2.31 Heart of Africa Mission

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.

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One Response to 2.31 Heart of Africa Mission

  1. Once again, Hayes seems to find himself in the middle of everything even when he’s apparently in the middle of nowhere.

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