cover image Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

Robert Harms. Basic, $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-465-02863-4

Harms (Rivers of Wealth, Rivers of Sorrow), a professor of history and African studies at Yale University, delivers an impressively fine-grained account of the pivotal era from the 1870s through the early 1900s when the African slave trade was supplanted by the commercial trade in rubber and ivory, triggering the “Scramble for Africa” and European colonization of the continent. The story of Equatorial Africa’s brutal subjugation to satisfy the demands of American and European consumers is told through the eyes of three key figures: Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh explorer employed by King Leopold II of Belgium; Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, an Italian who worked in the service of France; and Hamid bin Muhammad (known as Tippu Tip), a mixed African-Arab trader employed by the Sultan of Zanzibar and later by King Leopold. Drawing on these men’s autobiographies, as well as other eyewitness testimonies and archival sources, Harms skillfully relates how Arab ivory hunters first penetrated the Congo basin rainforest, how rubber concessions moved in when the ivory trade was depleted, and how African villagers attempted to organize and fight back against foreign intruders who “flogged, enslaved, imprisoned, and shot” natives in their quest to drain resources from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. Meticulously researched and written in a thoroughly engaging style, this exhaustive chronicle offers essential insights into the history of imperialism. (Dec.)