"A nigger was being beaten near by"
The chicotte in use (c. 1900)
Public DomainThe chicotte in use (c. 1900) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Corporal punishment in the Congo Free State was administered with the chicotte, a whip made of sun-dried hippopotamus hide. Usually the chicotte was applied to the bare buttocks of victims (including women and children), leaving permanent scars.

In ‘Le Congo Français’ (1909), Félicien Challaye records an account given by a Belgian officer of the techniques employed in a typical chicotte lashing:

One can hardly believe how difficult it is to administer the chicotte properly. One should spread out the blows so that each shall give a fresh pang. Then we have a law which forbids us to give more than twenty-five blows in one day, and to stop when the blood flows. One should, therefore, give twenty-four of the blows vigorously, but without risking to stop; then at the twenty-fifth, with a dexterous twist, one should make the blood spurt.

As Arthur Conan Doyle notes in The Crime of the Congo (1909), the twenty-five lash limit was rarely adhered to, particularly in the Upper Congo region. Punishments of 100 blows or more were not uncommon, often with fatal consequences.