Through the filter of time … a repost that may still be interesting to you from two years ago.
I’m reminded of this work of literature owing to a recent discussion on another post. I like to point this text out whenever I get a chance, and since I’ve got a blog, this is an excellent chance!
The text is here.
I first became aware of, and read, King Leopold’s Soliloquy while in the ex-Belgian Congo, where the point of the story takes place. I lived in an area that was at one time a plantation area, but the plantations were long gone. The “road” through this area was passable only with a very tenaceoius four wheel drive vehicle (we had a Land Rover) and grew worse every year. But the road used to be excellent. I knew a guy, an older Efe Pygmy man, with one leg. He had been bitten by a full grown Gabon Viper. The Gabon Viper is one of the scariest of snakes. It’s head is huge, it’s body very stout, and it’s venom is the richest venom known in a snake, both neurotoxic and haemotoxic.
When my friend was bitten by the snake, he was driven by someone to a hospital, to have is leg cut off to save his life. In the days I lived there, this drive required many many hours (or a day or two) to reach, and would beat the hell out of the truck. But in those days, they were able to drive him there in a few hours. At 120 kpm, it would have been a two or three hour drive.
But the reason that the road was so good is because of the sort of policy satirized in Mark Twain’s text on Leopold. In those days, a Belgian Colonial Administrator would drive a vehicle at 100 kilometers per hour down this road with a glass of water on his dashboard. Wherever water spilled form his full glass, he would stop, and his agents would beat and/or maim the nearest villagers. This encouraged the villagers to keep the dirt road in perfect condition.
Eventually, the revolution came, in it’s own way, and the Belgians, guilty of a decades-long holocaust, got their due. They were burned to death in the buildings they hid in, they were shot, strangled, and drowned, and a few got away.
At a later time, I stayed in one of King Leopold’s mansions. Well, not really. We kept some of our stuff in the mansion. The mansion had no roof, and was filled with birds and bats, and their guano. Better to stay in a tent, outside, even though one would risk being trampled by a hippo or hassled by a hyena. This was Ishango, known locally as “The Most Beautiful Place on the Earth.” It is. But they should really tear down those old mansions (Two stood there side by side) and neaten the place up just a little. But no pressure, really.