Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Congo, Contd.

with 4 comments

Picture 2

A few years ago, I wrote about the human rights crises in Congo throughout the 19th and 20th century. There, I have failed to mention a few details about the photo accompanying the post (reproduced above). The photo showed a man named Nsala Wala with his daughter’s hand and foot. Alice Harris, working as a missionary in the Congo, took the photo in May 1904, after he had come into her mission at Baringa with a small package containing the severed body parts. Both his wife and child had been killed and mutilated.

Cutting off hands was a common practice by the Force Publique, the police authorities of the Belgian Congo, to prevent theft and to terrorize the planters into harvesting more rubber. Deeply shocked to learn this, Alice and her husband John sent the photo back to Britain with a comment, “The photograph is most telling, and as a slide will rouse any audience to an outburst of rage.”

Many at home dismissed the photo as an anomaly, practiced by a few bad apples. The Harrises sent back a few more photos. One showed two anonymous Congolese men — flanked by John Harris and his friend Stannard — holding the severed hands of their friends Bolenge and Lingomo. Another showed a young boy Epondo with his mutilated hand (below, rightmost) . The couple also toured Europe and America on a lecture tour denouncing Congo atrocities. They showed photos showing chicotte (whip made from hippopotamus hide) being used on laborers and and female hostages held in chains by a forest guard.

What followed was the first successful human rights campaign in history. The photos were reproduced in many papers and books, including Nsala’s photo which appeared in a popular pamphlet by Mark Twain. King Leopold who owned the colony tried to discredit the photos by claiming that protestant Harris was ideologically motivated against his Catholic colonialism. In Epondo’s case, the colonial officials claimed that his hand was amputated because of a gangrenous boar bite.  However, the scale of photos spoke for themselves and the public opinion was vehemently against the practices in the Congo. Leopold finally relinquished the colony to the Belgian State in 1908.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. That is one of the saddest and most disturbing photos I have seen. The only solace is that the photograph had some influence.


    July 16, 2013 at 2:47 am

  2. […] have previously covered Congo in other posts, ranging from the atrocities of Leopoldine Congo to its hectic independence day to last photo of […]

  3. […] of thuggery, engineered by external forces (see this paper), not seen in Africa since the Belgians were “winning” hearts and minds in the Congo, during its bloody efforts at colonial […]

  4. Óli Jacobsen from the Faroe Islands has made a bold claim that Alice Harris did NOT take the three photographs in the bottom of this article (even if she took a lot of others including the photo in the top of the article). The same goes for the famous pictures in the pamphlet used by Mark Twain. Jacobsen argues that it was a Faroese missionary, Daniel J. Danielsen, who took these pictures when he was assisting Sir Roger Casement as an engineer on the boat which sailed them up the congo river. Besides from being an engineer he also was a photographer. You can read more about the pictures and about Danielsen here: https://olijacobsen.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/missionary-campaigns-and-atrocity-photographs.pdf.

    Óli Jákup Jacobsen

    May 5, 2015 at 9:18 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,277 other followers

%d bloggers like this: