where they were greeted by an overpowering stench of decomposing cassava from the stagnant pits in which the bitter roots were steeped with the view of extracting the poisonous juice. Near this savoury spot the travellers made their first acquaintance with Mata Bwyki. He was a fine-looking man of commanding stature, and though apparently well on for eighty years of age, owned a clear, strong voice, which could be heard without difficulty at several hundred yards' distance. With him were his sons and grandsons, all tall, well-built fellows, and around them were grouped the villagers, old and young, who, in their anxiety for a near view of the wonderful white men, gathered so closely round the mats spread for the palaver that it became difficult to breathe.

As Stanley understood not a word of the language of Iboko, the duty of speech-making rested on Yumbila, who stated at some length the objects of the expedition, and then gave the chiefs a sketch of the work already accomplished. Towns had been built, he said, at many places, and all along the course of the river the principal chiefs had made blood brotherhood with Bula Matari, who was otherwise known as "Tandelay." Would not Mata Bwyki do likewise?

That Bula Matari was one and the same with "Tandelay," who had signally beaten the Bangala in 1877, was news to Mata Bwyki, and for a few moments the decision whether there should be war or peace seemed to hang in the balance. But Yumbila took up his parable once more, and went on to tell how Bula Matari had made peace at Irebu, of his wonderful guns with their lengthy range and mighty voices, of the rich goods which he possessed, and the many other marvels which had taken place since the white man came up the river. Mata Bwyki listened to all in silence, and when Yumbila ceased speaking a forked palm branch was brought. Kokoro, Mata Bwyki's eldest son, came forward, took hold of one twig himself, asked Stanley to grasp the other, and then lifting his short sword, split the branch in two. This, according to Bangala custom, was the sign that he wished to make blood brotherhood, and in a few moments another member was added to Stanley's rapidly growing family of brothers. At the conclusion of the usual ceremony Mata Bwyki made a speech, and called on the assembled people to regard Bula Matari as a brother and a member of the tribe from that day forward, inasmuch as he and their chief had made blood brotherhood. Bula Matari's people were thenceforth to be their people; the Bangala were not to steal from them nor hurt them; they were to trade fairly and honestly, and to live in peace one with the other. Following up this friendly beginning, Stanley promised to return after a time and found a station, of which he intended to give Lieutenant Coquilhat the charge; though first, as he explained, he must go on farther to reconnoitre. Presents were then exchanged, and after two days' stay the visit was brought to a close, and the expedition once more went aboard, to continue the voyage through a perfect archipelago of islands clad with the most gorgeous tropical vegetation.

Several days were passed in winding in and out among all this wealth of beauty, and then, towards the close of a glorious day, the sky became overcast with unusual blackness. Darker and darker it grew as cloud rolled up after cloud, and soon no doubt remained that a terrific storm was brewing. Every one looked out for shelter; but in the dense bush which clothed the bank no opening could be seen, and the boats perforce kept on their way along a river whose surface was absolutely still, while no breath of air stirred the tiniest leaf.

Then with startling suddenness came the wind—a wild, whirling blast, awaking the thousand voices of the forest, dashing the calm surface of the river into countless waves, and forcibly driving the steamers down-stream. In another moment down rushed the rain in sheets and torrents, half drowning the luckless pioneers, as with their boat-hooks they grappled the bushes, to save themselves from being driven back by the force of the storm. As darkness closed in, however, the rain ceased, and one of the men found an opening in the bush where it was possible to climb ashore, camp, and make fast the hawsers.

During the next few days the course lay through magnificent forests of gum-copal trees, from whose tops depended wreaths of orchella weed, valuable for the rich dye which it produces. Two or three deserted villages were passed, and daily the islands which studded the river seemed to become more numerous and complicated, while the rising waters in many places added to the difficulties of navigation by overflowing their banks, and wandering off into the forest. Still no sign of human life was seen until, on November 1st, the expedition reached Nganza, with whose chief, Rubunga, Stanley had made acquaintance when he came down the Congo six years before. Here the people were anxious to trade, and seemed terribly disappointed when they found that by no blandishments could the pioneers be induced to buy ivory. This country was known to the down-stream natives as Langa-Langa, and the absolute nudity fashionable in the locality came as rather a shock to the pioneers. A somewhat elaborate tattoo pattern was the nearest approach made by either man or woman to clothing; cloth was, therefore, valueless, and black and white beads resembling fragments of pipe stems were the only form of currency in demand. But as fashions change, the sight of clothing worn by others probably produced the desire to imitate, and before the pioneers left the village a brisk demand for bright handkerchiefs, and even for pieces of rag, sprang up.

On November 7th a halt was made at Bumba, a large townlike settlement, where for the fiftieth time Stanley made brotherhood. The people were evidently disposed to be friendly, but at the same time they were greatly in dread of an evil spirit known as the Ibanza, who was popularly supposed to be concealed in the "smoke-boats," where he puffed, panted, and sobbed, as all could see and hear. Suppose the Ibanza were to escape from his confinement, what would he do? Was it safe to trade with the people connected with him? Evidently the point was doubtful, for although provisions were abundant, the people were at first too frightened to approach.

Fortunately, the prevailing alarm did not extend to the chiefs. On the second day, therefore, some trade was done; but at the least sound from the engine, or unexpected movement of the white men, a general panic ensued, and off went the natives in headlong haste. Then, when all seemed safe, back they would come, wearing, however, restless, uneasy expressions, indicative of their readiness to fly at the slightest provocation.

Taking advantage of their nervousness, a mischievous cabin-boy dressed himself up in a tiger skin which formed part of the cabin furniture of the En Avant. Presently the door was thrown open, and out crept the tiger in full view of the multitude. Some one caught sight of the apparition, and raised a yell, and the whole crowd, after one hasty look, fled, yelling and shrieking, from the Ibanza, who at last had manifested himself. For a moment the pioneers were puzzled: what on earth was the matter now? But when the object of terror was discovered a roar of laughter arose. The jovial sounds reached the flying natives, and speedily brought them to a halt. Evidently thinking that the Ibanza could not, after all, be so very terrible, back they came; and then, as they learned the real nature of the bogy, they too burst into shouts of laughter.

A few miles above Bumba was another populous village called Yambinga, a little to the north of which a large tributary called, variously, the Itimbiri and the Ngingiri joined the Congo. Here several hundreds of war canoes were seen; and as Bumba possessed about four hundred, and one or two other villages in the neighbourhood owned an equal number, the united fleets totalled up to well over a thousand vessels—a formidable array to tackle. But now all was well, and without Iet or hindrance the expedition steamed past the delta of the Itimbiri to Mutembo, a group of palisaded villages, whose inhabitants, expecting evidently to be attacked, greeted the steamers with a futile demonstration of hostility.



Five days later (November 15th), at the mouth of the Aruwimi, a number of war canoes came out, and while the drums thundered the call to arms hundreds of fully armed warriors of the Basoko tribe lined the banks. In order not to provoke attack, the smaller steamers were moored at a clearing on the opposite side of the Aruwimi, while the En Avant, with Yumbila on board, hurried across the stream to convey assurances of peace and good will to the assembled warriors. What the guide said was unintelligible to the white men; but to the people of Mokulu it was convincing, for the war shouts ceased, the drums became silent, and a sudden and complete stillness succeeded the warlike din. Weapons were laid aside, and then, as Yumbila continued to speak words of peace and friendship, a kindly answer came. Would the strangers, inquired the speaker, be pleased to return to their camp on the farther shore? If so, he and his people would come there in peace to make acquaintance.

With this reasonable request Stanley, of course, complied, and a small party of Basoko paddled shyly up. For a long time they could not be induced to land, but at length they summoned up courage to come ashore and make brotherhood with sundry members of the expedition. Shouts and yells of joy carried the good news to Mokulu, and the drums once more lifted up their voices, but this time their message was of friendship and peace.

That evening Yumbila crossed to Mokulu and spent the night with the villagers, who told him a strange tale of a tribe led by a pale-faced man, who some years before had come down the Congo. The Basoko, concluding that the errand of the strangers was not one of peace, sallied out in their war canoes; but as they bore down on the strangers a shower of fire and "soft iron "cut them to pieces, though no man could see how his brethren were slain. Then the strangers went away, and the dreadful booming which had accompanied the death-dealing shower was heard no more in the land until a few days before Stanley's arrival.

Then, early one morning, before it was light, the dreaded sound awakened the sleepers in the village, and rushing out they found many of the huts in flames, a whizzing and buzzing was heard, and many of the people were struck dead in the same mysterious way as those who were slain by the strange tribe with the white-faced leader. Terrified almost to death the survivors ran for their lives to the woods, whence they looked out at the destruction, and thought of showing fight. But hearing the shrieks of captured women and children, and the booming of the death tubes, and seeing the still burning houses, even the warriors dared not come out, and they lay still until silence fell over the scene of battle. Then venturing forth, they found half the village in ruins, while hundreds of the women and children who had failed to escape had vanished.

By the tribe led by the pale-faced man Stanley's expedition which came down the Congo in 1877 was probably meant, but who could these recent raiders be? Slave-dealers no doubt: if so, whence came they? No one saw them come, and no one saw them go; the only thing tolerably certain was that they had not come up the Congo. Nor could any information be obtained respecting the Aruwimi; even its local name, Biyerre, was not revealed; and the disclosure of Stanley's intention to explore it nearly caused a breach of the peace, though no objection was made to his going up the Congo. He declined, however, to be turned from his purpose, and the next three days were spent in ascending the tributary. Ninety-six miles of the stream were explored, and then, as a series of rapids blocked the way, the steamers halted at Yambuya, a village just below the rapids.

Here Yumbila endeavoured to induce the people to trade; but though they were willing to talk for any length of time, they stoutly declared they had not anything to sell—in fact, they were starving. This, though manifestly untrue, was all that could be got out of them; no blandishments had any effect, and finally the attempt to trade was given up in disgust. It was clear that no reliance could be placed on anything they might say, for their statements did not tally with those of their neighbours, who called the river Biyerre, while, according to these people, it was the Massua, Kiyo, or Ikongo. Time, however, would not allow of further investigation, though what the upper course of the stream might be was an interesting problem. Stanley was disposed to think it might be identical with the Welle, which had been partially explored by Dr. Schweinfurth; but this was mere speculation. For the present, at least, his duty lay on the Congo, and on November 23rd he was back at Mokulu, preparatory to continuing his journey up the great river.