Joseph H. (Joseph Hankinson) Reading.

A voyage along the western coast, or, Newest Africa : a description of newest Africa, or the Africa of to-day and the immediate future online

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somewhere on the lower course of the Congo a site for a
commercial city, but if it be on the south bank of the river
it will be the territory of another nation, for Portugal owns
the left bank of the river farther up than ocean steamers
can ascend.

This magnificent river, which drains one of the richest
and most fertile regions of the earth, will probably never
have a large commercial city near its mouth. As heavy
draft ocean steamers cannot ascend it fifty miles from the
sea, it is altogether probable that the greater part of its
commerce will come by rail to various points on the coast,
both north and south of its mouth, where there is abundant
room for cities, and where ocean steamers may come
alongside piers and receive the produce direct from the
railway cars.

Moreover the course of the river is such that the
southern affluents may be more easily reached by a railway
from Ambrizette ; and the northern affluents by a railway
from Batanga, than either of these can be from ascending
the Congo itself. A railway due east from Batanga to the
Albert Nyanza, a distance of fifteen hundred miles, would
cross the most of the navigable affluents of the Congo from
the north ; and a railway from Ambrizette to Lake Tan-
ganika, a distance of twelve hundred miles, would cross all
the southern affluents near the head of navigation of each
of them, and would run through a magnificent country fit
to be the abode of millions of our own race.

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VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

In our own country but a small portion of the products
of our great Central Valley find their way through the
mouths of the Mississippi to the Gulf ; the great bulk of
these products being carried by railways to the various
Atlantic sea-ports. If this is true in regard to our own
great river, how much more w r ill it be of the Congo, which
is so full of falls and rapids near the sea, as to be totally
unnavigable ? We may reasonably expect that but a small
portion of the products of the immense and fertile territory
drained by the Congo will ever pass Banana Point.

Our friends went on shore at Banana and visited the
various factories ; they found them much the same as in
the Bonny River, except that they were closer together,
and built so as to economize room. The agents told them
that trade was not so good as formerly ; not but that as
much produce was received, as was the case years ago, but
the prices were higher, the market rates in Europe lower,
and the expense of collecting greater. In former times the
native ' people brought the produce from the interior to
Banana for exchange, just as they now bring it to Duke-
town, in the Old Calabar River ; but now they are obliged
to go up the river after it, and then pay higher prices.
They admitted the new order of things might bring pros-
perity to the country, but they saw in this result small
comfort for themselves. Already their factories had become
little else than receiving and forwarding stations, and soon
they would be reduced to the position of mere warehouses
— a stepping-stone in the march of commerce from the rich
valleys of the interior to the markets of Europe.

The Kisanga's passengers made a short stay at the
factories, and soon wended their way to the hotel, where a
good breakfast put them in a comfortable frame of mind
and made the outlook for the future appear in a more
cheerful light than when listening to the complaints of the
factory people. They recognized this as a transition period

182



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

from the old ways to the new ; a transition that might not
greatly benefit the Banana factories, but which would bring
a greater measure of prosperity to the country, and, in the
end, greater profit to the commercial firms themselves,
although this profit would not be earned at Banana, but at
many new points up the river. They also began to see
clearly that the best pathway to the Congo Valley was not
up the Congo itself, but from points on the coast where
there was abundant room for cities and sufficient anchorage
for ships.

The great Congo Valley is, perhaps, take it all in all,
the richest in natural resources, and the most highly
favored of any region of the earth of like extent. The
larger portion of this vast territory is included in the Congo
Free State, but very considerable portions also belong to
Portugal, France and Germany. Through the centre of
this region flows the mighty Congo, with manylarge fresh
water lakes upon the eastern and southeastern border.
The greater portion of this central plain is an elevated
plateau, and all around the rim are hills and mountains.
From the hills encircling this vast basin come the affluents
of the Congo, and embosomed among the mountains are
the great lakes already mentioned. A range of low moun-
tains near the sea-coast interrupts navigation by filling the
river with cascades and rapids for a distance of nearly three
hundred miles of its course. This apparently unfortunate
state of affairs is really a blessing, for it gives the central
valley a considerable elevation, which in this equatorial
region is a matter of much importance. It is true it inter-
rupts navigation, but our experience in America of railway,
as against water communication, shows us that this is a
triffling matter. While river steamers may not descend to
the sea, there is yet more than five thousand miles of inland
navigation connected with the main river, besides, in the
aggregate, several thousand miles of navigation of affluents

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VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

above the falls that they each have, not far from their
debouchure into the main river.

The great central valley of the Congo, while it is upon
a plateau, is , nevertheless a comparatively flat basin of
alluvial soil. Here is found that dense, dark forest so
eloquently described by the heroic Stanley ; here also are
the dwarfs, cannibals, and all the other horrors which
travelers delight to describe to a gaping world, and which
has led the unthinking to conclude that the entire con-
tinent is made up of this kind of nonsense. It is not sur-
prising that the deep forest, stimulated into luxuriant
growth by a rich soil, abundant moisture, and a tropic sun,
should develop some monstrosities, just as is the case in the
slums of London, but this abnormal condition of affairs is
confined to a comparatively limited area ; yet it is doubt-
less true that this forest region in the central basin, will be
the last to be conquered by man in the interest of civiliza-
tion and the good of the race.

Immigration and colonization will follow the cool,
open, healthy, hill country, which is more accessible from
other points than from the great river itself. The northern
rim of the great basin can be best reached by a railway
from Batanga to the Albert Nyanza ; from the northeast by
a railway now being built by the Germans from the East
Coast to the Victoria Nyanza ; from the east by a railway
from Zanzibar to the Tanganika ; from the southeast by
the Shire River and Lake Nyassa ; but the best route of
all, and the one to be first tried is from the west, by a rail-
way from Ambrizette to Lake Tanganika. This latter
route runs through a fertile, healthy, and most desirable
country, and we ma}- reasonably expect to see a large influx
of settlers by this route in a very few years. The Congo
Valley is almost certain to be thickly settled by Europeans
in the hill-country which encircles it, before any con-
siderable progress is made toward the cultivation of the

184



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

flat alluvial basin through which the river flows. These
deep river lands can at present be best cultivated in large
estates by native labor, but this will scarcely be done until
a stronger government than the present Congo Free State
takes possession of the country.

The Congo Free State is a novel enterprise, without
precedent in the history of the world. It is a philanthropic
effort in the interest of free trade with the ultimate pur-
pose of benefitting the manufacturers of Europe, and
making a market for their wares. The idea of colonizing
the country seems to have been absent from the minds of
its promoters, and no adequate provision has been made
for such a contingency. Mercantile firms may indeed
erect their factories on the river banks, for these great
firms employ hundreds of men and have river and ocean
steamers at their command. If a factory is threatened by
pigmies, cannibals, Arabs or whatnot, by means of their
own steamers men may be massed to resist the attack, or
the goods may be removed until the disturbance has
quieted down. Not so, however, with the colonist who
has no steamers at command, and whose property is of
such a nature that it cannot be readily removed. Colonists
must have a strong and stable government to protect the
law-abiding and be a terror to evil doers. A new country
also needs a government that is both able and willing to
spend a large amount of money in improvements that are
necessary to open up the country and make its resources
available ; this a mere philanthropic enterprise can hardly
be expected to do.

The best disposition that could be made of the Congo
Free State would be to pass it over to the United States of
America, together with the neighboring province of Angola.
There is not a country in the world that would display
more energy in developing the resources of this valuable
territory, and fitting it to be the home of millions of

185



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

civilized and Christian people, than the United States.
The American people have just conquered the greater part
of the North American continent, and they are thus fitted
to conquer a portion of Africa and prepare it for the abode
of the surplus population of Christendom. Nor need other
nations be aroused to jealousy, for they have each of them
all the territory in Africa they can possibly develop. This
is no time to legislate for the petty trade of a dozen or two
of commercial firms, when a vast territory capable of sup-
porting two hundred millions of people needs opening up
to the emigration of the Christian w r orld !

On Monday evening, October 27th, the Kisanga left
Banana Creek and steamed up the river to Ponta da Lenha
to deliver some cargo to the factories there. The Congo
empties by one clear mouth into the sea, but once inside
of Banana on the north, and Shark's Point on the south it
widens to more than twenty miles, the greater part of
which is composed of mud islands covered with mangroves,
as is the case in the Niger delta. A great number of
narrow channels, or creeks, wind in labrinthine confusion
among these islands, while through the centre sweeps the
resistless flood of the main channel, three miles in width,
with a five to six knot current. The Kisanga pushed her
way steadily against the dark brown flood, with solid walls
of mangroves on either shore, w T hose monotony was occa-
sionally varied by the waving fronds of the paluu Even-
half mile or so, narrow openings in the dense wall of vege-
tation disclosed the mouth of some tortuous creek that
connected the main channel with the net-work of side
channels and back creeks. No birds were seen skimming
over the surface of the water, no monkeys or other animals
among the trees — all animal life had deserted this dreary
region except man, and it is well for him to pass through
it as rapidly as possible.



186



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

Three hours steaming brought the ship abreast of the
factories at a place called Kissanga where the mangroves
give way for a little to a tall, dense forest of palms and
other trees, all interwoven with vines and creepers. Not
a native house was to be seen, and one wonders where the
customers are to come from, but the numerous creeks ex-
tend back to the main-land, where the native villages are
built upon level grassy or rolling country 7 . Another hour's
steaming brought the Kisanga to Ponta da Lenha, thirty
miles from Banana, and the head of safe navigation for
ocean steamers. Ponta da Lenha is a trading station like
Kissanga, on an island on the northern side of the main
channel, and its customers reside on the main-land of the
right bank, as those of Kissanga do on the left bank.

Immediately above Ponta da Lenha the main channel
is blocked with islands, and the passages between these
islands have shifting sand-banks that carry a variable
depth of water of from twelve to eighteen feet. It seems
probable that in some of the connecting creeks a deep, un-
obstructed channel will yet be found, but even if there
should be, the river above has so many rocks and counter-
currents that it will scarcely be advisable for an ocean
steamer to go higher up than Ponta da Lenha.

The steamer Kebinda, belonging to Messrs. Hatton &
Cookson, was found to be at anchor at Ponta da Lenha,
and when the Kisanga arrived she was ordered to get up
steam and proceed up river to Boma, to take mails and also
bring down any produce that might be ready to ship. At
2 p. M. she started, and Captain Watkins invited our friends
to go with him, as he was not only an old coaster, but an
intimate friend of Mr. King. Captain Watkins is not only
a thorough seaman, but a perfect gentleman, and lie was
constantly doing something for the comfort of his guests,
so that the ride was most enjoyable.



187



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

The Kebinda left promptly at 2 p. m. and crossed at
once to Draper Island, then past the Heron Bank and
presently it crossed to the northern side of the main chan-
nel which is followed all the way up. The mangroves
were soon left behind, and their dense, dark masses gave
place to palms, bamboo, pandanus and various other trees,
and in some cases to wide fields of tall water grasses, the
favorite feeding ground of hippopotami and manati. The
river was still filled with immense islands and many
parallel channels as well as connecting creeks, but by five
o'clock the hills on the main-land of the left bank could be
seen, and half an hour later the highlands about Boma
came into view, and at 6.30 p. m. the Kebinda anchored
abreast the English factory.

Boma is quite as much of a trade centre as Banana,
and like Banana its principal importance lays in the fact
that it is a stepping-stone in the march from the sea to the
navigable waters of the interior. The country as far as the
eye can reach appears to be a succession of low hills, bare,
or covered with grass, and with wooded vales between.
The town itself consists of a number of trading factories,
the Catholic and Protestant Missions and the buildings of
the Congo Free State. Upon an island in mid-stream
there are vegetable gardens cultivated by the factory people,
where nearly all our home grown vegetables thrive, as in-
deed the} - do throughout the greater part of the Congo
Valley.

Boma is upon the main-land of the right bank of the
river, at the head of what might be called the " inland
delta " of the Conofo ; from here onward to the interior for
several hundred miles at least, the river flows between well
defined banks, although there are many islands in mid-
stream.

Our friends went ashore to Messrs. Hatton & Cook-
son's factory, where the- -vere kindly entertained, and it

1S8



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

was not long before dinner was announced, to which they
did ample justice. The bill of fare at Boma is a liberal
one ; in addition to the long list of imported foods, there
are beef, mutton, ducks, chickens, fish, plantains, bread-
fruit, rice, palm-chop and the vegetables from the gardens,
besides many kinds of fruits. This does not hold good of
the barren district from Vivi to Stanley Pool, a distance of
over two hundred miles, where provisions are scarce and
dear.

Immediately above Boma the river narrows greatly
and the current is so swift that the water heaves, boils and
hisses as it rushes past the points, and in many places
forms whirlpools capable of swallowing a boat or canoe.
Up this swift and dangerous current it is possible to force
a steamer as far as Vivi, which is seven hours distance from
Boma ; but it is dangerous navigation. Vivi is the western
terminus of the railway now under construction around the
rapids of the Congo. The eastern terminus will be at
Stanley Pool, the foot of inland navigation ; and the len«th
of the line between two hundred and fifty and three hundred
miles. It will be an expensive road to build, but it will
be profitable, for all the trade of the river must of necessity
pass over it.

After dinner the travelers seated themselves on the
veranda on the leeward side of the house, so as to be out of
reach of the strong draft coming up river, and caused by
the evening sea-breeze, and as they enjoyed their cio-ars
they discussed trade questions and the prospects of the new
railway. It was soon apparent that the traders had no
thought beyond exchanging the usual " cargo " for forest
products with the negroes of the interior. They had no
sympathy with the colonization of the country, and indeed
they had never thought of it. They were true conser-
vatives, opposed to change, even for the better, lest the

189



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

course of trade should be changed to their possible
disadvantage.

After all, we cannot wonder at the conversation of the
traders, for the past ten years have witnessed wonderful
changes on the Congo, and still greater changes will follow
the completion of the railway, and a century from now it
will be as impossible to realize that the present state of
affairs ever existed, as it is now impossible for us as we
visit the great city of Chicago to realize that a century ago
it was a far greater wilderness than the Congo Valley
is to-day.

The writer first resided in Africa in 1875, and the state
of the Coast was so different then from what it is now, that
as he looks back upon it, it seems to be only a dream ; so
it will be fifteen years from now ; and some of us who have
in the past traversed its rivers and forests in weariness and
pain, will yet be able to fly along over its surface at thirty
miles an hour while we look out of the window at the
beautiful panorama of hill and dale as we sit at the table
and enjoy the luxuries of the season " done to a turn " by
a skilled white cook !

The French territory comes down to the river at
Manyanga and continues along the right bank to the mouth
of the Bunga River, three hundred miles above Stanley
Pool. The lake-like expanse known as Stanley Pool is the
beginning of inland navigation upon the great river and its
numerous tributaries. If this river is ever to create a city
corresponding to our own New Orleans, it will be here at
Stanley Pool. This is the true entre-port of the Congo ; all
the stations from the sea to this point being mere stepping-
stones. The railroad now building through the Congo
o-oro-e will have its terminus here, where freight will be
unloaded directly into river steamers for transport to in-
land points.

190



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

Before another ten years has passed other railways will
be in course of construction from here to the Coast. The
French have a splendid opportunity for building an air-line
entirely through their own territory from Brazzaville, just
above Leopoldville, to Black Point on the Atlantic coast,
where there is a fair anchorage ground. This line will run
through a rich and populous hilly upland, well adapted to
European colonists, and which will furnish a large amount
of local traffic both in passengers and freight. The length
of this line will be about three hundred miles — a hundred
miles shorter than the river route to Banana.

Another competing route will be from Stanley Pool
to Ambrizette in the Portuguese territory. This line will
be about four hundred miles long, very nearly the same
length of the river route, but there will be one less handling
of freight and the dangers of river navigation from Ponta

o o o

da Lenha to Vivi will be avoided. This line, like the
French one, will run through a healthy and fertile region
well suited for white settlers, and will have a large local
traffic. Both the French and Portuguese lines will be
easier to build than the road now under construction, and
are likely to be more profitable, especially if liberal land-
grants could be obtained. Either of these roads offers a
much more promising investment for capital than dozens
of roads now being constructed in the United States. Both
of these roads might run lines of steamers on the Upper
Congo to make sure of securing the freight for their own
line, it would also enable them to contract to deliver
freight from the sea-board to any point on the navigable
waters of the Congo.

The scenery about Stanley Pool is pleasing ; high
hills, some of them crowded with foreign settlements, and
some with native villages, while on the low-land near the
river a dense vegetation attests the richness of the soil.
Kinshassa Station is built beneath the shade of magnificent

i 9 r



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

trees that would be an ornament to the finest park in
Europe.

From Stanley Pool all the way up to Stanley Falls,
the head of navigation on the main river, the scenery is
extremely beautiful. There is nothing in America to
equal it. True, it is a wild beauty, and sometimes one
wishes there were large plantations and more evidences of
human industry* ; but these will come soon enough, and
nothing can replace the wild luxuriance of the dense trop-
ical vegetation which crowds every inch of space not
actually covered by the water. In a few years the accumu-
lated capital of the industrious millions of Europe will
combine to operate large plantations of rice and sugar-cane
upon these rich alluvial lands, using the native as well as
the imported Chinese labor under the direction of Anglo-
Saxons, and the railways from Stanley Pool will be taxed
to the utmost to earn* the freight to the coast.

For those who love quiet waters and the beauties of
nature, no more delightful place of residence can be found
than the rivers and lakes of equatorial Africa. The writer
lived for four years upon the banks of the Ogowe River,
which in its general features is much like the Congo, and a
more comfortable climate, or a more beautiful home, a
lover of nature need not want to enjoy.

There are thousands of wealthy people who have
traveled much and who would like a new experience —
something that w*ill thrill their souls with pleasurable ex-
citement, afford them opportunities for telling endless
stories to their friends, and remain a delightful memory
to the close of life ; let such take a trip on the Congo, and
if they are lovers of the beautiful, they will have their fill
and declare that the half was not told them. When the
railway is completed to Stanley Pool, so that not more
than two days need be spent on the lower course of the
river, the journey can be made with very slight danger to

192



VALLEY OF THE CONGO.

life ; not more, if indeed as much, as a visit to India,
China, Brazil or the West Indies. It may be that Cook
will soon send out excursion parties, with steamers of his
own to take them up the Congo, as he now has to take
them up the Nile.

Those who are fond of shooting would find many at-
tractions at the present time in the Congo Valley and along
its tributary streams. Upon the land are the lordly
elephant, fierce leopard and many varieties of smaller cats,
savage buffalo and man-like gorilla ; together with herds
of wild boar, troops of monkeys and a great variety of deer
and antelope. Upon the waters are hippopotami, manati,
crocodiles and almost every variety of water-bird ; the
sportsman must be indeed hard to please who would not be
satisfied here. It must not, however, be supposed that this
opportunity will long continue, for as a country is cleared
of its jungle and brought under cultivation the game will
be driven farther and farther away, until as in America, it
is so scarce that there is no pleasure in seeking it.

In regard to the heat of the Central Congo Region,
authorities will differ. The writer has always felt the heat
more than the gentlemen with whom he has traveled or
been associated, but even he, with few exceptions, has not
suffered severely from it. Some cold blooded persons do
not feel comfortably warm unless dressed in medium weight
cassimers. Stanley, in his "Congo," says (Vol. n ; page
314) : " For three months of the year it is positively cold,
and during the rest of the year there is so much cloud, and
the heat is so tempered by the South Atlantic breezes, that
we seldom suffer from its intensity. The nights are cool,


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Online LibraryJoseph H. (Joseph Hankinson) ReadingA voyage along the western coast, or, Newest Africa : a description of newest Africa, or the Africa of to-day and the immediate future → online text (page 15 of 17)