© Archives of the Missionaries of Africa, Zambia, Lusaka.
Author: Joseph Dupont, dated 15th March 1902
Title in archives: Dupont versus McKinnon
Translation by Fr M.C.J. Gruffat, completed on 10th August 1999
Dupont versus McKinnon
(In a footnote, the author points out that he had no intention of writing a detailed history of the Catholic Mission in the Lubemba, but simply to give an idea of the relations that existed between the Catholic missionaries and the British officials of the B.S.A.C. stationed in the Lubemba in the years 1899-1901 – note by translator)
“The WaBemba were powerful warriors who managed to put a stop to the advance of the dreaded “WaNgoni. They tried to conquer and submit all the tribes that were scattered on the Tanganyika Plateau. “They managed to lay waste large tracks of land, but they did not manage to settle down on the territories “they had conquered because of the missionaries and the traders. The WaLungu and the WaMambwe owe “their continuous survival to those foreigners. The WaBemba lorded it over all the countries not occupied “by European settlers, and their neighbours had to pay tribute to them. The Paramount Chief of the “WaBemba is Kitimkulu, but his power and authority were quickly superseded by Mwamba’s. Without “being really hostile to the Europeans, Mwamba was adamantly opposed to their entry into the country he “ruled, for he was afraid of their interference in the internal affairs of his kingdom. Mwamba did not want “to have to account for his rule to anybody. The French Fathers of the Algerian Mission settled down on “the borders of the Ubemba in 1895. In spite of their efforts, they did not manage to exercise any “influence on the WaBemba, even though Bishop Dupont had befriended several of the most important “Bemba Chiefs, had become well versed in the affairs of the tribe, and had won over their respect and “confidence.”
This is a quotation from a confidential report written by Mr Codrington and sent to the British Government. It is an accurate description of the general situation in this part of Africa, which the Berlin Conference on the partition of Africa among the European Powers had placed in the British sphere.
In 1895, Mr Pamer, a trader, sent four men to visit Kitimkulu. He was only a trader, but in the eyes of the WaBemba he was an Englishman. Kitimkulu compelled those envoys to submit to the traditional trial by poison to test their sincerity. They survived the ordeal, but they were nevertheless chased from the country after all sorts of ill treatments, and their guns were confiscated.
In the same year 1895 the missionaries crossed the border that was standing in the way of the British and came to settle down at Makasa. Some months later, Kitimkulu and his warriors went as far as Ikawa, the English post, and under the very nose of the English residents, burnt down three villages and took many people away into slavery. It was a daring challenge, but the British were not in a position to take it up.
The missionaries, however, were taking root where they were. Mr Bell, an Englishman residing at Ikawa, thought it was probably safe enough to go and pay them a visit. The missionaries were delighted to see him, and this was the beginning of a lasting friendship between Mr Bell and the White fathers. Soon afterwards he was back again at the Mission, this time in the company of another agent. Fr Dupont thought he was now in a position to take Mr Bell around the Panda Province and on a journey all along the Chambeshi, beyond which the central part of the Ubemba spread far and wide. The Panda Province was henceforward opened to the British agents and ripe for annexation by the British.
With the support of Mr Bell, the missionaries applied for permission to open mission stations in the lands controlled by Kitimkulu and Mwamba. . The authorisation was granted, but the missionaries had to sign a document to the effect that they were moving into those districts at their own risk. The British Authorities wanted to make it clear that they were not in a position to protect them, and that, as a consequence, they were not to be held accountable for whatever might happen to them
In the meantime the British were building up their military power by importing arms from Europe, for they were convinced that they would not be able to conquer the WaBemba except by force of arms and after a long and costly war. As for the missionaries, they believed in fostering good relations with the people, even with the dreaded Mwamba. They tried to make him understand he was only courting disaster by maintaining his adamant opposition to the British. They even advised him to pay a voluntary compensation for molesting four of their soldiers with the poison ordeal. Yielding at last to their good advice, Mwamba sent a substantial gift of ivory to the missionaries with instruction to have those elephant tusks dispatched to the English agents. The missionaries pointed out to Mwamba that this princely gift would be turned down if the four confiscated rifles were not returned first, but the Chief did not want to hear anything. Moreover the envoys dispatched by Mwamba were unwilling to meet the English agents themselves. After much palaver, they reluctantly agreed to follow a delegation of Christians who took them to Ikawa with a letter from Father Superior for the Collector.
At the sight of the party sent by Mwamba, Mr McKinnon was beside himself with joy. He gratefully accepted all the gifts without laying down any condition, and handed over a substantial quantity of cloth in return. Great was the surprise of the envoys, and terrible the ire of Chief Mwamba. “What!” he yelled, “I paid the Englishmen the price of blood, and they make great gifts to me! It is an insult! They clearly show they do not want peace. Henceforward it will be war between us!” If Mr McKinnon had demanded the restitution of the confiscated guns and imposed a fine three or four times higher than Mwamba’s voluntary contribution, he would have gained complete control of the situation. His generosity was totally misunderstood by the Natives.
In 1897, another agent of the B.S.A.C., Mr Young, crossed the Chambeshi into the heart of the Ubemba, but after two days crossed back to his starting point with undignified haste. The same year Fr Dupont and Fr Letort reached the capital of Chief Mwamba. The latter had just granted them permission to build a mission station in his pricipality when Arabs turned up at the court. “We were on our way here,” they told him, “ with a load of guns and gun powder for you when the English people stopped us and grabbed everything. For they are all out to take possession of your land, and those white men over there, to whom you have just granted permission to settle down here, are in fact in cahoots with the English to despoil you!” Those words aroused such a deep suspicion against the missionaries in the mind of the WaBemba that the priests had to leave the country. But they had been at Mwamba’s place long enough to strike useful acquaintances and develop friendly relations with influential people, which were eventually to bear fruit.
In September 1898, Mwamba himself sent for Bishop Dupont (for Fr Dupont had in the meantime be appointed and ordained a Bishop). The Bishop lost no time in setting out for the Chief’s capital with Bro Optat, where they arrived on October 11th. They were received in triumph by the people. They went to see the Chief at once, and found him grievously ill: “Come to my rescue,” Mwamba exclaimed at the sight of the Bishop, “if you heal me, I shall give you half of my kingdom. If I die, you shall have the whole of it, for I do not want my subjects to be the victims of bloody massacres after my death at the hands of people from outside!”
We had pitched our camp very near the village serving as headquarters to Chief Mwamba. Several times they were to go to attend to the needs of the sick king. In the course of those visits, Mwamba came back time and again on the same point: “You must look after my wives and after my children, and you must take over my provinces.” He briefed his eventual successor on the minutest details of government with meticulous care. “This son of mine is too young,” he would say, “you will have to watch him very closely. This other son of mine cannot be left entirely to himself to rule his own province, follow him very closely and do not spare your efforts to guide him!” And so one and so forth, every day at every visit! The Ministers came to see us at our camp several times, and they all say the same thing: “Our Chief is soon to die. He has called you in to take his succession and to protect us after his demise. As soon as he has given up the ghost, we shall come as one man to stand around you!”
Mwamba invited the missionaries to build their ‘boma’ inside the capital, but they were not keen on the idea at all. They were convinced that this move would at once arouse the suspicion of the British agents, who would accuse them of having imposed themselves on the WaBemba. The missionaries chose a place twenty-five kilometres west of the capital. Mwamba protested: “No! No! No! It is too far away!” he exclaimed. “At my death, the people of the capital won’t have time to reach your Mission, and many will be killed on the way!” To fend off all the dangers offered by the situation as far as was possible, we established a temporary campsite four kilometres from the capital. Mwamba himself gave orders for houses to be built for the missionaries.
Let us quote here the words of Mr Codrington in his confidential report concerning this aspect of the question: “Bishop Dupont was attending Chief Mwamba on his deathbed (night of 23rd to 24th of October 1898). At his death, there was a general upheaval…The different claimants to the chieftainship summoned their supporters, and were making ready for upholding their rights to the succession, when Bishop Dupont found himself suddenly surrounded by the majority of the people who were relying on him to be spared the usual human sacrifices!”
Mr Codrington missed the point here. This was not a general free-for-all among claimants in order to grab the throne. It was a barbarous tradition among the tribe to make the people living around the king responsible for his death. As a consequence, the relatives, friends and neighbours of the late king were expected to avenge his demise by putting the country to fire and sword. Mwamba’s death was traditionally the signal for wholesale massacres.
The Chief expired in the middle of the night of October 23rd-24th. It was like a thunderclap in the capital: within two minutes, there was nothing left in the capital, plundered and emptied by its own inhabitants, except the corpse of the late king. Traditionally, the whole population ran away in a panic and scattered wildly all over the bush for miles around, shouting: “Where is the axe that will behead me? Where is the axe that will behead me?” Traditionally the people of the capital lost all control of their nerves at the death of the king and became totally incapacitated for any form of self-defence. In the night of 23rd-24th October 1898, a wholesale massacre of thousands of people was expected to commence at any time a few hours after the king’s death had been announced. There was no time to waste. Bands of invaders were converging on the capital. Within twenty-four hours Ponde had his forces encamped half an hour away from the capital. The people who had remained cool-headed were already grouped around the missionaries in their new encampment and numbered over ten thousand within the first twenty-four hours. All this multitude was in a state of total disarray and utter bewilderment. There was one cry overheard over the din and pandemonium: “Where is the axe to come from?” In their wild excitement, and completely out of self-control, they were in permanent danger of killing one another without even being aware of it.
To assemble in our camp the population of the capital, to designate places in the provinces where the populations could come together for self-defence and preservation, to send to the invading forces the peremptory order to desist and return to their fiefdoms: everything was done with such promptitude that not one drop of blood was shed that year at the occasion of Mwamba’s death. His country, which was doomed to be obliterated in fire and blood according to tradition, was saved by the stand taken by the missionaries. All the events that took place in one single day would fill the pages of a whole book.
On October 26th, as a semblance of order was returning among the people piled on top of one another in our encampment, Bishop Dupont summoned all the chiefs and headmen to a formal meeting. This was the gist of what he told them: “Mwamba appointed me to protect you after his death. That is what I have done. The country, however, apparently belongs to the English. I cannot take it over for myself, nor do I want to. I am not call to rule the land. To teach the people how to worship God, that is m vocation, my only work. I have summoned you together today to urge you to hand over your country to the English, who are claiming sovereignty over this land.” After a lengthy discussion, the British Sovereignty over the country was acknowledged by the assembly of chiefs and headmen. The Bishop sent a report to the Governor to keep him abreast of the situation and to invite him to take official possession of the country, whose population was now prepared to welcome British rule. Soon afterwards, according to Mr Codrington’s confidential report - on November 3rd to be exact - Mr McKinnon, representing the B.S.A.C., who had heard of the dramatic events that had taken place in this part of the Ubemba, made his official entry in Mwamba’s capital, among popular rejoicing
Let us add here the diary of the Mission, kept up to date day in day out by Bishop Dupont himself and copied by Fr Boisselier
At the beginning of November, a letter was handed over to me, sent by Mr McKinnon: he informed me that he had pitched camp at a short distance from where we were still encamped, and that he would like to meet me. I hastened to dispatch people to serve him as guides, and a few hours later, he turned up at our place accompanied by Mr Young and a troop of roughly twenty soldiers. At midday, the Collector accepted to share our meal while Mr Young stayed behind to look after their camp. At the end of the meal, Mr McKinnon seemed at first to have grown suddenly very embarrassed and awkward. Then he came out with a dessert of his own making to close what was intended to be a friendly meal. “The Administrator,” he said suddenly shaking with anger, “does not want you to be here, and he has sent me to chase you! French missionaries here, never in your life! (It was at the time of the Fashoda incident!). You don’t have any permission to settle down here. You haven’t told me anything either! Just pack up and go!” – “Could you please tell me who is the Administrator you are talking about?” – “It is Mr Codrington, who has just succeeded to Major Forbes!” – “That is news to me! May I point out to you that Major Forbes gave me a written authorisation to build mission stations in the fiefdoms of Mwamba and Kitimkulu. Before moving in, I officially notified Mr Marshall and Mr Pamer of my intention. They were the Company’s agents responsible for the whole Ubemba. In the past years I made the Panda Province accessible to your agents. Recently I handed over to you on a silver plate the Ubemba, the country of those WaBemba who had been such a cause of worry to you up till then. If I were not just now here in the country of Mwamba, you would never have come. You have penetrated into the Ubemba under my wings, and now you have the cheek to tell me to clear out of here! I am fully cognisant of the fact that this part of Africa is within the sphere of influence attributed to Great Britain. I held sway over those districts for only a few days in order to spare them wholesale massacres. Were it not for my personal intervention, you would be staring today at corpses and ruins, and nothing else! I am really pleased to see you here today, for I expect you to take over the administration of this country, which I hand over to you with the greatest pleasure. Rule the land on behalf of Great Britain, that is your call. But don’t try to chase me out of here: I am a Catholic missionary, and I have every intention to stay here!” Mr McKinnon was shaking all over, and mumbled a few words of apology.
Back to his camp, Mr McKinnon summoned all the Ministers in a formal council. They all trouped into my tent to ask me whether they were to answer this summon or to abstain. I advised them to attend the meeting, and they all went to the camp of the English officials. Here is the gist of what Mr McKinnon told them: “Your ‘Bwana’ are insignificant people, we are the great chiefs. Are we not the people you have a liking for? Are we not the people you have a preference for, and not the Bwana Shikofu?” Silence was the only reaction. “Answer me! I am the one you have a liking for. You do not want to stay with the Bwana Shikofu, do you?” Deathly silence! The Ministers were then called in one after the other, but the officials met with the same bland faces. “All! Right!” Mr McKinnon was forced to conclude, “you will come back tomorrow to give me an answer!” Back to the capital, the Ministers were beside themselves with anger and refused to return to Mr McKinnon’s camp. Their argument was straightforward: “Mwamba handed us and the country over to the care of Bwana Shikofu, who has been with us for quite a while now. He is the one who saved us from death and destruction. Were he not here, there would not be anything left of our nation and of the country. The Englishmen were afraid of us, but as soon as our Chief was dead and Bwana Shikofu took his succession, there they come running hell for leather to order us to drive our Father out of the country! We do not want to see our Saviour treated with utter contempt. Shikofu told us to open our country to the English who look upon themselves as the masters of our land. All right, let them come and go in peace. But we want our Shikofu to stay with us!”
In the night Mr McKinnon tried all sorts of tricks to prevail upon the Ministers to change their mind, but they adamantly refused to have anything to do with the Company’s officials. Early in the morning, he summoned once more the Ministers in council, but his invitation was firmly turned down. When I was informed of the Ministers’ attitude, I begged them to go and attend the meeting summoned by the Collector. Here is the astonishing request the Collector of the Company made to the Ministers: “All you have to do is to say that you are siding with me, and not with the Bwana Shikofu!” Complete silence! “Where are Mwamba’s oxen? And where are his wives?” Silence! “If it is like that, I give you order to scatter, not to stay here waiting to die of hunger!” – “We shall disperse whenever our Father the Bwana Shikofu gives us the order!” Mr McKinnon came straight to the Mission. He was by then highly frustrated and imperiously ordered me without preamble to tell all this crowd to scatter at once. I retorted that I had no reason to order the people about, and that they were perfectly free to do what they liked.
From then on, we were the subjects of endless and shameless harassment on the part of the Collector. He proclaimed loudly everywhere that all those taking our side were the enemies of England and ran the risk of incurring her wrath. Is Mr McKinnon ignorant of the fact that there is no conflict in serving both God and King? That the best servants of the King are often the most faithful servants of God? The point was that those underhand dealings of his were terribly resented by the local population, and there was much talk about doing away with the two Englishmen and the twenty men in their caravan. I had to be constantly on the alert to keep in check the four thousand armed men who lived close to their encampment.
On November 6th, Mr McKinnon and Mr Young came to the Mission for lunch. They were speaking a totally different language. They were now saying that we had achieved a lot and that we had saved the country from disaster, and the British Government would be duly informed of our contribution to peace. I handed them a letter for Mr Codrington, in which I kept the Governor informed of what took place in this part of the Lubemba. I assured the Governor that the country was now safely in the hands of his government in the person of Mr McKinnon. I simply asked for permission to continue my work as a missionary without interference.
Our two visitors left us, for they were, they said, on their way to the country of the BaLungu, three or four days’ march from here. But nobody accepted to accompany them, not even to serve as guides. They finally went at a distance of one and a half-hour’s march, where they intended to build their residence. As soon as I heard about their intention to have a permanent residence nearby, I sent some workers to help them out. For a fortnight, the two British agents did not take any measure against us, because they were in a position of weakness, but they continued their slanderous campaign against us and to threaten with reprisals those who were on our side. The people were getting more and more upset about their hostile attitude towards the missionaries. “If you were not here,” the WaBemba kept telling us, “the English would not come into our country, for we would kill them!” Instead of accepting the offer of our loyal services, Mr McKinnon did not stop harassing me shamelessly at every turn. He wanted to convey the impression that he was on top of the situation through his own ability to dominate the events, not through any help from me. Had he had a minimum of fair play and political sense, he would have seen in us, not enemies, but precious auxiliaries, and I would have been free to continue to work indirectly for the best interests of the British, and to hand over to them the power and authority vested in me by Mwamba and acknowledged by his people.
It was a sad situation. When I told the Natives they had now to deal with the English, who were regarded by all as the masters of the land, they looked at me in utter bewilderment. “What!” they said, “are you handing us over to your enemies? You must be hiding some sinister thought from us! You must be thinking of betraying us?” Those good people had no inkling whatsoever into the complexities of the European politics, and my conduct was for them a mystery. In spite of the fact that I explained to them, day in day out, that I had no political power, they stoutly maintained - and repeated to all and sundry - that I was the Chief of the land, the only lawful ruler of Mwamba’s fiefdom. Quite naturally, the English agents resented this language, and they refused to believe that I was not the instigator of this popular hostility to their presence and authority, that I could change the popular feelings, however hard I was trying to.
Finally the various chiefs of the country, at the end of their tether, appeared before me with two cows and gave me the following ultimatum: “Since you prevent us from killing the Englishmen, drive them out of the country yourself! Here are two cows in payment of this service!”
In the meantime the British agents were working on the construction of their permanent encampment, which they completed in less than four weeks. Once installed, Mr Young began to carry out the orders he had received from Mr McKinnon. Soldiers were posted on all the roads that led to the Mission. Whoever was caught on the way to the Mission – men, women, children – was arrested, treated with barbaric savagery, dragged to the English camp, and after further ignominies, put in chains for a few days. At any time soldiers would appear at the Mission with a note from the English agents, written in their own language, ordering us to hand over to the bearers thereof one particular woman or one particular girl summoned to stand before the court for some reason or other. The sentence was known beforehand: this woman or this girl was invariably found guilty and condemned to be at the disposal of the English soldiers and their officers for their own pleasure! The missionaries were not in a position to put a stop to those abuses, for they would have been accused of rebellion against the State. They had only one thing in mind: to save the Mission at all costs, in spite of the fact that they were ordered to co-operate into iniquitous deeds. The people did not understand the missionaries, they were clearly scandalised by their attitude. The aim of the British agents was, of course, to discredit the Mission, and they were partially succeeding. Nevertheless the prestige of the missionaries remained very high, and the people grouped around them refused to scatter in spite of all the efforts of the British agents.
One day I was in bed with a vicious bout of fever when two soldiers came in with a note signed by Mr Young, which read: “Will you please hand over Kibango to the bearers of this note, for he is to appear in court!” Kibango was my main handy-man, in fact he was the one who was looking after me when I was sick, which was often the case. In fact, on that particular moment, he had just finished to attend to my needs and to help me back onto my pallet before returning to his hut nearby when all hell broke loose. “Kibango has been arrested! Kibango has been arrested!” What happened was very simple: while I was presented with the note from the British agents, eighteen soldiers had surreptitiously surrounded Kibango’s house, pounced upon him, thrown him on the ground, and tied his hands with English made handcuffs. Then he was stripped naked, beaten about with rifle butts, whipped with sjamboks, and thrown around savagely by the whole pack of enraged soldiers. In less than a minute this powerful, handsome man was reduced to the state of a mangled body oozing out blood from countless wounds. The whole population was now there, surrounding the house, all under arms. Suddenly the door of my room was broken open by a soldier running after children. The missionaries, who had been attracted to the spot by the commotion, were all intent upon preventing the angry WaBemba from slaughtering the soldiers. As for the soldiers, they raised their rifles and aimed them at the missionaries threateningly! Thus it was that, once more, the agents of the occupying power were turning against those who had saved them from the justified wrath of the people under their occupation. Mr Young put under arrest all my foremen and main attendants. Some days later, two more servants of the Mission were apprehended under similar circumstances, and a third had his skull split open by a rifle butt. Those are only a few examples of the high-handedness of the British agents. Those people of ours who had thus been arrested spent two months in the English camp, chained to trees. They were paraded around the countryside as a warning of what British justice could achieve, and as a clear sign of the powerlessness of the missionaries.
The agents were trying to build a case of political interference against the missionaries. Hundreds of witnesses were brought from all over the country with one main leading question to answer: “Is it not true that the defendants here present have urged you to go to the missionaries and to keep away from the Englishmen?” The answer was invariable: “Those people only repeated to us what their masters had been hammering on since the beginning: that the English people are the masters of this country!” The English were unable to find one single count of indictment against them, but they wanted at all costs to save the appearance of legality. Finally, after two months of detention awaiting trial, Kibango was condemned to a month’ imprisonment and a fine of a certain quantity of calico. Reason: a young boy of 13 years of age was beaten by his chums in the village of which Kibango was the supervisor, and Kibango was not there in time to prevent this breach of peace! The village mentioned in the indictment comprised at that time between ten and twelve thousand people brought together by Mwamba’s death! This young man was the only witness for the prosecution found in the whole country: a young boy 13 years old pleading for himself! Was the incident - a brawl among a gang of kids in a population of over ten thousand - worth a court case? The English agents were unable to prefer an indictment or to find a true bill against the other defendants, and they finally sentenced them in court for carrying arms without licence! Perfectly iniquitous, of course, since there was no law regulating the possession of weapons in the country! I received an official notification of the condemnations and the motive thereof. But what Mr McKinnon did not trust to paper was what he added after he had delivered the sentence: “You can now see for yourselves,” he admonished the defendants, “that your Fathers cannot protect you. They are men of no importance. Why don’t you side with us? You will be freed today, and you will have no fine to pay!” When they had served their sentence, they came back to us with their hands still manacled, for the key to unlock the manacles had been lost, and the Collector did not think it worth his while to have the metal cut through. It was Bro Optat who literally freed them from their shackles!
If we were to record what we had to go through at the hands of those English agents day after day, we would fill volumes! When Mr Young found out that the granaries of the people staying with us were in the bush six or seven kilometres away from the Mission, he sent people to empty them and destroy them, hoping that hunger would force the owners to move away from us. But famine was not a more successful weapon than threats and blows. The English can certainly boast that they tried all means, fair and especially foul, to estrange the people from the Mission and compel them to scatter. The very people the missionaries had saved from total annihilation!
I must mention, at this place, an incident that did nothing to improve the situation. An Englishman turned up one day at the Mission and said to us: “I have been desirous for some time to become a Catholic, and I am determined to seize this opportunity: the presence of Catholic missionaries!” He soon began to learn the catechism and the prayers. He was wont to spend long hours kneeling in the church, and was insistently asking for baptism. He was perfectly aware of the difficulties we were bogged down in, but he told us that he was au fait with the English legislation, since he was a lawyer, and that he was in a position of being of some help to us. In support of his allegations, he produced the most flattering letters and certificates signed by the most prestigious names in England. All those documents turned out later to be perfectly genuine. It was at a time when I was really with my back to the wall, like a drowning man ready to clutch at a straw. Any piece of advice was welcome, and I was so desperate that my power of discernment was seriously impeded. I was ready to gobble everything this man Hunter – that was the name of this Englishman who turned out to be a crook – was telling me. “It’s as if it was done,” he said to me with self-assurance. “Ask every chief to sign a deed attesting that the country has been sold to you. Then you will give me power of attorney over all business transactions of your society. All I get is ten percents of the profits. Don’t worry, everything will get on swimmingly!” – “I am sorry, Sir, I did not buy anything, the country was entrusted to my care, and I handed it over to England.” It was then that I felt the need to write down the facts as they happened, in very much the same terms as those I had used in the report sent to the Governor, and I asked 25 elders to sign this document. What I had in mind was to prove that England, not only had no reason to suspect my intentions and to adopt a hostile attitude towards the missionaries, but also ought to be grateful to us for what we did.
When he saw he could not obtain what he wanted, Mr Hunter made a bee line for the English Boma and reported to the agents that I was plotting against the State. Mr McKinnon flew into a rage and publicly declared that he was going to arrest me on the following day, put me in chains, and confiscate all my goods. I was informed of his intentions on the sly. On what was to be the fateful day of my arrest, Mr McKinnon set out for the Mission, but was met on the road by a messenger of mine carrying a letter addressed to him. It was an invitation to come and pay an official visit to the new subjects of his Queen! We had, of course, gathered as many people as possible and lined them up on the road leading to my Boma. Mr McKinnon was welcomed with loud cheers and popular rejoicing!
Mr McKinnon, then, handed over to me Mr Codrington’s answer to my report, in which he was warmly thanking me for what I had done for Great Britain. “You want to create trouble for the British!” Mr McKinnon said reproachfully. “No, Sir,” I replied, “I simply wanted to make sure that my contribution to the peaceful occupation of the Lubemba would be officially recorded. This record of the facts as they occurred is identical to the one I sent to the Governor, and I had it signed by my people as a true record. But where is the man who reported against me? How is it that he is not with you?” – “He did not want to accompany us. I want now to read this report of yours!” – “No problem, Sir, here it is. You can keep it, I do not need it, for I have now the Governor’s answer to my report, and what you have in hand is just a repetition of the same.”
There had been great glee among the British people at the news that Bishop Dupont had let himself be duped by a professional trickster. As for Hunter, he was in a towering rage, for he had to confess that all his tricks for winning over the confidence of the Bishop had ultimately backfired on him. The whole incident did not alter the situation in any way. Harassment of the missionaries somewhat abated, but was not suspended. Open aggressions against our supporters dwindled in number and violence, but continued all the same. I paid several visits to the English Boma with a view to improving the situation. I lent out cloth material to some of the English people who had run out of supplies. When the Governor came to visit the Boma in March, I went to pay him my respects. He was correct, but extremely harsh in his attitude. He ruled that the missionaries were under the jurisdiction of the local chiefs.
In May 1899 I transferred the site of the Mission 25 kilometres west of my temporary Boma, and was careful to ask for the approval of the British Administration. The hostility of the English agents had by then become somewhat blunted. With 15 miles of bush between us, and with the passing of time, the clashes became fewer and far between. The Collector even paid us several visits. Peace between the Mission and the British Administration was at last in sight.
In September 1899, the Governor paid another visit to this part of the colony. The purpose of the visit was to appoint a successor to Mwamba. He was considerate enough to invite me to the meeting. For he had summoned all the people of Mwamba’s pricipality to come to the investiture of their new Mwamba. He invited me for lunch, and courteously asked me to bless the table. Two young officers in his suite showed themselves very attentive to my needs. At the beginning of the public meeting, Mr Codrington asked my opinion about the appointment of Mfupa as the next Mwamba. Now Mfupa was a KalongaNsofu, and I was bound to tell the Governor that his candidate had absolutely no right to the succession of Mwamba according to tradition, and that I knew for sure that the people did not want him. I bluntly added that Mfupa was stupid and vicious, and in my opinion totally unsuited for the post. My blunt answer put the Governor’s back up, and he saw in it another example of my systematic opposition to his authority. As a result, Mfupa was appointed the new Mwamba.
Let us anticipate a bit, to show at once that it was a terrible mistake. One year later, the Government grew so tired of the candidate they had imposed that they wanted to demote him. They consulted Fr Guillemé about it, and Fr Guillemé answered: “A decision taken by a European must be upheld at all costs. You have chosen Mfupa, you are now stuck with him!” At the time I am writing this report - three years after the event - Mfupa is living near Kilubula Mission, where he took refuge after he had been abandoned by everybody.
To come back to the session presided by the Governor during which Mfupa was chosen as Chief Mwamba! There were between ten and twelve thousand people gathered together for this occasion. They were addressed by an interpreter speaking on behalf of the Governor and making known the Governor’s decision: “Listen, you who are gathered here together, listen to the decision of the Governor. It is Mfupa who is now Mwamba. You must now bring to him all the wives of Mwamba. Moreover all those among you who have beautiful daughters must also bring them to Mwamba!” The interpreter had a field-day ‘interpreting’ the Governor’s decision according to his own mind, since the English did not know a word of Kibemba! Mwamba had some 1,200 wives at the time of his death. Between five hundred and six hundred of them had been given a husband since the death of the tyrant, all according to the best traditions! We can easily imagine the confusion the words of the over-loquacious interpreter was likely to cause. When the speech was over, I took the liberty to explain to the Governor exactly what had been said in his name. The Governor was extremely annoyed with my intervention, for he was very reluctant to be indebted to me for straightening out the situation. Nevertheless, at the end of the session, he ruled out – and made sure that it was properly announced to the people – that Mfupa was to leave alone the wives of the late Mwamba, and that he was not to claim for girls from the provinces. The women were henceforward to be free to marry as they liked. It is an ill wind that blows no-one any good: the silly remarks of the interpreter were the occasion of an official statement on what is in fact the Christian meaning of marriage, and which would never have been made otherwise.
I was officially asked to give my opinion on the important question of Mwamba’s burial, and Mr Codrington followed my advice in every detail.
The Governor was, in fact, getting more and more friendly and co-operative. When the succession of Mwamba and all public matters were finally settled, he proposed to regularise the situation of the Mission once and for all. I told him that I had the intention of going back to France, and that Fr Guillemé was to take over the responsibility of the Mission in my absence. Fr Guillemé was absent for the time being, but he was expected back at Kilubula within a few days. I suggested to Mr Codrington that discussions concerning the future of the Mission be held at Kilubula in the presence of Fr Guillemé. The reason was evident: Fr Guillemé was to be the man called upon to carry out the instructions of the Governor. Mr Codrington accepted my proposal.
Mr Codrington did come to Kilubula with his two orderlies and was kind enough to accept our hospitality for two full days. I introduced him to the heads of the main families. When I asked them if they had anything to say to the Governor, the old Chandilila spoke on behalf of the others and said in substance: “Our Father who is here has kept telling us that he could not be the Chief of the land, but that he was soon to be followed by a powerful and commanding Voice that would be heard all over many lands. Today we see, we hear, and we are glad!” This impromptu speech of my old friend Chandilila was neatly putting the whole situation in a nutshell, more particularly in the hearing of those British officials who were always too tempted to believe I was here to supplant them. But those words of Chandilila’s, which were so delicate and so much to the point, were totally disfigured by the two official interpreters. What the Governor was finally told was this dull rendering: “This man says that he is pleased to see you!”
Fr Guillemé finally reached Kilubula, and the legal situation of the Mission came under discussion. Codrington officially stated that we were to enjoy the same authority as the local chiefs in a radius of two or three kilometres around the Mission. Mr McKinnon was transferred and replaced by a more open-minded official. We were definitely on the way to co-operation and understanding.
It was then that Mr Codrington uttered words that gave the true reason of the harassment to which the missionaries had been submitted to for months: in this business there was a lot of personal jealousy.
That was the kernel of the whole question: the British agents were terribly annoyed to see that French missionaries had succeeded in peacefully occupying a land they had dismally failed to penetrate. Those agents had been deprived of rich rewards, which they could have legitimately expected to be granted if they had been able to offer the Lubemba on a silver plate to their masters of B.S.A.C. They were further irritated by the influence the missionaries were gaining over the local population, while they only met with indifference, contempt and hostility in their dealings with the Natives. That is why they tried by all means, fair and foul, successful and unsuccessful, to discredit the missionaries in the eyes of the local populations. It was a normal reaction on the part of English people: when their national interests are at stake, it is always ‘For my country, right or wrong’.
Since the Governor’s attempt at legalising the position of the Mission, and after my departure, the relations between the missionaries and the British agents have always been excellent. The policy of Great Britain, however, has never altered: England first and foremost at whatever cost to others! There are still repeated attempts by the officials of the Administration to use the missionaries as mere agents of the colonial power. We are still receiving messages like the following: “Send us Mwanatombe and Tinyamoni (two heads of village sections) with all their people, they are ordered to go and stay at Mfupa’s headquarters!” This request was inadmissible, for we already knew that Mfupa wanted those people to put them to death. The British agents were fully aware of what was going on: how could they lend their authority to such a barbaric project?
Let us end this report with a quotation from a letter Fr Letourneau wrote to me last year, which sums it all up admirably: “The humiliation and harassment we are continuously the object of on the part of the British Agents have the undeniable advantage to make it clear to the people who we are: missionaries, and not a part of their colonial system. The English are practical-minded people, they are not sectarians. In the past they harassed the missionaries out of jealousy. When they finally see they have nothing to fear from them, they will protect them and be solidly behind them because they indirectly serve their commercial and financial interests."