Ngongo Lutete (1862 - 15 September 1893), alternately spelled Gongo Leteta, was a Congolese soldier and leader of the Bakussu tribe who fought on behalf of the Congo Free State from 1892 until his death.
After he was executed for suspected treason, Ngongo was immortalized throughout the Congo as a powerful magician and a notorious cannibal.
Ngongo was born in 1862 in the village of Malela on the southern end of the Lomami River in the eastern portion of the Congo Basin. As a young boy, he was captured by Tippu Tip, a highly successful Arab slave trader from Zanzibar, and put to work as a slave.
As a teenager, Ngongo joined Tippu Tip's slave raiding parties and gained renown for being a successful leader. At the age of 18, he was granted his freedom in recognition of his courage during slave raids.
In 1880, Ngongo had nothing of his own but a single rifle. He quickly formed a small gang comprised of displaced former slaves from the Batetela tribe. This group was ruled with an iron fist and the same harsh discipline Ngongo had learned in the service of Tippu Tip. They traded slaves, ivory, rubber, and other resources and after years of success, Ngongo became leader of the Bakussu tribe.
By 1892, the Congo Free State, led by King Leopold II of Belgium, had started incursions into the Congo Basin in search of rubber and ivory. This brought the Belgians into conflict with Zanzibar, leading to the Congo-Arab War. At this time, Ngongo was already allied with Tippu Tip, so he fought against the Congo Free State in a series of daring raids. Whenever he was forced into actual battle, Ngongo found himself hopelessly outnumbered, leading to several defeats.
After a particularly crushing loss, Tippu Tip sent word to the Belgians that he was no longer responsible for Ngongo, and that his previous raiding activity had been on his own accord.
Fighting for the Congo Free State
In response to being dismissed by Tippu Tip, Ngongo sent an emissary to Commandant Dhanis, the commander of the Congo Free State military, asking for an alliance between their powers. Dhanis agreed, and Ngongo and his army, which was several thousand strong, joined the Europeans.
He continued raids against tribes that were loyal to the Arabs, attacking their camps during rainstorms and at night, when they would least expect it. As was common in the region, Ngongo and his men butchered and ate almost anyone they killed in battle. This served the practical purpose of providing an easy source of meat, where it was often difficult to procure. After a series of highly successful skirmishes fought alongside the Congo Free State soldiers, in 1893, Ngongo was given command over supply convoys. His reputation as a fierce fighter prevented rival tribes from raiding the convoys where his men served as guards, as a result, not one load was lost while he was in charge.
During the last week of August in 1893, Lieutenant Jean Scherlink, the garrison officer at N'Gandu received accusations that Ngongo was plotting to assassinate Commandant Dhanis. Scherlink held a courts-martial, at which almost no evidence was presented aside from hearsay and rumours, and deemed Ngongo guilty of treason. He was sentenced to death by firing squad.
In his prison cell, Ngongo attempted to hang himself to avoid the disgrace of a public execution, but was discovered by the guards before he could complete the act. Scherlink ordered his immediate execution in the village square.
On September 15th, Ngongo Lutete was executed by firing squad.
Local legend holds that prior to his execution, Ngongo was given an amulet by a shaman from his retinue. This amulet would prevent his death, so long as he kept it on. The story goes that the European soldiers fired multiple rounds of bullets, completely exhausting their magazines, but Ngongo did not die from his wounds. Finally, the shaman told the officers about the secret amulet, which was then removed. A bullet was fired directly into Ngongo's ear, and he died instantly.
After Ngongo's death, the message "Ngongo Lutete has been shot by the white men!" spread throughout the region, causing a massive open revolt among all the tribal groups. Those who were aligned against Ngongo took the opportunity to attack, feeling his people would be demoralized, while the soldiers who had served Ngongo engaged in mass riots, murdered and eating anyone they came across.
Two days later, Commandant Dhanis and others who knew Ngongo arrived at N'Gandu, prepared to vouch for his character and excellent service to the Congo Free State. Unfortunately, they learned that he had already been executed. Dhanis held an inquest to better understand what had gone wrong, but no one was ever brought to justice and the matter was dropped.
Ngongo had multiple wives, one of which was murdered and cannibalized during a battle on December 30th, 1892. To punish the offenders, Ngongo personally murdered them and served them as dinner to his soldiers.
He had at least two sons and one daughter. His eldest son, N'Zigi, and his daughter spent five years as hostages of Tippu Tip and received an Islamic education. As a result, Ngongo sent N'Zigi to Belgium to be educated in a European boarding school, hoping to reverse some of what he had been taught by the Arabs. His second son, Lupungu, inherited the family trade empire and leadership of the tribe, although most of the warriors branched off and refused to follow him.
In 1936, Ngongo's grandson, Lupungu, was executed by the colonial authorities of Belgian Congo for "barbarous practices," related either to slave trading, cannibalism, or both.
Ngongo's eldest son returned to the Congo and worked as a government clerk. After his retirement, he was murdered by paramilitary followers of Patrice Lumumba in 1964.