The story of King Leopold’s II’s rule in the Congo Free State is among the darkest episodes of European imperialism on the African continent in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, many people are not even aware of the massive genocide that Leopold unleashed during his several decade rule over the Congo Free State. At least 8 million people were brutally killed during this time. Many were subjected to slave labor to harvest the rubber that enriched King Leopold as he literally ruled the Congo Free State as a private business enterprise.

Video of King Leopold II 1906

While Leopold II boasted of his philanthropic mission in the Congo, his Force Publique severed the hands of their victims throughout the Congo. Severed hands became a form of currency that the colonial rulers used to enforce their rule against the natives in the Congo.

Black and white lantern slide showing a male missionary from the Congo Balolo Mission holding the arm of a Congolese man, Congo Free State (present day Democratic Republic of the Congo).


Nsala of Wala looks at the severed hand and foot of his five-year old daughter (1904). From photograh taken at Baringa, Congo state, May 15, 1904

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at