Thieves Planting Flags, Murderers Carrying Crosses
A book review of – King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
When reading Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost”, one is struck not only by the enormity of the crimes committed in the Belgian Congo, but also with the puzzling and somewhat uncomfortable realization that this should not be news. It seems incredible that such events could be relegated to the ash heap of forgotten history. In the case of Leopold’s Congo, the ash heap was more than metaphorical. Officials destroyed as much evidence as they could before the Congo was turned over the Belgian government, and according to Hochschild, “the furnaces burned for eight days, turning most of the Congo state records to ash and smoke in the sky over Brussels.”
While there has been a growing acknowledgment over the past few decades of the whitewash given to much of Western history, there has also been much criticism of “revisionist history”. To acknowledge that ones country has blood on its hands in the past is seen as being unpatriotic or anti-Western. At best, such history is dismissed as “ancient” or simply lived by people who were “a product of their times”. It is difficult, however, to dismiss Leopold’s Congo as such. This is not “ancient history”. Those who participated are not far removed from today’s young generation, and were contemporaries of our grandparents and great grandparents. As for such men being products of their times, this is hard to reconcile with those living a generation or two after slavery ended in the United States, and more than a century after slavery had been outlawed in much of Europe.
And for what did these atrocities take place? What was the driving force behind such barbarism? Ivory at first, but what really turned the Congo into a slaughterhouse seems almost trivial when looked at in comparison to the murderous lengths undertaken to exploit the resource in question: Rubber. For this millions died and countless others were mutilated.
This is a good example of the laws of unintended consequences. Certainly Scotsman James Dunlop had no idea of the misery that would result from his invention of the pneumatic rubber tire. The Congo just happened to have the right resource at the right time in its abundant supply of rubber vines. “The industrial world rapidly developed an appetite not just for rubber tires, but for hoses, tubing, gaskets, and the like, and for rubber insulation for the telegraph, telephone, and electrical wiring now rapidly encompassing the globe. Suddenly factories could not get enough of the magical commodity…” As with oil in later decades, rubber, a resource that the world had little use or need for a few short years earlier, suddenly became essential to the economies of the industrialized world. Even if the Congo had had any chance of relatively benign treatment by the West, the rubber boom would have sealed its fate regardless. Also, Leopold, with undeniable business acumen, knew that cultivated rubber, from trees rather than vines, would eventually cause a drop in price when rubber plantations in South America and Asia reached maturity. In the meantime, he decided to squeeze the Congo for every last drop before this happened, and “voraciously demanded ever greater quantities of wild rubber from the Congo…”
One might have expected Leopold’s agents to pay Congolese natives a pittance to gather rubber, and still reap huge profits, but the reality was that human greed knew no bounds in the Congo. The natives were not paid at all. In fact, they were not even allowed to handle money. Instead they were forced to gather rubber by a variety of means, most of them violent or terroristic. In most cases, women and children were held hostage until the men met their rubber quotas. Those who resisted were simply killed. Even many who didn’t resist were killed for not meeting quotas. Others died of disease and starvation, especially those in detention. Some died in the dangerous job of harvesting the rubber vines high in the trees. Those caught cheating by cutting the vine open, which yielded more rubber but killed the vine, were killed as well.
In other cases, Force Publique forces simply rampaged through entire regions, wiping out villages and massacring men, women, and children alike without distinction. In many instances, to prove that they hadn’t wasted ammunition hunting, they were required to show a left hand to their commanders for every round of ammunition used. Uprisings, of which there were many, were dealt with quickly and severely. Huge areas were left depopulated through a combination of punitive massacres, terrified villagers abandoning the area, or communities that could not remain viable because the men spent so much time gathering rubber while their women and children were interned.
An English explorer at the time, crossing a huge 3,000 square mile area of the northeast Congo, was horrified at the “depopulated and devastated” wasteland he witnessed: “Every village has been burnt to the ground, and as I fled from the country I saw skeletons, skeletons everywhere; and such postures — what tales of horror they told!”
If any one object symbolized the brutal cruelty of the Congo State, it would be the chicotte. “…a whip of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide, cut into a long sharp-edged corkscrew strip. Usually the chicotte was applied to the victim’s bare buttocks. Its blows would leave permanent scars; more than twenty-five strokes could mean unconsciousness; and a hundred or more — not an uncommon punishment — were often fatal.” Chicotte beatings were meted out for every offense imaginable — and often for no offense at all or for something as trivial as native children laughing in the presence of a white man.
As for these Force Publique men enforcing Leopold’s will in the Congo, they were not soldiers or officers, at least not officially, but called, in rather bland corporate terminology, “agents”. Such a mild and businesslike title hardly fits someone having the power of life and death over virtually every native in his area of operations. Not only did these men have such power at their disposal, but were more than willing to use it. Some did so because it fit their notion of necessary discipline. Others used such fear and intimidation to increase their profits. And still others seemed cut from a different cloth — the kind of men who seemed to actually enjoy killing for its own sake. Among the most notorious of these was Captain Léon Rom, who displayed the severed heads of natives in his garden. He and several other Force Publique agents who went far beyond the bounds of an already cruel and brutal regime were the inspiration for “Mr. Kurtz” in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Another, Léon Fiévez, was still clearly remembered in local oral histories some fifty years after the “rubber terror”. Said one local named Tswambi:
All the blacks saw this man as the Devil of the Equator… From all the bodies killed in the field, you had to cut off the hands. He wanted to see the number of hands cut off by each soldier, who had to bring them in baskets… A village which refused to provide rubber would be completely swept clean. As a young man, I saw [Fiévez’s] soldier Molili, then guarding the village of Boyeka, take a big net, put ten arrested natives in it, attach big stones to the net, and make it tumble into the river….Rubber caused these torments; that’s why we no longer want to hear its name spoken.
These were not aberrations. Nor were they were isolated instances of excess by a handful of agents. Such inhuman viciousness was widespread and accepted company policy. Few Europeans were ever held accountable for their actions in the Congo, and the few instances of punishment amounted to a show hearing and a slap on the wrist for those charged.
There is one man who is, if not ultimately responsible for the devastation of the Congo, the one person who set the stage for Leopold to carve out his personal African fiefdom, and he deserves mention: Henry Morton Stanley. Best known for finding Dr. David Livingstone, whom had been missing for years deep inside the continent, he was one of the most celebrated adventurers of his time, and even today most who have heard of him would simply say he was a great explorer. However, regardless of his feats in Africa, he held the people of that continent in utter contempt. He boasted about shooting anyone who got in the way of his expeditions, which were practically small armies tearing through the countryside. General Sherman, of American Civil War fame, likened Stanley’s journeys in Africa to his own scorched-earth march through the South. Explorer and writer Richard Burton noted that Stanley “shoots negroes as if they were monkeys.”
Much of what is “great” about Stanley comes straight from Stanley himself. There were few corroborating witnesses to many of his exploits, though by his own words it is clear that he, like many Europeans, saw native Africans as little more than beasts of burden rather than as participants in his expeditions. The native porter, a familiar icon when one thinks of African exploration, was not the healthy, well muscled black extra seen in countless Tarzan films, but a broken, suffering native driven like a team horse, often given inadequate food and rest, and often simply left on the side of the trail to die when he reached the end of his endurance.
The use and abuse of native porters, while not as graphically cruel as other excesses in the Congo, was nonetheless a brutal and destructive practice. Perhaps portage does not get the attention of other atrocities by its sheer “ordinariness”—in addition to being a relatively slow and subtle road to death, it was a practice simply accepted and expected in Africa. And as was the case in so many other aspects of exploitation in the Congo, porters were rarely paid employees selling their services, but forced labor with little choice in the matter. As just one example, “Of the three hundred porters conscripted … for a forced march of more than six hundred miles to set up a new post, not one returned. Stanley made extensive use of these men, and left a string of dead across half the continent. This in addition to those who were encountered and shot along the way—one imagines a native was just as likely to be shot approaching the expedition out of curiosity as he was with hostile intentions.
Admirers of Stanley would hardly think he could be compared to those who later raped and devastated the Congo, but it was men like Stanley who paved the way; not just by cutting out paths through the jungle, but by doing so with the mind-set that these lands were theirs for the taking and its inhabitants fit only to serve their ends, be it gold or glory—or ivory and rubber. Rather than being venerated, Stanley should be relegated to the ranks of those explorers and colonizers whom Peter S. Beagle invoked when he wrote “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses.”
“King Leopold’s Ghost” is a shocking, often gut-wrenching, and horrifying read. It is also a story that needs to be told, and more importantly, remembered.
- Harry Belafonte, Martin Scorsese Team up For Miniseries on Leopold II’s Massacre of Millions in The Congo
- The importance of conserving the King’s rubber vines
1 Comment »
or go to
From the Archives
Far from the expected development, forestry plantations and other carbon market initiatives in Uganda have severely compromised ecologies and livelihoods of the local people.
By Kristen Lyons and Peter Westoby · The Conversation · September 19, 2015
In recent years there has been significant movement toward land acquisition in developing countries to establish forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution elsewhere in the world. This is often referred to as land grabbing.
These carbon trading initiatives work on the basis that forestry plantations absorb carbon dioxide and other polluting greenhouse gases. This helps to undo the environmental damage associated with modern western lifestyles.
Carbon markets are championed as offering solutions to climate change while delivering positive development outcomes to local communities. Heavy polluters, among them the airline and energy sectors, buy carbon credits and thereby pay local communities, companies and governments to protect forests and establish plantations.
But are carbon markets – and the feel good stories that have sprung up around them – all just a bit too good to be true?
There is mounting evidence that forestry plantations and other carbon market initiatives severely compromise livelihoods and ecologies at a local level. The corporate land grabs they rely on also tend to affect the world’s most vulnerable people – those living in rural areas. … continue
Aletho News Original Content
By Aletho News | January 9, 2012
This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
Also by Aletho News:
March 8, 2011
February 25, 2010
February 7, 2010
December 26, 2009
December 4, 2009
May 9, 2009
Visits Since December 2009
- 2,843,212 hits
Follow Aletho News on TwitterMy Tweets
Brian Harry, Austral… on White House Cautioned Against… Brian Harry, Austral… on US Ambassador to UN Nikki Hale… Brian Harry, Austral… on Netanyahu calls for internatio… GUZE` SPITERI on Netanyahu calls for internatio… roberthstiver on Netanyahu calls for internatio… roberthstiver on White House Cautioned Against… traducteur on Palestinian children attend cl… roberthstiver on London mayor backtracks after… traducteur on Palestinians face intense onli… donnamccoy628 on Israel to build touristic park… donnamccoy628 on Israel to build touristic park… Brian Harry, Austral… on British Foreign Policy and the… rediscover911com on Castigated by the Southern Pov… Brian Harry, Austral… on Perfidious Albion… Anthony Clifton on Venezuelan VP Releases Open Le…
- No Amount of Propaganda Qualifies as Humanitarian Aid February 26, 2017
- What’s wrong with ‘alternative facts’? February 26, 2017
- Netanyahu calls for international forces in Gaza February 26, 2017
- Palestinian children attend class in the street after Israel shuts down school February 26, 2017
- Elor Azaria verdict: a personal view February 26, 2017
- London mayor backtracks after sparking row by likening Scottish nationalism to racism February 26, 2017
- White House Cautioned Against Designating Iran’s IRGC a Terrorist Organization February 26, 2017
- Human Rights Watch Cites Al Qaeda and Collaborators in Latest Syria Report February 26, 2017
- Milo Djukanovic’s Claims of Russian Assassination Plot Are a Desperate Ploy to Further NATO Bid February 26, 2017
- US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley: We Must Sanction Assad Over Chemical Weapons! February 26, 2017
- Trump’s Embattled ‘Revolution’ February 26, 2017
- How ‘New Cold Warriors’ Cornered Trump February 25, 2017
- Palestinians face intense online hate from Israelis, say campaigners February 25, 2017
- Israel to build touristic park on Mount of Azzeitun in Jerusalem February 25, 2017
- British Foreign Policy and the UK Weapons Trade February 24, 2017
- Playing with fire: Dozens of nuclear alerts underreported by British MoD, study reveals February 24, 2017
- Castigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center February 24, 2017
- Venezuelan VP Releases Open Letter to US Treasury as Parliament Demands Resignation February 24, 2017
- Free speech, censorship & the right to be wrong… February 26, 2017
- (ENG SUBS)DPR: Ukraine attacks & takes control of water filtration plant Donetsk February 26, 2017
- A thought on Culture as an Integral Part of the Conditions of Existence February 26, 2017
- Propaganda paradox: Putin’s and Russia’s popularity grows in US February 24, 2017
- Elor Azaria verdict: a personal view February 26, 2017
- Remembering the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre February 25, 2017
- Awareness campaign to boycotting the Israeli occupation February 23, 2017
- Artificial Intelligence: ‘Frankenstein’ or Capitalist Money Machine February 21, 2017
Looking for something?
CategoriesAletho News Civil Liberties Corruption Deception Economics Environmentalism Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism Fake News False Flag Terrorism Full Spectrum Dominance Illegal Occupation Islamophobia Mainstream Media, Warmongering Militarism Nuclear Power Progressive Hypocrite Science and Pseudo-Science Solidarity and Activism Subjugation - Torture Supremacism, Social Darwinism Timeless or most popular Video War Crimes Wars for Israel
Tags9/11 Afghanistan Africa AIPAC al-Qaeda Argentina BBC Benjamin Netanyahu Brazil Canada Central Intelligence Agency China CIA Colombia Cuba Da’esh Donald Trump Egypt EU European Union FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation France Gaza Germany Hamas Hebron Hezbollah Hillary Clinton Honduras Human rights India International Atomic Energy Agency International Solidarity Movement Iran Iraq Iraq War ISIL ISIS Israel Israeli settlement Japan Jerusalem John Kerry Latin America Lebanon Libya Mexico Middle East Military National Security Agency NATO New York Times NSA Obama Pakistan Palestine Press TV Qatar Russia Sanctions against Iran Saudi Arabia Syria The Guardian Turkey UK Ukraine United Nations United States USA Venezuela Washington Post West Bank Yemen Zionism
Contact:atheonews (at) gmail.com
This site is provided as a research and reference tool. Although we make every reasonable effort to ensure that the information and data provided at this site are useful, accurate, and current, we cannot guarantee that the information and data provided here will be error-free. By using this site, you assume all responsibility for and risk arising from your use of and reliance upon the contents of this site.
This site and the information available through it do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Should you require legal advice, you should consult your own attorney.
Nothing within this site or linked to by this site constitutes investment advice or medical advice.
Materials accessible from or added to this site by third parties, such as comments posted, are strictly the responsibility of the third party who added such materials or made them accessible and we neither endorse nor undertake to control, monitor, edit or assume responsibility for any such third-party material.
The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.
The word "alleged" is deemed to occur before the word "fraud." Since the rule of law still applies. To peasants, at least.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more info go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
This is information for anyone that wishes to challenge our “fair use” of copyrighted material.
If you are a legal copyright holder or a designated agent for such and you believe that content residing on or accessible through our website infringes a copyright and falls outside the boundaries of “Fair Use”, please send a notice of infringement by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will respond and take necessary action immediately.
If notice is given of an alleged copyright violation we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material(s) in question.
All 3rd party material posted on this website is copyright the respective owners / authors. Aletho News makes no claim of copyright on such material.
Site infoAletho News
Blog at WordPress.com.