These notes were compiled from information kindly furnished to me by Mr. Collins and from such references as I could find in the writings of other travellers. The photographs have been selected from a series of several hundred made by Mr. Collins during his journey.
The northeastern portion of the Belgian Congo is inhabited by a number of little known tribes, chiefly of the type sometimes called forest negro from the fact that their most characteristic representatives are now to be found in and on the outskirts of the great Congo forests which stretch across the continent from the neighbourhood of the chain of lakes occupying the Albertine Rift Valley, in which the Nile takes its rise—Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert—to the Gaboon and the Cameroons, near the west coast. Mr. A. M. Collins, the well known traveller and big game hunter, lately visited this region in quest of examples of rare species of the large animals which still haunt its forests and savannahs. Mr. Collins, whose generosity has enriched the zoological collections of Philadelphia, New York and Chicago with the results of this and former expeditions to tropical as well as to arctic regions, has with no less generosity made a valuable contribution to the African section of the University Museum in the form of a collection of objects and photographs illustrating the life of these forest negroes and other tribes of the northeastern Congo. The photographs which, with Mr. Collins’s kind permission, are here published for the first time, speak for themselves; the ethnographical collection is exhibited in the African room of the Museum.
The route taken by Mr. Collins is indicated by the broken line on the accompanying sketch map. The line is seen to enter the country with which we are concerned at Ujiji on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika and to leave it at the northern end of Lake Albert, after making two important detours westward to the middle and lower courses respectively of the Rivers Lowa and Ituri. Besides collecting objects from tribes immediately on his route, Mr. Collins also obtained some from members of tribes remote from it who were visiting his hosts. The region west of the lakes is one concerning whose population we know not very much more than the names of some of the tribes. Stanley, Junker, Stuhlmann, Johnston, skirted it on the north and east; Johnston has summarized in his “Uganda Protectorate” and in “George Grenfell and the Congo” the general information gained by himself and others concerning the peoples, especially the pygmies, on its confines; and a Belgian official, Commandant Delhaise, has written a not very lengthy account of an important tribe of its southern border, The Warega or Balega. Mr. Collins’ photographic and other illustrations of native life are on this account the more acceptable and important.
The types of negroes represented in the photographs are three: the Watusi of Ruanda, between Lakes Kivu and Edward; the forest negroes inhabiting the greater part of the region, both forest proper and savannah or parklands; and the pygmies, or dwarfish negroes of the Ituri forests, generally known as Wambuti or Bambuti. The first, especially when compared with the usually short forest type and the dimunitive pygmies, are strikingly tall and good looking people. They belong to a racial group sometimes known by the generic name of Hima, cattle raising aristocrats of various districts of British East Africa, and related to the Galla and Somali of the farther northeast. They probably represent an ancient blend of negro with a non-negroid north African and Asiatic stock. The shorter negroes, with whom they have to some extent intermingled, are agriculturists, practising a simple form of horticulture, without, that is, the use of the plough. Their principal garden products are bananas (or plantains), manioc (cassava), maize, and yams. They also consume large quantities of game. The pygmies, except in so far as they obtain cultivated vegetable produce from their neighbours in exchange for game, obtain their livelihood by the most primitive of pursuits, hunting and collecting wild fruits and roots.
The pygmies, where they have not entered into regular relations with their neighbours for the exchange of game for garden produce and implements and weapons, are notorious as pilferers of gardens. On some occasions, to stave off reprisals for their larcenies, they are said to leave gifts of game in place of the plantains or other produce that they carry off. In one place, at any rate, this quite irregular device for placating their victims has become regularized into a form of procedure which supplies an interesting example of what is sometimes known as the silent trade, instances of which have been recorded as a means of dealing with similar situations in various parts of the world. It occurs among the Akkas (pygmies) of the Upper Welle District of the Belgian Congo. When an Akka returns from hunting, he repairs to the nearest banana plantation, taking with him some pieces of meat wrapped up in leaves. Then he climbs a tree, cuts down a bunch of bananas, descends, leaves a packet of meat skewered to the stem, and repeats the process with as many packets as he carries, or as many bunches as he and his companions can carry off. Readers of “Kenilworth” will recall how customers of Wayland Smith got their horses shod by leaving horse and coin near his mysterious smithy and taking themselves off, to return after a given time to find the horse shod and the coin gone, though they had had no sight of the smith. Whatever ancient historical reality may be represented by the various forms of the Weyland legend in northern Europe may not be as old as the instance of the Silent Trade related by Herodotus in connection with the trading of the Carthaginians on the African coast beyond the Pillars of Hercules for gold. It is an ancient and widespread device for bringing together the objects of trade without necessary contact of the principals, if such contact is for one reason or another impossible or not desired. As in the case of the pygmies, it may lead in the end to free and open trade to the mutual advantage of former enemies; all the stages from hostile pillage to friendly intercourse with silent trading as the means of transition may be seen in the history of the relations of the pygmies with their neighbours.
The primitiveness which such facts imply is borne out in all other respects by the circumstances of these people so far as they are known. Even their small stature and other infantile features of their physical constitution have led some writers to apply to investigations of pygmy life and origins tempting analogies connecting them with what might be called the childhood of man. However that may be, they present an interesting example of people organized in what is, so far as is known, the least complicated form of society in existence. They have, it is said, no language of their own, speaking only, with certain peculiarities of pronunciation, modified forms of the language of their neighbours.
Cite This Article
Hall, Henry Usher. "Alfred Collins In The Congo." The Museum Journal XVII, no. 2 (June, 1926): 167-217. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/1381/
This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.