king leopold's ghost: Metaphor Analysis
Metaphors of Consumption
Metaphors of consumption fill Hochschild’s book because they surfaced in European thinking about Africa in the colonial period. Leopold himself told one of his agents in London: ‘”I do not want to risk . . . losing a fine chance to secure for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake’” (Chpt. 3, p. 58). Hochschild called the 1884-85 Berlin Conference on Africa a moment when the European powers decided how to divide up the African cake among them. The “thirst for African land had become nearly palpable” (Chpt. 5, p. 84). Leopold had an enormous physical appetite, symbolic of his desire to consume property, land, and people: “he often ordered a new entrÈe after finishing a big meal, and at a Paris restaurant once ate two entire roast pheasants” (Chpt. 6, p. 92). In 1897, Leopold began investing in a railway in China, seeing China as “a feast to be consumed, and he was as ready as ever to invite himself to the table” (Chpt. 11, p. 169). He said of the Chinese railroad route he wanted to get: “This is the spine of China; if they give it to me I’ll also take some cutlets’” (Chpt. 11, p. 169).
At the Berlin Conference on Africa, Henry Morton Stanley recognized the greed of the Europeans for African land and likened it to the natives rushing “with gleaming knives for slaughtered game during our travels’” (Chpt. 5, p. 84).
Because some African tribes practiced human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism, Europeans thought them savages. Cannibalism became a horrific image for Europeans, symbolizing their distrust of indigenous people and their lack of civilization. The symbol worked both ways, however. The early Africans thought the invasion of white people was a supernatural event. In their view, the whites were vumbi, white ghosts or spirits returned from the dead to devour them. These white ghosts took their people away in their boats as slaves, and the people were never seen again.
This African view of whites as devouring them is both metaphorically and literally true. For the explorer Stanley, for the Force Publique, Leopold’s army, and for the ivory agents and foreign companies, porters and workers were consumed by the thousands to build railroads, carry supplies, and harvest rubber. In the Congo administrative calculation, they needed 6,000 workers a year for the railway, and the recruitment process went on constantly. The starving and sick natives dropped in hundreds and thousands. People were carelessly used up and thrown away, like paper plates. Missionaries may have been there to save souls, but no one seemed overly concerned about African bodies or about the African land. Villages and trees and gardens were consumed in fire; animals and crops stolen to feed the army; and the wild rubber vines milked until they were dry. Leopold had seen the Congo as “empty” when he arrived, a blank slate, but it was more truly empty after he had been there, and ten million people and the land had been consumed.
Metaphors of Suffering
The Congo Reform Association, the human rights organization of Edmund Morel, used images of suffering natives to publicize Leopold’s atrocities of forced labor in his colony. Photographs and cartoons of dismemberment appeared in newspapers. Severed heads, hands, and feet, soon symbolized Leopold’s Congo. Shrunken heads had long been a European clichÈ about the savage races who took heads as war trophies, but the reformers used the image now to remind the public of Leopold’s slave labor. Joseph Conrad had used these same shrunken heads in Heart of Darkness to signify the moral descent of Kurtz.
Hochschild turned rubber itself into a metaphor of suffering by naming a chapter “The Wood That Weeps,” the literal French translation for rubber. The rubber vine had to be milked for its sap, requiring the natives to climb trees in the rain forest at great risk. Leopold’s agents had quotas to fill and worked the men to death while they held the women captive in stockades. The rubber sap thus represents the tears of the Congolese.
The cruelty of Henry Morton Stanley not only to his black porters but also to the unlucky white men in his expeditions was described by Paul NËve, a steamboat engineer who fell ill. He wrote home just before he died of Stanley’s angry temper, saying that Stanley was working him as hard as if he were a blacksmith trying to repair a broken “implement that is most essential” and in anger that it is broken, he “smites it again and again on the anvil” (Chpt. 4, p. 68). Stanley was called Bula Matadi by the Africans who worked for him, a term meaning “Breakstones” (Chpt. 4, p. 68). He often lost half his men on his expeditions through his aggressive demands. Stanley saw his men as tools to do a job and cursed them when they broke down.
Leopold’s own father, Leopold I, likened his son to a fox: “Leopold is subtle and sly,’” he said to his minister, ‘”He never takes a chance.’” The son reminded the father of a fox he had seen trying to cross a stream: “first of all he dipped a paw carefully to see how deep it was, and then, with a thousand precautions, very slowly made his way across. That is Leopold’s way!’” (Chpt. 2, p. 34). Leopold used a thousand small tricky steps to get the Congo for his personal colony for twenty years, milking it for its wealth. This was not an easy task and proves it was not an unconscious act. He purposely hid his intentions and his cash from the public, and his subterfuges were successful.
African natives were often thought of and spoken of as animals in racist metaphors. They were beasts of burden made to be porters or to build railroads. Sir Richard Burton had complained of fellow explorer, Sir Henry Stanley Morton that he “‘shoots negroes as if they were monkeys’” (Chpt. 3, p. 50). They were expected to climb trees like monkeys to harvest rubber. Stanley’s diaries reveal that he thought of the natives as subhuman, and his American publisher, James Gordon Bennett, called the Africans a ‘”species of human vermin’” (Chpt. 3, p. 50).
On the other hand, the reformers, Edmund Morel and Roger Casement, also used animal metaphors in their code names for themselves in their letters. Casement was known as “Tiger” and Morel as “Bulldog” (Chpt. 13, p. 207). These nicknames fit their personalities, as Casement was handsome and fearless, and Morel was short, stocky, and bullheaded. They referred to Leopold II as “the King of Beasts,” a metaphor suggesting the royal lion, but also had a pejorative sense of his beastly nature (Chpt. 13, p. 207).