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freemanjud
Boston, US
Posts: 288

Reading: Excerpt from Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (1999), pp. 129ff, 158ff (Several of you read this book for your summer reading. Yay you! If you are one of those folks, take a look at these pages for a reminder; if you are not one of the summer reading folks, make sure you read all of this)


"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."


—Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)


I’d say Conrad’s quote is….an understatement (to say the least)? The British writer Joseph Conrad, who wrote the novel Heart of Darkness (it’s a complicated and not-uncontroversial novel and certainly a book that you all MUST read before you die, if you have not already read it for English) after traveling up the Kongo River in 1890, said about the people of Africa that yesterday’s “savages” were “tomorrow’s paragons of civilization.”


The people living in the Kongo were most certainly not savages. But their history was profoundly affected and, sadly, reshaped by western intervention. The Kingdom of Kongo was founded c. 1390 CE by KiKongo speaking people (Congo with a C is the result of Portuguese translation.). Most Congolese today speak one of the Bantu language variants. The kingdom reached its height in the mid-17th century but was most definitely affected by corruption, feuds among royal families, and the trade of people to be enslaved. Its center was originally the city of Mbanza, located in what today is (thanks to Portuguese colonial ambitions) Angola. Many members of the royal family and the nobility in Kongo converted to Christianity due to their interaction with Portuguese explorers and (later) missionaries. Kongolese involvement with the slave trade began with the Portuguese demands for slaves and the Kongolese king would use foreign-born (non-Kongolese) people to fulfill the Portuguese demands. Internal strife within the country—separatist groups from different royal families (such as the Soyo)--led to the royal family bartering slaves for foreign help in suppressing rebellions Ultimately the country split in two in the mid-1600s.


Over the course of that history and continuing today, the people of the Kongo created rich artistic and musical traditions; to look at some of this spectacular art, take a look here (and yes, it’s surprising that there’s a large collection of Congolese art sitting in …..Iowa!) as well as here (for more recent masks created by Congolese artists) and to listen to traditional Congolese music (which continues today), check this out.


When the British abolished the slave trade in the early 19th century, the Kingdom of Kongo had to rely on other exports and they turned to trade in ivory and rubber. Needless to say, this made the kingdom very attractive to nations looking to establish colonies to provide them with economic wealth through natural resources.


King Leopold of Belgium saw the continent as “this magnificent African cake.” The imperial ambitions of Europe were achieved by carving up this massive “African cake,” especially during the orgy-like division of the continent at the 1884-1885 Conference of Berlin. No doubt you touched on this at least a little bit—at least I hope that you did—in World History II/AP World.


So in your post, please consider these questions and respond thoughtfully:


  1. What possible justification can there be for colonial control over any nation?
  2. Are there benefits to colonialism? What does the colonialist nation in charge get from the “arrangement”? What does the colonized nation get from the arrangement?
  3. And is what is described in the reading from Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost indicative of the extremes of colonialism, the perils of colonialism, or the norm? (The more you are detailed here in your response, the more it’s clear that you got something meaningful out of this reading.)
  4. Finally, the broadest questions: In your view, what short- and long-term effects did the colonization of Africa have on the development of nations on the continent and their status today? And what responsibility, if any, do the colonizing nations have for their former colonial subjects and the nations that emerged after colonialism ended?

(And by the way, lest you think this is only an African issue, think about all the nations in Asia and the Middle East, not to mention Latin and South America that were once colonial subjects! And if you think about it, we, here in the US, were too.)


Please be sure to post on this in a timely fashion and be certain to reference specifics from class AND from Hochschild’s magisterial book.


Also, please be sure that at the close of your post, you (1) pose a question about this issue for the next reader AND (2) reply to the question posed by the person who posted before you did!



jellybeans101
Boston, MA
Posts: 16
  1. What possible justification can there be for colonial control over any nation?

I feel like some people claim that the justification for colonial control is to help countries in need. “We all come from Africa,” said the one African-American in the class, whom I’ll call Henry, calmly referring to the supposition among most anthropologists that human life originated in sub-Saharan Africa. What Henry was saying was that there are no racial hierarchies among peoples—that we’re all “savages.”“What are the constraints for you? What are the rivets? Why are you here getting civilized, reading Lit Hum?”There is the portrayal of people who are uncolonized as “savages”, which is extremely biased. They seem to be playing a “savior complex” in reconstructing the culture of these people.


  1. Are there benefits to colonialism? What does the colonialist nation in charge get from the “arrangement”? What does the colonized nation get from the arrangement?

“When the British abolished the slave trade in the early 19th century, the Kingdom of Kongo had to rely on other exports and they turned to trade in ivory and rubber. Needless to say, this made the kingdom very attractive to nations looking to establish colonies to provide them with economic wealth through natural resources. “

They are using the people and their labor and their land for economic benefit.

  1. And is what is described in the reading from Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost indicative of the extremes of colonialism, the perils of colonialism, or the norm? (The more you are detailed here in your response, the more it’s clear that you got something meaningful out of this reading.)

People were paid to turn in people not enforcing their western culture. This is extremely frustrating as you would think enforcement officers are there to keep people safe, not turn them in for embracing their culture. The government putting a bounty on their heads with money even goes to show their disregard of respect. Firstly they placed a price on a human , then their culture. There is also the interaction with the priest where they quote “ so you won’t write to Europe of what we took from you”. The use of materials and goods is used to persuade the first settlers to listen to the colonizers. It makes sense that the first settlers had to take the materials as they had no other choice; they were being watched from every corner. They had no choice but to assimilate and not speak out.

  1. Finally, the broadest questions: In your view, what short- and long-term effects did the colonization of Africa have on the development of nations on the continent and their status today? And what responsibility, if any, do the colonizing nations have for their former colonial subjects and the nations that emerged after colonialism ended?

First of all I think no country should have to fight for the independence of simply embracing their own culture. Their debt for example Haiti has to pay left them in a black against prosperity. Similar to the loss of indegious culture in America, I think the colonizers need to take responsibility and make resolutions for everything they have done to the people. The amends need to be made to ensure further peace that the execution of culture and exhaustion of their people and resources will never be done again.


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