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.

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2.22 Rejaf to Loka

July 22, 2012

Finally!  On caravan, with porters, creaking ox carts, askaris with rifles, rumors of Lions, tsetse fly, sleeping sickness… – Hayes is living the image of Africa formed when he was ten years old hearing stories of Livingstone, Stanley, and Emin Pasha on the banks of the Coquille River in Oregon.

The terrain map shows Hayes approaching the African continental divide about to enter the drainage of the Congo River.

January 24,1914 – January 30, 1914

On his last night steaming up the Nile Hayes wrote:  “Eighteen days from Khartoum, every one of them filled with vivid interest.  I have lived more in these past eighteen days than in a year in a sawmill at Eureka or in Oregon.”

During these glorious eighteen days he had to provision for himself.  “It has been largely dates bought before leaving Khartoum.  Also fruits picked from some sort of tree on the Nile plains below the Sobat, these a strong laxative, even for Arabs, who warned me.”  Never mind that – “Now for the bush in its fullness. I am glad to see it, eager to learn what lies beyond.”

For the first time Hayes writes of traveling with porters.  He makes no mention of who pays the men or how much, but he roundly criticizes “the Bimbashi or major commanding the post [who] would not permit me to divide my large boxes into small loads fit for porters up to the Congo, this being against regulations.”  From reading Hayes’ diary thus far, one feels certain the thought of a bribe to the Bimbashi never entered his mind.  “I was entwined in the mazes of red tape until there was no escape, almost had to stay here for two weeks because of some slip in further red tape at Khartoum,” where authorities had neglected to certify him free of sleeping sickness.

Among several letters sent from Studd and Buxton, who are “350 miles west of this place” at Niangara, Hayes received “a small Bangala vocabulary, more than welcome, for I know not one word.”

Alfred Buxton

Charles Thomas Studd

Hayes’ apparent readiness to cool his heels for two weeks in sleeping sickness quarantine while learning the bits of Bangala Buxton had sent called the bimbashi’s bluff:  “Castle-Smith, the bimbashi, said the Khartoum officials were to blame for the lack of proper credentials, so passed me through the quarantine and I am encamped at the first rest house a few miles west of Rejaf.”  Once “All English speaking people are behind me now,” what does one say in Bangala to the caretaker of a Sudanese rest house after hiking all day through the bush?  Hayes tries:  “Ngai alingi kosumba koko.” (Hayes’ quote)  Without comment the master of the house brought a small chicken.  Very pleased with himself, Hayes next asked “Piastre boni?” and paid “Moko” (one) for his dinner.   “This gives me great encouragement, for these meaningless words set down here are a medium of communication between me and these people.  I will not forget that expression, and will learn many more as I proceed.”

Castle-Smith relented on the quarantine but not on redistribution of the loads.  “My porters are old men and mere boys.  One of my loads weighs 67 pounds, too much for a strong man.”  In fact, “All of them are heavy and I may not open one to lighten their burdens.”  Hayes is in charge – “As the lone European, I have the papers for the caravan” – maybe he thought distribution of loads would be checked at a subsequent rest house.  Though Hayes never described the full extent of his caravan, it included several wagons “drawn by bullocks, two to each cart.  A man leads each team, another by his side with a gun.”  Hayes writes that he’ll endeavor to put the 67 pound overloaded pack onto one of the carts.  Also walking with the caravan “is a comely Bari girl” – more to be said about this “temporary wife… billed as ‘Mr. Grogan’s servant,'” later.

Tsetse Fly

On a “dry stage of six hours from Moongo (elegant) to Gangi (bamboo)” traveling by night to avoid the heat and the tsetse flies “that carry the dreaded sleeping sickness,” Hayes and his convoy dug clean water from the sands beside a dry khor and passed a rusting steam truck abandoned by the Belgians.  “Leopold did what he could to exploit this country of its easily negotiable riches before turning it over to the British, which had to be done at his death.  As porters were difficult to obtain, he sent in several of these gigantic machines.”  [Hayes correctly identifies Leopold as personally exploiting this region – the Congo colony was Leopold’s private property.  Hochschild cites scholars who estimate roughly half the population perished during Leopold’s Free State period between 1885 and 1909 – about 10 million people.  Not surprising that Hayes could find only children and old men as porters in 1914.]

Five days out from Rejaf approaching the continental divide between the drainage of the Nile and Congo rivers, the column passed out of territory where “elephants, a few rhinos, eland, topi, waterbuck and many more” hid from the noisy caravan in the scrub or dry grass into country “all granite ridges with great prophyritic (sic) dykes crosscutting the quartzite reefs striking across country.  The soil is very poor.”  The few people living in this region eat mainly “dhurra, a sort of millet that is very nourishing.  My men carry a  bag of dhurra flower, from which they make a ball of cooked dough each evening.”  Hayes says fowl cost only five cents American; he can also get soggy sweet potatoes and a little rice, “so I live well enough.”

At Loka “chief station on the way to Yei,” Hayes see the first running water since leaving Rejaf 64 miles previously.  He records the date as January 30, 1914 – so the caravan had been making a little better than 10 miles a day.  The officer in charge of the station at Loka, Captain Vandelaar, passed them through “without too much trouble,” but warned of lions on the trail ahead.  No sign of them but Hayes writes eloquently about the feel of traveling at night on watch for lions, on caravan, in the southern Sudan, in 1914:

“There is something barbaric about this hamrah, or caravan.  To see each askari with a lighted torch of close wrapped grass beside the man who leads two bullocks, the fire lighting up the long horns of the animals and shining on the gun barrels; to hear the creaking carts, the cries of the men and sometimes the sad wail of a hyena gives it a touch of Africa not understood otherwise.”