The Poisonwood Bible: Gradual Loss of Independence

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Analogous to Nathan’s control over his family, Kingsolver depicts the history of Belgium’s control of the Congo. In 1878, Belgium discovered the riches of the Congo and wanted these riches for their own. The King of Belgium at the time, Leopold II, used slavery and horrific violence to export ivory and rubber (Independent). For nearly 60 years, Belgium had complete control over the Congo and their exports. By using violence, Leopold II was able to dominate the country with fear and poverty (Independent). The Congolese were destitute and lived in constant fear of being beat, raped or killed as King Leopold II amassed his wealth. Eventually, there was an outcry from the international community (History Today). Belgium retreated and the Congolese celebrated Independence Day in June 1960, with their new democratically elected president, Patrice Lumumba (Independent). However, many were pessimistic about the outcome; “An election. Frank, I’m embarrassed for you. You’re quaking in your boots over a fairy tale. Why open your eyes man. These people can’t even read a simple slogan: Vote for me! Down with Shapoopie! An election! Who out here would even know it happened?” (Kingsolver 167). Nathan perfectly summarizes the probable outcome of the election. The poverty and vulnerability invoked by Belgium’s control has ensured that the government system of the Congo will fail. In the novel, The Poisonwood Bible, the Price daughters watch as Patrice Lumumba is inaugurated. During the inauguration, the King Baudouin, the new Belgian King, praised Leopold II for his “hard work” and for the “sacrifices” that were made by the Belgians for the Congo. This infuriated Patrice Lumumba, who countered that: “‘We have known les maisons magnifiques for the white in the cities, and the falling-down houses for the Negroes.’” (Kingsolver 183) The Price daughters had witnessed poverty and fear created by the Belgians in the Congo and they all believed Lumumba would bring positive change, except Rachel, the eldest daughter.

Rachel, like her father, presented the cynical opinion of the election: “So now Mr. Patrice will be the prime Minister of the Congo and it won’t be the Belgian Congo anymore, it will be the Republic of Congo. And do you think anybody in this hip town we live in is actually going to notice? Oh, sure. They’ll all have to go out and get their drivers’ licenses changed. In the year two million that is, when they build a road to here and somebody gets a car” (Kingsolver 177). Rachel’s sarcasm exhibits that the Congolese will not notice a difference between Belgian control and an independent nation because they most focus on their poverty and how to survive. This poverty is a result of Belgium’s control. After the election, Belgium was not content with relinquishing control and surrendering the wealth of the Congo to Lumumba; so, Belgium began to plan how they would regain control of this resource rich country (Independent). Only days after independence, Moise Tshombe, president of the province of Katanga of the Congo, announced his province's secession from the republic (Lawrence S. Kaplan). “Moise Tshombe is the leader of the Lunda tribe. For practical purpose he is leader of Katanga Province. And since a few days ago, leader of his own nation of Katanga. He declared it separate from the Republic of the Congo” (Kingsolver 229). This decision to separate from the Congo had evident Belgian backing as this province was especially rich in mineral resources. Lumumba appealed to the United Nations to restore order and unity after this announcement (Lawrence S. Kaplan).

The Congo quickly went from newly independent, to being infiltrated once more by Belgium. In September 1960, any hope of independence was extinguished when Patrice Lumumba was kidnapped and killed in a military coup (History Today). “On that awful day in January 1961, Lumumba paid with a life… on the wings of an owl the fallen Congo came to haunt even our little family…” (Kingsolver 323). With this quote, Orleanna displays how this tragedy affected every person in the Congo. The Congo suffered through several more years of instability and upset before a dictatorship was established under Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who renamed the country Zaire in 1971 (History Today). Under Mobutu’s control the Congolese suffered immensely. “Mobutu became the longest-surviving despot of the Cold War era. It was either ‘Mobutu or chaos’… But the Congolese had to suffer both.” (Independent). Mobutu was eventually overthrown by the Congolese after 20 years of his dictatorship (Independent). The Congo suffered through several more years of instability and upset before a dictatorship was established. (History Today). The complete control of the Congo caused poverty, unjust governments and everyone in the Congo suffered from it. “When a government comes crashing down, it crushes those who were living under its roof” (Kingsolver 383).

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