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The Independent State of Congo - Expo Liege 1905

The Independent State of Congo at the Exhibition Expo Liege 1905

After having participated in the most brilliant and remarkable way in the Antwerp 1894 and Brussels 1897 Exhibitions, the Independent State of the Congo seemed to have decided not to participate in the World's Fair.

Its abstention was deeply regretted at the 1900 Paris Exhibition where many Belgians and foreigners noted, with disappointment, the absence of any Belgian colonial participation.

But an event as lofty and important as the Liège Universal Exhibition, with its lofty goal of glorifying three quarters of a century of independence and progress, could not do without a demonstration of the "greater Belgium", which came to assert its march towards progress. This Congo, moreover, is doubly great because it is the marvellous result of the initiative of His Majesty the King, and because it is also an admirable example of what the qualities of work and endurance of the men of our country can produce!

The Executive Committee of our Exhibition therefore made every effort to ensure the erection of a Congo pavilion at the great World's Fair. Mr. Paul Van Hoegaerden, vice-president of the Executive Committee, who was specially entrusted with the execution of the project, worked on it with untiring devotion.

Assisted by Mr. Jacques Desoer, one of the deputy secretaries general of the Committee, and by the various services of the Independent State, he had the satisfaction of being able to ensure the organisation of a very interesting Belgian colonial section. This section highlighted the highly humanitarian work of His Majesty the King and showed the gigantic work accomplished in this wild country, which was still unknown and inaccessible thirty years ago. Sanitation work of all kinds, the institution of wise laws, the repression of the ferocious customs of the negroes, everything which, in a word, constitutes the benefit of civilisation, was introduced and spread over this immense territory.

Before entering into details concerning the pavilion itself, details which, presented in this way, would only have a reportorial value, it seems necessary to us to give first a few notes on the Independent State, in order to show the enormous efforts which were expended to make of an uninhabited and savage country the flourishing colony which this State constitutes at the present time.


Thirty years ago, the Congo, of which only the part near the mouth of the river of the same name was known, was a vast country populated by savages, covered with impenetrable forests, the domain of an abundant and ferocious fauna; here and there, rivers, large impetuous rivers encumbered with obstacles, still marked the abandonment of a country to the sole caprice of vegetation and its natural destiny.

A constant state of war reigned between the peoples who inhabited it; from tribe to tribe, and even from village to village, there were continual struggles with their most terrible consequences: murder, kidnapping, pillage, violence, cannibalism; a life of perpetual alarm or constant defence which barely allowed for hunting, fishing, the gathering of a few fruits, the construction of rudimentary huts, the maintenance of a few early crops.
the maintenance of a few early crops.

In the village itself, the situation was no less horrible: the right of the strongest constituted all justice, and there was not a single festival that did not have as its main attraction the satisfaction of crude and savage passions born of the instinctive ferocity of uncivilized races.

The human inhabitants, ferocious as the animals of the bush, rebellious to the universal instinct of sociability, had no other preoccupation than to make the right of brute force prevail over the weak.

However, the perceived wealth of this region and the possibility of creating outlets for our national products had attracted the attention of Leopold II who, after all the progress made since 1830, dreamed of a greater expansion towards new countries. This was a grandiose idea that His Majesty had already expressed in 1861 in a work entitled: Le complément de l'oeuvre de 1830.

In 1876, he had convened a geographical conference in Brussels, on his own initiative, at which he made his views known.
his views. He outlined a programme of penetration into Africa and asked that the following questions be considered
1) Precise designation of the bases of operation to be acquired on the Zanzibar Coast and at the mouth of the Congo.
2) Designation of the roads to be opened and the hospital stations to be created.
3) Creation of an International Central Committee and National Committees to continue the execution of the work once it was well defined.

On 14 September 1876, the International African Association was constituted, of which the King of the Belgians was proclaimed President on the proposal of Sir Bartle Frère, and which adopted as its flag the blue flag decorated with a gold star. Shortly afterwards, the Belgian National Committee of this international institution was formed.

In the meantime, Stanley, who had left Zanzibar three years earlier and had crossed Africa and reconnoitered the course of the Congo, arrived in Borna and returned to Europe.

In February 1879, the famous explorer was hired by the Comité d'Etudes du Haut Congo, founded three months earlier. He immediately returned to Zanzibar, recruited the necessary personnel for a new expedition and arrived in Banana the following August. In February 1880, he began transporting the material of the Study Committee's expedition along the Stanley Pool Falls.

From 1881 to 1884, the explorer, whose energy and activity were truly astonishing, founded several stations, among others that of Leopoldville, discovered a large lake which he named Lake Leopold II, and shortly afterwards proceeded to launch on the waters of the Pool the first steamboat, the En Avant, built, together with two others, by the Cockerill Company, for this special service.

Already a period of activity was taking shape, the ground was being prepared, and in 1882, the Comité d'Etudes was replaced by the International Association of Upper Congo, whose sovereignty was successively recognised by the Washington Senate, France and Germany.

On 3 November 1884, the latter power, in agreement with France, invited the representatives of the countries to meet in Berlin to settle the African question by international agreement.

This conference, in which 14 powers participated, proclaimed from the outset the absolute freedom of trade in the Congo basin, and after three months of work, it resulted in the drafting of the General Act of Berlin.

The new state still lacked a ruler. On 1 August 1885, with the consent of the Belgian Parliament, Leopold II notified the powers of the constitution of the Independent State of the Congo and his accession to sovereignty.

Immediately the new state organised its central government which, from that moment on, comprised three departments: Foreign Affairs, Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Finance,
Interior, with their headquarters in Brussels.

Important political and social measures marked the advent of the Congo as a modern power. Thus, the Sovereign State adhered to the universal postal convention of Paris, created post offices, while on 10 March 1886, it put into force the decree organising repressive justice. In August 1887, the minting of silver and copper coins began. In August 1887, the minting of silver and copper coins began. During this time, bold explorers penetrated regions still untouched by any European trace and thus opened the way to the civilising element.

However, the essentially humanitarian work of the Independent State was hampered by formidable adversaries, the Arabs, slave traders, who found in the Congo a field for large and lucrative crops.
who found in the Congo a field for large and lucrative harvests. On 28 August 1886, they had already taken the Stanley Pool station, which fortunately was reoccupied by the state troops on 5 June 1888.

This failure did not stop their nefarious attempts; their incursions multiplied, and the State troops were constantly harassed. One could not think of attacking them immediately if one wanted to have some chance of full and complete success.

It was necessary to create a solid base by organising the two entrenched camps of Basoko and Lusambo.

The Arabs were finally defeated, the enemy chiefs submitted, but nineteen months were necessary to bring the Manyema campaign to a successful conclusion, during which the State unfortunately had to deplore the loss of three intelligent and devoted chiefs, Hodister, Emin Pacha and Ponthier.

This victory gave new activity to trade in the State: on 30 July 1889, the first public sale of ivory took place in Antwerp; in March 1890, work began on the construction of the Matadi railway, while Katanga became the target of remarkable explorations. Little by little, Katanga, the Uelle basin and the western part of Bahr-El-Ghazal up to the Nile, from Dar-Banda to the borders of Darfur and Kuka were occupied, despite the presence of Madhists, slave traders in the region.

On 9 January 1895, the first modern and rapid communication link between the old country and the great new land was established; the steamer Léopoldville, recently launched, made the Antwerp-Boma crossing in seventeen and a half days.

Finally, on 17 February 1897, the state troops, under the command of Major Chaltin, laid siege to Kedjof and captured the place in a hard-fought battle, contributing to the definitive defeat of the fanatical and barbaric Madhists.

From then on, except for the setbacks caused by tribal revolts, the Independent State of Congo organised the administration of its territory everywhere. To this end, a loan was contracted and the success that greeted it marked the confidence of all in the Sovereign State; sections of railway lines, waterways and roads were created; the latest country to participate in the general economy of the world, the Independent State of the Congo announced itself as one of the most flourishing colonies of which the old countries could be proud.

The results of a continuous succession of efforts and dedication are immense. From any angle, they are worthy of a work whose creative idea was highly humanitarian and whose philanthropic aim rivals the high patriotic thought.

It would be impossible to cite all the progress that has been made so quickly, and we would risk omitting some of it, even some very significant ones. Let us mention, however, from the point of view of the indigenous element, the abolition of slavery, the suppression of polygamy, the repression of cannibalism, the marked improvement in the conditions of material life, the creation of hospitals equipped with all the advances, the prohibition of alcohol.

From the Belgian point of view, the results are no less appreciable. Our nationals find in the Congo an ever-increasing outlet for Belgian products, which they exchange for natural products of which the natives were previously unaware.

At the same time, the discovery of the Katanga highlands provides the Belgians with an area for colonisation through settlement worthy of attention, since Belgium is the country with the highest population density.

On a more special note, it must be said that if the vitality of a people is directly related to its capacity for expansion, the work of His Majesty the King has definitively pushed the Belgians along this path which is their future. In the presence of such a fact, are we not seized with admiration for the breadth of thought of His Majesty Leopold II? and are we not naturally led to say: "This is a superb work which combines with its utilitarian side the greatest moral scope that a human enterprise can have.


The Congo pavilion at the Liège Exhibition reminded visitors of the almost entire history of the work, the slow and peaceful assimilation of European elements into a savage country. Since no indigenous public buildings of any importance existed in the Congo, it was not necessary to look for a representative element that could be adapted in a more or less stylized way; it was therefore deemed preferable to reconstruct the residence of the Governor General of the Congo in Borna at the Walloon World's Fair. This was however adapted to the needs of an Exhibition section by the Brussels architect Sneyers.

The glorious blue flag, with its gold star, floated over this pavilion, whose pleasant white hue pierced through the foliage of the park, A staircase led to the elevated ground floor, which was entirely surrounded by a large gallery.

Those minds which love a thing rather for what it evokes than for what it closely represents, saw in this pavilion a reminder of colonial life in hot countries; they were pleased to evoke some European in a white helmet, lying under these long galleries, in the cool of the mornings or the calm of the evenings.

The trees which surrounded the pavilion could replace the local scenery of baobabs and giant palms; some fine days of our summer could evoke the great sun of yonder, and it was not until the softly bluish sky, shimmering clearly between the jagged days of the foliage, that could not help the illusion.

Two groups of negroes, in defensive attitudes, adorned the entrance and were to be found, in more peaceful forms, in the first room of the pavilion, a sort of antechamber where the colonial work was synthesised. Four groups by the sculptors Rombaux and Jacques Marin represented: the Basoko Potter, the Azandi Hunter, the Pearls /(assai, and the Sango Toilet.

The back panel was covered with a large symbolic fresco: The Entry of Civilisation into the Congo, in the manner of Puvis de Chavannes, by the Brussels artist Ciamberlani. Here and there, under clear glass cases, ivory statuettes or goldsmith's work on ivory cast the elegant note of a decorative art of delicate sumptuousness.

We particularly remember a magnificent ivory box by the Brussels silversmith Wolfers.

The old silver of the locks and plates harmonised beautifully with the milky white of the ivory. This precious and unique specimen was acquired by the State Museum.

Ivory tempted other sculptors, and for good reason, certain reflections of this precious material give, more than marble, the idea of the flesh itself, in all its tenderness and luminosity.

A simple enumeration of the specimens exhibited in the pavilion is obligatory. It was Saint Michael (ivory, bronze, stones, enamels), by Ch. Samuel, Coquetterie, (ivory and onyx), and Inspiration (ivory and onyx) by the same artist; the Evening Star, by P. Braecke; Rêverie, (ivory and onyx), by P. Braecke; and Rêverie, (ivory and onyx) by P. Braecke. Braecke; Rêverie, by Rousseau; Psyché, Jeune Bacclius; l'Offrande, Vase à Fleurs; Avant le Bain, by Van Bemden; l'Ange du Foyer, by Lagae; Captive, by Herain; Eva et Merita, by J. Marin, and finally, Pandora (ivory and jewels) by J. de Rudder.

The second room of the pavilion, which was accessed through openings in the back panel, contained most of the products used in the import and export trade in the Congo.

The imported articles, however commonplace, had their own special significance: they spoke of the needs of the European in the Congo and showed the usefulness of products to which we in our own countries attach only very secondary importance. It was curious, for example, to see nails, ordinary nails, taking an important place in this Museum.

Foodstuffs and the way they were preserved also occupied a large place; the list, however suggestive it might be, would be interminable and would become tedious. It is however interesting to note in this order of things, salt, either for consumption or for agriculture,
teas, milk, chocolate, ham, canned vegetables: asparagus, peas, beans, celery, spinach, hop shoots; and game pâtés, various meats, fish, fruits and jams.

Next to the display cabinets occupied by these edible products, others offered to our observation the clothes likely to adapt to the climate of the country: light and resistant cloths, mostly white, in order not to absorb the sun rays. Next came. Colonial helmets, waterproof tarpaulins intended to constitute a temporary shelter in the event of some bad weather surprising the traveller in a remote place, and finally pieces of horse harness.

Alongside the civil and colonial element, represented by trunks, suitcases and resistant shoes, there was the military element, evoked by the same light clothing covered with a few stripes or gilding which alone marked its destination.

Oriental pearls, mirrors with polished copper frames, rocaille, and various fancy objects of the bazaar kind, indirectly gave an amusing indication of the childish character of the negroes.

Perfumery, which was represented by toilet soaps, various waters and powders, already marked a more advanced Europeanisation; chemical matches reminded us of the astonishment of the negroes in front of these diabolic firebrands.

After these various hors d'oeuvres - very few would include the pipe, of which there were respectable specimens here - we find the useful: penknives, table knives, cutlasses with chain and strap, razors, and finally, an amusing olla-podrida of household articles in which the hardware dominated.

The metallurgical industry was next door and showed us, above all, nails, precious nails in different shapes and sizes; this industry also included wire drawing, locksmith tools, enamel, copper, nickel and aluminium cookware, tools for the railways, the civil and military engineering.

Lighting, which was mainly based on local resources, was represented by specimens of lamps, lanterns and palm oil lamps; some of them, however, were petrol lamps.

Here are the umbrellas: in a country of sunshine and heavy showers, they are of great use and the negroes are particularly fond of them. They consider it a mark of distinction, and whether it rains or shines, they carry it under their arm as a vade mecum of great distinction.

When we have mentioned curled animal hair for furniture and bedding, various oils for different uses, hemp and steel cables and ropes, a speciality of the town of Termonde,
we will have briefly reviewed the different categories of imported products on display.

In the same room, exports, of which we had already seen, in artistic or raw form, one of the main elements, were again detailed by various types of rubber in different states, kola seeds, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, vanilla, finally by various samples of ores and specimens of rare beauty of wood for luxury cabinet making. In bundles, on the stalls, pieces of knotted lianas, raw, intrigued the visitor; they were rubber.

Most of the rubber plants in the Congolese region are found in the great central forest, where the tightly entangled lianas present the most impassable natural barrier to man.

Congolese rubber is produced by various lianas, trees and even herbaceous plants whose aerial part reaches a maximum height of about 50 cm. It is often far from the eyes of the white man that the native harvests the raw rubber, sometimes by making incisions in the stem, through which a milky juice flows and coagulates, either by heat or by the action of various vegetable juices, and sometimes, as is the case for grass rubber, by beating the underground part of the plant or rhizome. In this way, a yellowish, reddish or blackish mass is obtained; this is the raw rubber as it arrives in Antwerp.

But the regulation of the harvesting of this rich product has enabled the native to coagulate the latex by safer and quicker means, and although the rubber harvest is still susceptible to improvements, which will not fail to occur, the Independent State of Congo is at present the largest producer of elastic gum, while the port of Antwerp is becoming one of the most important rubber markets in the rubber markets in the world. T

A double staircase led upstairs; four missions, those of Stanley Falls, the Company of Desires, the Redemptorist Brothers and the Old Stamp Society, had scattered on the walls of the staircase interesting photographs: fetishes, Congolese music societies, various types of natives, views of the Congo, natives harvesting palm wine, birds, animals, etc.

The room on the first floor was large, bright and luminous; at the back, between two openings leading to an outside gallery, a panel was decorated with a large decorative fresco.

The walls were decorated with an appropriate and amusing decoration. The walls were adorned with appropriate and amusing decorations, such as native weapons, tom-toms, woven wicker objects, and here and there beautiful photographs helped to evoke the vividness already evoked by the documents in kind, while a large wall map, on a scale of 1:1,000,000, drew the visitor to examine and locate the documents in kind in the places where they came from.

Shelves surrounding the room, about one metre from the floor, held the in-kind documents of various colonial companies.

The Great African Lake Railway Company was represented by reductions of locomotives and wagons; reductions again, amusing in their smallness and precision, represented the steamships, both passenger and freight, which currently ply the great navigable rivers. A remarkable collection of native woods was also on display.

A relief map occupied the centre of the room; by its size, its documentary value, and its consistency with the most recent discoveries, it constituted the most instructive element of the pavilion.

This map, which occupied more than 100 square metres, had been drawn up by the Brussels Cartographic Institute. The course of the Congo could be followed with the greatest of ease, its deep furrow fed by the innumerable veins of its tributaries: the Sukenie, the Kasai, the Kouango, the Sonori, the Maringo, the Uelle and many others; bluish depressions indicated lakes, eminences, mountains. One could not read this map without feeling a fair amount of admiration for the civilisers. Without them,
it could not have happened; it represented the conquest and the difficulties which impeded it.

The civilising element appeared clearly and was no less curious to observe; the telegraph lines were simulated by small poles, they ran from Boma, reaching Matadi, up the Congo to the mouth of the Busipa; A second line linked the bank of the Tanganika to the Portes d'Enfer; small locomotives marked the points of departure and arrival of the various railway lines; they were followed from Boma-Matadi to Léopoldville, from Stanleyville to Ponthierville, from Bulé to Sendive, where the river is not navigable.

Everywhere small tricoloured flags, stitched into the map, indicated the various posts and stations.

By a natural return of thought, after having thus traversed the whole pavilion, the visitor paid a tribute of admiration and gratitude to the humanitarian work, of which a very active King, accessible to the highest and most far-sighted ideas, had taken the initiative.

He had been able to see, by the various objects exhibited in the pavilion, the vestiges of savagery which, little by little, was retreating before civilisation; in the path of the latter, he found a renewed, sanitised country, criss-crossed by telegraph lines, railways, and navigable rivers traversed by great steamers.

He could already see, in a more or less near future, our country overrun by intense overproduction and by a population confined within borders of minimal development. But the colony was there to receive all those whose individual energy was drowning in the mass; it gave them its immense territory, its rich soil not yet pressed in every way. And over there a second Belgium was founded, which delivered to the old one the precious raw materials; the old one, in its turn, sent back a part of it, transformed in various ways.

This was the utilitarian side of the project, accompanying the philanthropic idea, which could only appear greater. It is, moreover, the nature of high enterprises to have, alongside their essential aim, a host of happy consequences which, although of a different order, are no less the natural consequence.

The Belgian people, since their advent to freedom, had proved their rare qualities of energy, their ability to follow progress and to make the most of it. The King had wanted the Belgian people to be the vehicle of civilisation in a country that was called "the land of darkness". At the same time, the gentlest, most consoling religion gradually replaced the idolatry with its ferocious rites and bloodthirsty demands.

History will perpetuate the name of Leopold II as that of a prince with broad conceptions and lofty ideas, and will perhaps make his Congolese work one of his finest titles of glory.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle de Liège 1905