Excerpt from a letter from Reverend John Whitehead, of the Baptist Missionary Society, to the Governor-General of the Congo Free State- This letter aimed to bring attention to the condition of the Congolese of the Lukolela District. The full letter explains the problem of depopulation, forced labor, and food shortages, and offers suggestions to alleviate the problems.

Excerpt from a letter from Rev. J. Whitehead to Governor-General of Congo State
Baptist Missionary Society, Lukolela, July 28, 1903

“…The population in the villages of Lukolela in January 1891 must have been not less than 6,000 people, but when I counted the whole population in Lukolela at the end of December 1896 I found it to be only 719… but judge of my heartache when on counting them all again on Friday and Saturday last, to find only a population of 352 people, and the death-rate rapidly increasing. I note also a decrease very appallingly apparent in the inland districts during the same number of years…so that if something is not soon done…doubtless the whole place will be very soon denuded [stripped] of its population. The pressure under which they live at present is crushing them; the food which they sadly need themselves very often must, under penalty, be carried to the State post, also grass, cane string, baskets for the “caoutchouc” [rubber] (the last three items do not appear to be paid for); the “caoutchouc” must be brought in from the inland districts; their Chiefs are being weakened in the prestige [authority/dignity] and physique through imprisonment, which is often cruel, and thus weakened in their authority over their own people, they are put into chains for the shortage of manioc break and “caoutchouc.” …

  1. According to Reverend Whitehead, what had happened to the village population of Lukolela?
  2. According to Rev. Whitehead, why were the people not eating enough food?
  3. Why might a reverend have been in Africa, writing a letter like this?
  4. Summarize the choices Africans had in this situation, and explain the consequences of each of these choices.
  5. Create a story about the officials at the State posts, explaining why they might have demanded so much from the Congolese (what pressures might they also be under?).
  6. Is it acceptable to imprison people for an inability to pay (either in money or in products)? Explain.