Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo, by Richard F. Burton

Chapter 17.

Concluding Remarks.

I have thus attempted to trace a picture of the Congo River in the latter days of the slave-trade, and of its lineal descendant, “L’Immigration Africaine.” The people at large are satisfied, and the main supporters of the traffic — the chiefs, the “medicine-men,” and the white traders — have at length been powerless to arrest its destruction.

And here we may quote certain words of wisdom from the “Congo Expedition” in 1816: “It is not to be expected that the effects of abolition will be immediately perceptible; on the contrary, it will probably require more than one generation to become apparent: for effects, which have been the consequence of a practice of three centuries, will certainly continue long after the cause is removed.” The allusion in the sentence which I have italicized, is of course, to the American exportation — domestic slavery must date from the earliest ages. These sensible remarks conclude with advocating “colonization in the cause of civilization;” a process which at present cannot be too strongly deprecated.

That the Nzadi is capable of supplying something better than slaves may be shown by a list of what its banks produce. Merolla says in 1682: “Cotton here is to be gathered in great abundance, and the shrubs it grows on are so prolific, that they never almost leave sprouting.” Captain Tuckey (“Narrative,” p. 120) declares “the only vegetable production at Boma of any consequence in commerce is cotton, which grows wild most luxuriantly, but the natives have ceased to gather it since the English have left off trading to the river,” I will not advocate tobacco, cotton and sugar; they are indigenous, it is true, but their cultivation is hardly fitted to the African in Africa. Copper in small quantities has been brought from the interior, but the mineral resources of the wide inland regions are wholly unknown. If reports concerning mines on the plateau be trustworthy, there will be a rush of white hands, which must at once change, and radically change, all the conditions of the riverine country. Wax might be supplied in large quantities; the natives, however, have not yet learnt to hive their bees. Ivory was so despised by the slave-trade, that it was sent from the upper Congo to Mayumba and the other exporting harbours; demand would certainly produce a small but regular supply.

The two staples of commerce are now represented by palm-oil, which can be produced in quantities over the lowlands upon the whole river delta, and along the banks from the mouth to Boma, a distance of at least fifty direct miles. The second, and the more important, is the arachis, or ground-nut, which flourishes throughout the highlands of the interior, and which, at the time of my visit, was beginning to pay. As the experience of some thirty years on different parts of the West Coast has proved, both these articles are highly adapted to the peculiarities of the negro cultivator; they require little labour, and they command a ready, a regular, and a constant sale.

When time shall be ripe for a bonâ fide emigration, the position of Boma, at the head of the delta, a charming station, with healthy air and delicious climate, points it out as the head-quarters. Houses can be built for nominal sums, the neighbouring hills offer a sanatorium, and due attention to diet and clothing will secure the white man from the inevitable sufferings that result from living near the lower course.

With respect to the exploration of the upper stream, these pages, compared with the records of the “First Congo Expedition,” will show the many changes which time has brought with it, and will suggest the steps most likely to forward the traveller’s views. At some period to come explorers will follow the line chosen by the unfortunate Tuckey; but the effects of the slave-trade must have passed away before that march can be made without much obstruction. When Lieutenant Grandy did me the honour of asking my advice, I suggested that he might avoid great delay and excessive outlay by “turning” the obstacle and by engaging “Cabindas” instead of Sierra Leone men. At the Royal Geographical Society (Dec. 14th, 1874) he thus recorded his decision: “For the guidance of future travellers in the Congo country, I would suggest that all the carriers be engaged at Sierra Leone, where any number can be obtained for 1s. 3d. a day. From my experience of them I can safely say they will be found to answer every requirement, and the employment of them would render an expedition entirely independent of the natives, who, by their cowardice and constant desertion, entailed upon us such heavy expenses and serious delays. My conviction, after nearly four years of travel upon the West African coast, is this: if Sierra Leone men be used, they must be mixed with Cabindas and with Congoese “carregadores,” registered in presence of the Portuguese authorities at S. Paulo de Loanda.

I conclude with the hope that the great Nzadi, one of the noblest, and still the least known of the four principal African arteries, will no longer be permitted to flow through the White Blot, a region unexplored and blank to geography as at the time of its creation, and that my labours may contribute something, however small, to clear the way for the more fortunate explorer.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06