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Off to the Congo
Certainly Lang and Chapin would have reviewed the most recent scientific
publications on the flora, fauna, and ethnology of the Congo basin
before embarking on their trip. Although Lang was a mammalogist,
like many scientists of his day, he had interests in other areas,
such as photography and anthropology, and the American Museum Congo
Expedition was charged with collecting specimens of all kinds from
the Congo forest and savannah.
Lang had already been to Africa at least once. He may have been
aware of the fieldwork that had been done by expeditions such as
the Mission scientifique Congo-Nil, which studied the geology and
astronomy of the Congo Free State from 1902 to 1905; the Expedition
Bia-Francqui (geology, 1891-93); the Mission Emile Laurent (botany,
1903-1904); the Tanganyika Expedition (1899-1900), an all-around
natural history expedition; or the climatology and epidemiology
research published by Dr. Poskin in 1897. He would have almost certainly
referred to the Bibliography of Congo languages compiled
by Dr. Frederick Starr in 1908. Dr. Starr briefly worked in the
Anthropology Dept. in the American Museum, though he was later employed
as a propagandist by Leopold, writing a series of articles for the
Chicago Tribune that were later published as a book entitled
The truth about the Congo Free State. Also on the must-read
list would have been the ethnology monographs by Cyrille van Overbergh
and Edouard De Jonghe, who wrote on the Mangbetu, a group that Lang
and Chapin would devote especial attention to, and those of Joseph
Halkin, who worked in the north-western areas of Congo where Lang
and Chapin would focus their research.
A former Force Publique officer, Charles LeMaire, wrote a "practical
vocabulary" that our boys probably consulted: it listed phrases
in English, French, Swahili, Kigangi-Irebu, Mongo, and Bangala.
As a practical guide to traveling in the hot, damp, buggy tropics,
Lang and Chapin both probably read Albert Donny's Manuel du voyageur
et du résident au Congo. General Donny has recommendations on
hygiene, medicine (including salves - important for footsore travelers),
weather forecasting, tips on photography in the tropics, and more.
On the subject of health, Chapin might have picked up Joseph Everett
Dutton's 1910 study of human tick fever in eastern Congo.
The Musée du Congo Belge had begun publishing its annals as early
as 1902 (which seems odd, given that the Congo wasn't Belge before
1908), and both NYPL and AMNH have many issues of these, especially
with regard to the ethnology and botany of the Congo. AMNH had been
given a full set of the Musée's publications by the King of the
Belgians as part of a larger gift. Lang, being German, would probably
have been familiar with the work of Franz Thonner, who had made
trips to the Congo to study botany; Leo Frobenius, a prolific anthropologist;
and Die Deutsche Expedition an der Loango-Kuste, undertaken in the
The "most valuable source on nineteenth-century Mangbetu life"
(Schildkrout and Keim, p. 32) is probably that of George Schweinfurth,
who accompanied the caravan of a Coptic company to the Mangbetu
in 1870-71. Schildkrout and Keim have this to say about his The
Heart of Africa (1874):
Much of the information that Schweinfurth collected
by direct observation is accurate, and his splendid illustrations
bear witness to an eye for detail and an appreciation for indigenous
productions. He along with [Carlo] Piaggia, deserves credit for
being among the first Europeans to label African objects as art
rather than as mere curiosities. Nevertheless, the way in which
Schweinfurth reached his conclusions about the Mangbetu must be
considered… [his] account relies mostly on direct observations rather
than on conversations with Mangbetu, with whom he could not communicate
except through serial translations (from Arabic, which Schweinfurth
spoke, to Azande and Mangbetu). He communicated through the traders
with whom he traveled, and the traders' rumors were probably responsible
for many of Schweinfurth's opinions about the savage nature of the
Schweinfurth's account greatly contributed to the myth, belied
by subsequent field research, that the Mangbetu engaged in frequent
cannibalism. He also described the Mangbetu kingdom, ruled by King
Mbunza, as a centralized, stable, and powerful civilization, all
of which is true, but not to the extent that Schweinfurth reported.
Unfortunately for James Chapin, most of the published field research
noted above is in either French or German - as it still is today.
None of this very early and still-viable Congo research has ever
been translated into English.