ca. 1880 Kru and ‘Krumanos’

Nineteenth-century European trading factories in Congo and Angola depended on African labour for different tasks. Examples are the Kru, also called Kru-men, and the Krumanos. Both names sound alike, but there was an important difference. The Kru took up paid employment, whereas the Krumanos were forced into labour.

José Augusto. da Cunha Moraes, Portrait of a man from the Kru coast, ca. 1880, Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, id.nr. A45-97 .

Frost explains Kru was the name given by Europeans to inhabitants of communities along the coastline of present-day eastern Liberia. Their highly developed skills in fishing and canoe faring proved and advantage in their interaction with the Europeans. It is believed the development of their maritime skills in the eighteenth century led Kru to be employed on slave ships to the America’s. After Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1808, Kru took up employment on naval ships of the West Africa Squadron; the blockade against illegal ships intent on carrying Africans into slavery in the America’s.1

Frost writes the mobility of the Liberian Kru increased in the nineteenth century when formerly enslaved people from the United States of America were settled in Liberia, under the auspices of the American Colonisation Society. These so-called Settler Liberians competed with the Kru in trade and land acquisition. Kru men migrated to the coastal cities, where European trading companies were expanding their business. Kru became employed as agricultural labourers. palm oil ships, as shoremen, and construction workers 2

‘Factory slaves’

William Holman Bentley (1855-1905) of the Baptist Missionary Society wrote:

‘When we reached to Congo in 1879 all the labour of the trading factories was performed by slaves. […] ‘Kru boys, from the Kru coast about Libera, were the labourers on the coast steamers and factories higher up the coast: so to throw dust in the eyes of those who would make inquiries, the factory slaves about the Congo were called Krumanos. The average price of a Krumano was £ 5.

[…] I have often seen these factory slaves working in chains, four to six chained together by a ring on the neck. Sometimes there might be among the chain-gangs a rowdy slave or two in the chain for punishment; but as a rule, they would be ordinary Krumanos, new or not trusted, kept in the chains to prevent their flight.3

José Augusto. da Cunha Moraes, Portrait of Krumanos, ca. 1870, Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, id.nr. A274-86.

The word ‘Krumanos’ in the description of the photograph by Jose Augusto da Cunha Moraes might mean the men were unfree labourers. According to Vos, European trading companies used local networks to obtain so-called servicais, or enslaved labourers. They were bought or hired from local chiefs, who supplied them to serve for a short or indefinite time. 4 Besides, small numbers of slaves from the interior were a part of ivory caravans to the coast, where they were sold by African middlemen.
Vos cites a report of Onno Zwier van Sandick, (1861-1881), an employee for the Afrikaansche Handelsvereeniging, when he points out the unfree Krumanos received remuneration: they were paid in so-called ‘longs’ (a textile measuring unit of six yards)). They earned two to three longs a month, Vos states this was a reasonable salary compared to Kru ((four longs), canoe men (three longs), female servants (four to six longs) or linguisters (eight to ten longs). 5
Zwiers van Sandick explained the reasoning behind the payment of the Krumanos. They were at all times at the disposal of the Afrikaanse Handelsvereeniging, whereas Kru could be employed for a maximum of sixteen months. Zwiers van Sandick ruled out employing other free African labourers: ‘a free negro doesn’t think of working as soon as he has had enough to eat.’ 6
Vos includes a citation from the British consul Hopkins about the Krumanos of the Dutch Afrikaansche Handelsvereniging, who in 1877 held about 150 slaves.

‘[…] these people are so well treated that, to all intents and purpose, they are free, and they are never sold or exchanged; in fact, it is their boast that they are the children of the Dutch house.’ 7

José Augusto. da Cunha Moraes, Factory of the Afrikaansche Handels Vereeniging seen from the water, in Chissambo (Cabinda, Angola) ca 1870. Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, id.nr.A274-28

However, from the report of Zwier van Sandick, a somewhat different picture emerges. He travelled May 1879 to November 1880 from the headfactory in Banana to smaller factories. The factory in Banana owned fifty slaves, Zwier van Sandick described they were bought at the coast, for about 30 longs, and shipped to Banana. Some ship captains were hesitant to take the Krumanos on board, out of fear for inspections by the British West Africa Squadron. As a solution each Krumano received a contract, the words ‘paid in Banana’ was a code for the AHV these were in fact ‘factory slaves’.
After arrival, Krumanos were immediately chained in a neck collar or libámbo. Zwier van Sandick recalled how the resistance of Krumanos to be chained was forcibly repressed.

‘In October 1879 I witnessed how one continuously yelled: senhór landaáz, grácia-grácia (Sir Dutchman, mercy, mercy). Whereupon the supervisor ordered to lash him into silence – which happened. Completely bloodied he lay numb and had stopped yelling.’

According to Zwier van Sandick these cruelties were persistent in the factories where he was stationed. In case a Krumano died, the costs were debited to the headfactory in Banana.
In the early 1900s, coastal factories would acquire enslaved labourers and traded them illegally or as contract workers.8

  1. Diane Frost, Work and community among West African migrant workers since the nineteenth century (Liverpool 1999) 7-9.
  2. Frost, Work and community, 11.
  3. William Holman Bentley, Pioneering on the Congo, Volume I (Oxford 1900) 45.
  4. Jelmer Vos, Kongo in the Age of Empire, 1860–1913 : The Breakdown of a Moral Order (Wisconsin 2015), 50 and 168, footnote 50.
  5. Vos, Kongo in the Age of Empire, 50.
  6. Onno Zwier van Sandick, Herinneringen van de Zuid-Westkust van Afrika. Eenige bladzijden uit mijn dagboek (Deventer 1881) http://www.vansandick.com/familie/archief/Herinneringen_van_de_Zuid-Westkust_van_Afrika/
  7. Vos, Kongo in the Age of Empire, 50. Document cited: The National Archives of the United Kingdom, FO 881/3317, no. 1, Consul Hopkins to the Earl of Derby, 28 April 1877.
  8. Vos, Kongo in the Age of Empire, 168, footnote 53.