The Crime of the Congo by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1909

Chapter IV First Fruits of the System

… let us now hear that [testimony] of a Swedish clergyman, Mr. Sjoblom, as detailed in The Aborigines' Friend July, 1897. It covers much the same time as the other two, and is drawn from the Equateur district. Here is the system in full swing:

"They refuse to bring the rubber. Then war is declared. The soldiers are sent in different directions. The people in the towns are attacked, and when they are running away into the forest, and try to hide themselves, and save their lives, they are found out by the soldiers. Then their gardens of rice are destroyed, and their supplies taken. Their plantains are cut down while they are young and not in fruit, and often their huts are burnt, and, of course, everything of value is taken. Within my own knowledge forty-five villages were altogether burnt down. … The natives had left their places to go further inland. In order to separate themselves from the white men they go part of the way down the river, or else they cross the river into French territory. Sometimes the natives are obliged to pay a large indemnity. The chiefs often have to pay with brass wire and slaves, and if the slaves do not make up the amount their wives are sold to pay. I was told that by a Belgian officer.

I will give you," Mr. Sjoblom continues, "an instance of a man I saw shot right before my eyes. In one of my inland journeys, when I had gone a little further, perhaps, than the Commissary expected me to go, I saw something that perhaps he would not have liked me to see. It was at a town called Ibera, one of the cannibal towns to which no white man had ever been before. I reached it at sunset, after the natives had returned from the various places in which they had been looking for india-rubber. They gathered together in a great crowd, being curious to see a white man. Besides, they had heard I had some good news to tell them, which came through the Gospel. When that large crowd gathered, and I was just ready to preach, the sentinels rushed in among them to seize an old man. They dragged him aside a little from the crowd, and the sentinel in charge came to me and said, 'I want to shoot this man, because he has been on the river fishing to-day. He has not been on the river for india-rubber.' I told him: 'I have not authority to stop you, because I have nothing to do with these palavers, but the people are here to hear what I have to say to them, and I don't want you to do it before my eyes.' He said: 'All right, I will keep him in bonds, then, until to-morrow morning when you have gone. Then I will kill him.' But a few minutes afterwards the sentinel came in a rage to the man and shot him right before my eyes. Then he charged his rifle again and pointed it at the others, who all rushed away like chaff before the wind. He told a little boy, eight or nine years of age, to go and cut off the right hand of the man who had been shot. The man was not quite dead, and when he felt the knife he tried to drag his hand away. The boy, after some labour, cut the hand off and laid it by a fallen tree. A little later this hand was put on a fire to smoke before being sent to the Commissary."

Here we get the system at its highest. I think that picture of the child hacking off the hand of the dying man at the order of the monster who would have assuredly murdered him also had he hesitated to obey, is as diabolical a one as even the Congo could show. A pretty commentary upon the doctrine of Christ which the missionary was there to preach!

Mr. Sjoblom seems to have been unable to believe at first that such deeds were done with the knowledge and approval of the whites. He ventured to appeal to the Commissary. "He turned in anger on me," he adds, "and in the presence of the soldiers said that he would expel me from the town if I meddled with matters of that kind any more."

It would, indeed, have been rather absurd for the Commissary to interfere when the severed hand had actually been cut off in order to be presented to him. The whole procedure is explained in the following paragraph:

"If the rubber does not reach the full amount required, the sentinels attack the natives. They kill some and bring the hands to the Commissary. Others are brought to the Commissary as prisoners. At the beginning they came with their smoked hands. The sentinels, or else the boys in attendance on them, put these hands on a little kiln, and after they had been smoked, they by and by put them on the top of the rubber baskets. I have on many occasions seen this done."

For the full text see here.

 

Last Updated: 8 January 2017