A Shipping Clerk Deduced Atrocities In The Congo By Looking At Export Paperwork
In the early 20th century, the Congo was under the control of King Leopold II of Belgium. It wasn't a colony or anything -- this ridiculously large chunk of Africa (as big as Alaska and Texas combined) was administered by just Leopold personally. The official story was that he controlled and traded with the Congo as a philanthropic gesture. A story E.D. Morel, a mere clerk, started to question when the ships came in.
The ships left with nothing but ammunition and returned with vast amounts of rubber and ivory. To someone used to balancing books, this smelled fishy. He wondered: Could Leopold's men be enslaving the Congolese? For context, this was many decades after the Atlantic slave trade had ended. Slavery was illegal in both the Congo and Belgium, and one of the reasons Leopold gave for controlling the Congo was that he wanted to protect it from slavery. OK dude, sure.
Morel complained to his superiors at the Elder Dempster shipping company. They offered him a promotion in exchange for his silence, but he refused it, quit, and founded the Congo Reform Association to expose what was going on. And boy was there a lot to expose. Leopold really was enslaving the Congolese. Villages were assigned a rubber and ivory quota, and if they came up short, heads would roll. Quite literally. Officers cut off heads. And penises. And nailed women and children to crosses.
Individually, the penalty for missing a quota was losing a hand. In this way, severed hands also became a sort of currency. See, officers were only supposed to use their ammo for killing Congolese, not hunting, so at inspection, they needed to have a dead man's hand for each spent round. As a result, they always wanted more hands, and villages would provide additional hands -- severed from the living -- in exchange for being spared.