Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

I found this review that I wrote for my own memory after I read King Leopold’s Ghost in the winter of 2007-2008, and I figured that I would post it here.  I edited it a bit today (although it still suffers from my overuse of parentheses).  This is definitely one of my favorite books of all time.

For Hochschild, this is a story about both King Leopold II’s greed and deception and the movement that arose to stop him, centered in Britain.  It also received help from Belgian Socialists, Americans, and others, with Protestant missionaries being a major source of information on the terror inflicted upon the inhabitants.

Leopold hoped to gain colonies and eventually decided that central Africa offered the best chance, sending the famous Henry Morton Stanley to explore the region (with chiefs signing treaties that they did not understand but promised everything for very little) and getting America and then Europe to recognize his claim.  He built support for it by offering free access to trade with the colony (which it ran as a monopoly), speaking the benefits of civilization (there is little evidence in the book that this was ever taken seriously, except for making the “lazy” natives work in ivory- and rubber-gathering), portraying himself as a crusader against the Afro-Arab slave trade (they did fight Afro-Arabs like Tippu Tip, but also instituted forced labor practices), and opening the Congo to missionaries (Protestant missionaries were some of the main opponents of the brutality).  He also led the Americans to think that it would be something like an association of free states like the US.  It was eventually called the Congo Free State, the property of Leopold alone and run by a bureaucracy centered in Belgium.  The portrait of Leopold that emerges is one of a greedy, power-hungry monarch in a Europe that is passing him by (with his wealth from the Congo he built up great monuments and his chateaus and palaces) and a very effective tyrant who could manipulate people for his own ends and understood public relations. (more…)

Through his work as editor of Intervarsity Press’ forays into making ancient Christian commentary more accessible to modern people, Thomas Oden became much more aware of early African Christians’ contributions to the faith.  He became convinced that early African Christianity was the “seedbed” for European Christianity, reversing the popular idea of Christianity as a Western faith that has just come to Africa recently.  This book, then, is a call for intensified research into ancient African Christianity especially by African scholars.  He believes that it will provide a more solid base for African Christian identity than is often claimed by African Christians now.

He believes that Africa shaped the Christian mind in several ways:

  • the library of Alexandria provided the genesis of the idea of the university
  • influential ancient Biblical exegetes like Origen and Cyril of Alexandria
  • some of the great contributors in the development of orthodox doctrine, like Tertullian, Athanasius, and Augustine
  • the churchwide councils built on African church practices of assembling bishops
  • monasticism spread from Africa
  • the first Christian Neoplatonists and rhetoricians, like Lactantius, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, came from Africa

Oden describes each of these briefly in Chapter 3, and believes that each (along with many other ways that Africa influenced Christianity) needs further research.  My first thought was that much of what he discussed was accomplished in the Greco-Roman context, but Oden argues that many of the African Christians, even if Greco-Roman in name, were shaped by the indigenous cultures of the Nile and Medjerda river valleys.  He rejects the differentiation between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa that many Africans and non-Africans make, and writes that early African Christianity can provide a common identity for African Christians and can be a source of healthy self-respect in that it refutes the Eurocentric idea that anything worthwhile in African culture came from Europe. (more…)