Six Handkerchiefs for the Cannibals: The Infamous “Jameson Affair”

This article originally appeared on #ILLUSTRATI n. 54 – “Se questo è un uomo”

From James W. Buel, Heroes of the Dark Continent, 1889

In 1885, the state of Congo became private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. During the 23 years of this colonial domination, the king never set foot in this country; yet he exploited its resources and enslaved its inhabitants, causing 8 to 30 million deaths, which means he literally halved the local population. The Force Publique, a militia established by the king to spread terror, used to torture and mutilate men, women, and children, thus writing one of the most shameful and bloody pages of European colonialism.

James S. Jameson

Such an inhuman context was the setting for the scandal of James ‘Sligo’ Jameson, heir of a famous Irish whisky distillery still operating today. A naturalist, hunter and explorer, Jameson joined the Emin Pascià Relief Expedition led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley in 1886. Despite the stated objective of this expedition was to provide aid to the Emin Pasha who was under siege, its real task was to expand Belgian settlements on Congolese territory. On February 25, the soldiers left Zanzibar, heading to the heart of what was then called “Black Africa”. The scandal happened when they arrived in Ribakiba (a town known today as Lokandu).

According to Assad Farran, Jameson’s interpreter, during a meeting with the local tribe leaders, the Irish gentlemen showed his curiosity for the practice of cannibalism. “In England we hear much about cannibals who eat people, but being myself in the place, I would like to see it in person”, he said. The tribe leaders confirmed that anthropophagy was quite common in that area, and they suggested Jameson to offer a slave as a gift to one of the neighbour villages. So, for the ridiculous price of six handkerchiefs, Jameson bought a 10-year-old girl.

On reaching the native huts the girl, who was led by the man who had brought her, was presented to the cannibals. The man told them: “This is a present from the white man. He wants to see how you eat her”. The girl was taken and tied by the hands to a tree. About five natives were sharpening knives. Then a man came and stabbed her with a knife twice in the belly. The girl did not scream, but she knew what was going on. She was looking right and left, as if looking for help. When she was stabbed she fell down dead. The natives then came and began cutting her in pieces. One cut a leg, another an arm, another the head and breast, and another took the inner parts out of her belly. After the meat was divided, some took it to the river to wash it, and others went straight to their house. During all the time Mr. Jameson held a notebook and a pencil in his hand, making rough sketches of the scene.

Recontruction of Jameson’s sketches.

When Assad signed this sworn statement in 1890, four years after the events, Jameson was already dead. Since his description of the events was confirmed by another witness, the scandal broke out, and the word spread fast from Europe to the US, where the story was even published in the New York Times.
Jameson’s widow then tried to redeem the memory of his husband by publishing a letter he was supposed to have written on his deathbed. This writing provided a different version of the events: the whole thing happened so fast that Jameson was powerless to stop the carnage happening before his eyes. Yet in the letter (which many suspected to be a fake written by Jameson’s friends) there were some details—such as the six handkerchiefs used to buy the little girl—corresponding to the interpreter’s report: if the letter’s purpose was to restore a posthumous honour to Jameson, this strategy proved to be rather weak.
The situation became even more confused when Assad withdrew his charges, declaring he had been misunderstood. Yet, everyone could figure out that, in all likelihood, he had been forced to retract his accusations by Belgian officers.

Although a number of grey areas still remains, there is little doubt that the accident actually occurred. Another witness remembered that back then Jameson had no problems telling this story, and that he didn’t realise the gravity of his actions until long afterwards. “Life is very cheap in Central Africa; Mr. Jameson forgot how differently this terrible thing would be regarded at home.” During those dreadful years in Congo, while regularly committing massacres, Europeans treated natives like cattle. So, from the colonists’ point of view, six handkerchiefs were clearly worth a gory and unforgettable show.

18 comments to Six Handkerchiefs for the Cannibals: The Infamous “Jameson Affair”

  1. Livio says:

    Come al solito, noi occidentali dalle comuni radici cristiane, dobbiamo sempre farci riconoscere…
    Agghiacciante. Articolo splendido.

  2. ch3o says:

    Sono stato in Congo per un po’. Non stento a credere che sia potuta succedere un’atrocità simile. Basti pensare a cosa successe negli anni 60/70, complici manipoli di mercenari…atroce. Non so se “grazie” sia idoneo, non bevo il Jameson, ma credo non potrò nemmeno più avvicinarmici senza un motto di ribrezzo fisico.

  3. gery says:

    Un pezzo di storia (quella su Leopoldo) di cui non ricordavo, grazie! Quella invece su James S. Jameson e sulla bambina cannibalizzata non la sapevo proprio. Terribile, terribile e squallido allo stesso tempo. Questa vicenda va a pari passo con i linciaggi negli USA. Non ricordo, ma avevi per caso scritto un articolo sulle cartoline dei linciaggi?

  4. ch3o says:

    Non potrei berlo con lo stesso gusto con cui un whisky dovrebbe essere bevuto…

  5. Jeff linscoot says:

    Once again blame the actions of yourself upon someone else. Jameson did not kill the person yet you blame him for the actions of others. Personal responsibility is dead

    • Josh says:

      No Jameson did not actually murder the girl but he is equally just as guilty. As if he had stuck the knife in her herself. Worse he paid to have it done. I am ashamed he has the same name as me. Sadly for me at some point His family originated from Scotland and we are both descendants of the same clan.

    • Peter says:

      Hitler personally didn’t kill a single Jew but he is as guilty as those that did the deeds.

    • ako says:

      You need psychological help.

    • BeansBigMama says:

      You are right. He did not commit the murder. However, his dark nature facilitated it. He purchased her and had her tied up to watch her die. Not only did he want to watch her die he also wanted to watch her be consumed. So yes accountability falls on Jameson as well.

    • Akunwanne Blessing says:

      Your a very stupid person, incredibly stupid, as far as am concerned he killed that kid for his own pleasure, he bought the child did he not? He gave her as a gift to cannibals did he not? So how is he not guilty too, just shut up f**king white boy/girl. You should have no say in this period.

      • IQ 144 says:

        The assumption the counterargument derives from a white person of either gender is very telling.

        It is the epitome of the common racist’s indemnification for the shortcomings of their own ethnicities indignities.

        A shamefully humourous example of the INDIGNANT nature of true racism, equally blind and ignorant. ignorance necessary to ignore histories facts, embracing rather, ones feelings with total disregard for historical framework and cultural accuracy.

        Indigenous African’s were without exception, uncivilized hunter gatherers, at a relatively primitive state of biological evolution evolutionary.

        In contrast to european explorers and colonists, this sociodemographic diferences were apparent, and inherent to ancestral genealogy.

        Through no fault of mankind, owing to natures gift of biological inheritance.

        To find distaste in the native customers and conditions of ones own ancestors is what GIVES WAY TO AN INNATE SENSE OF BASE inadequacy AND ORIGINATE INSUFFICIENCY- drawn simply by way of comparison.

        It is not for us to draw from comparison, our sense of self worth, or cast judgement upon those whose estimation of (human) worth may transcend that of our own.

        Only evolution and the whole of our future collective;human consciousness, may make such an assertion.

        Accurately as well, I might add.

        You may hate, but hate for others derives from that of ONESELF, and only in that reflection can we envision our own shortcomings.

        So naturally, your incidiary response is understood, visceral hatred recognized, and fractured sense of identity sympathized with.

        Fortunately the truly evolved specimen can sympathize, absent an accompanying sense of empathy via the compartmentalization of ones thoughts and emotions, the basis of critical thought. Whose scientific and philosophical conception coalesced no sooner than had the collaboration of histories greatest “thinkers”.

        Many of whom, were, emphatically fucking white boys and girls. Statistically even an albino or two (whose skin is even lighter in pigment)!

        For the same reason that a man may throw a child to crocodiles and be guilty of murder, Jamesons disregard for her safety was criminally inhumane. Only because he UNDERSTOOD the depraved immorality and degenerate absence of humanity inherent in the premeditated act.

        Unbeknownst to the primitive African natives, his intentions were to observe their abhorrent behavior, for the sake of study and onservation. This curiosity however does not alleviate his responsibility in her death, nor the manner of it, for he was not in adherence to the scientific method nor did his wonder spring from an altruistic desire to expand mankind’s collective awareness for the sake of empiricism or scientific discovery.

        These are he issues one must grapple with when weighing cause and effect, positive and negative, and ultimately good and evil.

        The actions of the African tribespeople who took part in the deplorably despicable act described, in its totality, surmounting to ritualistic child torture and malice murder followed by unspeakable desecration and cannibalism was nothing more than a common act of savagery by ALL he natives of Africa in this time period.

        Therefore the burden of guilt lies upon Jameson and he alone, for he was the only one involved in the act that could conceive of the activity as being WRONG in any sense of the word.

        The presence of a practice ubiquitous among a large population is indicative of its widespread cultural acceptance within that society.

        The limited progression of evolution in this part of the world and continent in particular is indicative of a relatively limited advancement in cognitive development.

        It is akin to trying a mentally incompetent defendant in a modern criminal w trial present day judicial standards for perpetrating the same act.

        Jameson should be held to the same standards that were widely accepted as British international criminal penal code classified at the time, with regard to jurisdiction.

        Race never entered the equation lol, just geographical, socioeconomic as well as genealogical influences and conditions.

        Good luck disbelieving in the real world

  6. Once again blame the actions of yourself upon someone else. Jameson did not kill the person yet you blame him for the actions of others. Personal responsibility is dead

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