Henry Morton Stanley's Impact Upon Imperialist Congo

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  • Topic: Henry Morton Stanley, Congo Free State, Leopold II of Belgium
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For Europeans, the African Congo was a land full of unsolved mysteries and intriguing economic prospects in the second half of the 19th century. It was the last region of Africa to be explored by Europeans; for over 400 years, Europeans had attempted time and time again to explore the region, and yet all had succumbed to unbearable hardships and impassible terrain. It is likely that this region would have remained unexplored until very recently if it were not for a man named Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley was the first European explorer to lead a successful journey into Congo, overcoming the unbelievable probability of failure to open up the heart of tropical Africa to European imperialism. However, his journey was neither smooth nor pleasant. In fact, the tactics that Stanley used to achieve this astounding feat were not only unorthodox albeit extremely effective, but also inhumane and cruel. Henry Morton Stanley greatly furthered imperialistic development in Congo with his skewed morals and brutal efficiency.

Stanley was born John Rowlands on January 28th, 1841, as the illegitimate son of a Welsh woman. He was ignored by his family as a teen and left for New Orleans on a ship after escaping a harsh work camp. He was "adopted" by a family he worked for, the Stanleys, and displayed great loyalty to them until he was rejected a second time. After fleeing to Arkansas, he became involved in the American Civil War from 1862 onwards, eventually switching sides, from Confederate to Union, in order to avoid a prolonged stay in prison. Stanley became a successful journalist, and in 1870 was assigned by the New York Herald to search for a man named David Livingstone in Africa. Being an ambitious journalist, he accepted the offer.

David Livingstone was a successful missionary who was humane to the African peoples and hence was well-liked; he generously administered prayers and medicine and was compassionate towards the tribes' beliefs and customs. He had gone missing in Africa several years prior, and Stanley was sent to retrieve him. "[Stanley] endured a zigzag odyssey of almost mythic proportions over seven thousand miles, lasting 999 days"(Edgerton 32). Stanley and his crew of 170 men followed Livingstone's route through Africa, racing against a man named Verney Cameron. While both crews were plagued with disease, Stanley managed to cope and speedily pass Cameron's crew. However, his methods were far from acceptable; Stanley flogged his ailing porters and interpreters, and allowed no one, excluding himself, to touch the sugar supply. Although sugar often helped to alleviate the pain of smallpox, Stanley is now infamous for beating an interpreter suffering from this particular ailment for consuming a small amount of his sugar supply. By using these techniques, Stanley soon completed one leg of his journey (Dugard 103).

At one point in his journey, Stanley made the executive decision to take a more direct route towards Lake Victoria (estimating Livingstone's location), one on which he encountered numerous African tribes. Many of the tribal leaders had never seen a caucasian before in their lives, and hence they were prone to staring at Stanley and his crew. Stanley responded to this by flogging them and violating their right to exist peacefully. Though he caused confusion and destruction in his wake, Stanley discovered Dr. Livingstone to be alive in the African village of Ujigi on November 10th, 1871 (Anstruther 54).

By this time, Stanley was in very poor health; Dr. Livingstone was a great help in healing him, and offered that Stanley accompany him as he continued his search for the source of the Nile river. The two explored the northern region of Lake Tanganyika for the next four months; afterwards, the two split and Livingstone remained in Africa until his death in 1873. According to Stanley's self-written records, the two were good friends; however, this view is not confirmed or validated as it was composed solely of...
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