Leon Lemmer: Heart of darkness: Deel 1: As koloniale literatuur

Deel op

Heart of darkness (1899) is ‘n novelle van Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). Meer as ‘n halfeeu gelede was dit een van my voorgeskrewe boeke. As ‘n Rose Classic is die teks gratis in ‘n Kindle-weergawe beskikbaar. Conrad is ‘n Pool wat in die Oekraïne gebore is, maar as Engelse romanskrywer roem verwerf het, al was Engels naas Pools en Frans sy derde taal. Vyf van Conrad se werke is in Harold Bloom se “Western canon” opgeneem, maar nie Heart of darkness nie; moontlik vanweë die prominente “moral element” daarin (Harold Bloom, The Western canon: The books and school of the ages, London: Macmillan, 1995, p 473); ook “paterian”/paternalisties genoem (434). Bloom bestempel die frase “heart of darkness” as “an obscurantist metaphor” (121). In die huidige era van bv afrikanisering word Bloom se uitsprake dikwels teengespreek. Vir my is dit duidelik dat swart Afrika hier met donkerte/duisternis geassosieer word, wat deesdae as polities inkorrek beskou word; selfs wanneer, soos geformuleer deur Conrad, daardie donkerte deels aan blankes se koloniale motiewe en dade toegeskryf word. Heart of darkness is wel as ‘n meesterwerk ingesluit by FR Leavis se The great tradition (1948).

John Stape

Oor Conrad en sy skryfwerk is daar baie gepubliseer. Ek kan John Stape se boek, The several lives of Joseph Conrad (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007, 369p; Amazon Kindle $16,20), aanbeveel. “Conrad spoke of himself as having three lives – as Pole, as seaman, and as writer” (p xxiv). Hy was van 1874 tot 1894 ‘n seevaarder, as matroos of passasier. “He was striking out for ‘the dark places of the earth full of habitations of cruelty'” (62). Conrad was onder meer in Kaapstad en Port Elizabeth. Later het hy geld in die Suid-Afrikaanse mynbedryf belê (95). In 1890 het hy op in die Kongo-rivier tot by Boma gevaar en vandaar na Matadi, “the first step into what he would memorably call the ‘Heart of Darkness’… he kept a dairy for the first and only time in his life … Delayed for a fortnight by the station chief, he had the unexpected compensation of meeting Roger Casement [1864-1916], the [Irish] human rights activist” (63) wat later deur bv die Anglo-Boere-oorlog (1899-1902) beïnvloed is om standpunt teen imperialisme in te neem. “Conrad followed the [Boer War] conflict closely, deeply distrusting both the motives behind it and its conduct” (115). Hy was immers sterk teen die Russiese besetting van Pole gekant. Casement “saw in Conrad a potential ally in his tireless efforts to mobilise public opinion against atrocities in the Congo” (133).

Van Matadi is Conrad oor land na Leopoldville/Kinshasa. Van hier af het hy verder in die binneland in op die Kongo-rivier gevaar. “The diary covers more than half of the thousand-mile trip and then breaks off” (65). “Conrad himself witnessed and heard of cruelty and barbarism, resulting partly from sheer incompetence and stupidity … He now thoroughly regretted his decision to come to Africa” (65). Hy is per boot terug na Leopoldville, waarvan hy sê: “Everything here is repugnant” (66). Daarna terug na Matadi en uiteindelik Londen, “emotionally exhausted by the Congo” (67). Dit is die werklike gebeure waarop die novelle, Heart of darkness, gegrond is. Die reis na die hart van die Kongo is egter ook ‘n simboliese reis na die duisternis wat in die kern, die hart of siel, van die mens geleë is.

Gedrukte uitgawes van Conrad se dagboek is gepubliseer en uittreksels daarvan is in Kindle-formaat beskikbaar. Toe dit nog uitsonderlik was, was Conrad al gekant teen kolonialisme en imperialisme. As genaturaliseerde Brit het hy egter verkies om nie openlik polities aktivisties te wees nie. “He subsequently replied to a direct enquiry from Casement that he had not himself witnessed the cutting off of hands [of black workers] that figures so appallingly in Casement’s exposé and begged off becoming involved in the protest. ‘I would help him but it is not in me. I am only a wretched novelist inventing wretched stories and not even up to that miserable game'” (133). Hoewel hy politieke voorkeure gehad het, wou Conrad nie as ‘n polities betrokke skrywer bekend staan nie.

Heart of darkness

Ek gee eers ‘n oorsig van die storie voordat ek tot die gebruik van veral aanhalings oorgaan. Vyf mans wat by seevaart betrokke is, sit op die dek van ‘n boot by Gravesend aan die Teems-rivier naby Londen. Een van hulle, Charlie Marlow, is die ek-verteller en die outeur se spreekbuis. Hy begin mymer oor hoe die Teems-gebied, toe die Romeine dit binnegeval het, een van die donker en barbaarse streke van die aarde was. “They were men enough to face the darkness ” (Rose classic edition, Kindle 83). Marlow brei op hierdie tema uit en begin die verhaal vertel van die donkerste, mees barbaarse gebied op aarde wat hy ervaar het.

Marlow was die bevelvoerder van ‘n rivierboot vir ‘n Belgiese handelsmaatskappy. Toe hy hierdie werk kry, het hy in Brussel gehoor van Kurtz, wat rekord-besendings ivoor lewer: “Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together” (358). “Hadn’t I been told in all the tones of jealousy and admiration that he had collected, bartered, swindled or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together?” (949). “He raided the country” (1137). Kurtz se naam duik ook op in gesprekke wat Marlow voer terwyl hy rivierlangs dieper die Kongo indring; “a God-forsaken wilderness” (242). Kurtz het vir ‘n geruime tyd nie berigte aan die distriksbestuurder in Leopoldville (“the Central Station”) gestuur nie en daar is gerugte dat Kurtz siek is. Die distriksbestuurder staan onverskillig teenoor die lot van die inboorlinge en hy hoop eintlik dat Kurtz dood is.

Hulle vaar met die rivierboot op die Kongo-rivier na Kurtz se binnestasie by Stanley Falls/Stanleyville/Kisangani. Inboorlinge val die boot aan en die stuurman word deur ‘n spies gedood. By die binnestasie hoor hulle dat Kurtz ernstig siek is. Kurtz het glo pleks van die swartes te verander, dus op te voed, al hoe meer barbaars geword. Marlow ontmoet vir Kurtz en vind dat die man inderdaad verdorwe is deur die boosheid wat hy in Afrika ervaar het. Kurtz besef hoe onbeskaafd hy geword het, hoe sy planne om die inboorlinge op te voed, geboemerang het. Hy weet ook dat hy sterwend is. Hy gee aan Marlow ‘n pak briewe aan sy verloofde in België en die manuskrip van ‘n verslag wat hy geskryf het.

Die distriksbestuurder en Marlow neem Kurtz op ‘n draagbaar na die boot. Op die terugreis na Leopoldville sterf Kurtz op die boot met die besef dat verterende boosheid die kern van alles is. Marlow gaan later na België om Kurtz se verloofde te besoek en die briewe te oorhandig. Sy dink nog aan Kurtz as die wonderlike en magtige man in Afrika. Wanneer sy Marlow vra wat Kurtz se laaste woorde was, lieg hy en vertel vir haar dat Kurtz met sy laaste asem na haar gevra het. In werklikheid het Kurtz met sy laaste woorde oor die afgryslikheid van alles getuig: “The horror! The horror!”

Die aanhalings wat volg, toon hoe simpatiek Conrad teenoor die swartes was; hoe afkerig hy van slawerny, uitbuiting en kolonialisme was. In hierdie opsigte was hy sy tyd ver vooruit. Andersins dui sy novelle op sy fyn waarnemingsvermoë van bv die swartes. (‘n Reeks verdere aanhalings volg heelwat later in hierdie rubriek.)

Die barbaarsheid van die Engelse tydens die Romeinse besetting (van 43 tot die vroeë 5de eeu) word erken. “In some inland post [the Roman] feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him – all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination – you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate” (89). Die Romeinse besetting word voorgestel as soortgelyk aan latere kolonisasie: “They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and the men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tacle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much” (97).

Marlow is as bevelvoerder van die rivierboot aangestel omdat sy voorganger vermoor is. “The original quarrel arose from a misunderstanding about some hens … A Dane thought himself wronged somehow in the bargain, so he went ashore and started to hammer the chief of the village with a stick” (149). “He had been a couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause, you know, and he probably felt the need at last of asserting his selfrespect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck, till some man – I was told the chief’s son – in desperation at hearing the old chap yell, made a tentative jab with a spear at the white man – and of course it went quite easy between the shoulderblades” (156).

Terwyl Marlow op in die mond van die Kongo-rivier vaar: “Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glistering. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks – these chaps; but they had bone, muscle, wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at” (248). Later vertel ‘n Sweed aan Marlow van ‘n ander Sweed wat selfdood gepleeg het. “‘Hanged himself! Why, in God’s name?’ I cried. He kept on looking out watchfully. ‘Who knows? The sun too much for him, or the country perhaps'” (277).

Hulle was besig om ‘n spoorlyn om stroomversnellings te bou sodat vervoergeriewe die twee dele van die rivier kon verbind; van Matadi tot by Stanley Pool/Leopoldville. “A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind wagged to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking … All their meager breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages” (285). Hy vervolg sinies: “I … was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings” (299).

Sommige van die swart werkers word soos volg beskryf: “They were dying – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. These moribund shapes were free as air – and nearly as thin” (321). Die handelsbedrywighede word soos volg verwoord: “Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire sent into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory” (351).

“I left that station [Matadi] at last, with a caravan of sixty men, for a two-hundred-mile tramp” (373). Terwyl hulle na Leopoldville loop, kom hulle ‘n blanke man in uniform teë: “Was looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can’t say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on, may be considered as a permanent improvement” (389). “Out there there were no external checks … ‘Men who come out here should have no entrails'” (430). Terwyl Marlow in Leopoldville is: “A nigger was being beaten near by. They said he had caused the fire in some way; be that as it may, he was screeching most horribly. I saw him, later on, for several days, sitting in a bit of shade looking very sick and trying to recover himself: afterwards he arose and went out – and the wilderness without a sound took him into its bosom again” (458).

By die binnestasie, Stanleyville, ‘n soortgelyke voorval: “The beaten nigger groaned somewhere … ‘Serve him right. Transgression – punishment – bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future” (508). Die moontlikheid word genoem dat ‘n mededinger om ivoor gehang kan word om hom uit die pad te kry. “Why not? Anything – anything can be done in this country” (652). Van Kurtz word gesê: “There was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased” (1143). Rivier-op kon die stoomboot nie altyd vlot gehou word nie. “More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splasing around and pushing. We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows – cannibals – in their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo-meat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils” (695).

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness” (708). “[A] headman, a young, broad-chested black, severely draped in dark-blue fringed cloths, with fierce nostrils and his hair all done up artfully in oily ringlets, stood near me. ‘Aha!’ I said, just for good fellowship’s sake. ‘Catch ‘im,’ he snapped, with a bloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp teeth – ‘catch ‘im. Give ‘im to us.’ ‘To you, eh?’ I asked; ‘what would you do with them?’ ‘Eat him!’ he said curtly” (812). “I don’t think a single one of them [blacks] had any clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages have. They still belonged to the beginnings of time – had no inherited experience to teach them as it were, and of course, as long as there was a piece of paper written over in accordance with some farcical law or other made down the river, it didn’t enter anybody’s head to trouble how they would live” (818).

“All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by-and-by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance … Seventeen pages of close writing he had found time for! But this must have been before his – let us say – nerves, went wrong … The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘must necessarily appear to them (savages) in the nature of supernatural beings – we approach them with the might as of a deity’ … [The report] gave me the notion of an exotic Immersity ruled by an august Benevolence” (1006). Later het Kurtz die volgende sin by sy verslag gevoeg: “Exterminate all the brutes” (1019). “It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core” (1176). “Kurtz’s methods had ruined the district” (1169).

Toe die boot van die wal af deur swartes aangeval word, gee ‘n blanke die volgende raad wat uitstekend gewerk het. Al wat Marlow moet doen, is om die fluit/toeter van die boot te blaas: “One good screech will do more for you than all your rifles. They are simple people” (1074). “I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness” (1121). Dit kon net so wel ‘n gepaste beskrywing van die nuwe Suid-Afrika wees.

Daar is mensskedels rondom Kurtz se woonplek. “After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at on[c]e bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist – obviously – in the sunshine … Kurtz was no idol of mine” (1184). “His soul was mad” (1356) en daar is “the barren darkness of his heart” (1394). “His was an impenetrable darkness” (1415). “There is no disguising the fact, Mr Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company” (1256). “Nevertheless I think Mr Kurtz is a remarkable man” (1264). Kurtz het ‘n swart vriendin gehad. “She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent” (1234).

Die dodelik siek Kurtz word op die boot gelaai maar sy vriendin word agtergelaat. “Only the barbarous and superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms after us over the somber and glittering river” (1386). Rivier-af sterf Kurtz binne enkele dae op die boot met die woorde: “The horror! The horror!” (1430). “I went no more near the remarkable man who had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth … Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of unextinguisable regrets” (1439). “I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul” (1515). Marlow besoek later Kurtz se vriendin in België, wat groot waardering vir Kurtz bly koester. Marlow verswyg Kurtz se werklike laaste woorde. Hy vertel eerder ‘n wit leuen: “The last word he pronouced was – your name” (1603).

Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochschild (gebore in 1942) het ‘n boek oor ‘n era in die geskiedenis van die Kongo geskryf: King Leopold’s ghost: A story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa (London: Pan Macmillan, 1999/2006, 376p; Amazon Kindle $14,74). Die Kongo was toe (1885-1908) die persoonlike besitting van Koning Leopold II (1835-1909, Belgiese koning 1865-1909), dus streng gesproke nie ‘n kolonie nie. Eers daarna het die Kongo ‘n Belgiese kolonie geword (1908-1960). Op ‘n soortgelyke manier: Die Kaap is van 1652 tot 1795 deur ‘n maatskappy, die Vereenighde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) besit. Eers tydens die Bataafse bewind (1803-1806) het dit ‘n Hollandse kolonie geword. Die Kaap was ‘n Britse kolonie van 1795 tot 1803 en van 1806 tot 1910, maar amptelik eintlik eers van 1814 af. Dit is onder meer aan ‘n boek soos dié van Hochschild te wyte dat kolonialisme deesdae sonder meer as wreedaardige uitbuiting voorgestel word, terwyl die Leopold-Kongo in werklikheid dié uiterste geval van uitbuiting van Afrikane deur ‘n Europeër was. “What happened in the Congo could reasonably be called the most murderous part of the European Scramble for Africa” (p 280). Konrad stem hiermee saam: Die Leopold-Kongo was “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience” (4). John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) het in sy boek, On liberty (1859), geskryf: “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement” (84). Daar kan kwalik beweer word dat Leopold die omstandighede van die Kongolese verbeter het. ‘n Belgiese eerste minister het gesê: Leopold “treats men as we use lemons, when he has squeezed them dry, he throws away the peel” (95).

Hochschild is uiters linksgesind. Hy was ‘n joernalistiekdosent en sy vrou, Arlie Russell Hochschild (gebore in 1940), ‘n sosiologiedosent. Hierdie egpaar het in die jare sestig tydens die burgerregtebeweging na die suidelike Amerikaanse state gegaan om solidariteit met die opstandige swartes te betoon en hulle te help om as kiesers te registreer. Maar selfs Adam Hochschild erken: “Despite the thievery of Leopold and his successors, it is wrong to blame the problems of today’s Africa entirely on colonialism” (318). “In health, life expectancy, schooling and income the Congolese people were far worse off at the end of Mobutu’s [Sese Seko, 1930-1997, president 1965-1997] reign than they had been at the end of eighty years of colonialism in 1960” (315).

Op ‘n soortgelyke manier kan beweer word dat Suid-Afrika tydens die Afrikanerbewind, verguis as die era van apartheid (1948-1994), in (seker) die meeste opsigte beter daaraan toe was as sedertdien tydens die ANC-bewind. Adam het ‘n boek, The mirror at midnight: a journey to the heart of South Africa (1990/2007) oor “the 150-year-old national myth of Afrikaners-as-victims” geskryf ná ‘n besoek aan Suid-Afrika in 1988. Reeds in 1961 het hy ‘n kort tyd as joernalis in Suid-Afrika gewerk en ook ‘n besoek aan Leopoldville gebring. Oor Arlie Hochschild se linkse taksering van Amerikaanse blanke suiderlinge het ek reeds geskryf (Praag 4.02.2017). Haar man sluit hierby aan: “What was slavery in the American South, after all, but a system for transforming the labor of black bodies, via cotton plantations, into cloth?” (King Leopold’s ghost, 16). Voortaan verwys Hochschild na Adam.

Edmund Dene Morel (1873-1924) was in diens van ‘n skeepsmaatskappy met sy hoofkantoor in Liverpool. Sy werk was om toesig te hou oor die op- en aflaai van skepe wat met die Kongo handel dryf. In 1897 of 1898 het hy in Antwerpen opgemerk dat die inkomende skepe ivoor en rubber bring maar dat daar nie handelsartikels uitgevoer word nie. Wat die skepe na die Kongo vervoer “is mostly army officers, firearms, and ammunition” (2). Sy afleiding was dat die ivoor en rubber die produkte van gedwonge of slawe-arbeid was, terwyl slawerny sedert 1838 in Britse gebiede verbode was. Morel het veral in Brittanje en Amerika mense bewus van die misdrywe in die Kongo gemaak. “Slave labor in the Congo … had taken eight to ten million lives” (3). Dit is as massa- of volksmoord beskou. Wat vir my interessant is, is dat Leopold II Frans, Duits en Engels magtig was, maar “he never bothered to learn Flemish, spoken by more than half his subjects” (33). Die Duitse keiser, Wilhelm II, het Leopold gekarakteriseer as “Satan and Mammon in one person” (240).

Ná die voltooiing van Conrad se Heart of darkness in 1899 het Morel verskeie boeke gepubliseer, bv King Leopold’s rule in Africa (1904), Great Britain and the Congo: The pillage of the Congo basin (1909) en Red rubber: The story of the rubber slave trade which flourished on the Congo for twenty years, 1890-1910 (1906/1919). In 1908 het Morel se inisiatiewe tot die anneksasie van die Kongo deur die Belgiese regering gelei. “The picture Morel gives in his writings of Africans in the Congo before whites arrived is that of Rousseau’s idealized Noble Savage” (210). Morel is in sy propaganda voorafgegaan deur bv twee Amerikaanse swartes, die joernalis en historikus, George Washington Williams (1849-1891),* wat die Kongo in 1890 besoek het, en die sendeling, William H Sheppard (1865-1927),** wat in die vroeë jare negentig (1890’s) twee jaar in die Kongo deurgebring het en later weer daarheen gegaan het.

[* “Williams studied briefly at Howard University [a university of blacks], which, when he mentioned it in later years, sometimes came out sounding like Harvard University. Later in his life, he also claimed a doctoral degree he had never earned” (103). Williams “used a phrase that seems plucked from the Nuremberg trials [1945-1946] of more than half a century later. Leopold’s Congo state, Williams wrote, was guilty of ‘crimes against humanity'” (111-112).

** Sheppard was nie ‘n engel nie. “He was forced to resign his post as a missionary because he had been caught having extramarital affairs with African women” (283).]

Tydgenote soos Morel, Williams en Sheppard, asook Casement (hier bo), se onvergenoegdheid met toestande in die destydse Kongo word in Heart of darkness weerspieël. Casement “have darkened Conrad’s vision of colonialism in Africa” (197). Leopold “claimed that ‘it was impossible to have always the best men in Africa; and indeed the African climate seemed frequently to cause deterioration in the character'” (198). Conrad “was so horrified by the greed and brutality among white men he saw in the Congo, that his view of human nature was permanently changed … After brooding about his Congo experience for eight years, Conrad transformed it into Heart of darkness” (142). “Conrad himself wrote, ‘Heart of darkness is experience … pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case'” (143). “Heart of darkness is one of the most scathing indictments of imperialism in all literature, but its author, curiously, thought himself an ardent imperialist where England was concerned” (146). “However laden it is with Victorian racism, Heart of darkness remains the greatest portrait in fiction of Europeans in the Scramble for Africa … Conrad’s white men go about their rape of the continent in the belief that they are uplifting the natives, bringing civilization, serving ‘the noble cause.’ All these illusions are embodied in the character of Kurtz” (147). Maar dit is juis van Kurtz wat Marlow/Conrad hom distansieer.

Die Kurtz-karakter is ‘n samevoeging van die eienskappe van meer as een blanke wat Conrad in die Kongo teëgekom het. Een van hulle is Léon Rom, wat die hoof van die binnelandse stasie by Stanley Falls was en in 1899 ‘n boek, Le nègre du Congo, gepubliseer het. Daarin skryf Rom: “The product of a mindless state, its feelings are coarse, its passions rough, its instincts brutish, and, in addition, it is proud and vain. The black man’s principal occupation, and that to which he dedicates the greatest part of his existence, consists of stretching out on a mat in the warm rays of the sun, like a crocodile on the sand … The black man has no idea of time, and, questioned on that subject by a European, he generally responds with something stupid” (148). Jules Jacques, ‘n distrikskommissaris, het volgens Morel oor die swartes geskryf: “We must fight them until their absolute submission has been obtained, or their complete extermination” (229).

Hochschild noem die gebeure in die Kongo “the first major international atrocity scandal in the age of the telegraph and the camera” (4). “The worst of the bloodshed in the Congo took place between 1890 and 1910” (5). Minder oortuigend is die volgende stelling: “Europe has long forgotten the victims of Leopold’s Congo” (4). Europese koloniale moondhede word deurlopend van wandade beskuldig en die uiterste geval van die Leopold-Kongo word dan dikwels as voorbeeld gebruik. Met telegrafie kon inligting vinniger en oor ‘n wyer gebied, selfs wêreldwyd, versprei word. Fotografie het ook ‘n beduidende uitwerking gehad. In Hochschild se boek is daar drie foto’s van afgekapte hande wat op ‘n ontstellende en weersinwekkende manier die destydse vergrype bevestig.

Leopold het geredeneer: “Forced labor was ‘the only way to civilize and uplift these indolent … peoples'” (37). Onder dwang is van die inboorlinge verwag om kwotas rubber binne bepaalde tye te lewer. Versuim om dit te doen, was met die dood strafbaar. ‘n Afgekapte regterhand het as bewysstuk by die owerheid gedien dat ‘n persoon gedood is.* Soms is die persoon se lewe gespaar (onder meer sodat ammunisie bespaar kon word wat dan vir jag gebruik is), maar sy/haar regterhand is as bewysstuk ingelewer (226). Daar was ook die gebruik om woongebiede van huisvesting en inwoners te stroop sodat rubberbome in daardie ooptes geplant kon word eerder as om ooptes te skep deur woude moeisaam oop te kap. Aanvanklik is die sap van wilde rubberbome versamel, maar spoedig is aanvullend oorgegaan tot die aanplant van plantasies (278). Die groot aanvraag vir rubber het saamgehang met bv die uitvinding van motorvoertuie. Conrad se boek handel eintlik oor ivoorhandel. Ná sy besoek in 1890 het rubber pleks van ivoor die hoofuitvoerproduk geword. “By the turn of the century, the État Indépendant du Congo had become, far and away, the most profitable colony in Africa. The profits came swiftly because, transportation costs aside, harvesting wild rubber required no cultivation, no fertilizers, no capital investment in expensive equipment. It required only labor” (160).

[* Toe Noord-Afrika deel van die Ottomanryk was, is meer as ‘n miljoen blanke, Christen Europeërs deur Berbers/Moslems van skepe en kusstreke ontvoer en as slawe in veral Marokko en Algerië, maar ook in die Midde-Ooste, gevange gehou en slegter as die swartes in die Leopold-Kongo behandel, maar hiervan word selde melding gemaak. Pleks daarvan dat die regterhand as bewys van ‘n slaaf se dood gebruik is, is sy/haar kop as bewysmateriaal aangebied; dus dat die slaaf nie ontsnap het of tot eie voordeel deur die bewaarders verkoop is nie. As dit onprakties was om afgesnyde koppe ver in die warm weer te vervoer, het die ore van die slagoffers as bewysmateriaal gedien (Giles Milton, White gold: The extraordinary story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa’s one million European slaves, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004, p 34, 171). Hierdie slawerny was veral van 1530 tot 1780 aan die orde van die dag (“Barbary pirates,”Wikipedia).]

Hochschild gee uitdrukking aan sy linkse aktivisme met die volgende samevatting: “History lies heavy on Africa: the long decades of colonialism, several hundred years of the Atlantic and Arab world slave trade, and – all too often ignored – countless centuries of indigenous slavery before that. From the colonial era, the major legacy Europe left to Africa was not democracy as it is practiced today in countries like England, France, and Belgium; it was authoritarian rule and plunder. On the whole continent, perhaps no nation has had a harder time than the Congo in emerging from the shadow of its past” (301).

Chinua Achebe

In die voorafgaande uiteensetting is dit duidelik dat Conrad as Westerling polities buitengewoon verlig vir sy tyd was; dat hy krities teenoor kolonialisme ingestel en swart Afrikane simpatiek gesind was. Maar Conrad kon onmoontlik voorsien het dat daar ná die Tweede Wêreldoorlog ‘n gees onder swartes sou posvat wat kommentaar oor swartes deur blankes as ongewens beskou, selfs wanneer dit gunstig is; om van ongunstig nie te praat nie. Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) het dit soos volg geformuleer: “No man can understand another whose language he does not speak (and ‘language’ here does not mean simply words, but a man’s entire world view” (Wikipedia); dus as ‘t ware die beginsel dat ‘n blinde die geskikste persoon is om ‘n mede-blinde te lei.

Achebe was ‘n Nigeriese romanskrywer wat met sy boek, Things fall apart (1958), bekendheid verwerf het. In die roman word Igbo-stamlewe van binne af belig; nie dat Achebe danig stamgebonde was nie. Sy agtergrond was protestants en hy het sy boeke in Engels geskryf. Hy het ook graag tyd in die buiteland, veral die Weste, deurgebring. Volgens sy boek val dinge uitmekaar as ‘n Europese land ‘n Afrika-land koloniseer. Ons weet dat dinge in nog groter mate uitmekaarval as ‘n swart regering die politieke beheer by ‘n blanke bewind oorneem, met die nuwe Suid-Afrika as ‘n sprekende voorbeeld. As lid van die Igbo-stam het Achebe tydens die burgeroorlog (1967-1970) vir Biafra se afskeidingsbeweging teen die sentrale Nigeriese regering kant gekies. Nadat ‘n motorongeluk hom gestremd en verknog aan ‘n rolstoel gelaat het, was hy ‘n professor aan Bard College (1990-2008) en Brown University (2009-2013) in Amerika, al het hy nie verder as ‘n baccalaureus-graad gevorder nie. Maar hy het talle akademies-waardelose eredoktorsgrade versamel.

Van 1972 tot 1976 was Achebe ‘n dosent aan die University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Daar het hy in 1975 ‘n lesing gelewer: “An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of darkness’.” Die teks is in 1977 in die vaktydskrif, Massachusetts Review (vol 18, no 4, p 782-794) gepubliseer en is op die internet beskikbaar. Achebe begin sy artikel op ‘n voorspelbare manier: dat (swart?) skoolkinders in Yonkers, New York City, tot sy genoegdoening sy roman, Things fall apart, lees. Ook dat ‘n ouer (blanke) man van Afrika-literatuur en -geskiedenis as universiteitsvakke gesê het: “He never thought of Africa as having that kind of stuff.” Achebe: “I propose to draw from these rather trivial encounters rather heavy conclusions which at first sight might seem somewhat out of proportion to them. But only, I hope, at first sight.”

In ‘n poging tot die eendersverklaring van alle swartes (en blankes) sê Achebe dat die inwoners van Yonkers ook gebruike en bygelowe het; dat hulle nie daarvoor na Afrika hoef te gaan nie. Die ouer blanke man se onwetendheid is egter aan meer as ‘n gebrek aan kennis te wyte. “Quite simply it is the desire – one might indeed say the need – in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.” Dus, Afrika as nie-Europa. Achebe will hierdie verskynsel onemosioneel (“dispassionately”!) benader as ‘n romanskrywer wat reageer op ‘n werk van ‘n ander romanskrywer, Conrad se Heart of darkness, want hierdie novelle “displays that Western desire.” Conrad se boek is deel van die “Western canon” en word dus gereken as deel van die Engelse letterkunde wat permanente waarde het, “read and taught and constantly evaluated by serious academics.”

Heart of darkness projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world,’ the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality. The book opens on the River Thames … But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames … We are told that ‘going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.'” Wat vir Conrad glo hinder, is “the lurking hint of kinship, of common ancestry. For the Thames too ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’ It conquered its darkness … But if it were to visit its primordial relative, the Congo, it would run the terrible risk of hearing grotesque echoes of its own forgotten darkness.” Waarop Achebe hier sinspeel, is mense se gemeenskaplike mensheid (“humanity”), wat egter nie ras- en etnies-kulturele verskille ophef nie.

“The most interesting and revealing passages in Heart of darkness are, however, about people.” Achebe haal dan uit Heart of darkness aan: “The men were … No they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it – this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces, but what thrilled you, was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough, but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you – you so remote from the night of first ages – could comprehend.” Wat Conrad doen, is om die Kongolese as mede-mense te erken, maar hy dink dat hulle minder ontwikkeld as Europeërs is.

In ‘n verdere aanhaling gee Conrad, volgens Achebe, “us one of his rare descriptions of an African who is not just limbs or rolling eyes”: “And between whiles I had to look after the savage who was fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat walking on his hind legs. A few months of training had done for that really fine chap. He squinted at the steam-gauge and at the water-gauge with an evident effort of intrepidity – and he had filed his teeth too, the poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer patterns, and three ornamental scars on each of his cheeks. He ought to have been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge.” Achebe se kommentaar is: “As everybody knows, Conrad is a romantic on the side. He might not exactly admire savages clapping their hands and stamping their feet but they have at least the merit of being in their place, unlike this dog in a parody of breeches. For Conrad things being in their place is of the utmost importance.” Maar Conrad toon juis die teenoorgestelde aan: dat hierdie swarte nie op die wal dans nie, maar op ‘n kundige manier op die boot werk.

Kurtz se swart vriendin in die Kongo is volgens Achebe “a savage counterpart to the refined, European woman who will step forth to end the story … The difference in the attitude of the novelist to these two women is conveyed in too many direct and subtle ways to need elaboration. But perhaps the most significant difference is the one implied in the author’s bestowal of human expression to the one and the withholding of it from the other. It is clearly not part of Conrad’s purpose to confer language on the ‘rudimentary souls’ of Africa. In place of speech they made ‘a violent babble of uncouth sounds.’ They ‘exchange short grunting phrases’ even among themselves. But most of the time they were too busy with their frenzy. There are two occasions in the book, however, when Conrad departs somewhat from his practice and confers speech, even English speech on the savages. The first occurs when cannibalism gets the better of them.” Achebe haal aan (reeds hier bo): “‘Catch ‘im,’ he snapped with a bloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp teeth – ‘catch ‘im. Give ‘im to us.’ ‘To you, eh?’ I asked; ‘what would you do with them?’ ‘Eat ‘im!’ he said curtly.” “The other occasion was the famous announcement: ‘Mistah Kurtz – he dead.'”

Dus, naas geluide maak, het die swartes in die boek ook gepraat. Die rede waarom Conrad daardie spraak meesal nie weergee nie, is seker om die voor die hand liggende rede dat hy nie hulle taal verstaan het nie. Achebe kom egter met ‘n minder vleiende vertolking: “At first sight these instances might be mistaken for unexpected [?] acts of generosity from Conrad. In reality they constitute some of his best assaults [!]. In the case of the cannibals the incomprehensible grunts that had thus served them for speech suddenly prove inadequate for Conrad’s purpose of letting the European glimpse the unspeakable craving in their hearts. Weighing the necessity for consistency in the portrayal of the dumb brutes against the sensational advantages of securing their conviction by clear, unambiguous evidence issuing out of their own mouth Conrad chose the latter. As for the announcement of Mr Kurtz’s death by the ‘insolent black head in the doorway’ what better or more appropriate finis could be written to the horror story of that wayward child of civilization who willfully had given his soul to the powers of darkness and ‘taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land’ than the proclamation of his physical death by the forces he had joined?”

“If Conrad’s intention is to draw a cordon sanitaire between himself and the moral and psychological malaise of his narrator his care seems to me totally wasted because he neglects to hint however subtly or tentatively at an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the actions and opinions of his characters. It would not have been beyond Conrad’s power to make that provision if he had thought it necessary. Marlow seems to me to enjoy Conrad’s complete confidence – a feeling reinforced by the close similarities between their two careers. Marlow comes through to us not only as a witness of truth, but one holding those advanced and humane views appropriate to the English liberal tradition which required all Englishmen of decency to be deeply shocked by atrocities in Bulgaria or the Congo of King Leopold of the Belgians or wherever.”

Dit wil-wil lyk asof Achebe hier die lig van Conrad se verligtheid sien, maar dan kom hy met hierdie sarkastiese oordrywing: “Thus Marlow is able to toss out such bleeding-heart sentiments as these.” Daarna volg ‘n aanhaling wat ook hier bo verskyn: “They were dying – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation lying confusely in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.” Dit lyk vir my na opregte simpatie, maar Conrad is blank en wat hy oor swartes skryf, word deur Achebe verdag gemaak.

Achebe se renons in blanke filantropie strek verder as Conrad. Voorspelbaar kom hy ook vir Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) met sy kritiek by. “The kind of liberalism espoused here by Marlow/Conrad touched all the best minds of the age in England, Europe and America. It took different forms in the minds of different people but almost always managed to sidestep the ultimate question of equality between white people and black people.* That extraordinary missionary, Albert Schweitzer, who sacrificed brilliant careers in music and theology in Europe for a life of service to Africans in much the same area [Gabon] as Conrad writes about, epitomizes the ambivalence. In a comment which has often been quoted Schweitzer says: ‘The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother [by several centuries].’ And so he proceeded to build a hospital appropriate to the needs of junior brothers with standards of hygiene reminiscent of medical practice in the days before the germ theory of disease came into being. Naturally he became a sensation in Europe and America. Pilgrims flocked, and I believe still flock even after he had passed on, to witness the prodigious miracle in Lamberene, on the edge of the primeval forest.” Achebe is snood ondankbaar. Daar is Schweitzer se opofferings om sy lewe tussen vreemdeling in Afrika te slyt, asook sy onbetwisbare eerbied vir (die) lewe.

[* By blankes en swartes is daar liggaamlike ooreenkomste (en verskille) en daar was en is kulturele verskille en daar was sekerlik (ten minste) in die tyd van Leopold se Kongo groot ontwikkelingsverskille.]

“Conrad’s liberalism would not take him quite as far as Schweitzer’s, though. He would not use the word brother however qualified; the farthest he would go was kinship. When Marlow’s African helmsman falls down with a sprear in his heart he gives his white master one final disquieting look: ‘And the intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory – like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.” Dit is duidelik dat Conrad emosioneel met sy swart stuurman assosieer; dat hy hom nie distansieer van hierdie swarte as mens nie. Vir Achebe is dit nie goed genoeg nie. “It is important to note that Conrad, careful as ever with his words, is concerned not so much about distant kinship as about someone laying a claim on it. The black man lays a claim on the white man which is well-nigh intolerable. It is the laying of this claim which frightens and at the same time fascinates Conrad” en dan ‘n herhaling van die aanhaling: “the thought of their humanity – like yours … Ugly.”

Hierna kom Achebe by wat hy eintlik prontuit van Conrad wil sê: “The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist.* That this simple truth is glossed over in criticism of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unmarked. Students of Heart of darkness will often tell you that Conrad is concerned not so much with Africa as with the deterioration of one European mind caused by solitude and sickness. They will point out to you that Conrad is, if anything, less charitable to the Europeans in the story than he is to the natives, that the point of the story is to ridicule Europe’s civilizing mission in Africa.” Laasgenoemde sin som ook my standpunt op.

[* Oorspronklik was dit “bloody racist” (Clare Clarke, bron hier onder, Kindle 553, 789).]

“A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr Kurtz. Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.”

Achebe praat van Conrad se “obvious racism.” “Certainly Conrad had a problem with niggers. His inordinate love of that word itself should be of interest to psychoanalysts. Sometimes his fixation on blackness is equally interesting as when he gives us this brief description: ‘A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms,’ as though we might expect a black figure striding along on black legs to wave white arms! But so unrelenting is Conrad’s obsession.” “Conrad is a dream for psychoanalytic critics.” “Whatever Conrad’s problems were, you might say he is now safely dead. Quite true. Unfortunately his heart of darkness plagues us still. Which is why an offensive and deplorable book can be described by a serious scholar as ‘among the half dozen greatest short novels in the English language.'” “I am talking about a book which parades in the most vulgar fashion prejudices and insults from which a section of mankind has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past and continues to do so in many ways and many places today. I am talking about a story in which the very humanity of black people is called in question.”

“The West seems to suffer deep anxieties about the precariousness of its civilization and to have a need for constant reassurance by comparison with Africa … Africa is to Europe as … a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformaties so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate.” “In my original conception of this essay I had thought to conclude it nicely on an appropriately positive note in which I would suggest from my privileged position in African and Western cultures some advantages the West might derive from Africa once it rid its mind of old prejudices and began to look at Africa not through a haze of distortions and cheap mystifications but quite simply as a continent of people – not angels, but not rudimentary souls either – just people, often highly gifted people and often strikingly successful in their enterprise with life and society. But as I thought more about the stereotype image … I realized that no easy optimism was possible. And there was, in any case, something totally wrong in offering bribes to the West in return for its good opinion of Africa. Ultimately the abandonment of unwholesome thoughts must be its own and only reward.”

“Although the work of redressing which needs to be done may appear too daunting, I believe it is not one day too soon to begin. Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth. But the victims of racist slander who for centuries have had to live with the inhumanity it makes them heir to have always known better than any casual visitor even when he comes loaded with the gifts of a Conrad.”

Clare Clarke

Dit het die gebruik aan sommige inrigtings (skole en universiteite), veral in Amerika, geword om by die studie van Heart of darkness ook die mening van ‘n Afrikaan soos Achebe te betrek. “Achebe’s criticism has become a mainstream perspective on Conrad’s work” (Wikipedia). In hierdie verband is die volgende handleiding gepubliseer: Clare Clarke se An analysis of Chinua Achebe’s ‘An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of darkness’ (London: Routledge, 2017, 87p; Amazon Kindle $8,28). In hierdie kort handleiding is daar baie herhaling en min addisionele inligting. Die kern van Achebe se betoog word opgesom as: “Conrad fundamentally mispresents his African characters so that they reinforce perceptions of African people, culture, and environment as savage and prehistoric” (Kindle 145). Achebe se artikel “has come to occupy a significant place amongst works of revisionist literary criticism” (168). Voor Achebe se kritiek, Conrad se boek “was regarded as a classic anti-colonial text” (201). Adam Hochschild verwys bv na Conrad se “rare ability to see the arrogance and theft at the heart of imperialism” (Wikipedia).

Sedertdien word die novelle as eurosentries gebrandmerk en word daar verwag dat Afrikane pleks van Westerlinge uitspraak oor Afrika en Afrikane moet lewer. Maar Cedric Watts “suggests that Achebe’s arguments display the type of racism with which he charges Conrad. Watts’s essay is one of the most famous rebuttals of Achebe’s argument. He contends that Achebe seems to suggest that ‘whites are disqualified on racial grounds from judging the text.’ The implication of Watts’s argument is that Achebe’s position is actively anti-universal, separating people into racial groups rather than emphasizing a shared humanity” (678). Die titel van Watts se artikel is “‘A bloody racist’: About Achebe’s view of Conrad” (Yearbook of English studies, vol 13, 1983, p 196-209). Clarke: “Few critics would go as far as Achebe in their denunciation of Conrad” (758). “On the whole Achebe has been in the minority with his vehement and provocative views on racism in the novel” (813). Selfs die anti-imperialis Edward Said (1935-2003) “contests Achebe’s overly aggressive condemnation, suggesting that it is couched in an unhelpful ‘rhetoric of blame'” (944).

In die tweede deel van hierdie rubriek skryf ek oor ‘n vindingryke toepassing van Heart of darkness op die nuwe Suid-Afrika.

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