I read a great deal about the Congo before my recent trip, and a few quotes stuck with me. I figure I’d collect them here.
First is the poetic description of the Congo River from the Chronica da Companhia de Jezus em Portugal (Baltazar Telles, 1645-47), as translated in Narrative of an expedition to explore the river Zaire, usually called the Congo, in South Africa, in 1816, under the direction of Captain J. K. Tuckey, R. N.:
So violent and so powerful from the quantity of its water and the rapidity of its current, that it enters the sea on the western side of Africa forcing a broad and free passage, in spite of the ocean, with so much violence, that for the space of twenty leagues it preserves its fresh water unbroken by the briny billows which encompass it on every side; as if this noble river had determined to try its strength in pitched battle with the ocean itself, and alone deny it the tribute which all the other rivers in the world pay without resistance.
Some scientific stats on the Congo River’s impressiveness, to augment the poetry above, from King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild:
From the western rim of this plateau, nearly a thousand feet high, the river descends to sea level in a mere 220 miles. During this tumultuous descent, the river squeezes through narrow canyons, boils up in waves 40 feet high, and tumbles over 32 separate cataracts. So great is the drop and the volume of water that these 220 miles have as much hydroelectric potential as all the lakes and rivers of the United States combined.
From the travel account of Tuckey concerning his visit from the king’s merchant of Malemba and company:
All were loaded with fetiches of the most heterogeneous kinds; bits of shells, horns, stones, wood, rags, &c. &c.; but the most prized seemed to be a monkey’s bone to which they paid the same worship that a good catholic would do to the os sacrum of his patron saint.
Mark Twain on the Belgian King Leopold from Mark Twain In Eruption:
It is curious that the most advanced and most enlightened century of all the centuries the sun has looked upon should have the ghastly distinction of having produced this moldy and piety-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster whose mate is not findable in human history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there–which will be soon, let us hope and trust.
An account of gorilla’s odd attacking behavior, from Henry M. Stanley’s account of his travel, Through the Dark Continent, Or, The Sources of the Nile Around the Great Lakes of Equatorial Africa and Down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocean:
The Sokos (gorillas) are in the woods, and woe befall the man or woman met alone by them; for they run up to you and seize your hands, and bite the fingers off one by one, and as fast as they bite one off, they spit it out.
And finally a hopeful message as quoted in Tim Butchers book, Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country:
“I am afraid a little, but then I think about the good that will come to the people of Katanga if the roads are made safe again and life can go back to normal. Every village we reach, every stream we cross, is another small movement towards normality again in the Congo.”