THE CONGO REPORT & CONRAD’S NOVEL “HEART OF DARKNESS” OF 1902

January 17, 2007 at 4:19 am | Posted in Africa, Books, Globalization, History, Literary, Third World, World-system | Leave a comment

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Roger Casement (1864-1916):

The Congo Report

Casement went to Africa for the first time in 1883, at the age of only nineteen, working in Congo Free State for several companies and for King Léopold II of Belgium‘s Association Internationale Africaine. While in Congo, he also met the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley during the latter’s Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, and became acquainted with the young Joseph Conrad, who was a sailor but had not yet published his novella Heart of Darkness about the Congo.In 1892, Roger Casement left Congo to join the Colonial Office in Nigeria. In 1895 he became consul at Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).By 1900, he was back in Congo, at Matadi, and founded the first British consular post in that country. In his dispatches to the Foreign Office he denounced the mistreatment of indigenous people and the catastrophic consequences of the forced labour system. In 1903, after the British House of Commons, pressed by humanitarian activists, passed a resolution about Congo, Casement was charged to make an inquiry into the situation in the country. The result of his enquiry was his famous Congo Report.

Sir Roger David Casement CMG

(Irish: Ruairí Mac Easmainn[1]) (1 September 18643 August 1916) was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary and nationalist by inclination. He was a British diplomat by profession and is famous for his activities against abuses of the colonial system in Africa and Peru, but more well known for his dealings with Germany prior to Ireland’s Easter Rising in 1916.Casement was born in Dublin to a Protestant father, Captain Roger Casement of (The King’s Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons himself the son of a bankrupt Belfast shipping merchant (Hugh Casement) who later moved to Australia. Captain Casement served in the 1842 Afghan campaign. Casement’s mother Anne Jephson of Dublin (whose origins are obscure), had him rebaptised secretly as a Roman Catholic when aged three in Rhyl, and died in Worthing when her son was nine. By the time he was thirteen, his father was also dead, having ended his days dependent on the charity of relatives and Roger was afterwards raised by Protestant paternal relatives in Ulster. He lived in early childhood at Doyle’s Cottage, Lawson Terrace, Sandycove, County Dublin[2].

Casement in Africa

Casement went to Africa for the first time in 1883, at the age of only nineteen, working in Congo Free State for several companies and for King Léopold II of Belgium‘s Association Internationale Africaine.

While in Congo, he also met the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley during the latter’s Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, and became acquainted with the young Joseph Conrad, who was a sailor but had not yet published his novella Heart of Darkness about the Congo.In 1892, Roger Casement left Congo to join the Colonial Office in Nigeria. In 1895 he became consul at Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).

By 1900, he was back in Congo, at Matadi, and founded the first British consular post in that country. In his dispatches to the Foreign Office he denounced the mistreatment of indigenous people and the catastrophic consequences of the forced labour system. In 1903, after the British House of Commons, pressed by humanitarian activists, passed a resolution about Congo, Casement was charged to make an inquiry into the situation in the country. The result of his enquiry was his famous Congo Report.The Report, issued in 1904 after an unsuccessful struggle to prevent the British government from keeping its names secret, provoked a huge scandal. A short time before the issuing of the report, Casement met the journalist E. D. Morel, who led the anti-Congo Free State campaign by members of the British press. It was the beginning of a profound relationship of friendship, admiration and collaboration on the Congo issue. Casement, who could not openly participate in the campaign due to his diplomatic status, persuaded Morel to found the Congo Reform Association. He was appointed CMG in 1905 for his consular work in exposing Belgian exploitation in the Congo and was knighted in 1911 for his government-commissioned report on the extermination of Amazonian Indians on the Putumayo in Peru.

The Putumayo

In 1906 Casement was sent as consul to Para, transferring to Santos, Brazil and lastly was promoted to consul-general in Rio de Janeiro. He had the occasion to do work similar to that which he had done in Congo among the Putumayo Indians of Peru when he was attached as a consular representative to a commission investigating murderous rubber slavery by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company effectively controlled by Julio Arana and his brother. This involved two visits to the region one in 1910 with a follow-up in 1911.After his return to Britain he repeated his extra-consular campaigning work by organising Anti-Slavery Society and mission interventions in the region which was disputed between Peru and Colombia. Some of the men exposed as killers in his report were charged by Peru and others fled. Conditions in the area undoubtedly improved as a result but the contemporary switch to farmed rubber in Malaya etc was a godsend to the Indians as well.

Casement wrote extensively (as always) in those two years including several of his notorious diaries, that for 1911 being unusually discursive. They and the 1903 diary were kept by him in London with other papers of the period presumably so they could be consulted in his continuing work as ‘Congo Casement’ and the saviour of the Putumayo Indians.

Casement Report

The Casement Report was a 1904 document by British diplomat Roger Casement (1864-1916) detailing abuses in the Congo Free State which was under the private ownership of King Leopold II of Belgium. This report was instrumental in Leopold finally reliquishing his private holdings in Africa. Leopold had ownership of the Congolese state since 1885 (granted to him by the Berlin Conference) in which he exploited its natural resources (mostly rubber) for his own private wealth.

Publicity 1895-1903

For many years prior to the Casement Report there were reports from the Congo alleging widespread human rights abuses and outright genocide of the native population. In 1895 the situation was reported to Dr Henry Guinness, a missionary. He established a mission and was promised action by Leopold II in late 1895, but nothing changed. Guinness then set up the Congo Reform Association in London in March 1904. H.R. Fox-Bourne of the Aborigines’ Protection Society had published Civilisation in Congoland in 1902. The journalist E. D. Morel who had written several articles about the atrocities in the Congo Free State. Casement had befriended Morel. Both men had spent some time in the Congo and witnessed the Congolese situation first hand, and they joined the Congo Reform Association. In 1903, after the British House of Commons passed a resolution about the Congo, Casement was charged to make a formal inquiry into the situation in the country.

The Report

The Casement Report comprises forty pages of the Parliamentary Papers, to which is appended another twenty pages of individual statements gathered by the Consul, including several detailing the grim tales of killings, mutilation, kidnapping and cruel beatings of the native population by soldiers of the Congo Administration of King Leopold. Copies of the Report were sent by the British government to the Belgian government as well as to nations who were signatories to the Berlin Agreement in 1885, under which much of Africa had been partitioned. The British Parliament demanded a meeting of the 14 signatory powers to review the 1885 Berlin Agreement. The Belgian Parliament, pushed by socialist leader Emile Vandervelde and other critics of the King’s Congolese policy, forced a reluctant Léopold to set up an independent commission of enquiry. Its findings confirmed Casement’s report in every damning detail. This led to the arrest and punishment of officials who had been responsible for murders during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national who was given a five year sentence for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives}.

Reform by 1912

Despite these findings, Leopold managed to retain control of the Congo until 1908 when the Parliament of Belgium annexed the Congo Free State (Belgian Congo) and took over its administration. However the final push came from Leopold’s successor King Albert, and in 1912 the Congo Reform Association had the satisfaction of dissolving itself.

References

  • Gondola, Didier Ch. The History of Congo. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT (2002)
  • British Parliamentary Papers, 1904, LXII, Cd. 1933]

External link s

  • Excerpts of the Casement Report Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casement_Report
  • Heart of Darkness is a novella by Joseph Conrad. Before its 1902 publication, it appeared as a three-part series (1899) in Blackwood’s Magazine.In writing the novella, Conrad drew heavily on his own experience in the Congo: eight and a half years before writing the book, he had served as the captain of a Congo steamer. On a single trip upriver, he had witnessed so many atrocities that he quit immediately after. Some of Conrad’s experiences in the Congo, and the story’s historic background, including possible models for Kurtz, are recounted in Adam Hochschild‘s King Leopold’s Ghost.To emphasize also the theme of darkness within all of mankind, Marlow’s narration takes place on a yacht in the Thames tidal estuary. Early in the novella, Marlow recounts how London, the largest, most populous and wealthiest city in the world at the time (where Conrad wrote and where a large part of his audience lived), was itself a “dark” place in Roman times.

Controversy

African professor Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart (1958), famously criticized Conrad in 1975 for having a racist bias throughout the novella. Achebe objected to the treatment of Africans who are de-humanised, denied language and a culture, and reduced to a metaphorical extension of the dark and dangerous jungle into which the Europeans venture. Controversy over Heart of Darkness first appeared in Achebe’s 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.”[1] In his lecture, Achebe branded Conrad “A bloody racist,” and emphasized the implicit and explicit statements of the inferiority of African people to the white explorers.

An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is part of the Postcolonial critical movement, which advocates considering the viewpoints of non-Westernized nations and people that are coping with the effects of colonization. At the time however he was met with dismay and outrage from one of his peers: “After I delivered my lecture at Harvard, a professor emeritus from the University of Massachusetts said, ‘How dare you?

How dare you upset everything we have taught, everything we teach? Heart of Darkness is the most widely taught text in the university in this country. So how dare you say it’s different?'” [2]. Others, such as Cedric Watts in A Bloody Racist: About Achebe’s View of Conrad, refute Achebe’s critique. (A quick ‘Point by Point’ refutation of Achebe’s critique to Watts’ rebuttal was done by one Alexis and Carla.)

Other critiques include Hugh Curtler‘s Achebe on Conrad: Racism and Greatness in Heart of Darkness.

In King Leopold’s Ghost (1998), Hochschild argues that literary scholars have made too much of the psychological aspects of Heart of Darkness while scanting the moral horror of Conrad’s accurate recounting of the methods and effects of colonialism.

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