2.30 Heart of Africa Mission

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.

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