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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2.31 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.