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King Leopold's caAdam Hochschild

A MARINER BOOKHoughton Mifflin CompanyBOSTON NEW YORKFORDAVID HUNTER(1916–2000)FIRST MARINER BOOKS EDITION 1999Copyright 1998 by Adam HochschildAll rights reservedFor information about permission to reproduce selections fromthis book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataHochschild, Adam.King Leopold's ghost : a story of greed, terror, and heroism incolonial Africa / Adam Hochschild.p. cm.Includes bibliographical references and index.ISBN-13: 978-0-395-75924-0 ISBN-13: 978-0-618-00190-3(pbk.)ISBN-10: 0-395-75924-2 ISBN-10: 0-618-00190-5 (pbk.)

1. Congo (Democratic Republic)—Politics and government—1885–1908. 2. Congo (Democratic Republic)—Politics andgovernment. 3. Forced labor—Congo (Democratic Republic)—History—19th century. 4. Forced labor—Congo (DemocraticRepublic)—History—20th century. 5. Indigenous peoples—Congo(DemocraticRepublic)—History— 19th century. 6. Indigenouspeoples—Congo (Democratic Republic)—History—20th century.7. Congo (Democratic Republic)—Race relations—History—19thcentury. 8. Congo (Democratic Republic)—Race relations—History—20th century. 9. Human rights movements—History— 19thcentury. 10.Human rights movements—History—20th century.I.Title.DT655.H63 1998967.5 —dc21 98-16813 CIPPrinted in the United States of AmericaQUM 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14Book design by Melodie WerteletMap by Barbara Jackson, Meridian Mapping, Oakland, CaliforniaPhoto credits appear on [ ].In somewhat different form, portions of chapters 9 and 19appeared in The

New Yorker, and portions of chapters 5 and 16 in The AmericanScholar.CONTENTSIntroduction [ ]Prologue: "The Traders Are Kidnapping Our People" [ ]PART I: WALKING INTO FIRE1. "I Shall Not Give Up the Chase" [ ]2. The Fox Crosses the Stream [ ]3. The Magnificent Cake [ ]4. "The Treaties Must Grant Us Everything" [ ]5. From Florida to Berlin [ ]6. Under the Yacht Club Flag [ ]7. The First Heretic [ ]8. Where There Aren't No Ten Commandments [ ]9. Meeting Mr. Kurtz [ ]

10. The Wood That Weeps [ ]11. A Secret Society of Murderers [ ]PART II: A KING AT BAY12. David and Goliath [ ]13. Breaking into the Thieves' Kitchen [ ]14. To Flood His Deeds with Day [ ]15. A Reckoning [ ]16. "Journalists Won't Give You Receipts" [ ]17. No Man Is a Stranger [ ]18. Victory? [ ]19. The Great Forgetting [ ]Looking Back: A Personal Afterword [ ]Notes [ ]Bibliography [ ]Acknowledgments [ ]Index [ ]

INTRODUCTIONTHE BEGINNINGS of this story lie far back in time, and itsreverberations still sound today. But for me a central incandescentmoment, one that illuminates long decades before and after, is ayoung man's flash of moral recognition.The year is 1897 or 1898. Try to imagine him, briskly steppingoff a cross-Channel steamer, a forceful, burly man, in his midtwenties, with a handlebar mustache. He is confident and wellspoken, but his British speech is without the polish of Eton orOxford. He is well dressed, but the clothes are not from BondStreet. With an ailing mother and a wife and growing family tosupport, he is not the sort of person likely to get caught up in anidealistic cause. His ideas are thoroughly conventional. He looks—and is—every inch the sober, respectable businessman.Edmund Dene Morel is a trusted employee of a Liverpoolshipping line. A subsidiary of the company has the monopoly on alltransport of cargo to and from the Congo Free State, as it is thencalled, the huge territory in central Africa that is the world's only

colony claimed by one man. That man is King Leopold II ofBelgium, a ruler much admired throughout Europe as a"philanthropic" monarch. He has welcomed Christian missionaries tohis new colony; his troops, it is said, have fought and defeated localslave-traders who preyed on the population; and for more than adecade European newspapers have praised him for investing hispersonal fortune in public works to benefit the Africans.Because Morel speaks fluent French, his company sends him toBelgium every few weeks to supervise the loading and unloading ofships on the Congo run. Although the officials he works with havebeen handling this shipping traffic for years without a secondthought, Morel begins to notice things that unsettle him. At thedocks of the big port of Antwerp he sees his company's shipsarriving filled to the hatch covers with valuable cargoes of rubberand ivory. But when they cast off their hawsers to steam back to theCongo, while military bands play on the pier and eager young menin uniform line the ships' rails, what they carry is mostly armyofficers, firearms, and ammunition. There is no trade going on here.Little or nothing is being exchanged for the rubber and ivory. AsMorel watches these riches streaming to Europe with almost nogoods being sent to Africa to pay for them, he realizes that therecan be only one explanation for their source: slave labor.Brought face to face with evil, Morel does not turn away.Instead, what he sees determines the course of his life and thecourse of an extraordinary movement, the first great internationalhuman rights movement of the twentieth century. Seldom has onehuman being—impassioned, eloquent, blessed with brilliant

organizing skills and nearly superhuman energy—managed almostsingle-handedly to put one subject on the world's front pages formore than a decade. Only a few years after standing on the docksof Antwerp, Edmund Morel would be at the White House, insistingto President Theodore Roosevelt that the United States had aspecial responsibility to do something about the Congo. He wouldorganize delegations to the British Foreign Office. He wouldmobilize everyone from Booker T. Washington to Anatole Franceto the Archbishop of Canterbury to join his cause. More than twohundred mass meetings to protest slave labor in the Congo wouldbe held across the United States. A larger number of gatherings inEngland—nearly three hundred a year at the crusade's peak—would draw as many as five thousand people at a time. In London,one letter of protest to the Times on the Congo would be signed byeleven peers, nineteen bishops, seventy-six members of Parliament,the presidents of seven Chambers of Commerce, thirteen editors ofmajor newspapers, and every lord mayor in the country. Speechesabout the horrors of King Leopold's Congo would be given as faraway as Australia. In Italy, two men would fight a duel over theissue. British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, a man not givento overstatement, would declare that "no external question for atleast thirty years has moved the country so strongly and sovehemently."This is the story of that movement, of the savage crime that wasits target, of the long period of exploration and conquest thatpreceded it, and of the way the world has forgotten one of the greatmass killings of recent history.

***I knew almost nothing about the history of the Congo until a fewyears ago, when I noticed a footnote in a book I happened to bereading. Often, when you come across something particularlystriking, you remember just where you were when you read it. Onthis occasion I was sitting, stiff and tired, late at night, in one of thefar rear seats of an airliner crossing the United States from east towest.The footnote was to a quotation by Mark Twain, written, thenote said, when he was part of the worldwide movement againstslave labor in the Congo, a practice that had taken eight to tenmillion lives. Worldwide movement? Eight to ten million lives? I wasstartled.Statistics about mass murder are often hard to prove. But if thisnumber turned out to be even half as high, I thought, the Congowould have been one of the major killing grounds of modern times.Why were these deaths not mentioned in the standard litany of ourcentury's horrors? And why had I never before heard of them? Ihad been writing about human rights for years, and once, in thecourse of half a dozen trips to Africa, I had been to the Congo.That visit was in 1961. In a Leopoldville apartment, I heard aCIA man, who had had too much to drink, describe withsatisfaction exactly how and where the newly independent country'sfirst prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, had been killed a few monthsearlier. He assumed that any American, even a visiting student like

me, would share his relief at the assassination of a man the UnitedStates government considered a dangerous leftist troublemaker. Inthe early morning a day or two later I left the country by ferryacross the Congo River, the conversation still ringing in my head asthe sun rose over the waves and the dark, smooth water slappedagainst the boat's hull.It was several decades later that I encountered that footnote,and with it my own ignorance of the Congo's early history. Then itoccurred to me that, like millions of other people, I had readsomething about that time and place after all: Joseph Conrad'sHeart of Darkness. However, with my college lecture notes on thenovel filled with scribbles about Freudian overtones, mythic echoes,and inward vision, I had mentally filed away the book under fiction,not fact.I began to read more. The further I explored, the more it wasclear that the Congo of a century ago had indeed seen a death tollof Holocaust dimensions. At the same time, I unexpectedly foundmyself absorbed by the extraordinary characters who had peopledthis patch of history. Although it was Edmund Dene Morel who hadignited a movement, he was not the first outsider to see KingLeopold's Congo for what it was and to try hard to draw theworld's attention to it. That role was played by George WashingtonWilliams, a black American journalist and historian, who, unlikeanyone before him, interviewed Africans about their experience oftheir white conquerors. It was another black American, WilliamSheppard, who recorded a scene he came across in the Congo rainforest that would brand itself on the world's consciousness as a

symbol of colonial brutality. There were other heroes as well, one ofthe bravest of whom ended his life on a London gallows. Then, ofcourse, into the middle of the story sailed the young sea captainJoseph Conrad, expecting the exotic Africa of his childhood dreamsbut finding instead what he would call "the vilest scramble for lootthat ever disfigured the history of human conscience." And loomingabove them all was King Leopold II, a man as filled with greed andcunning, duplicity and charm, as any of the more complex villains ofShakespeare.As I followed the intersecting lives of these men, I realizedsomething else about the terror in the Congo and the controversythat came to surround it. It was the first major international atrocityscandal in the age of the telegraph and the camera. In its mixture ofbloodshed on an industrial scale, royalty, sex, the power ofcelebrity, and rival lobbying and media campaigns raging in half adozen countries on both sides of the Atlantic, it seemed strikinglyclose to our time. Furthermore, unlike many other great predatorsof history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, KingLeopold II never saw a drop of blood spilled in anger. He never setfoot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too,as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere, above theclouds, who never hears screams or sees shattered homes or tornflesh.Although Europe has long forgotten the victims of Leopold'sCongo, I found a vast supply of raw material to work with inreconstructing their fate: Congo memoirs by explorers, steamboat

captains, military men; the records of mission stations; reports ofgovernment investigations; and those peculiarly Victorianphenomena, accounts by gentleman (or sometimes lady) "travelers."The Victorian era was a golden age of letters and diaries; and oftenit seems as if every visitor or official in the Congo kept a voluminousjournal and spent each evening on the riverbank writing lettershome.One problem, of course, is that nearly all of this vast river ofwords is by Europeans or Americans. There was no writtenlanguage in the Congo when Europeans first arrived, and thisinevitably skewed the way that history was recorded. We havedozens of memoirs by the territory's white officials; we know thechanging opinions of key people in the British Foreign Office,sometimes on a day-by-day basis. But we do not have a full-lengthmemoir or complete oral history of a single Congolese during theperiod of the greatest terror. Instead of African voices from thistime there is largely silence.And yet, as I immersed myself in this material, I saw howrevealing it was. The men who seized the Congo often trumpetedtheir killings, bragging about them in books and newspaper articles.Some kept surprisingly frank diaries that show far more than thewriters intended, as does a voluminous and explicit instruction bookfor colonial officials. Furthermore, several officers of the privatearmy that occupied the Congo came to feel guilty about the bloodon their hands. Their testimony, and the documents they smuggledout, helped to fuel the protest movement. Even on the part of thebrutally suppressed Africans, the silence is not complete. Some of

their actions and voices, though filtered through the records of theirconquerors, we can still see and hear.The worst of the bloodshed in the Congo took place between1890 and 1910, but its origins lie much earlier, when Europeansand Africans first encountered each other there. And so to reach theheadwaters of our story we must leap back more than five hundredyears, to a time when a ship's captain saw the ocean change itscolor, and when a king received news of a strange apparition thathad risen from inside the earth.

PROLOGUE"THE TRADERS ARE KIDNAPPING OUR PEOPLE"WHEN EUROPEANS began imagining Africa beyond the Sahara, thecontinent they pictured was a dreamscape, a site for fantasies of thefearsome and the supernatural. Ranulf Higden, a Benedictine monkwho mapped the world about 1350, claimed that Africa containedone-eyed people who used their feet to cover their heads. Ageographer in the next century announced that the continent heldpeople with one leg, three faces, and the heads of lions. In 1459, anItalian monk, Fra Mauro, declared Africa the home of the roc, abird so large that it could carry an elephant through the air.In the Middle Ages, almost no one in Europe was in a positionto know whether Africa contained giant birds, one-eyed people, oranything else. Hostile Moors lived on Africa's Mediterranean coast,and few Europeans dared set foot there, much less head southacross the Sahara. And as for trying to sail down the west Africancoast, everyone knew that as soon as you passed the CanaryIslands you would be in the Mare Tenebroso, the Sea of Darkness.In the medieval imagination [writes Peter Forbath],this was a region of uttermost dread . where theheavens fling down liquid sheets of flame and thewaters boil . where serpent rocks and ogreislands lie in wait for the mariner, where the gianthand of Satan reaches up from the fathomless

depths to seize him, where he will turn black inface and body as a mark of God's vengeance forthe insolence of his prying into this forbiddenmystery. And even if he should be able to surviveall these ghastly perils and sail on through, hewould then arrive in the Sea of Obscurity and belost forever in the vapors and slime at the edge ofthe world.It was not until the fifteenth century, the dawn of the age ofocean navigation, that Europeans systematically began to venturesouth, the Portuguese in the lead. In the 1440s, Lisbon'sshipbuilders developed the caravel, a compact vessel particularlygood at sailing into the wind. Although rarely more than a hundredfeet long, this sturdy ship carried explorers far down the west coastof Africa, where no one knew what gold, spices, and preciousstones might lie. But it was not only lust for riches that drove theexplorers. Somewhere in Africa, they knew, was the source of theNile, a mystery that had fascinated Europeans since antiquity. Theywere also driven by one of the most enduring of medieval myths, thelegend of Prester John, a Christian king who was said to rule a vastempire in the interior of Africa, where, from a palace of translucentcrystal and precious stones, he reigned over forty-two lesser kings,in addition to assorted centaurs and giants. No traveler was everturned away from his dinner table of solid emerald, which seatedthousands. Surely Prester John would be eager to share his richeswith his fellow Christians and to help them find their way onward, tothe fabled wealth of India.

Successive Portuguese expeditions probed ever farthersouthward. In 1482, an experienced naval captain named DiogoCão set off on the most ambitious voyage yet. As he sailed close tothe west African coast, he saw the North Star disappear from thesky once his caravel crossed the equator, and he found himselfmuch farther south than anyone from Europe had ever been.One day Cão came upon something that astounded him. Aroundhis ship, the sea turned a dark, slate-tinged yellow, and brownishyellow waves were breaking on the nearby beaches. Sailing towardthe mouth of an inlet many miles wide, his caravel had to fight acurrent of eight to nine knots. Furthermore, a taste of the watersurrounding the ship revealed that it was fresh, not salt. Cão hadstumbled on the mouth of an enormous silt-filled river, larger thanany a European had ever seen. The impression its vastness made onhim and his men is reflected in a contemporary account:For the space of 20 leagues [the river] preservesits fresh water unbroken by the briny billows whichencompass it on every side; as if this noble riverhad determined to try its strength in pitched battlewith the ocean itself, and alone deny it the tributewhich all other rivers in the world pay withoutresistance.Modern oceanographers have discovered more evidence of thegreat river's strength in its "pitched battle with the ocean": ahundred-mile-long canyon, in places four thousand feet deep, thatthe river has carved out of the sea floor.

Cão went ashore at the river's mouth and erected a limestonepillar topped with an iron cross and inscribed with the royal coat ofarms and the words: "In the year 6681 of the World and in that of1482 since the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most serene, themost excellent and potent prince, King Joâo II of Portugal did orderthis land to be discovered and this pillar of stone to be erected byDiogo Cão, an esquire in his household."The river where he had landed would be known by Europeansfor most of the next five hundred years as the Congo. It flowed intothe sea at the northern end of a thriving African kingdom, animperial federation of two to three million people. Ever since then,geographers have usually spelled the name of the river and theeventual European colony on its banks one way, and that of thepeople living around its mouth and their indigenous kingdomanother.The Kingdom of the Kongo was roughly three hundred milessquare, comprising territory that today lies in several countries. Itscapital was the town of Mbanza Kongo— mbanza means"court"—on a commanding hilltop some ten days' walk inland fromthe coast and today just on the Angolan side of the Angola-Congoborder. In 1491, nine years and several voyages after Diogo Cão'slandfall, an expedition of awed Portuguese priests and emissariesmade this ten-day trek and set up housekeeping as permanentrepresentatives of their country in the court of the Kongo king. Theirarrival marked the beginning of the first sustained encounterbetween Europeans and a black African nation.

The Kingdom of the Kongo had been in place for at least ahundred years before the Portuguese arrived. Its monarch, theManiKongo, was chosen by an assembly of clan leaders. Like hisEuropean counterparts, he sat on a throne, in his case made ofwood in

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's ghost : a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa / Adam Hochschild. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. . This is the story of that movement, of the savage crime that was

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