The Congo. Background Information for The Poisonwood Bible

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1 The Congo Background Information for The Poisonwood Bible

2 Quick Overview What you should know: 1. Geography- Including location, natural resources and natural features of the area 2. Pre-Colonial History- Life before Europe s takeover 3. The Congo Free State- What King Leopold and his agents did to make his personal colony profitable

3 Geography Congo River + tributaries = 7,000 mile highway to the African interior

4 2. Pre-Colonial Congo The Kingdom of Kongo According to Portuguese explorers the kingdom was a sophisticated and well run state, an imperial federation Known for advanced working in copper and iron Rich in ivory and rubber Ne Vunda, Kongolese ambassador to the Vatican, 1608

5 Pre-Colonial Congo Slavery Slavery was part of the culture of the Congo Originally slaves were captured during warfare, were criminals, or were debtors who could earn back their freedom Eventually, Muslim slave traders began to sell their slaves to European traders for export to the Americas

6 3. The Congo Free State Leopold II ( ), king of Belgium from 1865 to 1909, infamous founder of the Congo Free State

7 The Congo Free State Use of river to gain access to ivory- and rubberrich interior made the Congo a coveted area for colonization. European nations negotiated and agreed to respect each others claims to African territory, Leopold made claim for Congo. The Berlin Conference,

8 The Congo Free State Leopold sent the famous explorer of Africa, Henry Morton Stanley, to negotiate treaties with the natives. Native chiefs were offered trinkets or cloth if they would place an X on a document in foreign tongue.

9 The Congo Free State European countries recognized Leopold s claim to the territory in 1885 because of: Stanley s treaties for Leopold Leopold s assurances that he would end slavery Leopold s promise that the Congo would remain a free trade area. The colony belonged to Leopold personally.

10 The Congo Free State : The Profit Imperative Colony not profitable in first few years. Soon the idea of free trade was abandoned; natives could only trade with Leopold s representatives, with 50% of profits going to Leopold himself. Profit required cheap labor (gathering rubber is very labor intensive).

11 The Congo Free State : The Profit Imperative Leopold drove slave traders out and portrayed it as humanitarian act. Reality: he did it to gain control of region. Leopold paid his agents in the Congo a percentage of profits, encouraging them to make the trade more and more profitable. Also authorized the use of as much force as was deemed necessary.

12 The Congo Free State Agents encouraged young men to work by holding their wives and children captive until each man s quota was met. Many who resisted were killed on the spot. Others were beaten with whips made from dried hippo hide with sharp edges. 20 lashes resulted in unconsciousness 100 lashes resulted in death.

13 The Congo Free State Revolt broke out. Leopold sent troops into villages to exterminate the young men. To make sure bullets weren t wasted, soldiers were expected to return with the severed right hands of those they killed. Soldiers who couldn t meet quotas or spent bullets hunting would cut hands off of living women and children. Between an estimated 8-10 million people died due to murder, mistreatment and starvation.

14 The Human Rights Movement Public pressure eventually forced Leopold to sell the Congo Free State to the Belgian government. It became The Belgian Congo in 1908 The Belgian Government ended the worst of the atrocities, but still controlled the fate of the African natives For their own good. The African natives were never consulted about their future

15 Definitions Colonize: To settle in a new land while remaining subject to the parent nation. Colonial Literature: Literature written during the time of colonization. Can be either in support of colonization or in protest. Post-Colonial Literature: Literature written after colonization has officially ended.

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