As Fred Hunter readied an American Cultural Center for Coquilhatville, government-directed searches and fining of merchants shattered the town’s tranquility. A further account of the aftermath of “le pillage.”
Boudart, who had returned to Coq to direct the work of the construction firm Delinte & Boudart, releasing Delinte to return to Belgium, outlined for Fred his racial theories. Over lunch. This was to show the American newcomer how Boudart approached getting along in the Congo. It had now been independent for three years.
Boudart explained his relationship to Congolese in this fashion. Before independence the colons had been both stronger than the Congolese (because the colony was under colonial law) and more intelligent (because they had been to school). The intelligence could be straight-forward, moral, even idealistic. After independence Boudart saw himself as weaker than Congolese because Congolese now administered the law. So the question for Boudart became: Can I be stronger in my weakness through the use of my intelligence than the Congolese is strong through the use of his strength?
Boudart felt the weak man now had to use his intelligence craftily. Provincial Interior Minister Gaston LeBaud, who was also crafty – le pillage was an expression of that craftiness – knew how to play Boudart’s game. When the Belgians had both strength and intelligence over the Congolese, it was possible to be direct, idealistic, moral, as André was. Now that was indulgence.
Boudart laid it all out over lunch. And Fred laid it all out in a letter, writing: “Here is how Boudart works:
“The morning the provincial authorities closed all the stores in town at 7:30, Boudart went to see Interior Minister LeBaud at 9:00. ‘Monsieur le Ministre,’ he said, ’I know there is going to be a systematic search of all the stores and warehouses. I’m wondering if you could come to my stores and warehouses first since I have a great deal of work to do and would like to take advantage of the time when the stores will be closed.’
“He did this, he explained to me, because if they were going to come anyway, they would find what he had. Taking the initiative gave him room to maneuver. LeBaud did not visit Delinte & Boudart that morning. Boudart saw him again that afternoon and repeated his request. Then LeBaud asked him, ‘Don’t you have things hidden?’ ‘Oh, yes, I have things hidden,’ admitted Boudart. He listed a number of scarce materials that LeBaud wanted for a couple of houses he is either building or remodeling. LeBaud thought for a moment and then suggested, ‘Cachez les bien‘ (Hide them well). As it worked out, the Vigilance Committee never visited D&B.
“That, at least, is the way that Boudart tells the story. André thinks that D&B bought off LeBaud. He hinted that to me very broadly one day. He seemed to consider Boudart a betrayer of the other European merchants and acted coldly to him when he came around to the André house while I was there, discussing for the first time the apartment possibility. I personally doubt that he tried to bribe LeBaud because LeBaud didn’t need the money. He needed Boudart’s goods and his know-how in using them. Boudart feels only that his intelligence and knowledge of psychology have enabled him to manipulate a situation so that LeBaud himself makes a decision that benefits Boudart. Nothing dishonest in that, he feels.
“Boudart, as you’ve probably guessed, is a fairly crafty and amoral type. Capable in his own way, I feel, of a cruelty that his Africans understand. And yet he is just. The rules in relation to his Africans are well-defined. He won’t ask them to work in the sun without standing in the sun himself. (He claimed that D&B had sent men home for standing in the shade while Africans worked in the sun.) But if you steal from him, he is liable to feel, as African tribal elders are said to have done, that your hand ought to come off. He’s a hard-working guy, described his pre-independence hours as 6:00-12:00, 2:00-6:00; 8:00-12;00.
“He’s robust, crafty, thoroughly vulgar. Strode into his house yesterday noon (I had arrived before him), wearing shirt, shorts, undershorts and sandals. Ripped off his shirt and didn’t put it on again till he got back in his car. Ate holding his fork in his clenched fist as if it were a stick, thumbing clumps of food onto it. He’s an atheist, but figures (possibly in deference to me) that he’d been a believer if he’d been raised one. His sense of right and wrong is personal and flexible. He’s one of the fittest that survives situations like the present one in the Congo.”
What was Donanne doing at this time? Having Christmased in Redlands, California, with her mother’s family, she returned to Principia College for the winter quarter of her senior year, majoring in history.
Next post: Fred tried to make sense of the conflicting approaches to living in the Congo espoused by his friend Jules André and the seeming rascal Boudart.