Congo was first established as an independent state in central Africa on May 2nd, 1885. From 1885 up to 1908, Congo Free State was the private property of the Belgian king Leopold II.
Initially, the vast country only made a loss, but in due course of time enormous profits were made on ivory and rubber. The king made heaps of money on it, and so did the government and private investors.
The Congolese were ruthlessly suppressed. The number of victims caused by West European trades practices was immense. Local people were forced to perform dangerous and heavy tasks. Millions perished. Diseases and harsh corporal punishments for the smallest offences also took their toll.
International pressure headed by England forced the king to consent to an independent investigation into the reported abuse. It turned out to be as bad as the papers had published.
The king was forced to turn the country over to Belgium. In October 1908, the country became its colony: Belgian Congo. Belgian Congo became an independent state in July 1960.
The novel The Book of the Heathen is set in the nearly lawless days of the Congo Free State. Making money seems to be the white people´s single motive for being there. The only exception to this: the man accused of murdering a little girl.