A man called Nsala looks at a foot and a hand on a floor of that which looks like a veranda. Those limbs were his 5 years old daughter’s Boali’s. The girl was not only mutilated, but she was also killed, with his mother, and together they got cannibalized. But why?

During the workday, Boali didn’t reach the rubber harvest share

Once the barbaric punishment had already happened and the girl was already gone, a few mercenaries went to Nsala with her remaining limbs. They psychologically killed him more than his slavery state was already doing everyday of his life. The Domination of Leopold II of today’s Congo area made such a paradoxical situation a very common between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The picture was taken by the English missionary Alice Seeley Harris, woman who had the great virtue of letting the whole world know about the horror that was taking place in the African state.

European Officials and African Militiamen with amputated hands

The “Free State of Congo” was a private property of King Leopold II of Belgium, founded and recognised by the Berlin Conference of 1885. During the 23 years of the European Monarch’s Kingdom, whom was to all intents in charge of this “private” nation, between 8 and 30 millions of people died, according to the British Encyclopædia (the numbers are very variable).

Below: original picture of Nsala

Leopold II was one of the richest people in the world, and his high outgoings needed continuous revenues. He was able, thanks to his diplomatic skills, to seize today’s Congo, and use it as a personal economical resource. He made sure of wiping out most of the indigenous population in order to exploit their lives and obtain economic incomes.

During Leopold II’s domination the main operating businesses in the country were the ABIR (Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company), a company designated to pick up natural rubber from the Free State of Congo, and the Force Publique, sort of a private militia which was appointed to spread terror amongst the population. Inside of this terroristic organism, not too far from the one that the Nazi SS establishes later on, there were many European officers (mostly Belgian), but also Africans coming from states nearby or rebel tribes.

Below: some guys about to harvest natural rubber

The people of Congo, entirely reduced to slavery, were imposed to pick up a daily quote of natural rubber, and that had to be daily respected.

Penalty being the death

The ones who could not abide by the the daily goal were doomed to the cut of a hand, proof that the slave had been killed by the controllers. The hand was cut off to spare a bullet and to demonstrate certain death of that person.

Basically, when the amount of rubber wasn’t as much as it had been asked, it was necessary to provide enough amputated hands in order to even out the shortfall. As a result, a trade of cut hands started in each and every village, to justify the low level of rubber supply. Wars between villages began to appear, one attacking the other only to seize the vanquished hands.

Below: several mutilated boys

The tortures were not limited to amputations, they instead included any kind of torture or persecution, as well as the completely arbitrary execution made by whoever was available at that moment. The hands cut became a normal practice, and very often  soldiers stopped killing the victims as there was no value in their life. Mutilations, tortures, killings and more were at the base of the Kurtz literary character, born by the Joseph Conrad’s pen.

Below: two child whom hands got amputated

Persecution and the Terror Regime in Congo went on up until 1908, when the atrocities committed by Belgium went out in the open and this forced them to annex Congo to the public state, declaring the state of the Belgium Congo. Alice Harris’s photographs have been a fundamental tool to testify the the events. What here took place was, by all means, a genocide: not in terms of a racial superiority (like in the Shoah instance) but in the name of an agricultural, industrial and economical productivity. The Kingdom of Leopold II lasted about 23 years, but during that time the Congolese population was severely halved.

Below: Alice Seeley Harris

An bitter curiosity about Leopold II, considered by many like Hitler or Stalin is that

He had never been in Congo in his entire life

All pictures shown are in the Public Domain

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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