The album, compiled by an unidentified
colonial agent who was in the Belgian Congo from 1908 to 1909, documents one man's
experiences in the region during the first year of the newly-annexed Belgian colony's
existence. The album records the agent's journey from Antwerp to Matadi and thence up the
Congo river to his post at Yoboila (Lomami). The remainder of the album documents the
agent's daily life, local inhabitants and surroundings.
Central Africa was largely unexplored by Westerners before Henry Morton Stanley's
expedition (1874-1878) to trace the course of the Congo river. Excited by Stanley's
discoveries, King Leopold II of Belgium, who was anxious to acquire a colony to increase the
prestige and wealth of his young country, subsequently hired Stanley to help him establish
Belgium's interests in the Congo. In 1884 escalating European rivalries for the region were
resolved when Otto von Bismark convened the Berlin Conference to partition the Congo basin.
The country of Belgium declined to participate in the colonialization of the area, leaving
Leopold to receive Belgium's portion of 905,000 miles - the lion's share of the area - for
himself. Leopold ran the Congo Free State as a privately controlled corporation with himself
as sole shareholder and chairman. His brutal exploitation of the people and the land for its
rubber, copper, and other mineral resources was exposed by British consular reports and by
the European and American press to great outcry in the early 1900s, and in 1908 Leopold's
private rule ended when the Congo was annexed to the Belgian state. Subsequently renamed the
Belgian Congo, it remained a Belgian colony until receiving sovereignty in 1960, when it
became the Republic of the Congo.
(185 photographic prints)
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