The picture depicts two African women who have been chained to each other around the necks. This chain provides the security that the slaves cannot escape and if they do their attempts can be suppressed by the chain. The background of the photograph displays the rich rainforest characteristic of the Congo and might be where the rubber plantation was around. Their main duty was to aid in the planting and harvesting of the rubber plant. The figure in the middle is that of authority and from the context of Congo is represented by the Force Publique. Despite the monochromatic nature of the photograph, the officer’s clothes are official, and he is wielding a rifle. This scenario was common in villages where slaves were forcibly dragged from their villages by both the Force Publique and the Arabs. A woman named Ilanga describes similar events when her village is raided by soldiers and her relatives abducted. The Force Publique captured females from villages and held them as hostages. The conditions of release were that the husbands provide free labor to the plantations. The picture represents the strategy the Force used in order to attain free labor.
The rich, untapped potential of Africa was the sole factor that led to the scramble of Africa by the Europeans. It occurred during the fading years of the Atlantic slave trade which was a booming trade, and they saw Africa as a new background for the trade. In king Leopold’s Congo the lucrative rubber business was based on almost free labor from slaves. African was mainly inhabited, and this served to conceal the activities of the slave traders and in a way prevent interruption. After the banning of the Atlantic slave trade, no one thought that the business would propagate elsewhere. The inaccessible nature of the Congo region, because of the rapids at the mouth of the Congo River, maintained the illusion of no slave trade. The rest of the African continent had similar characteristics. The colonialists portrayed the Africans as being barbaric, so no one was interested to investigate about the trade.
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Historically, the Africans were illiterate and they were considered barbaric by the Europeans. This made it extremely easy for the Europeans to take advantage of them. Another aspect was due to the fact that Africans were resistant to tropical diseases like Malaria, which had killed so many native Americas. Thus, they were the best candidates to work in the plantations. In addition, they offered a cheap source of labor which was much needed in the plantations. The Africans were vulnerable. This was heightened by their lack of unity due to internal tribal conflicts. This made it easier for the Europeans to divide and conquer. Geographically, the continent is served by several oceans, which gave the Europeans a channel to transport the slaves among other things easily.
The Congo was the largest stretch of land owned by a single individual in the early 20th century. It was therefore treated as private property of King Leopold and he did as he wished on his land. The king considered slavery as a means to an end, which was to exploit the resourcefulness of the Congo. The Brussels Act of 1890 was enforced to reduce slave trade in countries especially those in Africa but Leopold did not heed to the act. The act and also the Berlin conference were put up as mutual agreements between countries to reduce the trade. There was no organization that would enforce or even punish the perpetrators of the trade. No embargoes or isolation could occur as is the case is nowadays with the presence of the UN. Also, there was the fear of the hardships and social upheavals that the Europeans would have to undergo if they liberated the slaves. Thus, they agreed to end the trade progressively, as opposed to ending the trade all of a sudden. Greed was also a major reason why Europeans were not willing to let go of Congo. This is because; the region is richly endowed with minerals and raw materials. Liberalizing the colony, would thus be a major setback to their industries abroad.
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