king-leopold-II

Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is?

Most people haven’t heard of him.

But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in your stomach as when you read about Mussolini or Hitler or see one of their pictures. You see, he killed over 10 million people in the Congo.

His name is King Leopold II of Belgium.

He “owned” the Congo during his reign as the constitutional monarch of Belgium. After several failed colonial attempts in Asia and Africa, he settled on the Congo. He “bought” it and enslaved its people, turning the entire country into his own personal slave plantation. He disguised his business transactions as “philanthropic” and “scientific” efforts under the banner of the International African Society. He used their enslaved labor to extract Congolese resources and services. His reign was enforced through work camps, body mutilations, executions, torture, and his private army.

Most of us – I don’t yet know an approximate percentage but I fear its extremely high – aren’t taught about him in school. We don’t hear about him in the media. He’s not part of the widely repeated narrative of oppression (which includes things like the Holocaust during World War II). He’s part of a long history of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and genocide in Africa that would clash with the social construction of the white supremacist narrative in our schools. It doesn’t fit neatly into a capitalist curriculum. Making overtly racist remarks is (sometimes) frowned upon in polite society, but it’s quite fine not to talk about genocides in Africa perpetrated by European capitalist monarchs.

Mark Twain wrote a satire about Leopold called “King Leopold’s soliloquy; a defense of his Congo rule“, where he mocked the King’s defense of his reign of terror, largely through Leopold’s own words. It’s 49 pages long. Mark Twain is a popular author for American public schools. But like most political authors, we will often read some of their least political writings or read them without learning why the author wrote them (Orwell’s Animal Farm for example serves to re-inforce American anti-Socialist propaganda, but Orwell was an anti-capitalist revolutionary of a different kind – this is never pointed out). We can read about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but King Leopold’s Soliloquy isn’t on the reading list. This isn’t by accident. Reading lists are created by boards of education in order to prepare students to follow orders and endure boredom well. From the point of view of the Education Department, Africans have no history.

When we learn about Africa, we learn about a caricaturized Egypt, about the HIV epidemic (but never its causes), about the surface level effects of the slave trade, and maybe about South African Apartheid (which of course now is long, long over). We also see lots of pictures of starving children on Christian Ministry commercials, we see safaris on animal shows, and we see pictures of deserts in films and movies. But we don’t learn about the Great African War or Leopold’s Reign of Terror during the Congolese Genocide. Nor do we learn about what the United States has done in Iraq and Afghanistan, potentially killing in upwards of 5-7 million people from bombs, sanctions, disease and starvation. Body counts are important. And we don’t count Afghans, Iraqis, or Congolese.

There’s a Wikipedia page called “Genocides in History”. The Congolese Genocide isn’t included. The Congo is mentioned though. What’s now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo is listed in reference to the Second Congo War (also called Africa’s World War and the Great War of Africa), where both sides of the multinational conflict hunted down Bambenga and ate them. Cannibalism and slavery are horrendous evils which must be entered into history and talked about for sure, but I couldn’t help thinking whose interests were served when the only mention of the Congo on the page was in reference to multi-national incidents where a tiny minority of people were  eating each other (completely devoid of the conditions which created the conflict no less). Stories which support the white supremacist narrative about the subhumanness of people in Africa are allowed to be entered into the records of history. The white guy who turned the Congo into his own personal part-plantation, part-concentration camp, part-Christian ministry and killed 10 to 15 million Congolese people in the process doesn’t make the cut.

You see, when you kill ten million Africans, you aren’t called ‘Hitler’. That is, your name doesn’t come to symbolize the living incarnation of evil. Your name and your picture don’t produce fear, hatred, and sorrow. Your victims aren’t talked about and your name isn’t remembered.

Leopold was just one part of thousands of things that helped construct white supremacy as both an ideological narrative and material reality. Of course I don’t want to pretend that in the Congo he was the source of all evil. He had generals, and foot soldiers, and managers who did his bidding and enforced his laws. It was a system. But that doesn’t negate the need to talk about the individuals who are symbolic of the system. But we don’t even get that. And since it isn’t talked about, what capitalism did to Africa, all the privileges that rich white people gained from the Congolese genocide are hidden. The victims of imperialism are made, like they usually are, invisible.

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filmsforaction.org
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him.
By Liam O'Ceallaigh

His name is King Leopold II of Belgium.

He “owned” the Congo during his reign as the constitutional monarch of Belgium. After several failed colonial attempts in Asia and Africa, he settled on the Congo. He “bought” it and enslaved its people, turning the entire country into his own personal slave plantation. He disguised his business transactions as “philanthropic” and “scientific” efforts under the banner of the International African Society. He used their enslaved labor to extract Congolese resources and services. His reign was enforced through work camps, body mutilations, executions, torture, and his private army.

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Everfair (2016) by Nisi Shawl  //  Tor Books

“Everfair is a wonderful NeoVictorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier.

Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.”

You can Preorder and find more of her works here


Nisi Shawl’s story “Cruel Sistah” was included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror #19. Her work has also appeared in So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy and both Dark Matter anthologies. Recently she perpetrated “The Snooted One: The Historicity of Origin” at the Farrago’s Wainscot website. With Cynthia Ward, she co-authored “Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction” (Aqueduct Press). 

A board member of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, one of the Carl Brandon Society’s founders, and a guest speaker at Stanford University and Smith College, Nisi likes to relax by pretending she lives in other people’s houses.


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Nisi Shawl Discusses Everfair, Diversity in Publishing, and Giving a Voice to Those Silenced by History

The novel-length debut of prolific short-story writer Nisi Shawl, Everfair is a complex steampunk alternate history of Belgium’s disastrous colony known as the Congo Free State. Shawl weaves together many diverse voices to invent a steampunk alternate history that honors those who died during King Leopold II’s reign.

We recently talked to Shawl about history, racism, writing the other, and the ethics of technology.

READ MORE

nisishawl.com

[mod note] This book is next on my MUST READ list!

Flanders Pearl & Diamond Tiara

Around 1830,
Gold, silver, diamonds, pearls, 35X140X135mm
Private collection, Courtesy of the Albion Art Collection, Tokyo.

This tiara is probably part of a commission for the Grand-Duchess of Bade (1789-1860), adopted daughter of Napoleon. Her second child, Princess Josephine, may have received it on her marriage to Prince Charles de Hohenzollern- Sigmaringen. Finally, the tiara will end up in possession of the Countess Marie of Flanders, who, through her marriage to Philippe, Count of Flanders, becomes the sister-in-law of Leopold II, King of Belgium. Princess Henrietta will inherit the tiara. She will become Duchess of Vendôme through her marriage in 1896 with the grandson of King Louis Philippe of France. Nonetheless, there exists another version amongst the descendants of Princess Marie de Bade, daughter of the Grand-Duchess Stephanie. Did she possibly have the same tiara made for each of her children?

- Diamond Divas

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Mini Order of the Garter Spam

1. King James VI & I

2. King Charles II

3. King George III

4. Prince Frederick, Duke of York (George III’s second son)

5. Leopold I, King of the Belgians

6. Another portrait of Leopold I (because bae)

7. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

8. King Edward VIII

9. King George VI

In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium declared himself the dictator of DR Congo, then called the Congo Free State. Leopold was supported because his people bought into propaganda that he would Christianize and modernize the country, while his true intent was to force men, women, and children into labor for rubber and ivory. When the Congolese people failed to meet quotas set by the king, their hands would be cut off or they would be killed. The population declined due to these practices and the new European diseases. In 1908, the king sold the colony to Belgium. The Belgians couldn’t stop the deaths of 5-8 million Congolese people over the course of two years (1908-1910) because of Leopold’s army. By 1903, the rubber industry fell through, so they looked to the Katanga province for copper, diamonds, and oil. Again, labor was forced and taxes were high. Families were torn apart. During WWII, the demand for copper rose, creating markets for household goods like soaps and sugar. During this time, the economy and education improved, but the Belgians were still authoritarian and used local chiefs as figureheads. In 1960, the Congo gained independence.

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Ota Benga was a Congolese man from the Mbuti people (the Mbuti are one of the indigenous people of Central Africa who have been living in the region before the Bantu migration) who was featured in an anthropology exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, and in a human zoo exhibit in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo. 

Force Publique (established by King Leopold II of Belgium) killed his wife and annihilated his village while he had been away hunting elephant, lost his wife and children and later on captured by slavers. American Samuel Phillips Verner traveled to Congo in 1904 under contract from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition to bring back an “assortment of P*gmies indigenous people” to be part of an exhibition. Verner bought Ota Benga from slavers, Benga saw this as Verner saving his life from the slavers as he did not receive any harsh treatment from him. Verner’s plan was to bring back more indigenous people back with him to America but, the indigenous people (from the Twa ethnic group) did not trust him. Because Benga trusted Verner and thought he only had good intentions, he was able to persuade four indigenous men to join them. With the help of Benga, Verner was able to recruit Bantu men from he Bakubaand Baluba. 

The group of men arrived in St. Louis, Missouri in June 1904. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition had already begun, and the Africans immediately became the center of attention. Ota Benga became very popular,  The indigenous people were among the most popular attractions. They were made to snap their filed teeth at visitors, perform ritual dances, compete in “Anthropology Days,” a sort of Aboriginal Olympics, during which they excelled only at mud fighting. “When a white man comes to our country,” one of Ota Benga’s companions complained to a reporter, “we give them presents. … The Americans treat us as they do our pet monkey. They laugh at us and poke their umbrellas into our faces.”

Ota Benga was first displayed in the United States as part of the World’s Fair in
St. Louis in 1904. Here he was one of as many as “10,000 strange people,” or international “visitors,” on exhibit as part of an ethnographical showcase created to demonstrate the various levels of the “Great Chain of Being” and to highlight Darwin’s theory of evolution. Like European and American who were exploring the African continent, the World’s Fair organizers allowed their curiosity about nonwhite communities to take the form “often influenced by the current interpretations of Darwinism, so it was not simply who was human, but who was more human, and finally, who was most human, that concerned them.”

At the zoo, white crowds numbering forty thousand gawked at and taunted the twenty-three-year-old Benga, who shared a cage with a monkey, and more than once a group of visitors chased him around the grounds jeering at him, tripping him, and poking him in the ribs. His release came at the behest of a group of black American ministers, but only after he had spent a month in the zoo and then found himself ferried by the ministers to New York’s black orphan asylum, where he would be housed with children.

African-American clergymen such as Rev. James H. Gordon protested to zoo officials about the exhibit. Gordon stated “Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes,” Mr. Gordon said. “We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.” In defense of the depiction of Benga as a lesser human, an editorial in The New York Times suggested: “We do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter … It is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation Benga is suffering. The p*gmies … are very low in the human scale, and the suggestion that Benga should be in a school instead of a cage ignores the high probability that school would be a place … from which he could draw no advantage whatever. The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books is now far out of date”  In response to the protest, Benga was allowed to roam around he grounds of the zoo. 

Benga was later released into Gordon’s custody, he sent Benga to a church sponsored orphanage until he had to be relocated to Virginia because of the unwelcome press attention. Whilst in Virgina, Benga lived with the McCary family, his sharpened teeth were reshaped and he was bought American style clothing so he could assimilate into society more easily and quickly. Benga started school and improved his English and eventually got a job at a  tobacco factory. 

Benga wanted to return home to Congo but, In 1914 when World War I broke out, that made it impossible. Benga had only memories, and no one but he could know what form they took. Was his sleep troubled by nightmares of being stalked by mobs, or being caged? Was he haunted by visions of murdered loved ones, or of starving, tortured, and chained Congolese?Some nights, beneath a star-speckled sky, the boys recalled, they would watch Benga build a fire, and dance and sing around it. They were enraptured as he circled the flames, hopping and singing as if they were not there. They were no older than 10, too young to grasp the poignancy of the ancient ritual.

But as he, and they, grew older, something changed. By 1916, Benga had lost interest in their excursions to hunt and fish, and no longer seemed so eager a friend to the neighbourhood children. Many had noticed his darkening disposition, his all-consuming longing to go home. For hours he would sit alone in silence under a tree. Some of his young companions would recall, decades later, a song he used to sing, which he had learned at the Theological Seminary: “I believe I’ll go home / Lordy, won’t you help me.”In the late afternoon of 19 March 1916, the boys watched as Benga gathered wood to build a fire in the field. As the fire rose to a brilliant flame, Benga danced around it while chanting and moaning. The boys had seen his ritual before, but this time they detected a profound sorrow: he seemed eerily distant, as vacant as a ghost.That night, as they slept, Ota Benga stole into a battered grey shed across the road from his home. Before daybreak, he picked up a gun that he had hidden there, and fired a single bullet through his own hear

Ota Benga (second from left) and other Congolese boys 1904 Photograph: University of South Carolina

tw: anti-indigenous slurs 


Photo taken by Art Wells, Saturday, November 19, 2011 at the gravesite of Ota Benga, White Rock Cemetery, Lynchburg, VA.


  • Ota Benga under My Mother’s Roof by Carrie Allen Simmonds McCray
  • “Town of God”: Ota Benga, the Batetela Boys, and the Promise of Black America by Karen Sotiropoulo
  • Ota the Other An African on Display in America by Jocelyn L. Buckner