IV. AMERICANS IN THE CONGO
In every other colony - French, English, German - in the native villages I saw vegetable gardens, goats, and chickens, large, comfortable, three-room huts, fences, and, especially in the German settlement of the Cameroons at Duala, many flower gardens. In Bell Town at Duala I walked for miles through streets lined with such huts and gardens, and saw whole families, the very old as well as the very young, sitting contentedly in the shade of their trees, or at work in their gardens. In the Congo native villages I saw but one old person, of chickens or goats that were not to be given to the government as taxes I saw none, and the vegetable gardens, when there were any such, were cultivated for the benefit of the chef de poste, and the huts were small, temporary, and filthy. The dogs in the kennels on my farm are better housed, better fed, and much better cared for, whether ill or well, than are the twenty millions of blacks along the Congo River. And that these human beings are so ill-treated is due absolutely to the cupidity of one man, and to the apathy of the rest of the world. And it is due as much to the apathy and indifference of whoever may read this as to the silence of Elihu Root or Sir Edward Grey. No one can shirk his responsibility by sneering, "Am I my brother's keeper?" The Government of the United States and the thirteen other countries have promised to protect these people, to care for their "material and moral welfare," and that promise is morally binding upon the people of those countries. How much Leopold cares for the material welfare of the natives is illustrated by the prices he pays the "boys" who worked on the government steamer in which I went up the Kasai. They were bound on a three months' voyage, and for each month's work on this trip they were given in payment their rice and eighty cents. That is, at the end of the trip they received what in our money would be equivalent to two dollars and forty cents. And that they did not receive in money, but in "trade goods," which are worth about ten per cent less than their money value. So that of the two dollars and eighty cents that is due them, these black boys, who for three months sweated in the dark jungle cutting wood, are robbed by this King of twenty-four cents. One would dislike to grow rich at that price.
In the French Congo I asked the traders at Libreville what they paid their boys for cutting mahogany. I found the price was four francs a day without "chop," or three and a half francs with "chop." That is, on one side of the river the French pay in cash for one day's work what Leopold pays in trade goods for the work of a month. As a result the natives run away to the French side, and often, I might almost say invariably, when at the poste de bois on the Congo side we would find two cords of wood, on the other bank at the post for the French boats we would count two hundred and fifty cords of wood. I took photographs of the native villages in all the colonies, in order to show how they compared - of the French and Belgian wood posts, the one well stocked and with the boys lying about asleep or playing musical instruments, or alert to trade and barter, and on the Belgian side no wood, and the unhappy white man alone, and generally shivering with fever. Had the photographs only developed properly they would have shown much more convincingly than one can write how utterly miserable is the condition of the Congo negro. And the condition of the white man at the wood posts is only a little better. We found one man absolutely without supplies. He was only twenty-four hours distant from Leopoldville, but no supplies had been sent him. He was ill with fever, and he could eat nothing but milk. Captain Jensen had six cans of condensed milk, which the State calculated should suffice for him and his passengers for three months. He turned the lot over to the sick man.
We found another white man at the first wood post on the Kasai just above where it meets the Congo. He was in bed and dangerously ill with enteric fever. He had telegraphed the State at Leopoldville and a box of medicines had been sent to him; but the State doctors had forgotten to enclose any directions for their use. We were as ignorant of medicines as the man himself, and, as it was impossible to move him, we were forced to leave him lying in his cot with the row of bottles and tiny boxes, that might have given him life, unopened at his elbow. It was ten days before the next boat would touch at his post. I do not know that it reached him in time. One could tell dozens of such stories of cruelty to natives and of injustice and neglect to the white agents.
The fact that Leopold has granted to American syndicates control over two great territories in the Congo may bring about a better state of affairs, and, in any event, it may arouse public interest in this country. It certainly should be of interest to Americans that some of the most prominent of their countrymen have gone into close partnership with a speculator as unscrupulous and as notorious as is Leopold, and that they are to exploit a country which as yet has been developed only by the help of slavery, with all its attendant evils of cruelty and torture.
That Leopold has no right to give these concessions is a matter which chiefly concerns the men who are to pay for them, but it is an interesting fact.
The Act of Berlin expressly states: "No Power which exercises, or shall exercise, sovereign rights in the above-mentioned regions, shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favor of any kind in matters of trade."