Colonialism in the Congo Basin, 1880-1940

Colonialism in the Congo Basin, 1880-1940

Colonialism in the Congo Basin, 1880-1940

Colonialism in the Congo Basin, 1880-1940


This exceptional study of the Mongo people of the upper Congo River basin focuses on the evolution of Mongo work patterns from the period of the late nineteenth century to 1940, the high-water mark of the colonial period. It brings new evidence from oral histories, anthropological research, and archival records to build on or to correct colonial ethnographic accounts. From this fresh vantage point, Nelson reassesses colonial labor policies and relates them to today's rural poverty and underdevelopment."


Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest... You lost your way on that river as you would in a desert... till you thought yourself cut-off forever from everything you had known once -somewhere - faraway - in another existence perhaps.

Joseph Conrad, crewman on a Congo steamboat, 1897-1900

Six hundred miles from the Atlantic, up the broad and dark rivers of central Africa, lie the remote inner regions of the Congo basin. Bisected by the equator, the basin is blanketed by an immense and evergreen tropical rain forest that shelters an enormous diversity of flora and fauna (Fig. 1). In the heart of the forest live the Mongo, who reside in small-scale societies organized into villages of approximately one to four hundred people.

The equatorial forest region of the Congo basin has long fascinated and intrigued the outside world. The perceived primitive, untamed, and "lost world" quality of the forest and its inhabitants has made it a favorite among Western authors seeking an exotic setting or symbolic metaphor for their work. As a result of decades of popular literature, film, and folklore, the word "Congo" tends to evoke vivid images of primeval darkness, unfathomable mystery, and dreadful savagery. In the Western mind, perhaps no other region in the continent more fully embodies the myth and magic of Africa.

In reality, little is known about the people and history of the . . .

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