|Gbaya people and clans
|Commanders and leaders|
The Kongo-Wara rebellion, also known as the War of the Hoe Handle and the Baya War, was a rural, anticolonial rebellion in the former colonies of French Equatorial Africa and French Cameroon which began as a result of recruitment of the native population in railway construction and rubber tapping. Much of the conflict took place in what is now part of the Central African Republic.
Barka Ngainoumbey, known as Karnou (meaning "he who can change the world"), was a Gbaya religious prophet and healer from the Sangha River basin region. In 1924 he began preaching non-violent resistance against the French colonisers in response to the recruitment of natives in the construction of the Congo-Ocean Railway and rubber tapping, and mistreatment by European concessionary companies. Karnou also preached against Europeans and the Fula. A movement emerged around Karnou, which grew to include a boycott of European merchandise and black solidarity. This movement went unnoticed by the French administration, which had only a limited presence in the region, until 1927, when many of the movement's followers began to take up arms. By this time there were over 350,000 adherents to the movement, including around 60,000 warriors. Such unity was unprecedented in a region known for its political fragmentation.
Armed conflict broke out in mid 1928 in a clash between the Gbaya and Fula people, however violence quickly spread towards French traders, French government posts and local chiefs and soldiers who worked for the French. The town of Bouar was occupied and burned down by Karnou's followers. Insurgency by Karnou's followers continued in the following months despite being ill-equipped.
A French counterattack with reinforced troops was launched in late 1928 and on December 11, Karnou was killed by a French military patrol. The rebellion, however, continued to spread unevenly from the Sangha basin to include the neighbouring groups from Cameroon and the lower Ubangi region. To further quell "dissent", French troops were dispatched to imprison followers of the movement and also sent into areas of forest unaffected by the rebellion to relocate natives. The final stage of the conflict, known as the "war of the caves", took place in 1931.
Kongo-Wara followers fought under the premise of invulnerability from European soldiers from a sacred hoe handle. This mysticism, perpetuated by Karnou, encouraged unmilitarized villagers to fight bravely yet recklessly. One recorded example of this behaviour was an account of a man dancing before a French commander and threatening him with a spear while chanting: "fire, big gorilla; your gun will only shoot water".
The Kongo rebellion was suppressed in 1931 but had become the largest interwar insurrection of either French Cameroon or French Equatorial Africa. In the wake of the rebellion the movement's leaders were imprisoned and executed, although two of Karnou's lieutenants, Bissi and Yandjere, were not captured until 1935. Populations of natives were also forcibly relocated to designated villages where they could be supervised. Two of these villages are Ngoundi and Ndele of the Sangha-Mbaéré prefecture.
In order to assert control over the region the French administration divided the Kadei-Sangha Department, where the rebellion had originated, into the Haute-Sangha and N'Goko-Sangha department in 1933. In the following year, however, the two departments were merged. In response to the rebellion French authorities agreed not to renew the leases of concessionary companies, however European business interests, including plantations, continued to be promoted in the region.
News of the rebellion in Europe brought attention to the conditions faced by Central African workers. This lead to criticism of French rule in Africa from communists and other groups, leading to French suspicions of the rebellion itself being instigated by communists.
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