During the late 1800’s many of the major European powers shifted their imperialistic intentions towards the continent of Africa. Major powers such as Britain, France, Germany, and Italy all contested the continent in search of major financial gain. In doing so many of the European countries’ relations with the natives turned sour, but none more so than that of the Congo. The Congo was colonized by the King of Belgium as a private holding of land. The king at the time, Leopold II, ruled the area with an iron fist and saw the region as an opportunity for financial gain. Because of this, the treatment of the natives was arguably one of the most intolerable displays of tyranny during the colonial period.
The abuse in the Congo had many causes but one of the most important was the crusade for financial gain by king Leopold II. During the 1880’s the discovery of the relatively rare rubber vine and its uses lead to the opportunity of creating a major export and source of taxes. It was this quest for money that created the rubber companies that would go on to abuse the natives of the Congo. In 1898 the Abir Rubber Company had a strong hold in the Congo and was experiencing one of their strongest economic booms, and as a result this lead to the inhumane treatment of the natives forced to harvest the rubber vines.
As the abuse of the natives grew more and more obvious people began to realize how terrible King Leopold II was. People began to draw awareness to the issue in the early 1900’s by publishing a series of political cartoons. One of the most well known depicts Leopold II entangling a Congolonese man as a rubber vine.
While there were many causes for the mistreatment of the people the fact remains that the punishments themselves were drastically severe. For even the most petty crimes the natives were subject to punishments that ranged from amputations all the way to executions. In the image to the right one can see an example of the harsh punishments put in place by king Leopold II. Amputations were one of the most common forms of punishment, many images exist of natives with missing hands or feet. In 1904 a British diplomat published his report on the Congo titled The Casement Report. This report outlined a few examples of killings, beatings, kidnapping, and mutilations in grim detail. After analyzing the text in Voyant one can see how its primary concern is about the government, the natives, and the soldiers in the Congo. Despite the release of the report detailing all the atrocities afflicting the natives king Leopold II managed to hold onto the Congo for almost four more years.
By the end of King Leopold II reign over the Congo an estimated 10-15 million natives were killed (Forbath 278). During the early 1900’s almost the entire world knew of the atrocities that were going on in the Congo, and it even drew the attention of Mark Twain. Twain ended up writing a soliloquy based on King Leopold’s actual statements about the area. Much of the book is centered around making Leopold’s defense sound ridiculous and it effectively shows how Leopold II tried to keep the issue quiet.
If I had them by the throat I [Hastily kisses the crucifix, and 1' mumbles'] In these twenty years I have spent millions to keep the press of the two hemi- spheres quiet, and still these leaks keep on oc- curring. I have spent other millions on religion and art, and what do I get for it? Nothing.
This excerpt comes from the opening paragraph of the book and clearly shows how Leopold II knew he was mistreating the natives but thought that by trying to spread religion in the area he was doing something right.
To bring this all together, King Leopold took control of the Congo as a colony and began to exploit its people for economic gain. While that has been done before the treatment of the natives is what made Leopold II one of, if not the worst, examples of tyranny during the colonial period in Africa.
Casement, Roger. Casement Report. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Full Text of “Casement Report” 1904. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.
Forbath, Peter. The River Congo the Discovery, Exploration, and Exploitation of the World’s Most Dramatic River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. 278. Print.
Jules. “Re: Black History.” Blog comment. Pinterest. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. <https://www.pinterest.com/pin/418271884118033889/>.
Morel, E. D. “Map of the Congo Territories—Under the Personal Rule of King Leopold II.” N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_the_Congo_Territories%E2%80%94 Under_the_personal_rule_of_King_Leopold_II.jpg>.
Twain, Mark. King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule. Boston, MA: P.R. Warren, 1905.
Victim of Congo Atrocities. Digital image. USC Libraries. University of Southern California. Libraries, 1810. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.