1909 - 1915
Biographical or Historical Note
- The American Museum Congo Expedition (1909-1915) was sponsored by the
American Museum of Natural History and made possible through the support of the
Belgian government. The expedition party consisted of just two men. Herbert
Lang, a German-born taxidermist and mammalogist was Expedition leader and
photographer; James Paul Chapin, a student and ornithologist who worked at the
Museum was selected to be his Assistant. The main goal was to expand the
Museum’s collection of African zoological specimens, but Lang was also tasked
with acquiring ethnographic material. The Museum was particularly eager to
obtain specimens of the recently discovered (1901) okapi and the square-lipped,
or white, rhinoceros. Lang and Chapin successfully traveled throughout the Congo
region in central Africa (Modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo) to ultimately collect a massive
fifty-four tons of material and over 9000 photographs for the Museum.
Museum President Morris K. Jesup first thought of the idea of sending an
expedition to the Congo region of Africa and was a personal friend of Pierre
Mali, the Belgian Consul in NY. As early as February of 1907 (2) Jesup and Mali
began discussing the possibilities of a Congo exhibit at the Museum with
Secretary General of the Congo Free State Charles Liebrechts and Consul General
of the Congo Free State James Gustavus Whiteley. In the spring (3) of that year,
Museum Director Hermon Carey Bumpus was sent to Brussels to further the Museum’s
cause; King Leopold was very supportive of the idea and gifted the Museum with
3000 anthropological objects to be showcased in a new exhibit for the African
Hall, which would open in 1910.
Political and humanitarian interest in central Africa had increased during the
turn of the century. The Museum became somewhat embroiled in the controversy
through their relationship with Leopold. (4) In 1908 King Leopold’s privately
owned Congo Free State had been annexed by the Belgian Government and was now
the Belgian Congo, a colony of Belgium. (5) When President Jesup died in 1908,
President Osborne actively took up the project. The Special Committee on the
Congo Expeditions was formed by Osborne, and its members were John Trevor,
Bumpus, Whiteley, Robert W. Goelet, Herbert L. Bridgman and Frank M. Chapman.
Much necessary correspondence and meetings occurred between these American
delegates, Museum representatives and the Belgian government officers in
preparation for the expedition. The funds needed for the Expedition were
acquired through gifts of Trustees, a gift of 6800 francs from the Belgian
government, and the Morris Jesup endowment. (6).
Word of official permission for the Expedition was received from Moncheur and
Whiteley on April 2, 1909; in May Lang and Chapin sailed from New York City to
Antwerp. With letters of introduction to government officials, they obtained
requisite permissions, and made other arrangements necessary for travel
throughout the Congo region. They arrived in Boma on the west coast of the
continent in June of 1909 and from there traveled up the Congo river to
Leopoldville, where they engaged three Congolese men as assistants. After
journeying to Stanleyville they hired and trained another eighteen men (three
later left, leaving them eighteen in total) to act as invaluable assistants for
collecting, tracking, preparing, and hunting during the course of the
Expedition. Thousands of short-term porters were hired locally to man the
caravans from site to site.
Communication and travel were very slow and it quickly became clear to the team
that more time and money would be necessary, which were granted from the Museum
(7). During their tenure in the Congo, Lang and Chapin set up a number of base
camps at Avakubi, Medje, and Faradje, from which they would go out on collecting
trips. There were European officers stationed at each of the Congo outposts who
assisted them by providing shelter, and helping them to barter goods and hire
porters. Their collecting was assisted by many individuals that they encountered
who would provide specimens they had acquired through hunting and through
introducing them to local hunters and trackers. The pair was introduced to
members of local tribes such as the Mangbetu and Azande, including tribal chief
kings and queens. These relationships provided the ability to have additional
context for the growing anthropological collection as well as Lang’s portrait
photographs. He did his developing on site at night, and prior to the expedition
had arranged with the Museum to maintain intellectual ownership of the images
during his lifetime. Both Lang and Chapin took copious detailed notes for their
specimens, with Chapin completing multiple drawings and watercolors. Chapin
admired and noted Lang’s tireless work ethic and came to be known as mtoto na
Langi (Lang’s son) by many of the Congolese (8).
They finished their bulk field work in late 1912. As they slowly made the return
journey to the west coast of Africa they would continue to collect items for the
Museum, but their primary focus was now on the issue of transportation for the
materials. Chapin took the primary role in organizing this. Among the many
concessions that had been bargained before the expedition, the team had been
granted free storage for all their specimens in each Province magazine. However,
the packing and shipping of material was problematic due to the volume of
material and lack of packing supplies.World War I broke out, creating sea route
issues and transportation difficulties for Lang, a German. In December of 1914
Chapin sailed for America with the first batch of the collection, and Lang
followed in late 1915.
The Expedition ultimately provided the museum with fifty-four tons of material
and photographs which were consequently studied by a team of scientists in
America and Great Britain. Not only did they successfully bring back the okapi
and white rhinosceros, but the collection also contributed 5800 mammals, 6241
birds, 4800 reptiles and batrachians, 5400 fishes, 110,000 invertebrates, 3800
ethnographic objects, and 9500 photographs in 40 albums to the Museum's African
collection. (9) Preliminary scientific findings were released throuhgout the
decade, and studies continued on throughout the 1920s-1930s.
VIAF ID: 139828946 (Corporate)
Library of Congress Name Authority File: no 00100361
(1) Enid Schildkrout, and Curtis A. Keim, African Reflections: Art from
Northeastern Zaire (Seattle: University of Washington Press, New York; American
Museum of Natural History, 1990), 59
(2) AMNH Central Administrative Archives 592: Folder: 1907 January
(3) Henry Fairfield Osborn, "The Congo Expedition of the American
Museum of Natural History," Bulletin of the AMNH 39, (1919): xvii
(4) Schildkrout and Keim, 52.
(5) Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Belgian Congo," accessed
October 23, 2013,
(8) Lyle Rexer and Rachel Klein, American Museum of Natural History:
125 Years of Expedition and Discovery (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,
Publishers, in association with the American Museum of Natural History, 1995),
(9) American Museum of Natural History. Forty-eighth Annual Report of
the American Museum of Natural History For the Year 1916, New York: American
Museum of Natural History, (1917), 27.
- 1907: AMNH President Jesup desires to send an expedition to the Congo Free
State, plans begin.
- 1907: King Leopold II receives plans for multi-room Congo Exhibit at Museum
and gifts Museum with over 3000 objects.
- 1907 - 1909: Communications between Museum and Belgian officials regarding Congo
- 1908: the Congo Free State is annexed by the Belgian government and becomes
the Belgian Congo.
- 1908 - 1912: Funds are collected to sponsor the Expedition through Trustees and
friends of the Museum.
- 1908: Herbert Lang is asked to lead the Expedition; requests James Chapin
as his assistant.
- 1909 April 2: Formal letters of permission to proceed with Expedition are received
from Belgian government
- 1909 May 8: Expedition leaves New York City for Antwerp
- 1909 June 22: Expedition arrives in Boma, Africa, begins
- 1909 September 12: Bafwaboli (Expedition Site)
- 1909 September 24: Bafwasende (Expedition Site)
- 1909 September 30: Established initial base at Avakubi, beginning the process of
training assistants and collecting
- 1910 - 1913: Bulk of active collecting with base camps at Faradje and Medje. At
this point the team would sometimes split up for expedition trips.
- 1910 October 23: Isiro (Expedition Site)
- 1913 February 19: Left Faradje to begin large scale transport back to Stanleyville. On
the trek back the team continued to add specimens to the
- 1913 July 25 - 1913 August 1: Babeyru (Expedition Site)
- 1913 September 9: Left the Ituri district.
- 1914 April 19: Penge (Expedition Site) Chapin alone was at Penge while traveling with the collection.
- 1914 September 10: Bomili (Expedition Site)
- 1914 September 12: Panga (Expedition Site)
- 1914 September 22 - 1914 September 25: Banalia (Expedition Site)
- 1914 September 28: Bengamisa (Expedition Site)
- 1914 December 10: Chapin leaves Stanleyville with first group of collection.
- 1915 March 31: Chapin arrives in New York with first group of collection.
- 1915 August: remaining group of the collection is sent to New York by Lang
- 1915 November 12: Lang returns to New York
Expedition was sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History,
located in New York. The team left from and returned there. The embarked
on the expedition on 1909 May 8. Chapin returned on 1915 March 31, and
lang followed on 1915 November 12.
Port in Africa where the team arrived on 1909 June 22. They would pass
through again separately on the return journey, Chapin on 1914 December
29 and Lang 1915 June 17.
The team traveled through Matadi on three separate visits: 1909 June
24-30 while beginning the expedition, 1914 December 24 by Chapin on the
return, and 1915 June 9-16 by Lang on the return trip.
At the time Kinshasa was also known as Leopoldville and was a site
between the coast of Africa and the main expedition areas. The team had
three stays there, from 1909 July 1-12 together at the beginning of the
expedition, and by both Chapin and Lang singly on the return journey.
Chapin was at the site on 1914 December 20 while making the trip home
and Lang again stayed there 1915 May 18-31.
Formerly known as Stanleyville this was the closest location that the
team could utilize for acquiring good to barter with and it was where
they hired the majority of their assistants. The team was in Kisangani
from 1909 August 3-September 4, and then arrived on 1914 September 30 on
the return journey. Chapin left again on December 10, with Lang leaving
on 1915 May 10.
dates: 1909 September 12
dates: 1909 September 24
The first base camp was set up at Avakubi, and the team stopped here from
1909 September 30-December 7. Chapin traveled through on the return trip
1913 July 31-1914 January 2, with Lang following 1914 August 5-September
As a team they traveled through N'Gayu on 1909 December 10-26 and 1914
August 3. Chapin passed through 1913 July 27.
The team spent time at the site from 1909 December 27-1910 January 10,
and Chapin alone returned 1913 July 25.
The team established a base camp at Medje and remained there 1910 January
13-October 15. Lang later returned alone while on the return journey and
stopped 1914 February 27-July 22.
The team went to Pawa together on 1910 October 18, and Chapin stayed
there again from 1913 July 5-15.
dates: 1910 October 23
The group went to Nala on 1910 October 26, and later Lang explored the
area 1913 July 6-10.
The team stopped at Rungu 1910 October 28, and then later traveled there
1913 June 24-July 1 while on the trip back.
The expedition team made two trips through Niangara, from 1910 November
1-1911 January 20 , and 1913 June 14-21. Furthermore, Chapin stopped
there 1913 March 5.
The team camped at Dungu 1911 January 25-30, and Chapin alone returned to
the site 1913 February 24-March 1.
The team kept their base camp at Faradje from 1911 February 6-1913
February 19 as they explored the Northeastern Uele region.
Chapin visited the Aba camp first on 1911 July 12-18, and the team
together later explored it 1911 December 10-22.
Chapin set and explored the Vankerckhovenville camp from 1911 August
9-12, and both Lang and Chapin returened 1912 April 7-24.
Lang visited Yakalulu twice, first on 1911 November 2-6, and later 1913
Lang singly explored Bafuka 1913 March 12-24.
Lang traveled to this area 1912 March 10-16, and both Lang and Chapin
returned it 1912 May 4-July 24.
Lang stayed at Poko from 1913 July 15-August 29.
Lang stayed at Akenge from 1913 September 1-October 31.
Lang was at Niapu from 1913 November 2-1914 February 20 during the
extended trek back.
dates: 1914 April 19
Chapin alone was at Penge while traveling with the collection.
- Epulu River
dates: 1914 April 21
Chapin traveled along a distance of the Epulu River.
dates: 1913 July 25-1913 August 1
dates: 1914 September 10
dates: 1914 September 12
Lang singly stopped in Zambi from 1915 June 17-July 2. He continued to
add to the collection while organizing the transport for the remainder
of the collection, and waiting to return to New York.
Lang stayed in Malela 1915 July 2-12.
Lang alone spent time collecting and waiting to journey home in Banana on
1915 July 19-25 and 1915 August 6-September 14.
- St. Antonio
Lang stayed in St. Antonio on the western African coast from 1915 July
- St. Paul de Loanda
Lang alone stayed in St. Paul de Loanda from 1915 September 15-October 1.
It is located south of Boma on the western African coast.
It was necessary for Lang to take a different route back to the United
States. He traveled from Africa to Lisbon, where he stopped 1915 October
10-November 2 before sailing for New York.
Chapin traveled from Africa to Liverpool, where he boarded a ship with
the first group of the collection to sail to New York.
dates: 1914 September 22-1914 September 25
dates: 1914 September 28
The sirdar took the team on a hunting trip to the Sudan where they
acquired a Giant Eland for the collection.