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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

brutal Belgian King ~ dark era of Congo !

I love elephants ~ one recent trip to Kerala, provided me so much of happiness – watching 15 elephants at Thirupunithura temple.  The tall beautiful kombans had long tusks and were very majestic.

Belying their gigantic body, they move at great speed.  When male elephants  battle in a show of strength, they clash at high speeds, locking their tusks together. These elongated incisor teeth are so strong that their wielders often use them to wrestle and fling each other to the ground. But tusks aren’t only for inflicting harm; outside of battle, elephants use them to clear paths through vegetation and even move trees. Most remarkably, each elephant keeps the same set of tusks—each weighing up to 400 kilograms—for its entire life.  To perform these diverse tasks, the stuff that makes up elephant tusks must be hard, strong and tough. This combination of qualities is part of what has made ivory such a coveted element throughout human history, selling at upwards of $2000 a kilogram ! Historically used in billiard balls, piano keys and even hip replacements, ivory continues to be valued today for jewelry and other luxury objects.  

Unfortunately, the value people have attached to elephant ivory has also fuelled conflict and been linked to organized crime, perpetuating a bloody trade that harms the pachyderm alike. Almost all the world’s illegal ivory comes from elephants that have been recently killed, researchers say. Sadly, African elephants have been poached and killed cruelly in getting ivory.  It is not new, Ivory has been traded for hundreds of years by people in Africa and Asia, resulting in restrictions and bans. Elephant ivory has been exported from Africa and Asia for centuries with records going back to the 14th century BCE. Throughout the colonization of Africa ivory was removed, often using slaves to carry the tusks, to be used for piano keys, billiard balls and other expressions of exotic wealth.

Apart from killing of elephants, more gruesome was the treatment meted out to slaves.  Colonisation, keeping people as slaves and more were the cruel habits of rich. In 1890, at the age of 32, Conrad was appointed by a Belgian trading company to serve on one of its steamers. While sailing up the Congo River from one station to another, the captain became ill and Conrad assumed command. He guided the ship up the tributary Lualaba River to the trading company's innermost station, Kindu, in Eastern Kongo  - and he is famous for his novel “Heart of Darkness” published bu Joseph Conrad in 1899.   In this,  Charles Marlow, the narrator, tells his story to friends aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames. This setting provides the frame for Marlow's story of his obsession with the successful ivory trader Kurtz. Conrad offers parallels between London ("the greatest town on earth") and Africa as places of darkness.  Central to Conrad's work is the idea that there is little difference between "civilised people" and those described as "savages." Heart of Darkness implicitly comments on imperialism and racism.

~ and .. … to Congo and its period of darkness .. .. Leopold II (1835 –  1909) was King of the Belgians from 1865 to 1909. Born in Brussels as the second but eldest surviving son of Leopold I and Louise of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the Belgian throne in 1865 and reigned for 44 years until his death – the longest reign of any Belgian monarch. He died without surviving sons. The current Belgian king descends from his nephew and successor, Albert I.

Leopold fervently believed that overseas colonies were the key to a country's greatness, and he worked tirelessly to acquire colonial territory for Belgium. Leopold eventually began to acquire a colony as a private citizen. The Belgian government lent him money for this venture. After numerous unsuccessful schemes to acquire colonies in Africa and Asia, in 1876 Leopold organized a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society.  In Feb 1885, the Congo Free State, an area 76 times larger than Belgium, was established under Leopold II's personal rule and private army, the Force Publique.

Leopold was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the colonial nations of Europe authorized his claim by committing the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants!. Leopold ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using the mercenary Force Publique for his personal gain. He extracted a fortune from the territory, initially by the collection of ivory, and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s, by forced labour from the native population to harvest and process rubber. He used great sums of the money from this exploitation for public and private construction projects in Belgium during this period.

In that dark era, Leopold's administration of the Congo was characterised by murder, torture, and atrocities, resulting from notorious systematic brutality. The hands of men, women, and children were amputated when the quota of rubber was not met. These and other facts were established at the time by eyewitness testimony and on-site inspection by an international Commission of Inquiry (1904). Millions of the Congolese people died: modern estimates range from 1 million to 15 million deaths, with a consensus growing around 10 million.  Reports of deaths and abuse led to a major international scandal in the early 20th century, and Leopold was forced by the Belgian government to relinquish control of the colony to the civil administration in 1908.

Sad dark saga of cruelty ! – yet another instance of Western World imposing their will on other country in brutal manner.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
4th Feb 2020.

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