Tuesday, 23 August 2011

KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST by Adam Hochschild

I've reviewed KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST here for Africa Book Club. It's the history of Leopold II's brief period of control of what is to today the DRC, and makes for grim reading, recounting how the local people were in essence enslaved in order to produce huge amounts of rubber. Here's a snippet, in case you don't click through, to one rubber company employee's account of his day:
It was most interesting, lying in the bush watching the natives quietly at their day's work. Some women . . . were making banana flour by pounding up dried bananas. Men we could see building huts and engaged in other work, boys and girls running about, singing . . . I opened the game by shooting one chap through the chest. He fell like a stone . . . Immediately a volley was poured into the village.
The mind boggles. So appalling was the treatment of the people of the area that an outcry was raised in Europe. Leopold tries to silence this by sending a hand-picked Commission to 'investigate.' In a darkly comic turn of events, so horrified are Leopold's toadies by what the local people tell them, that they actually return, to Leopold's shock, an honest report!

People often lazily group missionaries and businessmen together as all part and parcel of one monolithic colonial machine. This book most interestingly debunks this myth, highlighting the huge role the missionaries played in trying to protect local people from the business interests of Europe. The above, terribly sad picture, is taken by a mission lady on her verandah. I'm sorry to have to say that this gentleman is looking at the hand of his five year old daughter. Hands were cut off because soldiers needed to prove that they had not 'wasted' ammunition, and needed to prove they had actually killed one person for every bullet used.

Much more, obviously, in my full review here.


  1. this reminds me,
    i once stayed at Adam Hochschild's place in the Castro in SF back in 2006. i don't think he knows as he was not there, and i was a guest of his nephew who was staying with. nice house. and at the time the book was in all the 'must-read' lists. and i never read it. so. uhm.

  2. This is a book I'd have to read though I doubt if I'd have the patience to complete it. Thanks for this

  3. Thanks for the link to your review. I have this book on my Kindle to read and keep meaning to. I just know it will be so painful and horrific that it's hard to start. He's got a new book out though which I also want to pick up.

  4. Oh yes? I hadn't heard he had a book out. I must try and get hold of it.

    Give it a try Nana . . . it is only about 300 pgs x