European conquest of Africa was one the swiftest conquests in human history. By 1910 a huge area of Africa was controlled by the White settlers. The bloodiest episode of African colonisation happened in Congo. Congo was then under the rule of Belgian king Leopold II. Leopold II was known for his ruthlessness. Congo was conquered in 1879 and there were outposts built. Soon there were roads built along the river rapids. King Leopold persuaded the illiterate chiefs of Congo to sign an agreement by which they were giving away the land to King Leopold II. He soon got in touch with United States and urged them to recognise his authority over Congo.
In the early 1890s Leopold II found a rare source for wealth. It was during this time that there was invention of inflatable bicycle and automobile tire. This led to a huge rise in the demand for rubber. People were looking for rubber and plating new trees, but rubber needs to grow for fifteen years before it can be used. It is here that King Leopold had an edge. Congo was filled with rain forests where there was an abundance of rubber trees. There was a time when no one owned more land where rubber grew then King Leopold II.
Leopold II was benefiting which was fine, but he was doing so at the sake of innocent people from Congo. He resorted to brutal means. His soldiers would march into the African villages and take the women as hostages. In order to secure the release of their wives, the men had to travel into the rain forests and collect sap of rubber vines. Soon, the vines near the villages were exhausted, which meant the villagers had to go deeper into the forests to gather their monthly quota of rubber.
King Leopold II and his men followed very strict discipline. Villagers who failed to gather their quota of rubber were whipped with chicotte (a whip made with sun dried hippopotamus skin having razor sharp edges). Hundred lashes used to be a standard punishment and this could prove fatal too. When there was excess rubber extracted the army officials controlling the area got bonuses and rewards but none were given to the villagers doing all the hard work.
As for the women taken as hostage they would be raped and then starved to death. Most male rubber collectors also died from exhaustion. Also separation of male and female meant there were no children this led to a drastic drop in the population of Congo. All able bodied male were taken away by the colonialists so there was none to hunt or harvest food. Aged men and women left behind the village had no way out but to starve. Many villagers even fled the camps and escaped into the depths of the rainforest. But they got little food or shelter and their skeletons were discovered many years later. Furthermore, many other Congolese youth were killed in the uprisings that were dealt with harshly by the Belgians.
Soon there were widespread famines sweeping across the lands. Some of the diseases caused by movement of people were sleeping sickness, lung disorders, tuberculosis, smallpox, etc. Leopold’s system of exploitation worked so well that it was taken up by other colonialist powers. Soon, Africa had to bear the brunt of ruthlessness. Most of the population in Congo and other parts of Africa was wiped out for profits in rubber trade.