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Revolt of the Pende

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A native being whipped with a chicotte
Tomorrow is a mystery,
but yesterday is

History
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Wie es eigentlich gewesen

Between May and September 1931, the Pende bravely revolted against Belgian colonial rule in Kwilu in the Belgian Congo. The revolt was quickly suppressed by the colonial authorities but was one of the largest revolts in the Congo during the period between the first two world wars.[1][2][3][4] Jules Marchal estimates that during the revolt and ensuing repression, 1,100 Africans perished, around 500 or so during military engagements or due to harsh treatment while held prisoner, the rest being Jules Marchal's estimate of how many died hiding in the bush. Other estimates range from 550 dead Africans to 1,500 dead Africans, though Jules Marchal considers the 550 estimate to severely underestimate how many died in the bush. The Belgian troops, Force Publique, suffered only minor casualties, including one soldier killed and three wounded during the course of the engagements. An additional two soldiers fighting for the Belgians died in accidents.[5][6]

The origins of the revolt began with recruitment efforts on behalf of the Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB), a subsidiary of Lever Brothers. A territorial agent named Edouard Burnotte was working with a company recruiter, Alphonse Vanhombeek, as well as some messengers. They began their efforts on the 14th of May. Burnotte and Vanhombeek had little success at first, because the men, attempting to resist slavery by non-violent methods, hid in the bush. In response, Burnotte ordered messengers accompanying him to arrest the women and shut them up in a barn. Also on 14th May, 47 men were lashed in Kilamba for having failed to deliver their palm fruit quota to a Compagnie du Kasai (CK) oil mill in Bangi. Bangi was in Kwkwit territoire, 20 minutes away from Kilamba. On the evening of 14th May, Vanhombeek and Burnotte became drunk, and had some of the women shut in the barn brought to them. They then had a long orgy, and presumably raped the women, since it is doubtful that a captive could be considered able to give genuine consent. Collignon, one of the men also present at the orgy, later went to Kilamba. There he was jostled by Africans who were upset that he had not provided compensation to a woman named Kafushi, whom he had dallied with and presumably raped, and also because he had taken chickens without paying for them. Matemo attempted to claim the payment owed to his wife, Kafushi, in accordance to African custom. Collignon slapped Matemo and had him beaten by servants and workers at the oil mill. Colignon lodged a complaint against Matemo, and the territorial administrator, Leonard Vaninthout, sent territorial agent Maximilien Balot to investigate. Balot, accompanied by a soldier and four messengers, encountered a hostile crowd led by Matemo on 8th June. Balot attempted to disperse the crowd by firing a number of shots in the air. When this failed, Balot shot someone in the arm with a hunting rifle. After this Matemo charged at Balot, struck him in the head with a knife, chased him into a bush, and finished him off.[7]

A letter written by administrator Gustave Weekx on 30th May from Pukusu states that, "The openly anti-European movement is characterised by a total cessation of economic activity. For several days now, not a single crate of fruit has been delivered to the [Portuguese] firm of Madail de Banza." Weekx also tells about an armed conflict he was part of the day before in Kisenzele. Weekx was accompanied by four soldiers and a driver. He noticed a large group of around 200 men, who were intoning battle cries. When he came within 75 meters, Weekx and his escorts were attacked with arrows. Weekx ordered his troops to open fire, and after some of the natives had been wounded, they fled. Weekx recommended the whole of the southern region of the Lutshima to be placed under military occupation.[8]

On 3rd June District Commissioner Vanderhallen dispatched two platoons (75 men) to carry out the requested occupation. On 6th June Commissioner General Constant Wauters telegraphed Vanderhallen, asking him to turn the military occupation into a police operation. Wauters also asked the district commissioner in Kasai to prevent the rebels from traveling to his district.[9]

A letter written on 9th June by Vaninthout, administrator of Kandale, states that, "From Kobo onwards all the blacks take flight when I approach; they are armed with bows and shoot arrows at any messengers sent to summon them," and requests military occupation of the Kandale chefferies.[10]

On 14th July 1931 a daily newspaper, Le Soir, published information about Belgian troops opening fire with machine guns on the rebels. The newspaper estimated that the rebels suffered around 100 deaths during that engagement. The Belgian troops had only two wounded according to the newspaper. In 1932, in a declaration to the Chamber, the Colonial Minister acknowledged that machine guns had been used, and that the use of the machine guns had produced numerous victims.[11]

Vanderhallen, acting on orders from Wauters, initially refused to accept attempts to surrender, on the grounds that Balot's remains, and in particular his skull, had not been recovered. For example, the chiefs of Yongo and Bangi attempted to surrender on the 2nd and 4th of September, but were told that their surrenders would only be accepted if Balot's head, as well as other parts of his body, were returned. On 6th September, about four hundred villagers in Kilamba were arrested. On 9th September, Balot's head was recovered from Kilamba, a foot from Kisandale, and a finger from Kasandji. Also on 9th September, fourteen villagers were killed in the Indele region. On the 16th of September, more parts of Balot's body were recovered.[12]

During the repression of the revolt, many of the native prisoners were whipped with the chicotte, a type of whip, with as many as 40 lashes per session, as Vanderhallen sought information about the locations of Balot's remains. At least 65 prisoners (likely more), including some chiefs, died due to this dishonourable use of torture.[13][14]

Reasons for the revolt[edit]

One native explained the reasons for the revolt as follows, "The whites have turned us into slaves; to get palm nuts from us, they have not hesitated to whip or beat us. They entertained themselves with the women and girls from our villages. Our lives were no longer those of men, but of beasts. Our whole existence stood in the service of working for the white people: we slept for the whites, we ate for the whites, we got up for the whites and for the white man’s work. We were tired of always having to work for the white man, who subjected us to inhuman conditions. That is why we heeded and accepted the messages of Matemu a Kelenge, later known as Mundele Funji, when he asked us to stop paying taxes, to stop working for the white man and to chase him away from us."[15]

A report by Omer Dewilliamort discusses a number of causes of the revolt. The head tax and the supplementary tax, which were used as legal justification for forced labour in the Congo, had been significantly increased. One of the ways the Congolese were forced to earn money to pay the head tax with was by picking palm fruit, and the price for 30 kilos of fruit had been lowered from 2.5 francs to only one franc. To pay the new supplementary tax, a man with two wives had to cut 2.5 tonnes of fruit. Additionally, the natives often faced difficulties in getting paid at all when they delivered fruit. Industrialists' representatives had been committing various thefts and abuses. Perks customarily paid to chiefs had been suppressed. In the Yongo chefferie, where people were required by the State to grow food crops, the HCB failed to buy up the bulk of these food crops.[16]

In his own discussion of the causes of the revolt, Vanderhallen notes that the prices paid for palm fruit had fallen by half, but the natives were forced to continued producing as much as before. The prices were so low, that the sole means of persuading the natives to deliver the fruit was the use of coercion. This coercion came both directly, as managers of the oil mills and agents of the colony beat the natives, threatened them, arrested them, etc., and also indirectly by means of a head tax (a sort of tax in which there was a flat fee rather than a percentage of income, thus forcing people with no interest in Belgian currency to earn wages even though they might rather have farmed or done other things), which natives had to work three or four months out of the year in order to pay. He noted that the Huileries du Congo Belge, Compagnie du Kasai, Portuguese traders, and the colonial administration all played their parts in creating the situation. The events also caused him to question his previously good opinion of Lord Leverhulme.[17]

During the revolt, the rebels performed a number of religious rituals. However, according to Deputy Jacquemotte, this does not mean that the revolt broke out for religious reasons. Jacquemotte, like Dewilliamort, considered the reasons to be economic. He pointed out that, the price of palm nuts having fallen, blacks were forced to work for several months to pay their taxes. He declared that, "The oppression weighing upon the tribes of the Congo is growing heavier by the day, and the exploitation of the blacks is every day more intense and more inhumane. The revolt is simply the logical and inevitable consequence of this oppression. It is the outcome towards which all those who, preferring anything, even death itself, to continuing their existence under present conditions, now willingly run."[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. "Belgian Congo (1908-1960)". University of Central Arkansas. http://uca.edu/politicalscience/dadm-project/sub-saharan-africa-region/belgian-congo-1908-1960/. Retrieved 29 October 2016. 
  2. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  3. "Un autre regard sur l'Histoire Congolaise: Guide alternatif de l’exposition de Tervuren". p. 15. https://www.deboutcongolais.info/histoire-du-congo.pdf. Retrieved 22 March 2018. 
  4. Louis-François Vanderstraeten. La répression de la révolte des Pende du Kwango en 1931. http://www.kaowarsom.be/documents/MEMOIRES_VERHANDELINGEN/Sciences_morales_politique/Hum.Sc.(NS)_T.53,1_VANDERSTRAETEN%20L.-F._La%20r%C3%A9pression%20de%20la%20r%C3%A9volte%20des%20Pende%20du%20Kwango%20en%201931_2001.pdf
  5. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  6. "Un autre regard sur l'Histoire Congolaise: Guide alternatif de l’exposition de Tervuren". p. 15. https://www.deboutcongolais.info/histoire-du-congo.pdf. Retrieved 22 March 2018. 
  7. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 148-151. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  8. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 149-150. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  9. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 150. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  10. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 151-152. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  11. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 156-157. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  12. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 157-158. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  13. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  14. Louis-François Vanderstraeten. La répression de la révolte des Pende du Kwango en 1931. p. 79. http://www.kaowarsom.be/documents/MEMOIRES_VERHANDELINGEN/Sciences_morales_politique/Hum.Sc.(NS)_T.53,1_VANDERSTRAETEN%20L.-F._La%20r%C3%A9pression%20de%20la%20r%C3%A9volte%20des%20Pende%20du%20Kwango%20en%201931_2001.pdf
  15. Van Reybrouck, David (2014). "Chapter 4: In the Stranglehold of Fear: Growing Unrest and Mutual Suspicion in Peacetime". Congo: The Epic History of a People. Translated by Sam Garrett. Harper Collins. 
  16. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 153-154. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  17. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 164-166. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  18. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 158-159. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.