The Hacked Hands of the Belgian Congo

Leopold II
Leopold II

The worst colonial crime ever, occurred at the turning point of the 20th century when the king of the Belgians Leopold II carried out during 20 years a policy of enslavement and extermination of half of the DR Congo population; it is to say 10 million dead people according to estimations. That was a hellish period, during which an emblematic practice of hacking off hands was established and affected the country.

The African-Colombian historian Rosa Amélia Plumelle-Uribe, deliver us two testimonies, the first is a testimony by a woman who lived during that period and here is what she said:

11 Congo Belge‘The name of our village was Waniendo, after the name of our chief Niendo (…). We had never made war before in our country and our men only had knives for weapons (…). We were busy hoeing our plantations in the fields for it was the rainy season and weeds grow fast during this season, when a messenger arrived in the village to tell us that an important group of men along with lots of white men were approaching, that all of them were wearing red caps and blue clothes, that they were bearing rifles and long knives and among them was their chief called Kibalanga – Oscar Michaux’s African name, officer of the public force who received from Leopold II himself a sword of honor (…). –

The day after, right after the sun rose up on the hill, an important group of soldiers got into the village. They rushed into the houses and threw everybody out by force. Three or four of them got into our house and seized me as well as my husband Oleka and my sister Katinga. They tied us together with ropes by the neck in order to prevent us to escape and dragged us on the road. Everybody was crying because we all knew we were taken to be slaves.

We were beaten by the soldiers with iron sticks and their rifles and forced to walk until Kibalanga’s camp, where he ordered to shackle women separately, by groups of ten by rope, and men the same way. When we were all gathered – and we figured out then that there were a lot of people from other villages and from Waniendo – the soldiers brought us baskets filled with food to carry, inside certain of which there was human smoked flesh (…)

Congolese with cut hands in their hands
Congolese with cut hands in their hands

We quickly started to walk then. My sister Katinga had her baby in the arms so she had nothing to carry, but my husband Oleka was forced to carry a goat. We had walked until the afternoon. We camped next to a river where we were glad to have some water, because we were thirsty. We had nothing to eat because the soldiers didn’t give us anything (…).

Children with their hands cut
Children with their hands cut

The fifth day (…) the soldiers took my sister’s baby and threw him on the grass and let him die there, then forced her to carry the cooking pots they had found in the abandoned villages. The sixth day, by dint of not eating, walking unceasingly and sleeping on wet grass, we were exhausted and my husband, who was walking behind us with the goat, could not stand anymore.

So he sat down on the edge of the way and refused to go any further. The soldiers beat him, but he kept refusing. Then one of them hit him on the head with the butt of his rifle and he fell on the floor. One of the soldiers grabbed the goat while two or three others were stabbing my husband with the long knives they put on the tip of their rifles.

I saw the blood spouting, and then I did not see him anymore, for we had just crossed the top of a hill, and he disappeared. Lots of young men were killed the same way, and lots of babies had been thrown of the grass to die’. [1]

Congolese people with their hands hacked off
Congolese people with their hands hacked off

Rosa Amélia Plumelle-Uribe goes on telling us that ‘In the king Leopold’s Congo as in the Nazi Europe, in spite of the compromise of principles of the chiefs, there were always among the population uncontrollable individuals ready to take advantage of every opportunity to flee and escape from the persecutors. This is why the administration of the independent state of Congo decided to exterminate the natives who would try to escape from the forced labor.

This dirty work had to be accomplished by the victims themselves, supervised of course by the White officers. In other words, it was the native Congolese, very often enlisted by force in the government troops, who used to hunt down and slaughter other native Congolese. But there was still a problem because the civil servants and the officers did not trust Blacks.

They feared that, taking advantage of their cartridge, Blacks would rise up against their masters. In order to dismiss this risk, a particularly fierce ‘precaution measure’ was taken: Black soldiers had to justify each cartridge used by bringing the right hand of the person killed.’ [2]

Little girl with her hand hacked off
Little girl with her hand hacked off

Quoting Adam Hotschild, author of The king Leopold II’s ghosts, a forgotten holocaust, Plumelle-Uribe starts again: ‘In 1899, the African American reverend Sheppard was ordered by his superiors to go to the inlands in order to investigate about the source of the fighters (who were raging in the region of Kasaï).

He threw himself unwillingly into this dangerous initiative and found the grounds stained with blood, destroyed villages and many dead bodies, the awful smell of the dead bodies in decomposition in the air.

The day he reached the marauders’ camp, his attention was caught by a great number of objects which were smoked. “The chief took us to a frame made with sticks, under which was burning a small fire, and there were these right hands, I counted them, there were a total of eighty one hands.” The chief said to Sheppard: ‘Look, here are our evidences.

I always have to cut the right hand of those we kill, in order to show the State how many people we have killed’. He showed Sheppard some of the dead bodies to which these hands had belonged. The smoking would preserve the hands under this burning and humid climate, for days or weeks would maybe pass by before the chief could show it to the appointed civil servant and be awarded for these killings’. [3]

By : Lisapo ya Kama

Notes :

  • [1] La férocité blanche : des non Blancs aux non Aryens, génocides occultés de 1492 à nos jours (The White ferocity : from non Whites to non Aryans, hidden genocides from 1492 until today) ; Rosa Amelia Plumelle Uribe, pages 98 and 99.
  • [2] Idem, page 106
  • [3] Idem, page 107
Spread the love