With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

Among the Slave-Raiders

As the expedition passed on, the evidences of recent fighting—or, more probably, of the depredations of slave-dealers—became more and more apparent. On November 24th several market-places were seen, but all were silent and deserted, while the few natives visible hurried away to some hiding-place as soon as the steamers appeared. A little later a long line of canoes, possibly a thousand in all, was seen slinking cautiously along under cover of the thick overhanging bushes on an island. Did they intend to fight? If so, their numbers were overwhelming; but there soon proved to be no need for apprehension, for the canoe-men seemed only anxious to escape notice.

Then came more deserted villages. Some of these had been recently destroyed by fire, and the scorched trees and ragged, miserable-looking banana groves gave evidence of the fierceness of the flames. Here and there, too, for some inscrutable reason, a few long canoes had been reared up on end. This could scarcely be the work of natives, and Stanley argued, therefore, that a gang of Arab slave-raiders was somewhere in the neighbourhood, and that this apparently senseless freak was an evidence of their presence. The impression was soon confirmed, for a few miles farther up a group of disheartened, dejected natives were seen crouching miserably on the bank, too wretched to care even to run away.

With these people Yumbila managed to communicate, and finding he was a friend, they opened their hearts, and told how, a few days before, their village had been raided, their houses burned, their friends slain or carried off, and almost all they possessed destroyed. The survivors were living as best they could, hiding during the day amongst the islands, with their canoes ready for instant flight, and at night stealing cautiously to their fields to get food. It was a pitiful tale; but what could the pioneers do? Living, as they were, from hand to mouth, they could only speak a few kind words, and pass on through further scenes of woe towards their goal.

On November 27th, what from the distance had looked like a smudge of white on the river banks, resolved itself into the tents of the slavers' camp. Why not fall upon the miscreants and avenge the wrongs of the hapless villagers whom they had slain, enslaved, or ruined? But—so Stanley argued with himself—what right had he to constitute himself their champion and avenger? Further, his errand was peace, not war; and deciding to remain neutral, he visited the slavers' camp, where over two thousand wretched beings were chained, to await the time when they could be conveyed to Nyangwe and other Arab settlements above Stanley Falls. The ground was littered with plunder of every description, and the whole scene was one of misery too great for words to describe.

Stanley Falls were now not far distant, and on December 2, 1883, five days after leaving the slave camp, the lowest of the seven cataracts which make up the Falls was sighted. Early in the afternoon of that day the steamers were moored near a fishing village on a small island just below the cataract, and a palaver was held with the view of obtaining land to found a station. At first, judging by the hubbub which ensued when the interpreters had finished speaking, the idea did not find favour, and for a while the utmost confusion prevailed. Then the meeting subsided into quietness, and one after another spoke, apparently discussing the pros and cons of the affair. Those who agreed with the remarks of any speaker expressed their approval by arranging his grass-cloth garments, while the dissentients howled and raved in derision. Public feeling was clearly unsettled, and to arrive at any conclusion seemed difficult—in fact, before a decision was reached the meeting tired itself out, and adjourned until the following day.

When the palaver reassembled, the question of selling land was still undecided—some were for, others against the transaction—and the discussion waxed fast and furious, until those in favour of the sale finally prevailed. A price was fixed, and at the conclusion of the palaver Stanley handed over goods to the value of about 160, whereupon the islands and a strip of land on the left bank of the Congo were formally ceded to him. All that remained to be done was to build the station, and as a convenient site on one of the islands had been selected while the palaver was in progress, all hands immediately set to work to clear the ground.

Scarcely was the work begun when the gentleman who had come up for the express purpose of taking charge of the station found that the post was by no means to his liking, and he begged to be released from his agreement. Fortunately, a substitute was speedily forthcoming; for Mr. Binnie, a Scotsman, who hitherto had been serving as engineer of the Royal, expressed a wish to fill the vacancy. He was a little fellow, slight and delicate in appearance, but his pluck was undeniable; and the fact that after all the hardships of the journey he still desired to remain in the wilds went far to prove his fitness for the post. He therefore received the desired appointment, and thirty-one men were left with him to build and garrison the new station.

The other members of the expedition, having done their work, bade their comrades farewell, and on December 10th set out on the homeward journey. Running down-stream with the current was a very different matter from struggling up against it, and the distance to the slavers' camp, which, on the upward journey, had taken over three days' was now covered in little more than the same number of hours. A halt was again made, and Stanley, remembering that one of the ulterior objects of the Association was the suppression of the their trade, invited the raiders to send a few of their confidential men on a trip to the coast. His idea was that if they saw the work in progress on the Congo it might occur to them that it was unwise to pursue their operations in a locality where at any time they might meet a patrolling gunboat. This however, he did not express in so many words, and, considering it wiser to leave them to make their own inferences, contented himself with pointing out that the opportunity of doing a little trade was a favourable one, as they could send some ivory to the coast, and purchase with the proceeds any articles they might chance to require.

The invitation was accepted, and on December 12th the steamers, with their cargo increased by thirty tusks of ivory, once more got under way. Ten Arabs were also added to the passenger list, and from them Stanley obtained a good deal of in formation respecting the country through which they were passing, and the various tributaries which emptied themselves into the Congo.

Sundry villages were visited, and at each of them one or more of the principal men joined Stanley's rapidly-increasing assortment of "brothers;" but no long halts were made until December 15th, when an accident to the Royal  caused four days' delay. The steamers were crossing from the left to the right bank, when the Royal  struck a submerged snag, and began to settle down. With all speed her cargo and passengers were transferred to the other boats, and it was then discovered that, as she was fast caught on the snag, she was in no immediate danger. Accordingly further operations were deferred until the following morning, when, after some trouble, she was released.

A slave raid


By the morning of December 20th the expedition was once more afloat, and later in the day a halt was made at Upoto, with the object of obtaining provisions, making brotherhood with the chiefs, and, as the place promised well for a future station, purchasing some land. Treaties were also concluded with several neighbouring chiefs, and a good deal of useful work was done before Equator Station was peached (December 29th). Here all was prosperous, and a flourishing avenue of bananas, along with several other improvements, testified to the untiring energy of the two officers in charge.

New Year's Day 1884 found Stanley, accompanied by Lieutenant Coquilhat, once more ascending the Congo to revisit Iboko. This trip was, however, a mere temporary break in his westward journey; for on January 10th he was once more on his way down-stream, visiting station after station as he passed westward. Lukolela was doing well, and its chief, Mr. Glave, looked the picture of health and strength, though, owing to the natural difficulties of the site, he had done a good deal of hard work, and had plenty more before hint. Bolobo, however, was less prosperous. It had again been completely destroyed by fire, the conflagration on this occasion being the work of a delirious and dying man, who, as it appeared, desired that his obsequies should be celebrated by a grand blaze. It was impossible to arrest the flames, for not only were the walls and thatch dry as tinder, but the explosion of the shells and cartridges stored in the magazine rendered it dangerous to approach. The men, therefore, were forced to watch the destruction without being able to lift a finger to save their property. There was nothing for it but to rebuild the station, and Lieutenant Liebrechts, the officer in charge, a man not easily discouraged, set about the work with undaunted energy.

At Kwamouth and Kinshassa all was well, while Leopoldville, under Lieutenant Valcke, was as prosperous and peaceful as Stanley could desire; even Ngalyema now acted in a reasonable and consistently friendly manner. No special events marked the remainder of the journey, and early in April Stanley arrived at Vivi, where, as usual, nothing was satisfactory. No progress had been made—in fact, things were worse rather than better; and seeing no hope of improvement, Stanley decided to remove the station bodily to the larger plateau. The work was begun immediately, although Stanley's stay on the Congo was rapidly approaching its conclusion. He had indeed expected to find his successor awaiting him at Vivi; but General Gordon, who had accepted the post, withdrew at the last moment, as his own Government needed his services at Khartum, and it was not until early in May that his substitute, Colonel de Winton, arrived on the scene. During the month Stanley spent at Vivi after the colonel's arrival the new station made rapid progress, and everything looked hopeful, when, on June 6th, the pioneer of the Congo Free State, having handed over his work to others, embarked on the first stage of his voyage to Europe.