Belgium, a country so harmless the only thing associated with it is a square cake with squares in it. Yet not long ago Leopold II of Belgium took it upon himself to promote his country with a healthy dose of enslavement, rape and murder of innocents.
Just The Facts
- The Congo Free State was primarily exploited for rubber latex. It was the golden age of gimps.
- The motto for the Congo Free State was "Work and Progress". "Work" meaning slavery, and "Progress" meaning gruesome death.
- Beto febole yiwa. Congolese saying meaning "Rubber is death".
- Europe learned from the atrocities of the Congo Free State. That is, they learned to use the same heinous methods in their own colonies.
Cracked on the Congo Free State.
19th century Africa was pretty much the colonial equivalent of opening day at the brothel with less premature ejaculation and a lot more plunder and senseless slaughter. Not only was there wealth, power and glory to be had, there was also the divine duty to bring order and civilization to the place, after all Africa was a terrible mess before the white man came.
Some smaller, less ambitious or perhaps less gifted countries (Belgium), had been slow to the start of the colonial race, so when Leopold II came to power, Belgium was still just... Belgium. Needless to say, this was hugely disappointing to Leopold, who promptly got to work securing areas to exploit and brutalize.
"Now Africa, unzip me. You know what to do."
Since the political establishment in Belgium consisted of small minded hacks more interested in meticulously groomed facial hair than the enslavement lesser peoples, Leopold took matters in to his own hands. After some sweet talk and perhaps some even sweeter fellatio, the Congo Free State became the private property of Leopold through a "philanthropic"
The Congo Free State was about 76 times the size of Belgium and absolutely cluttered with ivory, but Leopold still struggled to turn a profit. Then, as manna from heaven, came the pneumatic rubber tire and made exploitation fun again.
Rubber tires made everything transport related much more enjoyable, so every socialite and his floozy had to have some. The Congo Free State not only had massive amounts of rubber, it also had 20 million natives, sadly they were neither collecting rubber nor wailing in abject horror, so something clearly had to be done.
"Thanks to Dunlop's pneumatic rubber tires, I no longer pay for sex."
Naturally, one couldn't expect savages to work for money or food or any sort of compensation, so overabundant violence was really only the way to go. Leopold created the Force Publique (FP) and filled it with officers hell bent on gang raping decency. A system was put in place where each village had to deliver an ever increasing quota of rubber each month, in addition to food for their new masters. The consequences of not delivering, or doing anything at all other than slaving quietly along, varied from the somewhat strict, such as rape, decapitation and massacres, to the less severe like dismemberment, mutilation, burning of villages and being flogged to within an inch of your life with the trusted chicotte
..which is made from the hide of the hippo, because that is where all the evil is.
To properly motivate officers and soldiers for such arduous work, they were given commission for the rubber they brought in and for the number of people killed in the process. One would think that killing off the workforce was a bit counterproductive, but the killing was just too important for such trivial concerns so they just kept trucking.
Those looking for an alternative source of income could provide new soldiers for the FP. A grown man brought you 90 francs, a youth 65 francs, and "a male child over 1.20 and fit for the fatigues of the road" would get you 15 francs. The kidnapped children were usually trained to be soldiers in barrack style Catholic Missions, just like Mother Mary would have wanted.
For some mysterious reason, mutiny and desertion became a common occurrence among the black "recruits" of the FP. In response, the officers started giving them only a fixed number of rounds. To prove that they had not kept the ammunition or wasted it on something other than killing villagers, the soldiers were ordered to bring back a severed hand for every round fired. It's good to know that the FP had the moral fortitude to not become wasteful, even under such difficult conditions.
If any white person was dissatisfied with anything at all, the FP went hunting for lives and limbs. If a soldier missed some fast kid or nimble old lady, he simply chopped a hand of somebody else. In an environment where killing on any whim was actively encouraged, these gruesome receipts became a kind of currency soldiers used to replace missing rubber, avoid punishment and even to shorten their service
. Baskets of severed hands lined State Posts, and there were even reports of barges filled with them on the Congo River.
Above: How to waste a perfectly good basket.
To prevent the hands from becoming all rotting and gross before they got them, officers ordered soldiers to preserve them by smoking them over a fire. There was probably no need to tell scary stories around FP campfires.
All this motivation lead to inspiring stories like that of provincial governor Leon Fievez, who used to brag around the water cooler of having killed 1300 natives and burned 162 villages en route to pulling in 25000 kilos of rubber each month. If that's not commitment, we don't want to know what is. Another Belgian Officer killed 122 natives during a single routine expedition, while Officer Louis Leclerq, had a diary full of entries like this;
"10 April 1895. Six natives killed. Village set on fire. Dinner then return."
Note the need to have dinner with the corpses and smoldering remains before returning. We thought only bankers did that.
Before the rubber rush even got going, Joseph Conrad visited the Congo Free State and was inspired to write "The Heart of Darkness" (which is the inspiration for "Apocalypse Now!"). It is believed that the deranged Mr. Kurtz is based on Captain Leon Rom who reportedly decorated his flower bed with a fine selection of severed heads, probably because flowers are so damned unappealing. Oh, and in stead of a swing set, Rom kept a gallows permanently erected in his front yard.
"The horror! The horror!"
Under pressure from his European neighbors Leopold opened the State to foreign companies. These companies were appalled at how labor intensive all the floggings and killings were, so they started taking the native women hostage instead. All they had to do then was a bit of routine raping and sipping of tea while weeping husbands and fathers brought in the rubber. The private sector once again proves superior to big government.
Unfortunately for Leopold, a good thing never lasts, and eventually the softer people of the world joined forces and ended his reign. The 700 million in present day dollars Leopold got away with was probably little comfort, despite it likely being all the money in the universe at the time.
In 23 years, the Congo Free State had suffered an estimated population loss of 10 million, about half of the pre Leopold number. In addition to the outright killing, the population was reduced by starvation, an epidemic of sleeping sickness, and "reduction of births". We think that last part means that the Belgians reached a level of dickishness where people actually stopped fucking. This is obviously a feat of mind-boggling proportions.
As for Leopold himself, his memory is forever tarnished. In Belgium he is remembered as "The Builder King" on account of all the grandiose shit he built with the rubber profits
, and statues of him are scattered about on town squares and the like. We assume that is how they show contempt in Belgium. The EU showed their profound respect for the victims of the Congo Free State in 2007 when they printed a commemorative Leopold II Euro coin.
Some exceedingly disturbing testimony:
John H. Harris - Missionary. Letter to the Vice General of the CFS:
"To his Excellency the vice governor general. I have just returned back from a journey in land to the village of N'songo M'boyo. The abject misery and utter abandon is positively indescribable. A few months ago Monsieur Pile took his sentries there. A young woman, Imanega, was tied to a forked tree and chopped in half with a machete. Beginning at her left shoulder, chopping through the chest and abdomen and out at the side. It was in this way the sentries punished the woman's husband. Another woman, Balumba, wishing to stay faithful to her husband, had a pointed stake forced in to her womb, and, as this did not kill her, she was shot. I found that, as in other towns, enforced public incest formed amusement for the sentries.."
Look, forcing family members to have sex in public is hilarious, I think we can all agree on that, but the chopping thing? We've seen better.
Bonkoko - Testimony to Leopold Commission. 1903:
"When we arrived at Bolima, the chief , Isekifasu, was in his hut. He had been killed by the sentry Isekitoki. They had also killed two of Isekifasu's wives and a baby, who had been sliced in half. One of the women had had her intestines ripped out. They had also strung the entrails of a child around the huts, and stuck parts of his body on sticks.
Back at the state post in Baringa the whites told of the sentries for not having killed enough people and for not having enough prisoners."
I mean really, If you hadn't wasted all that time playing with children's intestines...
Roger Casement - The Casement Report 1904:
"The white man, Ikatankoy (the leopards paw), was not far off, and could see what they were doing. Ikatankoy was drinking palm wine while the soldiers beat the boy's hands off with their rifle butts against a tree."
Wow.. There is only one word to say about that, and that word is "inefficient".
John B. Murphy - Missionary:
"On December the third 1893 the State sent down some canoes under cover of night to the town of Inego. The people were quietly sleeping in their beds when they heard a shot fired and ran out to see what was the matter. Finding the soldiers had surrounded the town, their only thought was to escape. As they ran out of their homes, men, women, and children, they were ruthlessly shot down. The town was utterly destroyed and is a ruin until this day.
The only reason for this fight was that the people had failed to bring in food to the State upon that one day."
Do you hear that pizza delivery man? You and your extended family better take notice.
Bwitaka - Testimony 1904:
"After three days, we returned to the village. We saw dead bodies. And we saw, hanging on a line, fixed between to sticks, tied up genital organs."
There's nothing like decorating for Christmas.
Leon Fievez - Governor of the Equator Province:
"I called together the chiefs of the villages and ordered them to bring some manioc, fish. On the agreed day, no manioc. Faced with such flagrant bad will, I declared war on them. One example sufficed. A hundred heads were cut off, and after that supplies were plentiful in the station. My aim was humanitarian. I ended a hundred lives, but that allowed five hundred others to live".
Really? Are you sure about that Leon? That seems fairly crazy man. And, not to be a languagefag here, but we're pretty sure "one example" is not really accurate when you keep going for 99 more.