A History Of The Belgian Congo: A Colonial Paradox

1941 words - 8 pages

Death and daily life had become one and the same. “In less than twenty years after the first Belgian settlers had landed on the shores of the Congo, an African population that initially stood at twenty to thirty million was reduced to eight million people” (Boahen and Josephy 1971, p.422). The land and the people who lived there undisturbed for centuries had now succumbed to foreign forces in less than two decades. The Congo had always been referred to as the Green Heart of Africa, symbolizing the country’s beautiful landscape and plentiful resources that grow among the dense forests and fields that dot the region and yet now the Congo is commonly referred to as Africa’s heart of darkness, a land that had potential but was corrupted by outside forces. From its early colonial developments, to its rule and eventual downfall, the Belgian Congo left a legacy of human atrocities and exploitive domination.
Before King Leopold II moved into the Congo, the land was a lush and undisturbed region dominated by many different ethnic and tribal groups. Prior to foreign exploration, the Congo was a vast wilderness, rich with resources and inhabited with over 250 ethnic groups and tribes (Edgerton 2002). The country was covered by permanent swampland with dense tropical forests that literally covered the country in darkness (Edgerton 2002). Although unknown to the European powers of the time, the Congo was a situated on a forested plateau where an abundance of resources were ready to be extracted. The Congo’s major goods were palm oil, ivory, mineral deposits, and rubber and the local tribes who lived in the Congo harvested a scarce amount of the natural supply to fulfill their personal needs (Gunther 1955). Each tribe ruled autonomously and there was frequent fighting between rival tribes, yet the country was generally regarded as an unknown wilderness (Gunther 1955). Even before European rule, the natives relied on the Congo River for communication, transportation, and local trade. Before long, European explorers were using the Congo River as a means of exploring the foreboding new world.
In 1482, Portuguese explorers led by Diego Cao landed at the source of the Congo River determined to establish a local trading outpost and possible slave colony (Gunther 1955). After establishing relationships with several prominent tribes in the country, Cao returned to Portugal to announce the agreement between the two kingdoms. Over the next few centuries the Portuguese held a weak relationship with the Congo exchanging languages, goods, religion and several technologies (Gunther 1955). The Portuguese held isolated trading outposts in the country until the early nineteenth century when Arab raiders drove the foreigners out of the country (Gunther 1955). However, another foreign power was about to grace the Congo shores as King Leopold II of Belgium took the Belgian throne in 1865, determined to elevate the small nation to new industrial and economic heights...

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