2.32 Heart of Africa Mission

September 30, 2012

Hayes Perkins commenting on the lives of African women reveals much about his compassion, his sense of moral rectitude, his naiveté, his iron resolve, and his inability to address continent-wide, world-wide, colonial abuses.  However one values Hayes’ observations on this subject, at least he quotes directly the voice of one African woman speaking for herself.

February 21, 1914 – December 24, 1914

Of course the Beligian officers left Niangara for the war fronts in Kamerun and German East Africa leading columns of African soldiers. Askaris recruited on both sides of the conflict bore the brunt of the fighting over European colonial boundaries throughout WWI.

Askaris in German East Africa
photo by Walther Dobbertin

Hayes writes that the Belgians kept a large well-trained askari contingent stationed at Niangara prior to the outbreak of the war fearing an uprising of the Azandes:  “Renzi, Mopoie and Bukoyo, to say nothing of Akengai, all have several thousands of warriors behind them, and all they lack is arms to drive the Belgians out of the northern Congo.”   With German artillery and machine guns posing a more immediate threat than native uprising, the Belgians immediately rushed the trained Niangaran troops to the front replacing them with newly enlisted men to keep the native chiefs in hand.

Photographs from the period show the askaris fully equipped with modern weapons.  Hayes does not record their payment except to note that the Belgians gave each soldier a wife – all of  whom were abandoned, often with children, when their soldiers marched off to the front to fight for a Belgian Government that took no official concern for the providence of their wives and children.

Initially, Jenssen-Tusch, commander of the Niangara station, whom Hayes describes as “a kind hearted Dane,” donated 10 centimes food allowance to each woman daily.  Jenssen-Tusch’s charity didn’t last long; by September 25 his fund was exhausted “and the girls are wandering about the country in bands, purchasing their living in the only way they know how.”

Zande Woman with Child
Photo by Richard Buchta circa 1880

By September, 1914, Hayes was fluent enough in Bangala to ask some of the women if they hadn’t some other recourse.  He translates one woman’s bitter reply:  “Musungu, we were taken from our homes against our wills and given to this soldier.  He has gone away, and we have no garden, no home, no place where we may find a living.  The men who belonged to us have been taken away.  If we return home (which we may not, it is very far) we will but be made slaves what else can we do?”

Hayes writes, “I cannot answer their queries.”

Studd, Buxton, and the Heart of Africa Mission are significant by omission in Hayes’ account of this abandonment of the military wives.  Perhaps even with the best of intentions, the scope of the disruption would have overwhelmed the young mission’s scant resources –  Hayes accounts more than 800 women forced into prostitution at Niangara and “It is so in every post in the Congo.”  If the missionaries bear no blame, Hayes delivers a scathing summary of the colonial government’s response:  “Little do the Belgians care, for there are always more women when these are gone, more where they are going, so why worry?”

Hairdressing among Mangbetu Women
Photo Eliot Elifoson 1970

In late November Hayes enters another note concerning these abandoned wives of the askaris who “waylay” him at the post “everywhere I turn.”  What could he do?  The women knew that he would not help them in the commercial manner to which they’ve been forced.  What could he say?  “It is futile to tell them what they should do, what they need is bread.”  He muses with resignation that “gradually they will be absorbed into the general population, as wives to newly enlisted askaris or taken up by chiefs and into the general body of the Mangbettu and Azande peoples.”

As a 36-year-old celibate American man who lived in northern Belgian Congo less than a year, Hayes Perkins may not be best qualified to comment on the lives of the local African women. Nevertheless, his last lengthy passage on women before leaving the Congo concerns the newly arrived Belgian officers who had accompanied the missionary reinforcements arriving at the Heart of Africa in December of 1914.  Askaris were sent to find “jewels for the haremlike (sic) at Niangara, for this is the Belgian way.”  Hayes observes that as long as her beauty lasts a woman will be kept as a Belgian plaything.  But time wears her down or her officer leaves with empty promises of return.  She then becomes wife to an African soldier or house boy; eventually falls to field labor; then to begging when too weak to to work.  “Then she dies, and a few of her sisters bewail her passing.  She is a thousand times better off dead.  Being a woman is hell in Africa.”

And then, four days later, lest a reader get a simplified impression of Hayes’ complex relationship to women, he writes:  “Mangbettu ladies have been making one last tremendous effort to seduce me, even to slipping into my room at night naked. …  Sometime I hate women. …  As a boy I believed them to be the emblem of all that was pure and good.  I believe many are now, but most are filled with dissimulation.”

All this just as Miss Flangham, whom Hayes believes “has been sent here by Studd’s order as a helpmate for me,” arrives to bolster the mission work at Niangara.  Hayes sees “a spoiled kiddy of 28 … accustomed to servants, [who] requires a party to wait on her.”

Time to flee this place.

2.31 Heart of Africa Mission

September 24, 2012

The African Geopolitical situation at the outbreak of World War I.

February 21, 1914 – December 24, 1914

On August 1, 1914, Studd and Buxton returned to the station at Niangara full of renewed evangelical zeal.  Their trip south had netted from the Belgians several large concessions for missions as far south as Wamba on the edge of the Ituri Forest.

The fundamental conflict between C. T. Studd and Hayes Perkins hinged not on lack of recognition for Hayes’ talents as a gardener, builder, and overseer.  In fact, Studd must have been impressed with the orderliness of the Niangara station when he returned from southern explorations because for a second time Hayes overheard Studd saying to Buxton that Hayes was “too good a man to lose.”  Only loneliness and a feeling of helplessness, trapped by daily deluges 2000 miles from either the east or west coast of Africa with only 63 francs in his pocket, tempted Hayes to accept Studd’s praise and leadership.

Uele River near Dungu

On hearing from Studd that he was too good a man to lose, Hayes immediately wrote, “The rotten hypocrites!”

For Hayes, if a man was a good man, as evidenced by his works, then that man deserved respect and consultation as an equal even if he gave final decisions over to his leader.  Hayes understood leadership as earned by “square dealing” on both sides: the subordinate must give an honest day’s work, but to deserve that from his worker, the leader must appreciate the worker’s talents and initiatives, informing leadership decisions by the worker’s abilities.  Hayes successfully led his Azande men in precisely this way and remained stupefied that C. T. Studd failed to appreciate this style as responsible for the beauty of the Niangara station.  Neither class, ownership, wealth, nor even divine calling conferred authority for Hayes – only merit and recognition of merit.  Studd tried to secure Hayes’ honest day’s work with bluster, prayer, and even the requisitioning of a “helpmate” from England, all the while repeatedly insulting Hayes’ multiple competences, thereby  fundamentally misunderstanding the boss’ end of a “square deal.”

Gavrilo Princip

Archduke Ferdinand

Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914.  The Russian Empire, Austria-Hungary, The German Empire, France and the United Kingdom had all declared war by August 4, 1914.  And, perhaps of most concern to the three non-Africans at the Niangara station in the Belgian Congo, Britain had entered what came to be known as World War I when Germany replied unsatisfactorily to an ultimatum that Belgium must remain neutral.  Germany promptly overran Belgium in early August enroute to attack France.

Studd, Buxton, and Perkins first learned about the outbreak of WWI on August 19, 1914 when an official telegram arrived from Rejaf announcing fighting between Russia, Serbia, and Austria.  Africans around Niangara, on the other hand, had been “prattling” about fighting in Europe (between Britian and Belgium as they understood it) for days prior to the 19th “and the slow witted white man knew nothing of it.”  News arrived to central Africa much more rapidly via native drums than European telegrams.

By 1914, one or another of the European powers ruled nearly all of Africa in a disjointed colonial patchwork.  When WWI began, the Belgian Congo (roughly 75 times the area of Belgium and no longer the private property of King Leopold) was flanked on two sides by German colonies:  Kamerun to the west, German East Africa to the east.  Thus, not surprisingly Colonial Africa hosted some of the earliest battles of WWI.  On August 19, when news of the war finally registered on those of European descent at the Niangara station via the telegram, Hayes wrote:  “One can little realize the anxiety we felt marooned away in the middle of Africa, so far removed from the seat of war and yet so vitally concerned.”

On September 25, 1914, Hayes wrote that nearly all the Belgian officers formerly stationed at Niangara had been called away to one or the other fronts of the African colonial war:  some fighting with the French on the Kamerun Front, others sent to Lake Kivu and Tanganyika on the German East African Front.

Given the world political situation, and his American heritage, Hayes said he would have joined the British Navy given the opportunity but he wasn’t about to go galloping off with the Belgian officers and their African troops fighting at the borders of the Congo.  He stayed at the mission outside Niangara until walking out on Studd and Buxton Christmas Eve 1914.  In the two months before leaving Niangara, Hayes recorded remarkably compassionate passages concerning the devastating effect of the Eruproean war on the African women at Niangara.

2.30 Heart of Africa Mission

September 16, 2012

When left alone by Studd and Buxton to mediate between Azande and Mangbettu at the mission, Hayes tries a more pragmatic approach than that of  the “two apostles”:  digging a well for fresh water, then a fence into the river to protect those going to the river from crocodiles – and of course cultivating the gardens to share the largesse.  Nevertheless, when a fist and spear fight breaks out between twenty burly Mangbettu and Hayes backed by somewhat fewer Azandes, a reader marvels again that Hayes survived his adventures.

February 21, 1914 – December 24, 1914

Just before Studd and Buxton left on their first trip looking for new mission sites south and west of Niangara, Hayes wrote, referring to the three hour morning and evening evangelical exhortations Buxton lead, ” ‘services’ continue and these have driven the workmen into my arms.  Now they realize who is their friend, and if I was alone I could win the confidence of the people about us.  They half trust me now…”

Trust or no, Europeans give the orders at this station in central Africa.  In June, the middle of the rainy season, the Welle River rose high enough to overflow the station’s spring.  When Hayes directed the men to start digging a well on higher ground hoping to intersect the underground watercourse before its outlet at the spring, “The men don’t like the job, say finding water in such a manner is impossible.”  But Studd didn’t contravene Hayes’ order, so the men grumbled and kept digging.

As the rising river fouled their fresh water source, the accompanying turbidity increased the danger from crocodiles who, Hayes explained, can’t see their natural prey in the muddy waters, so stalk humans “with infinite cunning and patience.”  Hayes blames the “shiftless Belgians” for four deaths from crocodiles on the riverbank at Niangara in the week of June 8, 1914.  Following a design he saw the British build on the Nile, Hayes and his men constructed a protective fence extending into the water.  Rather than build such a fence of their own to protect the residents at Niangara, the Belgians “send long lines of chained prisoners here to carry water to the town,”  leaving those who seek water from the river at Naingara to their unprotected chances.

The crocodiles took a fifth victim, not attributed to the Belgians, that same week.  Hayes called him “Poor old Tikima, a genial Mangbettu.”  Seized by a crocodile while setting a fish trap, Tikima grabbed for the side of his canoe.  “…It was a long time before he weakened and was dragged under, so the attacking crocodile must have been small.”

Mangbetu musician, early twentieth century

Right after Studd and Buxton left, the well-diggers hit water “and now my men are proudly proclaiming their magic to the natives of the surrounding country, how they found water beneath the earth.”

While the Azande workmen boasted, the Mangbettus came to Hayes making “friendly approach.”  They say they can see “that these two men (Studd and Buxton) treat me as rotten as they have them (the mangbettus).”  The Mangbettus bring their daughters offered as temporary wives in a show of good faith.  “If a normal man said these girls were not a temptation he would be a liar.…  I might if inclined have a harem here that would make that of Brigham Young look like a second rate affair…”

But enough of that – “the garden is maturing, the palms are hanging full of yellow fruit, my recently planted fruit trees, the many bananas and plantains and pineapple re growing.  This alone makes me happy.”

Schweinfurth’s drawing of Azande Warriors circa 1874

Shortly after his initial cordial approach, Mombidi (a minor Mangbettu chief) came to Hayes demanding alcohol.  Hayes’ refusal resulted in the loss of all Mangbettu goodwill and a row about the Azande workmen on the Mangbettu side of the river.  Mombidi demanded the Azandes return to their own territory attempting to enforce his order with twenty men who entered Hayes’ house “and insulted me before my men.”  In the resulting scuffle, “I jabbed with a spear at their feet, cutting one severely.”  A melee broke out inside the house.  “There were not so many of us as of the Mangbettus, but we were on our own soil and they were the invaders.  I have a badly swelled hand, for Negro heads are solid.”

By mid July, 1914, Hayes and his Azande workers had made the mission station beautiful.  On a clear African morning, Hayes stood amid cultivated gardens beneath young palm trees gazing across the well-cleared shores to the Azande country on the other side of the Welle River listening to the incessant talking of the drums.  “They have a drum system as good as telegraph, sending messages five hundred miles in a day.”  Most native people understand the drums; a young boy listening can tell Hayes what a chief will be sending to market on Saturday and the characteristics of any European within three days of Niangara.

Much to Hayes’ dismay, the drums foretell the return of C. T. Studd and Alfred Buxton on August 1.

2.29 Heart of Africa Mission

September 9, 2012

The previous three segments, 2.26-2.28, summarize the year-long harangue Hayes directed toward Studd and Buxton while at the missionary station 3 km from Niangara.  The next few segments concern the diary entries for the same period focusing on Hayes observations of this part of Africa and its inhabitants.  The work he undertook to build a mission site and his interactions with the African residents, especially when Studd and Buxton are away, reveal by example, perhaps more clearly than any other portion of his diary, how Hayes believed missionary work, and colonization in general, ought to have been done.

February 21, 1914 – December 24, 1914

Georg August Schweinfurth

Georg August Schweinfurth

Immediately on arrival at Niangara, March 1, 1914, Hayes records the local African political situation. The Welle River separates two antagonistic tribes: “the Azandes to the north, with the Mangettus south of the river.” He writes that the Mangbettu, “comprise several smaller tribes who were conquered and unified by a great chief named Munza some 70 or 80 years ago.” The German biologist Georg August Schweinfurth traveled through this region bringing the River Uele (Welle) to European attention in 1870; Hayes says that Munza was still living at the time and hosted Schweinfurth for “a considerable time.”  Schweinfurth wrote about cannibalism among the tribes he encountered – and Hayes confirms the practice:  “They eat men still if they can get away with it, but the various European powers frown on this unnatural feasting, though they wink at anything else.

Head binding from Christ in Congo Forests

By now the appearance of the natives cannot be shocking to Hayes, nevertheless he records what he sees: “Most of the people are cicatrized and tattooed. Woman have holes cut in their ears one may easily slip his thumb through. Many of the people have elongated skulls, this caused by binding the heads of young babies until the skull is as long as the rest of the child. We see them constantly, the child apparently in a comatose state, yet able to nurse.”

Though the Niangara station sat on the south side of the Welle River in Mangbettu territory, Hayes and his two British overseers preferred to hire Azande workers as laborers about the station, “for Mangbettus feel it a disgrace to work.”  Nevertheless, Hayes compliments the Mangbettus as “the most ingenious of all Africans I have thus far seen.”  On showing a Mangbettu crafter a chair for ten minutes “he will turn it about, fold and unfold it, observing it in every way.  He needs no further instruction, for he can remember every detail.  In a week he will return and sell you an even better imitation than the original….”  Hayes notes the Mangbettus well-built houses, murals, weavings, deck chairs, ornate stools, and  “marvelous, if crude musical instruments … on which they play real music.”  Disclosing much about his own definition of “work,” Hayes writes, “Yet these same men scorn work….”  Hence the missionaries bring Azandes to the south side of the river abrading the territorial prerogative of the Mangbettu.

Mangbetu Harp circa 1910 from The Beedle Museum

Hayes writes that in Schweinfurth’s day, Arab slave traders arrived at Munza’s kingdom traveling in the dry season by way of Bahr El Ghazal to stay through the rainy months gathering slaves and ivory – a coveted assignment because Munza bestowed “wives in abundance” on the traders since “Munza wanted the half caste Arabs in his tribe.”  This gives Hayes an opportunity to record the beauty of the Mangbettu women. “One can easily understand why the Arab slavers wished to remain behind in the Mangbettu country. These girls often have the figures like that of Venus De Milo… Their garb is the merest suggestion of a covering for their loins. They build great basket-like headgear atop their already elongated skulls to make their heads appear higher, and the effect of the flattened skull is rather pleasing.” As Hayes learns the language, the women ask “why be lonely” and “their menfolk urge me to accept one or more temporary wives.” Of course, Hayes politely declines.

Mangbettu coiffure circa 1930

Hayes gives no description of the Azande women, commenting instead on the jealousy of the men. All is fine should a chief bestow one or even several temporary wives on a European. But among the Azande, “there must be no fornication, especially adultery. Such offenses are severely punished by relatives of the woman.” The reader can infer from Hayes’ observations that the temptations were stronger than the deterrent: “It is an every-day sight to see some Azande with ears clipped close to his head, nose cut off or even fingers and thumbs lopped for playing fast and loose with some man’s wife or daughter.” He makes no comment about what might happen to a European transgressor.

By the end of May, despite the torrential rains every afternoon that swell the Welle to 200 meters width, Hayes has built several outhouses for fowls and cows, planted 1100 bananas and plantains, 1000 pineapples, and more than 200 fruit trees: mangoes, avocado pears, limes lemons, oranges, and custard apples.  “One can accomplish so much in a short time in a land like this, where all produce grows an inch, or two inches overnight.”

From the mission station three kilometers outside the town, every Saturday Hayes hears the women loudly “chaffing one another with their bargaining” as thousands gather at the Niangara market.  “I delight to attend this fair, and now, understanding the Bangala tongue well (three months after his arrival) can give backchat to the shriveled, but laughing old mammies who conduct the sales.  How they delight to bargain!”

If not for his companions at the mission, all would be well.  “The estate is in splendid shape…. Belgians visiting us are loud in vocalizing their admiration for it in so short a time, and if I can keep it like this I will have accomplished something anyway in Africa.”

Admiration for African crafting and their exotic customs that he pronounces beautiful, pride of accomplishment, a burgeoning garden – all this leaks around the diary’s nearly continuous disparagement of Studd, Buxton, and the Belgians who administer this region.  How nice to imagine Hayes laughing  with an old Mangbettu woman in a prosperous marketplace trying to get an extra couple eggs for his one franc instead of quarreling with a missionary.

2.28 Heart of Africa Mission

September 2, 2012

On giving his diary to my grandfather, Hayes Perkins instructed that it not be published until everyone mentioned therein had died.  Perkins’ candor concerning the misdeeds of powerful men, as recorded in this segment, undoubtedly informed that instruction.

February 21, 1914 – December 24, 1914

Buxton closed discussion of the tax medals with what seemed a repugnant bit of evangelical sophistry to Hayes:  “to do the lesser evil to gain the greater good.”

Hayes’ first mentions alcohol abuse at The Heart of Africa Mission on April 30, 1914, two months after his arrival there.  On that date Buxton informed Hayes that “I was unfit to leave a station alone with, so Studd could not go home at this time.  The reason is, I combat their liquor activities constantly, for if there be any sense of decency it should at least exclude drunkenness.”  Mombidi, who is Mangbettu chief of this region, demanded liquor from Hayes claiming he had already received liquor from Studd.  Even if Hayes suspected the veracity of Mombidi’s word, he knew from firsthand experience that Studd and Buxton, at the very least, tolerated drunkenness among the natives:  “Both these men sneered at me the first day I saw them for remarking at the sodden condition of the entire Mangbettu people.”  Hayes had arrived in the midst of the month-long orgy of dancing, singing, and drinking a sort of beer made from murru (a kind of millet) that ripens in the regional dry season.

In his history of the Heart of Africa Mission, Christ in Congo Forests,Norman Grubb, who married C. T. Studd’s daughter Pauline and came with her to the mission in 1919, writes that the station outside  Niangara was only intended as a staging ground for establishing missions deeper into the Ituri forest.  

Pauline (Studd) Grubb

Norman P. Grubb

Apparently the work of obtaining concessions in areas not already proselytized by Catholic priests pressed heavily enough on Studd and Buxton to overcome their fears of leaving the Niangara station alone in the hands of Hayes Perkins.  When the pair left on June 21, 1914, Mombidi immediately came round to Hayes demanding whiskey.  “He said he could see by the way they treated me I was of lower rank….  As he [Mombidi] was a chief and of equal rank with Studd and Buxton, then I was his inferior and must bring him gifts when they were absent.”   Hayes’ first responded incredulously, “It seemed so ridiculous I laughed, thinking he was jesting.”  But an hour later, Mombidi sent “six husky henchmen” with a demand for corn from Hayes’ garden.  He chased them off; they loosed a bull in his garden; the Azande gardeners chased the (bloody) bull back to Mombidi’s village; and Hayes “took the herdsman in hand, he being rather cheeky.”

By June 28, in an attempt to recover face with his tribesmen, Mombidi had forbidden any Mangbettu to bring any sort of food to the lone musungu (here meaning white man) at the mission.  For his part, Hayes ponders:  “I wonder if these two charlatans have been sweetening this old cannibal with booze to get a concession?  He [Mombidi] says so, as do his subjects.  When all Negroes agree on one thing, it is usually so.  I am inclined to believe it, but it is too unchristian for one to accept.”

Hayes writes that Studd and Buxton returned on August 1, 1914, “full of self praise of their achievements… in obtaining further concessions.”  They had taken the best native workers with them and now, “My men, whom they had with them on the trip, are cheeky and out of hand.  They too demand whiskey saying these two men who pose as missionaries freely gave them drink during the trip.”  These same men challenged Hayes later in the month as he tried to reassert control.  He quotes their reasoning: “You say that munsungu (whiskey) is bad for us.  These two men who are over you tell us it is good, and when we were at Wamba and Nala they gave us of it to drink freely.  We ourselves like it.  Whom shall we believe?”  This exchange prompted another of the assemblages by Studd at which the men were told to disregard anything Hayes said to them.

On October 6, 1914 Studd and Buxton left again in a great canoe with Bakango boatmen to take them to Bambili 160 miles down river.  To this point, Hayes could, with difficulty, dismiss the allegations of Mombidi and the other workmen as unfounded talk.  However on October 30 he writes of finding direct evidence “of this man’s utter perfidy and double dealing.”  In the absence of “the two apostles,” Hayes was entrusted with keys to every lock at the mission.  Ever since arriving he’d been short of tools and forbidden by Studd from opening several boxes prominently marked “Tools”.  So, in Studd’s absence, Hayes opened one of them – “not through inquisitiveness but to find perhaps a hammer or saw to aid in my work.  The first contained French cognac, the second Old Scoth Whiskey.  Now I see how Mombidi got his booze, how the boys acting as porters insisted liquor was given them.  There are seven of these cases, and at least two empty ones long ago noted.”

Hayes wrote a letter “resigning my commission,” counted his remaining 67 francs, and prepared to quit the mission rain or no.

His scant funding and the rains prevented Hayes from leaving for another two months.  In that time Buxton returned to Niangara traveling with the Reverend William Haas an American Baptist missionary with the Africa Inland Mission.  In a moment alone together, Haas asked Hayes why “I was discontented with this place and my companions.”  Hayes opened a case of scotch and poured a glass for Haas to smell – without drinking of course.  Haas then confessed that while traveling with Buxton at three meetings in the south “Buxton handed out liquor openly, saying there was nothing in the Bible against it, and that polygamy was not condemned in the Scriptures.”  Haas said he, “differed with them, and that is that.”  Haas’ inaction in the face of evident wrongdoing infuriated Hayes:  “Evidently Haas, like Buxton is willing to do the lesser evil that the greater good may come, so will compromise with these two advocates of a new faith which encompasses all the sins dear to the heart of man in this world and promises a haven of bliss on the other side of life in the skies.  They easily outdo Mohamed, who did at least adjure booze.”

Even after the 1914 contingent of new missionaries arrived on December 21, Hayes remained the sole voice raised against alcohol as a missionary technique practiced by Studd and Buxton at the Heart of Africa Mission.   Hayes denounced their practices to Richardson, one of the new arrivals and “the only real man among them.”  Richardson loudly confronted Buxton and applauded Hayes’ rejection of the 40 pounds Buxton offered “to carry me to the coast, which is of course hush money.”  Nevertheless, Grubb in Christ in Congo Forests records that Richardson and his wife stayed on at the mission until 1920.

So, the day before Christmas 1914, Hayes gathered up a group of porters and walked out of the Heart of Africa Mission a lone dissenter in both word and action.