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.

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2.25. Heart of Africa Mission

August 12, 2012

This map is taken from Love at First Tooth: Family and Missionary Politics in East Africa and Congo 1913-1934 by Robin Johnson, dedicated to Elizabeth Ann Thompson Flinn who joined the heart of Africa Mission in 1915.  Niangara appears near the top of the map just south of the Sudan border.

February 21, 1914 – April 5, 1914

Personnel at Heart of Africa Mission Niangara, Congo as given in an appendix to Norman Grubb’s Christ in Congo Forests (1945)

1913 1914
Mr C T Studd 1913-31
Mr A B Buxton 1913-27
Mr H Perkins 1914-15
Miss Irene Flangham 1914-31 (Mrs Davies)
Miss L Chapman 1914-28 (Mrs Buck)
Mr S J Richardson 1914-20
Mrs S J Richardson 1914-20
Mr A J Bowers 1914-14
Mr E W Coles 1914-18

First impressions are so important.

Twenty-two year old Alfred Buxton had interrupted his medical studies to join C. T. Studd in foundingThe Heart of Africa Mission in 1913.  On meeting him, Hayes wrote: “Buxton is a tall, callow youth, apparently out of place in the bush.  It is easy to see he knows his position of family and breeding is superior to most folks, and this will not sit well with me.”  (Buxton married Studd’s daughter Edith in 1917, but broke with his father-in-law in the 1920’s to pursue his own missionary work in Ethiopia and Somalia.)

C. T. Studd Africa 1910

Fifty-four year old C. T. Studd had renounced his family fortune and his place as foremost cricketeer in England to pursue missionary work for fifteen years in China, beginning at age twenty-five, then six years in India and finally, against doctors advice, in the Congo basin.  On meeting him, Hayes wrote:  “Studd, so called pioneer and founder of this  mission is decidedly a self-centered man.  He is about five feet eight inches in height, of sallow complexion and has a thin beard and the dreamy eyes of a fanatic.  One could easily imagine them as the eyes of an opium eater.”  (Studd, a regular user of morphine in his last years,  continued his zealous missionary work until his death at 70 at Ibambi, Congo.  The Heart of Africa Mission Studd founded persists under the name Worldwide Evangelization for Christ (WEC).)

Buxton and Studd together receive this summary:  “Both [Studd] and Buxton are aware of a special dispensation from the Almighty to evangelize the world, beginning with the Dark Continent, and do not propose to let anything stand in their way doing it.”  On his second day at the “splendid” location for the Heart of Africa Mission, Hayes overheard Buxton asking Studd “whether I (Hayes) should not be relegated to a table by myself.”  Three white men alone in the jungle working out seating arrangements according to London class lines – Hayes doesn’t say what they decided, but the conversation alone told him where he had arrived.

Nevertheless, three days later Hayes wrote, “What’s the use grouching?  Do the best you can boy.”  In London he made a two-year unpaid commitment to the mission and says that upon arrival he threw every pound he had into the community chest as a gesture of good will.  Now he sets about building tables and chairs from slabs rejected from a Belgian sawing operation nearby and organizing his half-dozen Azande workmen to clearing the brush readying the ground for planting.  By now Hayes is competent to direct the workers in the Bangala language.  “Buxton criticizes all I do with all the wisdom gained in 22 years of pink tea fights, under the supervision of nurses and governesses and at school.  The practical experience I have learned in a life time about the world means nothing.”

On March 8, Hayes wrote:  “Studd has been disciplining me this week.  To do this he put me on two meals a day, one at seven in the morning, the other eight at night,  me working at hard labor in between.”  From eating bananas “or anything I could get to satisfy my hunger,” and sleeping on a camp bed with “six inches of water under it,”  lumbago sets in.  Hayes is sure he could cure himself using his own head but “Studd seemingly considers me a human guinea pig to experiment on.”

A week later, endeavoring to throw off the pain of lumbago, Hayes hiked to a nearby Mangbettu village to visit Bukinda, a small chief contracted by Studd to build a new house for the mission.  “I photographed Bukinda sitting in the midst of fourteen of his wives.  His village is scrupulously neat and clean.  the houses are decorated with designs of red, white and black … these colors stand up well, and are arranged in every sort of design, with some sort of attempt to paint men and animals, especially leopards and horses, as murals on the outer walls.”  (I know of none of Hayes’ photographs surviving.)

With Hayes not traveling, his diary becomes a little disjointed.  A paragraph or two on European explorers to the region:  Benjamin Gosling, who traveled with Boyd Alexander, lies buried at Niangara, Schweinfurth, a Russo-German explorer came through in 1870. –  Then a bit about the history of African rulers:  Munza, who was “a sort of Napoleon in his way, for he gathered all the small tribes into his empire and made them Mangbettus,” was also a notorious cannibal. – Comparisons between the local tribes with whom he lives:   The Mangbettus are ingenious crafters who make fine chairs, houses, and musical instruments; contrasted with the Azandes who “are willing to work at anything to advance themselves.”  Hayes will hire only Azandes “much to the dislike of the Mangbettus who own this side of the river.”  – But entries always returns to carping about Studd and Buxton:  Studd paid Bukinda 150 francs, about $30, for 75 men working six weeks to build his house.  Studd got a fine house; Hayes got the fallout from the unpaid workmen:  “Every one of them reproaches me, for I supervised the work.”

By the middle of April Hayes writes “I am considering leaving this place when the next dry season comes.  No one could make it in the rains.”  As the roster above indicates, Hayes lasted at The Heart of Africa well into 1915 but not without considerable conflict with, “These two men [who] spend most of their time writing to London telling of their exploits, misrepresenting the country and in every way publicizing themselves to gain further fame.”