King Leopolds Ghost

.. ablished that he never went to the Congo himself, he must have had a right hand man, and he did. This particular gentleman was a fearless yet insecure explorer by the name of Henry Morton Stanley. Leopold enlisted Stanley, a seemingly murderously natured person, to first chart the territory and set up a rudimentary infrastructure of posts and pathways, to the native guides and porters. Stanley’s other tasks consisted of purchasing as much land as he was able to obtain, he was also instructed to, place successively undersuzeraintyas soon as possible and without losing one minute, all the chiefs from the mouth of Congo tot he Stanley falls (p.70) Now I know that all of this must sound pretty bad but it’s imperative that I continue, because this is the least of the tasks Stanley fulfilled.

He was also sent to purchase all the available ivory and establish barriers and tools on the roads he opened up, make land rights treaties should be as brief as possible and in a couple of articles must grant us everything. (p71) Not to mention that Stanley was a tyrant with a hair-trigger temper who routinely murdered the locals, for no apparent reason. He considered native Africans subhuman and thought nothing of destroying villages and impressing their occupants into his service. What a monster huh? I sure think so. Leopold carved out the boundaries for the huge state and once his ownership of the Congo was secure the rubber boom erupted.

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Rubber sap was in great demand and the Congo was covered with rubber vines and the abundance of profits from rubber production saved Leopold’s colonial empire. To keep his colony under control Leopold developed a military dictatorship over Congo, he paid mercenaries, but in 1888 these were transformed into the Force Publique and at it’s peak there were members of 19,000 conscripted African soldiers and 420 white officers. The soldiers were slaves who had been press-ganged through hostage taking, or stolen as children and brought up in child colonies founded by Leopold and the Catholic Church. The Congo region was turned from a preservation society into a grotesque forced-labor camp on behalf of Leopold, running on slave labor, enforced by mostly Belgians driving the local population into slavery as porters, road and railroad builders, ivory hunters and rubber gatherers. A typical tactic was to burn down a village and kidnap the women and hold them until the men agreed to whatever demands were made of them.

Discipline was arbitrary, fickle and often fatal. Hochschild identifies in the text that, the soldiersattacked the natives until able to seize their women; these women were kept as hostages until the chief of the district brought in the required number of kilograms of rubber. The rubber having been brought, the women were sold back to their owners for a couple of goats apiece, and so he continued from village to village until the requisite amount of rubber had been collected. (p161) Those that refused to cooperate with the officers faced a punishment installed by the officer known as Fievez the text give the example of this stating that, a hundred heads cut off, and there have been plenty of supplies ever since. (p.166) It saddened my heart and practically swept he breath from my lungs to grasp the mental picture of theses traumatized men, possibly haven starved for days and severely malnutrition, strapped, chained, and bound to one another, walking in syncopation, all the while straining their necks and possibly giving themselves a headache for the sake of possibly saving a limb, or a family member. Another horror of this was the during the expeditions, force publique soldiers were instructed to bring back a hand or head for each bullet fired, to make sure that none were wasted or hidden for use in rebellions.

Hochschild goes on to point out that the killing of the Congolese was not an elaborate program of the ethnic genocide, it nonetheless represented murder on a grand scale. This massacre, as I like to call it, killed between five and eight million Africans and I can’t help but think of how devastating that must have been to their entire nation. In the early 1900’s (1908 to be specific) when Moral began to publicize the events taking place in Leopold’s Congo, Leopold attempted to destroy the evidence. For eight days the furnaces in Leopold’s Brussels headquarters were at full blast, as Congo State archives were turned to ash. He sent word to his agent in the Congo to do likewise.

Therefore the entire Belgian State followed the Politics of Forgetting,. As it may have been so easy for them to forget I am quite sure that the residence of the Congo have not. The ghosts are unhappy there, I presume, and the gallons of slain blood have turned into hard clay but they have not forgotten. Considering it was in the early 1900’s, it is most amazing and almost surreal to grasp the realization that in a time when black’s in America were coming into their own, getting educated, and even going to the lengths of forming Greek organizations, that their fellow brother in Africa were being brutally mutilated and stripped of their humanity. Hochschild has done an exemplary job of writing this book by gathering details and evidence not to mention the wonderful writing skills that he’s displayed throughout the entire book. In my opinion, the account of shocking and brutal nature of Belgian colonial rule, is worth reading on it’s own, if only to remind us of the horror of the colonialism from which the US has recently escaped.

And anyone with an interest in the way we car for or mistreat other humanbeings may find a great deal of food for thought here as well. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hochschild, a renowned journalist has taken on Stalin and Russian psyche in previous books. He has been criticized the almost exclusive focus of the CRA movement on Belgium, citing comparable brutality by the US in the Philippines, the British in Australia, the Germans in what is now Namibia. Bibliography Hochschild, Adam King Leopold’s Ghost:a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa. First Mariner Books 1998. New York Book Reports.