Friday, May 17, 2013

DR Congo & Belgium: The Arsehole's of Antwerp

It is difficult to fathom why the leaders of Antwerp would market the city with chocolate hands but it does on the grounds that they represent friendship. They don't they represent  the most brutal and repressive aspects of Belgium colonialism in the Congo. A Rwandan friend of mine surprised me when he mentioned that they were still a product sold in Belgium given the historical context I didn't really believe him. He was right.

Ancient Worlds blogs 

To this day, in the chocolate shops of Belgium, chocolate 'hands' are sold and represent Belgic former claims of imperial power. Between 1884 and 1885, European Imperialist powers sat around tables in Berlin and decided the partition and colonial fate of Africa. It was to Congo’s misfortune that King Leopold of Belgium was given the largest and soon to become evident, richest chunk of the richest continent. I had a vague notion of the 'hands' from listening to 'Short memory' by the Aussie band, Midnight Oil. But in no way does the Midnight Oil song explain the lyrics reference and it's not as if Central African history is one of my strong points...

The Belgians in the numerous rubber plantations forced Congolese children, men and women into slave labour. From Letissa we learned that their hands were cut off by the Belgian colonizers in a macabre system of accounting. Sometimes hands were cut off because workers didn’t work fast enough. Sometimes rubber plantation guards brought back hands as evidence they had killed workers who had failed to meet their rubber bounty. Other times such hands helped the plantation guards “prove” they hadn’t wasted any bullets on hunting game, an offence in the eyes of the colonialists. Children’s hands were chopped off as punishment for late deliveries of rubber. Over the next 20 years of direct Belgian rule, millions of Africans would die by murder, of disease and the deplorable conditions of life. Resistance was put down by wanton murder in what today we would call "ethnic cleansing." In the meantime, the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber and Exploration Company were racking up 700 percent profits on its shipments of rubber from the Congo. The company’s stock-market valuation increase 30 times in six years.

King Leopold, who utterly condoned and applauded this behaviour of his subjects, was celebrated in European capitals as a humane and progressive pioneer of 'Christian values' in "darkest Africa." I think he was an arsehole. Letissa, who finds the sale of these dark chocolate hands, extremely distasteful, suggests if we wish to buy Belgian chocolate to avoid buying 'hands' as she is trying to have the practice stopped. She offers us the more recognisable iconic Belgic Guylian 'sea shells' and after more tea we slip off to our room to sleep, with some of my illusions regarding Belgic history, now shattered.

Short Memory Midnight Oil ( Incidently I have been privileged to attend a live concert of Midnight Oil and it was truly awesome ).

Conquistador of Mexico
The Zulu and the Navaho
The Belgians in the Congo, Short memory

Plantation in Virginia
The Raj in British India
The deadline in South Africa, Short memory

The story of El Salvador
The silence of Hiroshima

Destruction of Cambodia, short memory

Short memory, must have a, Short memory
Short memory, must have a, Short memory

The sight of hotels by the Nile,
The designated Hilton style
With running water specially bought, short memory

A smallish man Afghanistan
A watch dog in a nervous land
They're only there to lend a hand, short memory

The friendly five a dusty smile 
Wake up in sweat at dead of night
And in the tents new rifles hey, short memory

Short memory, must have a, Short memory
Short memory, must have a, Short memory

If you read the history books you'll see the same things happen again and again
Repeat repeat short memory they've all got it
When are we going to play it again
Got a short, got a short, got a short, got a short
They've got a short must have a short they've got a short aah
Short memory, they've got a.



  2. Replies
    1. Missed your comments. And yes it is beyond belief.

  3. Not true, I also was shocked to overhear this interpretation on the bus from a congolese man.
    The chocolate hands do not represent anything about colonialism, they refer to a legend about a giant that threw hands, giving the name to the city: 'Antwerpen'='Throwing hands'.
    Otherwise, colonialism was brutal.

    1. Sorry A. This is the truth. I hate it but I must acknowlege the truth.

  4. Always trying to lie it away. Talmbout it means something else smh

  5. You morons know that in the age of the internet facts are VERY easy to come by....

    Chocolate hands, a regional specialty of Antwerp. Called Antwerpse handjes in Dutch, these sweets are associated primarily with the myth of the founding of the city, in which the hero Brabo slew the tyrannical giant Antigoon, cut off one of his hands, and threw it in the river

    1. Actually; the original "Antwerpse handjes aren't made of chocolate, but biscuits covered with almond (

      And here's an image of the 'famous' statue of Brabo who throws away the hand of Antigoon, which can be seen in Antwerp:

      Silvius Brabo [ˈsɪɫviəz ˈbraːboː] was a mythical Roman soldier who is said to have killed a giant, and by this would have created the name Brabant.

      Later this story was also used to explain the name Antwerp (meaning hand throwing). Brabo once killed a giant, called Druon Antigoon, who asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt. When they didn't want to or couldn't pay, he cut off their hand and threw it in the river. Because of this Brabo also removed the hand of the giant, and threw it into the river.

      This mythical story is still shown by the statue in front of the Antwerp City Hall.